On January 1, 2020 when we were celebrating the promise of a new decade, I am confident that none of us thought that in a few short months we would be dealing with an unprecedented global pandemic and the unfortunate resulting economic recession.
Our communities are suffering great losses on every scale. From lost jobs to closed businesses, to lost graduation, wedding and family celebrations, to the most painful of all, lost loved ones. We are grieving together while staying apart, and I am so proud of the way everyone has come together to help one another and stand strong in the face of this tragedy. More than 125,000 Americans have died and their families and friends are suffering incalculable pain.
The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged the lives and the livelihoods of all North Carolinians. Moore than 1.1 million North Carolinians have filed for unemployment. And hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance as a direct result of the pandemic. Not to mention those selfless individuals on the frontlines of this pandemic, the essential workers who have been underinsured for far too long.
We are all experiencing unparalleled levels of loss. But what we must focus on now is our ability to turn this loss into action and make the changes our state needs. We cannot destroy this virus, but we can ensure that we take care of our people as we fight this virus together.
That is why I am urging the General Assembly to keep our most vulnerable North Carolinians in mind and expand Medicaid during this legislative session. Amid the outbreak, expanding Medicaid would give those recently unemployed, and the uninsured and underinsured, access to quality and affordable health care.
If the General Assembly had expanded Medicaid in 2019, more than 194,000 hardworking poorer individuals, who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid but too little to purchase their own insurance plans, would currently have access to affordable coverage. More than half a million North Carolinians would have access to quality and affordable health care, and would not now be choosing between putting food on the table and paying seemingly endless medical bills.
Study after study has proven that expanding Medicaid improves lives, particularly in southern states. Additionally numerous reports have found that expanding Medicaid would benefit every county in North Carolina.
Expanding Medicaid would create over 37,000 new healthcare jobs in North Carolina and boost paychecks across the state. Rural areas would also get a much-needed boost. Medicaid Expansion would bring more healthcare jobs to our rural areas and keep rural hospitals open, reducing the chances of a rural hospital closing by sixty-two percent. Additionally, expansion would help reimburse struggling rural medical centers and alleviate some of the medical debt that is accumulating during this pandemic and economic recession.
Let me be very clear, Medicaid expansion does not mean eliminating private insurance, it simply gives those who do not have private insurance access to quality, affordable health care. I do not support a “state takeover” of your healthcare, nor would I suggest that you should lose your private insurance. In fact, those who keep their private health insurance would save money in the long run since insurance premiums are on average lower in states that have expanded Medicaid, as there is less cost-shifting when there are fewer uninsured.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has brought unprecedented levels of uncertainty into the lives of us all, but one thing remains certain. Our communities are suffering and we have the power to make much-needed changes to our state’s infrastructure that would ease this suffering. The General Assembly must do their part and pass Medicaid Expansion to help our fellow North Carolinians through this crisis so that we may all get through this together.
Helen Probst Mills is a Democratic candidate for North Carolina Senate District 25.