Durham News

Group presses for Medicaid expansion

With legislative leadership opposing Medicaid expansion, a local legislator believes events like a rally in Durham this week are important to reversing its stance.

“This is a critical time for people to speak out,” Rep. Graig Meyer said. As the 2016 election season kicks off, he hopes voters will both bring new voices to the legislature and “convince people who get reelected that this is an issue that the public wants them to take up.”

The interfaith prayer vigil held Wednesday on CCB plaza downtown also served as a send-off for a Coalition for Health Care of North Carolina delegation taking 3,884 signed letters to Gov. Pat McCrory’s office.

The letter calls on the governor to expand Medicaid to an estimated 357,000 North Carolinians, declaring the plan would generate 25,000 jobs by 2016 and $21 billion in business activity from 2016 to 2020.

The letter also cited a 2014 study that found between 455 and 1,145 North Carolinians who would have been covered by the expansion will die each year because they aren’t insured.

Students from N.C. Central University and UNC went door-to-door and collected about half of the signatures. Three of them, Amire Shealey, Ashley Bueno and Jennifer Hendrix, spoke at the event before leaving for Raleigh to deliver the letters.

The Affordable Care Act originally required states to expand Medicaid to those with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line. A 2012 Supreme Court decision made the requirement optional, leaving states to decide whether or not to expand enrollment. Currently, adults in North Carolina without children are not eligible for Medicaid and those with children must earn less than 45 percent of the poverty line.

The federal government has committed to paying 100 percent of the additional costs of expansion for three years and 90 percent of costs in subsequent years. The federal government covers 70 percent of the state’s current Medicaid expenses.

The 10-person delegation from the health care coalition met with the governor’s deputy chief of staff, Jimmy Broughton, and policy director Matthew McKillip.

“We were very cordially received,” said David Jolly, associate professor in the Department of Public Health Education at NCCU. “Our students did a wonderful job telling personal stories about their experiences with the health care system and with Medicaid in particular.”

“We don’t hold any illusions that our meeting or the letters we delivered will by themselves change the state’s policy on Medicaid expansion,” Jolly said, “but we do believe that every action like this puts a little more pressure on the governor to do the right thing. And we hope that in the long run he will change his mind.”

Jolly continued, “They made it clear that they have not closed the door on the possibility of Medicaid expansion, but they certainly didn’t indicate that they were going to do it or give us any timeline.”

Expansion requires the state legislature’s approval, but the coalition believes McCrory’s support could sway its decision.

In the past, McCrory has expressed interest in the expansion but maintained the issue needs further study. “My answer is dependent upon what I think would be best for North Carolina,” he said in June. “I don’t want a Washington plan for Medicaid, I want a North Carolina plan. It’s a very complex issue. You can’t just say are you for or against it.”

Five faith leaders offered prayers at Wednesday’s event followed by statements from community organizations and Annette Taylor, director of community engagement in U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield’s office.

Imam Abdul Waheed said the diverse gathering showed “a spirit of cooperation acknowledging our oneness as humans despite our different religious affiliation. ... when you’re talking about Medicaid, this is a human issue.”

Ritchie: 829-8925