Closing the coverage gap is key to improving care in Caldwell County

Dear Editor,

When I heard that North Carolina could receive additional federal funds under the American Rescue Plan for expanding Medicaid, I was optimistic that action might soon be on the horizon for our state.

The benefits of Medicaid expansion in the over 38 states that have expanded these benefits is astronomical from increases in personal income, improved care and a lesser vulnerability of closures to rural hospitals and primary care providers that were already financially on the brink prior to the pandemic.

Increasing access to Medicaid would bring more than $1.2 billion in federal funds to our state and could mean the world of a difference for health in Caldwell County.

Simply having health insurance is one of the strongest indicators of survival against cancer, and other chronic diseases. Unfortunately, a high percentage of families with low incomes, Black and rural North Carolinians have no health insurance, which increases their risk for diagnosis with a late-stage cancer when treatment is more expensive and chances for survival are significantly decrease.

Research has further found that adults with low incomes in states that haven’t closed that gap, like ours, are four times more likely to be uninsured.

For cancer patients in North Carolina, their diagnosis can be especially frightening. A recent study showed that cancer patients in ‘holdout’ states like ours experienced lower survival rates — including a 31% increase in mortality risk among breast cancer patients.

Medicaid can make the difference for Caldwell residents when they need it most — especially when it comes to our state’s leading cause of death.

An estimated 2.3 million Americans with a history of cancer rely on Medicaid coverage for screenings, diagnostic tests, treatments, surgical procedures, prescription medicines and follow-up care.

The financial impact of the pandemic can also not be understated. Thousands of North Carolinians lost their jobs and their employer-sponsored health care coverage as a result. Reduced hours and other financial impacts have also forced too many to forgo lifesaving screenings or treatment altogether.

If the legislature finally took action to close the coverage gap, more than 372,400 residents would gain access to affordable, comprehensive coverage they need.

It’s disturbing. I see our neighbors and fellow North Carolinians, many of whom have been working on the frontlines of the pandemic to keep our communities afloat but don’t have adequate access to comprehensive healthcare themselves. This uninsured population is made of service workers, small business owners, childcare providers and parents of young children, all individuals whose lives could be improved with access to health benefits.

With such financial and health benefits, a bolstered economy, and strong bi-partisan support, it’s commonsense policy to choose to expand — and utilize the 90% funding incentive from the federal government.

A lack of access to care shouldn’t be a main factor for survivability and driver for health inequities in our Black and rural communities. Not when we have the chance at our fingertips to do better.

What’s more, where you live shouldn’t determine if you live. By continuing to delay lifesaving action, North Carolina is missing on a coveted opportunity to improve care in rural communities like ours and give Caldwell residents a fighting chance against cancer and other chronic diseases.

Thomas McRary, CEO

West Caldwell Health Council, Inc.

Collettsville Medical Center

Happy Valley Medical Center

CobraCare Clinic