Waynesville leaders are weighing whether to wade into the health insurance debate and call on the N.C. General Assembly to pass Medicaid expansion.

A public hearing on the issue will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11, at Waynesville town hall.

Alderman Jon Feichter, who proposed the idea, hopes to hear from those affected by the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid, from the working poor caught in the health insurance gap to those in the medical field.

“I think we need to help our lawmakers understand the ramifications of them not expanding Medicaid,” Feichter said. “I think there is a huge misconception about what Medicaid is. This perception that Medicaid is a hand out to people who aren’t working is false. They are working multiple part-time jobs.”

Because North Carolina hasn’t expanded Medicaid, the working poor fall into a so-called coverage gap, where they make too much to qualify for Medicaid but make too little to qualify for the health insurance marketplace.

Feichter sees Medicaid expansion as part and parcel to another major issue haunting the town lately: homelessness.

“There is mountains of evidence that shows a direct correlation between health problems and homelessness,” Feichter said. “If we are serious about solving homelessness, the plan has to be to reduce the number of people who are homeless.”

Medicaid expansion would do just that, by stopping healthcare costs from forcing people into homelessness, he said.

Ultimately, Feichter wants Waynesville to follow in the footsteps of other towns and counties across the state who have joined the fight for Medicaid expansion by passing resolutions calling on legislators to act.

Feichter was particularly inspired by such a resolution out of Graham County, despite being predominantly Republican. While Republican lawmakers in Raleigh have balked at Medicaid expansion, the Republican county commissioners in Graham put politics aside to advocate for the working poor in their impoverished county.

Graham County Commissioner Chairman Dale Wiggins wrote a fiery letter to N.C. Senate President Phil Berger justifying the county’s stance after Berger wrote him a letter to the contrary.

“Were you to come visit us Senator, I could show you working moms or dads at fast food restaurants or construction workers or other gainfully employed citizens who don’t have health insurance. They can’t afford it,” Wiggins wrote. “You know Senator Berger, for some people who have good paying jobs and good health insurance it is easy to say that those without health insurance just need to go to work, isn’t it? The reality is in places like Graham County those people are working.”

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