By Katie Horneffer, Intern, Care4Carolina
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, our country has recognized and thanked our essential workers. The grocery clerk who runs the register, the janitorial staff who keep hospitals clean, the bus driver who helps kids get to school… all of these people have kept our world running, sometimes at the risk of their own health, since the pandemic first started. Yet even as these workers are providing essential services during a public health emergency, many of them don’t have insurance that would help them pay for healthcare if they were to get sick. To best honor North Carolina’s workers on this Labor Day, close the health insurance coverage gap.
Nearly 14% of North Carolina’s workers under age 65 don’t have health insurance. Many of these workers fall in the “coverage gap,” meaning they make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to receive subsidies in the health care marketplace. A mother with one child who works retail 40 hours a week at minimum wage, every week of the year, earns an annual salary of $15,080. This working mother falls into the health insurance coverage gap because she would not qualify for premium assistance. If she were able to afford a plan, she might have to pay as much as $400 a month (almost a third of her income!) for health insurance—and that doesn’t even include the additional money she would have to pay if she actually visited the doctor or got a prescription. Without an affordable insurance option, this mother and her child are stuck without financial coverage for their health needs—despite the fact that she works a full-time job.
Just like this mother and her child, 63% of people in the coverage gap are in working families. Many of these people work in professions that have been on the frontlines of the pandemic, like cooks, cashiers, servers, or nursing assistants. If North Carolina closed the coverage gap, many uninsured workers would gain access to insurance, including 57,000 food preparation and service workers, 44,000 construction workers, 43,000 people working in sales, 38,000 cleaning and maintenance workers, 37,000 transportation workers, and 16,000 people working in health.
Closing the coverage gap isn’t just good for workers and their families—it’s good for businesses, too. When working families have health insurance, they are more likely to access care when they need it, without delay. This means earlier screening for cancer and other serious illnesses, better mental health services, access to treatment for chronic pain or injuries, and all sorts of other services that can create a healthier, more productive workforce for North Carolina. In fact, the CDC estimates that poor worker health costs businesses $1,685 per employee each year due to reduced worker productivity. A healthy North Carolina workforce is good for everyone.
North Carolinians work hard, and they and their families deserve affordable healthcare. This Labor Day, let’s thank our essential workers in the best way possible—by closing the health insurance coverage gap.