Spread the word

Published 5:16 pm Friday, March 22, 2024

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WINDSOR – Medicaid expansion will make a difference in rural North Carolina.

That was the sentiment expressed by several speakers during a Medicaid sign-up event held on March 19 in Windsor. The event was a collaborative effort to spread the word about Medicaid, hosted by the Bertie County and Washington County Commissioners.

“Lives are changing every single day because of Medicaid expansion,” said Governor Roy Cooper, addressing the crowd as one of the featured speakers on Tuesday.

The statewide expansion of the program went into effect in December 2023 with eligibility requirements adjusted to include people who fell into the “coverage gap” beforehand. Most people will be able to get healthcare coverage through Medicaid if they are a citizen who lives in North Carolina, are between the ages of 19 and 64, and meet the household income requirements.

Medicaid covers a variety of health services including primary care, hospital services, maternity care, vision and hearing services, behavioral health, preventive/wellness services, dental health services, and more.

Cooper recounted the story of a lady he met who previously did not qualify for Medicaid. She’d been diagnosed with cancer and had racked up debt while getting treatment. Cooper acknowledged that her struggles were similar to what hundreds of thousands of other North Carolinians faced too.

It’s estimated that at least 600,000 people in the state now qualify for Medicaid. Cooper noted that eligible people range from childcare workers and grocery store workers to veterans and people who work two jobs.

“A lot of people have given up,” Gov. Cooper explained. “A lot of people are living with the fact that they can’t get their medications. They’re living with the fact that it’s really hard for them to go see a doctor. They might have applied to Medicaid before and got turned down.”

“Our mission is to let them know that this [Medicaid expansion] is here,” he continued. “We’ve got to find them. We’ve got to let them know about it.”

Kody Kinsley, who serves as the Secretary for the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), said his department worked quickly to begin implementing Medicaid expansion as soon as possible after Gov. Cooper signed the budget including the expansion provision late last year.

Gov. Roy Cooper (left) shares a laugh with Bertie County Commissioner Ron Wesson during at Tuesday’s gathering. Staff Photo by Holly Taylor

As of Tuesday, Kinsley reported that 393,680 people have already been enrolled across the state, including 273,000 who were automatically enrolled when expansion took effect in December. He also noted that 80 percent of people who are benefitting from expansion are working families that were earning too much to previously qualify but not enough to afford other healthcare coverage options.

He urged attendees to spread the word in their communities about what’s now available.

“It gives people peace of mind,” Kinsley emphasized, noting that many people use their Medicaid coverage to afford treatments for asthma, seizures, and other chronic conditions.

Trillium Health Resources CEO Joy Futrell echoed similar sentiments about expansion providing peace of mind to people, especially in rural communities.

“People in rural counties are affected so much more by things so many of us take for granted each day,” she said. “If you don’t have food on your table, you are not worried about your health. You’ve got to have your basic needs met before you think about your healthcare.”

Futrell also said that she hoped Medicaid expansion, which is made possible through federal funding, will help free up more state dollars to fund more programs provided by Trillium, such as behavioral healthcare.

Like other speakers, Brian Harvill – President of ECU Health Bertie, Chowan, and Roanoke-Chowan hospitals – focused on the rural impact of Medicaid expansion. North Carolina, he said, has the second largest rural population in the United States, and the ECU Health system serves a large portion of those people.

“Rural areas in our state often have a higher percentage of uninsured patients,” Harvill said, explaining that healthcare access leads to healthier people who can participate in the workforce and boost their communities.

“Cost should not be a barrier to taking care of yourself,” he said. “They can get the care they need to help prevent more significant and costly problems down the line. Simply put, Medicaid expansion can save lives, and for that, we can all be thankful.”

At Tuesday’s event, a number of agencies and providers were in attendance to provide more information about Medicaid to participants. Representatives from both Bertie and Washington counties were on hand to answer questions. There were also private rooms set up for people to fill out the paperwork for Medicaid if they were eligible.

Gov. Cooper best summed everyone’s goal up at the end of his remarks: “go forth and sign them up!”