By Abby Emanuelson, Advocacy Consultant, Care4Carolina
When I graduated college in 1996, I had a full-time job without health benefits. While proud that I was employed, my parents anxiously purchased an individual health insurance policy (and paid the premiums for nine months). When I was in graduate school and under employed, my dad encouraged an elopement, so I would have health insurance until I started my career. And like most twenty-somethings, I played the odds and prayed I wouldn’t need to go to the doctor or to the emergency room until I was employed with benefits again.
In 2021, more than 150 million Americans have employer-sponsored health insurance. With nearly half of the US population covered by an employer sponsored plan, it is a common assumption that if a person works, they have health insurance coverage. Many states built this assumption into their Medicaid expansion programs by requiring “work” to receive benefits. However, “workers who earn low wages, work part-time, have short job tenure, and who live in households with low incomes are likely to be uninsured.”
Much like my parents and twenty-something self, hundreds of thousands of uninsured North Carolinians are hoping and praying that they themselves, their spouse, or children won’t have a health event that requires costly medical attention – but injuries and diagnoses of chronic illnesses are indiscriminate of one’s health coverage and employment status.
Fortunately, closing the health insurance coverage gap addresses both health coverage status and labor force participation. Among the unemployed, access to affordable healthcare coverage increases the likelihood of finding a job, and health coverage incentivizes working adults to increase the number of hours worked. Michigan, Ohio, and Montana all saw labor force participation increase after closing the coverage gap.
While I was with the National MS Society, I advocated for increased access and portability of insurance to allow people with disabilities and chronic illnesses to stay working. Research from expansion states has found an increase in employment rates among working-age adults with disabilities.
National and local news have consistently reported on the lack of workers. Workforce shortages are more complex than just providing health insurance, but for North Carolina, closing the health insurance coverage gap is a good place to start!
If you are uninsured or previously uninsured working adult in North Carolina that would like to share your story about the importance of health insurance coverage, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.