NaShonda Cooke came to the State Capitol this week because she says her students suffer when their parents can’t afford health care.
Cooke, a teacher at Durham’s Eno Valley Elementary School, is a member of MomsRising.org, one of the child advocacy groups that stood outside the historic building Thursday with signs urging Gov. Pat McCrory to come up with a Medicaid expansion plan.
“Parents who are frequently sick or face long-term illnesses have a harder time making sure their children come to school prepared and ready to learn,” said Cooke.
Another MomsRising member, Felicia Willems, said: “We are asking Gov. McCrory, ‘Where is the plan to extend health coverage to hardworking, uninsured North Carolinians?’”
The answer is that McCrory, while expressing an interest in expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, has said expansion needs more study, particularly analysis of data from states that have done it.
Medicaid expansion, which would be initially funded by the federal government, would insure low-income adults who make too much to qualify for Medicaid now but too little to qualify for ACA-subsidized insurance. There are an estimated 375,000 to 500,000 North Carolinians who fall into this gap. Some 30 states have expanded Medicaid, including Alaska this week. By 2020, the federal funding of expansion would drop to 90 percent.
The Republican leaders of the General Assembly are opposed to expansion, saying that Medicaid in North Carolina needs to be overhauled and waste eliminated. Senate leader Phil Berger reiterated last month that “we still have a system of Medicaid in North Carolina that’s broken.” The legislature would have to approve expansion.
But that didn’t stop advocates for expansion from coming to Raleigh to keep the issue alive Thursday. They held signs that read, “Where is the plan, Gov. McCrory?” and “500,000 people cannot wait.”
They are trying to build on what they see as momentum from the Supreme Court’s ruling last month that upheld a key provision in the ACA that keeps alive health care subsidies in states like North Carolina whose leaders have opposed the ACA and refused to set up state insurance exchanges.
“When over 1,000 lives are lost each year in North Carolina due to lack of health coverage, lives are literally on the line,” Willems said. “Parents know that the health of the whole family matters and is important to help kids grow up happy, healthy, and prepared to take on all of life’s challenges.”
Thursday, Joan Alker, executive director of Georgetown Center for Children and Families, shared the recent findings of a report by her organization. She said that 27 percent of those who would immediately gain coverage with Medicaid expansion would be parents – two-thirds of whom are employed – with up to two school-age children.
“The reason why this is so important to families and children in particular, is that when one member of the family in uninsured, the whole family is at risk of economic ruin,” Alker said. “Medical debt is the leading cause of bankruptcy.”