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Our communities are suffering great losses on every scale. From lost graduation celebrations to lost jobs too, most painful of all, lost loved ones; we are grieving together and I am so proud of the way my community has come together to help one another and stand strong in the face of this tragedy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged the lives and the livelihoods of all North Carolinians. More than 115,000 Americans have died and more than 1.1 million North Carolinians have filed for unemployment. Hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance as a direct impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Not to
mention those on the front lines of this pandemic, essential workers who have been underinsured for far too long.
We are all experiencing unparalleled levels of loss. But what we must focus on now is our ability to turn this loss into action and make the changes our state needs moving forward. We cannot destroy this virus, but we can ensure that our people are taken care of.
If the Republican-led General Assembly had expanded Medicaid in 2019, more than 194,000 members of the working poor, who earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid but too little to purchase their own insurance plans, would currently have access to affordable coverage. More than half a million North Carolinians would have new access to quality and affordable health care, and would not now be choosing between putting food on the table and paying seemingly endless medical bills.
Studies have proven that expanding Medicaid improves lives, particularly in Southern states, and numerous reports have found that expanding Medicaid would benefit every county in North Carolina.
Expanding Medicaid would create over 37,000 new health care jobs in North Carolina and boost paychecks across the state. Our rural areas would also get a much-needed boost. Medicaid expansion would bring more health care jobs to our rural areas and keep rural hospitals open, reducing the chances of a rural hospital closing by 62%. Additionally, the expansion would help reimburse some of our struggling rural medical centers and alleviate some of the medical debt accumulating during this pandemic and economic recession.
Let me be very clear: Medicaid expansion does not mean eliminating private insurance; it simply gives those who do not have private insurance access to quality, affordable health care. I do not support a “state takeover” of your health care, nor would I suggest that you should lose your private insurance if you are happy with it. In fact, those who keep their private health insurance would save money in the long run. Insurance premiums are on average lower four in states that have expanded Medicaid, as there is less cost-shifting when there are fewer uninsured.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has brought unprecedented amounts of uncertainty to the lives of us all, but one thing remains certain. Our communities are suffering and we have the power to make much-needed changes to our state’s infrastructure that would ease this suffering.
We must act, and we must all do our part to help our fellow North Carolinians through this crisis — together.
Allen Wellons of Smithfield is the Democratic candidate for the redrawn N.C. Senate District 11, representing Nash and Johnston counties. An attorney, Wellons previously served in the state Senate from 1996-2002.