This past year I stood on the Haywood County Courthouse steps in reverent silence as the bell was rung 23 times to honor the 23 bright young Haywood County citizens of my generation who lost their lives in the Vietnam War.
Just recently, our Haywood County Sheriff Greg Christopher reported that the opioid crisis has taken 26 of our brothers’ and sisters’ lives here in Haywood County this year alone. If we are serious about fighting this opioid crisis, the single most important step we can take is expanding Medicaid. Nothing else will come close to the good we can do by closing the coverage gap.
Thirty-seven states have expanded Medicaid, and the data is in. In Dayton, Ohio, opiate-related deaths were cut in half in the first year the state expanded Medicaid. Here in North Carolina, we will save an estimated 1,000 lives every year when we close the coverage gap by expanding Medicaid.
We need Medicaid expansion to fight the opioid crisis. We need Medicaid expansion to cover 500,000 low-wage workers this year. We need Medicaid Expansion to create 43,000 new healthcare jobs that our rural hospitals desperately need to keep their doors open. We need to expand Medicaid now, and we will not pay a single penny in new taxes to get it done.
In North Carolina, we pledge allegiance to our flag and pay our federal taxes. This year, and every year since 2014, an annual $2.5 billion of the federal taxes we pay have been used to pay for healthcare in other states, leaving our North Carolina citizens high and dry.
If we expand Medicaid, we will bring that annual $2.5 billion back to North Carolina, and we will save another $4 billion in avoided healthcare costs. That is $4 billion in savings every single year, year after year.
Our rural communities will especially benefit from Medicaid expansion. We will create over 200 new healthcare jobs in Haywood, Jackson, and Swain Counties for each of the next two years.
Nationwide, 82 percent of rural hospital closures have occurred in non-Medicaid expansion states. If we close the coverage gap, we will help keep the doors open, creating new jobs at our rural hospitals and providing the healthcare we desperately need here.
With Medicaid expansion, we all win. Currently we all pay a portion of the costs for uninsured people who receive medical care. It is called cost shifting. We pay for unpaid hospital bills through higher insurance premiums and healthcare costs, across the board.
We can stop the cost shifting with Medicaid expansion. Medical providers will be paid for the 500,000 uninsured, because they would become insured. We will have closed the coverage gap. That is what we mean by Medicaid expansion. Everyone’s healthcare costs will go down. The data is in and the facts are clear. The average premium for people on private plans has decreased by seven percent in states where Medicaid has already been expanded.
We can close the coverage gap, and we can see a healthier North Carolina and a stronger North Carolina economy. All with no new taxes, we simply need to be allowed to use the taxes we already are paying. It is the right thing to do, and it is time to do it.