Progressive Voices

A Healthier North Carolina rests in the hands of Pat McCrory

We have an opportunity to care for more North Carolinians than ever before—to be healthier than ever before.

If, that is, Governor Pat McCrory chooses to act on behalf of North Carolinians rather than play politics with our health. It’s up to Gov. McCrory—as executive of our state—to decide to expand Medicaid and provide health insurance to hundreds of thousands of uninsured North Carolinians.

A key component of the Affordable Care Act helps states expand their Medicaid programs. In its current form, Medicaid provides health insurance for the lowest-income Americans, but because of current restrictions in the program, millions of low-income adults are not eligible for coverage. But through health care reform, states may expand the eligibility requirements so that almost all adults earning below 138% of the federal poverty level (or about $25,000 per year for a family of three) will gain Medicaid coverage. If, that is, Governor McCrory opts to expand the program.

There is every incentive for Governor McCrory to choose to expand Medicaid. The price tag for North Carolinians will be extremely small—under the ACA, the federal government will finance 100 percent of the cost for the Medicaid expansion through 2016. Starting in 2017, the federal government will slightly decrease its share but still cover 90 percent of the costs in 2020 and beyond. The end results? Five hundred and seventy thousand newly insured North Carolinians.

The small price that our state will have to pay is worth the sweeping benefits to North Carolinians. No longer will some of our poorest neighbors have to worry about how they’ll pay for their basic care; no longer will they have to put off doctors visits because of fear of how much they’ll cost. Even better, North Carolina’s small investment in expanding Medicaid will help save the state money in long-term health care costs because more residents will be seeking preventive care that staves off more costly long-term medical care.

Gov. McCrory has the potential to fundamentally change the health care system in our state. If low-income North Carolinians suddenly have health insurance, there is a potential to undo the profound health disparities in our state. As it stands, North Carolinians who are uninsured are likelier to develop serious health complications or even die younger from diseases that are all too often preventable. But by gaining health insurance through Medicaid, this population of North Carolinians will be able to prevent diseases like diabetes and will be able to detect and treat diseases like cancer. Gov. McCrory can make North Carolina healthier than it has ever been.

I write this as someone who sees the empowerment of health insurance every day. At Planned Parenthood, seventy percent of the patients we treat are uninsured or underinsured. And no matter what, we help all of these men and women access the care they need.

But there’s a huge gulf between how our patients approach their care—and it is too often tied to their insurance status. If we see a woman who has a lump on her breast, we always refer her to a breast specialist and help cover as much of her care as we can. But how she chooses her medical care options is far too frequently dictated by her insurance status.

This is not right—and speaks to the importance of insuring as many North Carolinians as possible. No one in our state should ever have to think twice about treating cancer or coming in for a routine preventive care visit. This will mean affordable birth control—no longer will North Carolina women have to choose between putting food on the table and purchasing contraceptives. This is something we see every day at Planned Parenthood—and something that flies in the face of effective family planning. Medicaid expansion could change this choice, and allow more women to take control of their family size.

It’s now up to Gov. McCrory to make sure that North Carolina expands its Medicaid program. By doing so, he has the potential to transform our state. With his executive blessing, McCrory can save lives—improve lives—and create the healthiest North Carolina yet.

Melissa Reed is the Vice-President of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood Health Systems, Inc.