This piece was written by Sandy Irving, Volunteer Program Associate with the NC Council of Churches. She currently serves as the Volunteer for Health Care, worker’s rights and other federal issues, and serves on the board of NC Peace Action. To read more about Sandy visit the NC Council of Churches website here.
“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees”
The North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) just finished its 2018 short session without passing legislation that would help the uninsured in dramatic ways. In 2013, the NCGA refused to accept the Medicaid expansion part of the Affordable Care Act to help uninsured low-income North Carolinians even though the first three years (2013-15) were funded 100% by the federal government. Our legislators continue to hold fast to this oppressive, unjust law even though our fellow citizens are dying (some estimate over 1000/year) and hospitals (at least 5 in NC) are closing. We, as people of faith, need to remember that the prophet Amos reminds us that God does not care about our religious celebrations but is concerned that we let justice and fairness flow like a river. Access to affordable health care is a justice issue.
According to Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of NC Department of Health and Human Services, if we move expanding Medicaid out of politics and into reality, we could see great benefit for NC. Expanding Medicaid could improve the health of North Carolina’s citizens as well as the economy of NC. The federal government continues to pay for at least 90% of the cost. If we closed this gap of currently uninsured North Carolinians, 340,000 (including 12,000 veterans) would receive health insurance. We could address the opioid epidemic by providing treatment rather than jail for those with substance use disorder. NC could provide low-cost primary care for prevention of diseases rather than high cost emergency room treatments. Expanding Medicaid would be good for business, providing 40,000 jobs in NC. At least five rural hospitals in NC have closed since 2013 when the NCGA refused to accept Medicaid expansion, making access to health care more difficult for the local residents and reducing local employment. Closing the gap means better premium value for those with private health insurance by lowering costs for everyone.
As people of faith, we must not be silent while our sisters and brothers die from the lack of health insurance which our legislators refused to allow. With elections in the near future, let all candidates know of your support of this issue. Dr. Cohen notes that 74% of our citizens approve of Medicaid. Let’s put Medicaid expansion on the campaign agenda so it will be among the first laws passed in the next session. Doing so would be a step in the direction of providing access to affordable health care for all God’s people.