Opinion

How to expand Medicaid without higher taxes

More than 500,000 North Carolinians can’t see a doctor when they need one because affordable healthcare is out of reach. Many of these people are in the coverage gap – they make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, yet too little to afford costly private insurance.

They and their families must spend their lives uninsured, praying they don’t fall victim to an accident or an illness, as that would mean spending their life savings on costly health care or even going into bankruptcy.

From small business owners to farmers, these are hardworking North Carolinians — and they deserve more from our government. Some are soldiers who have seen battle in Iraq and Afghanistan and returned home to find that their state has let them fall by the wayside.

As a former state representative who served as chairman of the House Appropriations Health and Human Services Committee, I have heard from many North Carolinians how critical it is to have access to dependable healthcare. Further, during my time in the General Assembly, I also served as an advisory member of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Medicaid and NC Health Choice. I am no stranger to the Medicaid coverage gap.

As important as it is to make healthcare more affordable for more of our citizens, it is just as important that we find a way to pay for it that doesn’t burden our middle class. That’s why I am firmly in support of a solution to closing the coverage gap that everyone can get on board with – a solution that will bring both health coverage and economic benefit to the people of our state.

This fiscally responsible, conservative proposal is House Bill 665, NC Health Care for Working Families, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Donny Lambeth of Winston-Salem, my friend and former colleague. This bill would close the health insurance gap without adding any new taxes on our state’s hardworking citizens.

Every year, our state sends over $800 million to Washington to fund Medicaid expansion in other states. Lambeth’s proposed legislation would redirect some of that money back to North Carolina to allow our hard-earned tax dollars to benefit our own residents.

When hard-working, low-income people are insured, they will be able to take care of basic health needs on time and stay out of emergency rooms, keeping health care costs down for all of us. Hospitals across our state support this measure because the cost of care for uninsured North Carolinians is a burden that drags down their bottom lines – and raises the cost of insurance for everyone.

When we cover more people, that cost driver will be lifted, especially from rural hospitals that are struggling to keep their doors open. That will benefit everyone who depends on rural hospitals for timely health care.

I worked on many issues throughout my time in the N.C. House, and I see the NC Health Care for Working Families initiative as a major necessity for North Carolina health care. It is a partnership that allows participants a sense of independence, because the program would require employment as well as a premium payment for participants.

A proposal like the NC Health Care for Working Families bill is a fiscally responsible, conservative solution to close the coverage gap, benefiting both our state’s health care and our economy.

Hard-working North Carolinians deserve to be able to afford health care without costing taxpayers more. The coverage gap must be closed.

Chris Malone is a former Republican state Representative from Wake Forest.

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