By Christy Craig, Intern, Care4Carolina
Out of pocket medical costs are a major cause of financial hardship. In 2014, the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that medical bills were the most common reason unpaid bills were sent to collection agencies. The impact of high medical costs is particularly severe for low-income, uninsured individuals who become sick or injured. One study found that uninsured people who became hospitalized were more than twice as likely to file for bankruptcy.
You might ask, “What does bankruptcy have to do with closing the health insurance coverage gap?” As it stands, North Carolina is one of 12 states that has not closed the health insurance coverage gap, denying hundreds of thousands of working adults access to quality, affordable health care. These adults make too little to qualify for subsidies on the health insurance marketplace, but either do not meet certain criteria or make too much money to qualify for North Carolina’s Medicaid program.
If North Carolina closed the coverage gap by expanding Medicaid, over 600,000 North Carolinians could gain health insurance. This could greatly reduce the likelihood that these adults have medical debt and or have to file for bankruptcy.
While closing the coverage gap may not fully eliminate the problem of medical bankruptcy, having health insurance has the potential to greatly reduce financial hardship, along with other benefits such as better physical and mental health and greater use of health care services. This is likely because having health insurance improves individuals’ ability to afford medical expenses, such as seeing a health care provider or getting medication.
The bottom line is that closing the coverage gap is a must if we want to protect uninsured North Carolinians from financial hardship and ensure they don’t have to make the difficult choice of paying for food or health care, for instance.