With the arrival of vaccines, North Carolinians can see a light of hope at the end of the long pandemic tunnel. And yet, medical costs continue to rise and funds for those most vulnerable in our state continue to dwindle. Healthcare already costs too much, and many of those living in the rural and lower income areas of the state have limited access to it. Many who would benefit from North Carolina’s Medicaid program don’t qualify, and can’t afford health insurance.
The working poor and uninsured have been hit especially hard by job losses, layoffs and in some cases, loss of health insurance and housing. Those living with HIV, HCV and other chronic conditions are more vulnerable to the loss of healthcare coverage due to pandemic-related job losses. In North Carolina, over 260,000 workers have lost employment and health insurance as a result. Strengthening, or at the very least, protecting our current Medicaid program becomes urgent as the numbers of those unemployed and under-insured increase. It is crucial that the current Medicaid program’s funding is protected from budget cuts.
Medicaid is a federally mandated and state managed program. This means that North Carolina runs the day-to-day functions of Medicaid while the federal government gives guidance on what must be offered, and to whom. There are approximately 2 million people in the state enrolled in Medicaid, even more since the pandemic crisis. This means that currently one out of every five people in the state depends on Medicaid. Children receive the largest portion of the funding, making up 53 percent of the total enrollment as of 2019. More females than males receive Medicaid, with women and girls making up 57.7 percent of total enrollments by gender, according to a DHHS summary of Medicaid in the 2017-18 fiscal year.
As of 2021, over 208,000 North Carolinians have no access to health insurance without Medicaid, CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Plan) and N.C. Health Choice, a supplemental health care plan for struggling families who make too much to qualify for Medicaid and not enough money to afford the monthly premiums of ACA insurance plans. Those who most need lawmakers to protect and strengthen Medicaid funding include the newly unemployed, low-income individuals and families who have increased health morbidities due to the pandemic, uninsured hourly wage-earners, the aged, blind and disabled, pregnant women and those needing access to reproductive or contraceptive services, many foster and adoptive children, including former foster care children through age 25, some low-income families with children, the working disabled (which includes many who live with HIV and HCV), cancer patients, and medically needy individuals.
If Medicaid funding is protected, those currently receiving Medicaid will continue to have access to healthcare, especially those North Carolinians living at or below the poverty level in the more rural and lower income areas of the state. Protecting Medicaid funding helps provide free or low-cost healthcare to those affected by the pandemic, the opioid crisis, those in need of treatment for HIV, HCV, and other chronic medical conditions.
By: Kevin Varner