By Peg O’Connell, Chair, Care4Carolina
You may be wondering, “What St. Patrick’s Day has to do with closing the health insurance coverage gap in North Carolina?” Now, this is where the transition gets a little rocky—actually, “shamrocky,” so I hope that you will indulge me.
One of the best-known symbols of St. Patrick and the Irish is the shamrock—the bright green three leaf clover that we see everywhere during the month of March. St. Patrick used the shamrock as an example of how something with three distinct parts can come together to form one stronger, better whole. The shamrock is a good analogy for the benefits of closing the coverage gap in our state.
The first leaf of our shamrock is physical health. We know uninsured North Carolinians are more likely to delay needed health care and very often lack access to the simple preventative services many of us take for granted—like cancer and blood pressure screenings. Imagine if the 600,000 people in the gap could see a health care provider before they end up in the emergency room. States that closed their coverage gap saw significantly lower mortality among newly diagnosed breast, colon and lung cancer patients. In addition, states that opened their Medicaid program to more individuals saw significantly smaller increases in cardiovascular deaths among middle-age adults. Not bad results for a single leaf on a three-leaf clover.
The second leaf represents the positive impact that closing the gap will have on our state’s economy. North Carolina has come through the COVID pandemic in fairly good financial shape but our recovery has been uneven and there are people and rural parts of our state that still need help. Closing the coverage gap can be a vital part of a complete and broad comeback from the past two years.
Closing the coverage gap would bring approximately $4 billion dollars to our state every year and be an engine for creating as many as 37,000 new jobs. In addition, the American Rescue Plan Act has promised states that expand their Medicaid programs an additional 5 percent match for their existing Medicaid programs for two years. That could be nearly $1.7 billion for our state—for education, infrastructure or what ever needs our legislature determines are the highest priority.
Perhaps an even more urgent aspect of this second leaf of the shamrock is that it can help bring more workers into our economy. When people can get the healthcare they need, they are healthier and more productive workers. Seventy-six percent of people in the gap are already working. Among these working adults, healthcare coverage incentivizes people to work more hours and among the unemployed, it increases the likelihood of finding a job.
The third leaf in the shamrock is the tremendous benefit that closing the gap can have for those uninsured in our state who struggle with mental illness and substance use. This is often the shamrock leaf that nobody wants to talk about. We have a mental health crisis in our state and in our nation and it got worse during COVID. But we have to talk about it and we must do something about it. Closing the states coverage gap can give people who struggle with mental and behavioral health issues access to the treatment they want and need. Just like physical illness, mental illness is treatable and those who suffer deserve the right to get better.
As I write this, I realize that there are so many benefits to closing the coverage gap, that my shamrock analogy could actually become a daisy with 100 petals, but I will stick with the shamrock for today. I don’t think St. Patrick will mind my borrowing his symbol—and I know he would want us to love our neighbors and close the coverage gap. Slainte!