One of the interesting side effects of the federal government shutdown has been that people are learning about all the things the government does – maintaining national parks, providing nutrition assistance to poor mothers and their children, funding important research, and making sure air travel is safe.
Another thing the government does – which thankfully hasn’t been disrupted by the shutdown – is provide health insurance for low-income children. According to a new census report, the percentage of children in North Carolina who lack health insurance has dropped dramatically – down 4% since 2007, to 8.8%. That’s still a lot of children—but in a state where 26% of children live in poverty, 8.8% sounds pretty good. (We would include a link to the census report, but the website is down because of the shutdown.)
The increase in health coverage for children is due largely to the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Medicaid. Both programs are state-run but receive considerable funding from the federal government. Together, they provide coverage to more than 1.5 million children in North Carolina.
Unfortunately, the picture looks very different for adults. The census report shows that 19.5% of adults under the age of 65 are uninsured. It’s darn near impossible for a healthy, working-age adult to qualify for Medicaid, and employer-provided coverage has become difficult to come by.
But the most damaging blow to the health of North Carolina families came at the hands of the NC General Assembly and Governor Pat McCrory. The Raleigh News & Observer tells the story of one woman who was hit hard by state leaders’ decision earlier this year not to expand access to Medicaid:
“The last time Dee Baginski worked was two and a half years ago as a manager for Walmart. Then a car wreck and cancer diagnosis slammed the door on ‘a whole life in retail management.’ While Baginski’s reversal of fortune is beyond anyone’s control, the fate of her health care rests in the hands of North Carolina politicians. She is among the half-million state residents who would have been eligible for Medicaid in January had officials here opted to expand that government program from the poor and disabled.”
Dee Baginski suffers from considerable physical pain and can’t get the medications that might help her get back to work because she doesn’t have health insurance. She currently lives in a homeless shelter in Durham.
This tragedy extends beyond North Carolina. Because most Southern states have refused to expand Medicaid, the New York Times reports, “A sweeping national effort to extend health coverage to millions of Americans will leave out two-thirds of the poor, blacks, and single mothers and more than half of the low-wage workers who do not have insurance—the very kinds of people that the program was intended to help.”
The good news is that many of the 19.5% of uninsured working-age adults in North Carolina will have access to affordable insurance options on the new health insurance exchange, created by the Affordable Care Act. Some of these North Carolinians will even qualify for subsidies to help them pay their premiums.
But about 500,000 people who would have received coverage under the Medicaid expansion still won’t have access to coverage. The Affordable Care Act doesn’t provide subsidies to people living over 138% below the federal poverty level—about $15,850 a year for an individual and $32,400 for a family of four—because Obamacare assumed that every state would expand Medicaid coverage and provide health insurance for those folks.
The decision not to expand Medicaid is hurting hospitals, driving up insurance costs of everyone in the state, and jeopardizing the health and financial security of families throughout North Carolina