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Kirk Kovach: Medicaid expansion would benefit Rowan County

By Kirk Kovach

For weeks now, the North Carolina budget has been in the air as both sides entrench further into their corners.

GOP leadership is dangling special projects to Democratic legislators on the fence and there are even suggestions that the state Department of Health and Human Services be moved from Raleigh to Granville County. It seems like anything is on the table, if only a few Democrats buck the party.

Everything, that is, except Medicaid expansion. At a forum held by the News & Observer in Raleigh earlier this year, Director of Legislative Affairs for Gov. Roy Cooper, Lee Lilley, told the moderator that this session would end when Medicaid is expanded. Full stop.

So far, that has been borne out, as neither side seems ready to capitulate.

Though there are plenty of missives from the office of Senator Berger outlining his disdain for the program, almost all of the claims levied against expansion fall flat. Most people support Medicaid expansion, but conservative legislators, think tanks and advocacy groups in the Tar Heel state are bombarding the airwaves, pages of newspapers and social media decrying it as a detriment.

I disagree; in fact, expanding Medicaid would be a boon for the state, and not just for the most populated areas. Numerous studies have concluded the same.

For example, taking Rowan County alone, almost 5,000 would gain access to healthcare. This program is not meant to be a handout to those who refuse to work; in fact, the primary recipient of Medicaid expansion would be those who earn too much to qualify now, but not enough to afford their own insurance.

Expansion has also aided in the fight against the opioid crisis in other states. More people who fall victim to addiction will have access to care, and that means fewer deaths. Easier access to care will allow people to correct course before it’s too late.

Along those same lines, preventative care for other ailments will ensure that emergency rooms are a last resort and not a first stop.

Beyond the obvious benefits of having more North Carolinians insured, it comes at no additional cost to taxpayers. The cost is divided into two parts: 90% is paid by the federal government, and the remaining 10% falls to the state.

That 90% deal has existed since Medicaid expansion became an option in 2014. Of course, the federal government is paying for expansion through our tax dollars, which means that we’re already paying for the 37 other states to reap the benefits our state refuses. I think it’s about time that North Carolina’s tax dollars are brought home to help fund the health care of North Carolinians.

And then, there’s the 10%. Instead of raising taxes at the state level, the remainder will come from an assessment on hospitals and health care providers. If we expanded Medicaid today, the state wouldn’t need to raise an extra dime.

Expansion comes at no cost, but refusing it would cost us heavily.

Rural hospitals in the state are barely able to make ends meet, with five closing in the last decade and even more cutting services. Hospitals in rural areas are often the best employer, providing well-paying jobs to hundreds of residents.

If rural hospitals close, the repercussions will be felt by everyone, not just those without health insurance.

Kirk Kovach is from Rowan County and writes for politicsnc.com.

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