RALEIGH (Feb. 11, 2019) – If there’s one thing North Carolina can do to stabilize rural communities, speakers at the Institute for Emerging Issues’ ReCONNECT Rural & Urban forum agreed, it’s to expand access to health insurance.
Dana Weston, the President and CEO of UNC Rockingham Health, noted that rural hospitals are frequently their community’s largest employer.
Weston urged participants in the forum to eliminate the words “Medicaid expansion” from their vocabularies, because the term has become so politically charged.
But she also said that someone’s health status shouldn’t depend on their ZIP code. Veterans, clergy and farmers are among those who can’t afford health insurance, she said.
Expanding access would have an impact on both workforce productivity and the opioid crisis, she said.1
“It’s important for our state to expand access to health insurance.”
If a farmer in Rockingham County gets sick, Weston said, food prices in an urban community go up.
“It takes two,” she said.
Similarly, she said, UNC Health Care didn’t take over the Rockingham County hospital to pad its bottom line.
“It was because their mission is to improve the health and well-being of North Carolinians, wherever they live,” she said. “They saw that it takes two.”
Gov. Roy Cooper echoed Weston’s remarks. Expanding access could help insure 500,000 to 600,000 North Carolinians, provide 40,000 jobs and likely lower health insurance premiums, he said.
North Carolina has 30,000 military veterans without health insurance, he said, and expansion could offer coverage to 23,000 of them.
It could stabilize rural hospitals and provide more tools in the battle against substance abuse, he said.
“If you ask law enforcement, they will tell you that these people don’t belong in jails – they need treatment,” Cooper said.
He noted that when Ohio expanded Medicaid under Republican Gov. John Kasich, Dayton saw overdose deaths decline by 54 percent.
“We have to expand health insurance – and we cannot tip-toe around it,” Cooper said.