High Point is rebounding from COVID-19 in many ways but still lags behind by one important measure: the plight of those who can’t get health insurance and the impact on the local economy. In fact, over 35,000 Guilford County residents would gain access to coverage if North Carolina’s health insurance gap were closed.
Healthy communities make for strong economies. When people can get the care they need they live healthier lives and are more productive workers.
Closing the coverage gap, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate, would save our businesses $1,685 in lost productivity per employee per year. In Guilford County, closing the gap would bring in 2,076 new jobs and $682.8 million in new business activity.
North Carolina’s health care coverage gap refers to people who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but make TOO LITTLE to qualify for a subsidy in the marketplace.
The Kaiser Family Foundation has estimated that if North Carolina took action to close its coverage gap, more than 600,000 people would gain health insurance and access to proper care.
This group includes service workers, small business owners and child-care providers. They are parents raising small children. More than 12,000 are our veterans. Significantly, over 12% of High Point workers do not have health insurance as part of their compensation.
Organizations like the Foundation for a Healthy High Point see the need for expanded insurance coverage every day. In 2015, the foundation commissioned a study of local drug abuse and mental illness treatment and concluded substantial and sustained investments were needed to offset severe shortages in funding. Our foundation, like many of our fellow philanthropic partners, has invested in organizations that support the uninsured. Closing the coverage gap is a permanent solution.
We have a new, time-sensitive and unique opportunity. The American Rescue Plan makes significant additional funding available for states that close their coverage gap. That extra funding could boost initiatives like broadband access, which helps the disabled through telehealth programs, and long delayed investment in other health care priorities.
The federal government covers 90% of the costs for states that close their coverage gap. Federal law dictates that this funding level will not decrease.
The COVID-19 relief package provides states with a new incentive to close their coverage gaps: a two-year, 5% increase in the federal match rate for Medicaid. For North Carolina, that would mean an influx of $1.7 billion over the next two years.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services estimates the state’s cost for closing the gap would be roughly $700 million for the first two years. That means if we close the gap, additional funding of $1 billion will come to our state above and beyond the cost to ensure health care for our neighbors.
North Carolina is one of only 12 states that have not yet acted to close the Medicaid coverage gap. Many states have found creative solutions to leverage their programs to promote other beneficial outcomes, including employment.
Reliable health insurance makes a huge difference for avoiding foreclosures and evictions, which disrupt people’s abilities to work and contribute to the economy. In states that have used Medicaid expansion to close the coverage gap, people are 25% less likely to miss a rent or mortgage payment. This issue is a major concern in our community.
Closing the Medicaid gap would go a long way toward helping people obtain the health care they need and would support High Point’s economy.
Curtis Holloman is the executive director of the Foundation for a Healthy High Point.