Report indicates the pandemic leaves a record number of Americans and North Carolinians without insurance at the worst possible time.
A record number of people, including nearly 240,000 North Carolinians, are without health insurance after losing their jobs this spring in the midst of COVID-19’s economic carnage, researchers found.
In North Carolina, an estimated one in five adults is now without health insurance, according to a report released last week by Families USA, a non-partisan health care advocacy group.
That comes as the state faces off against the novel coronavirus, a highly contagious pathogen that’s proven especially lethal for those with pre-existing health conditions.
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Without health insurance or stable income, it may become impossible for newly unemployed people to properly treat diabetes, high blood pressure or other chronic health conditions that put them at risk.
“There is no safety net,” said state Rep. Sydney Batch, a family law lawyer and Democratic state lawmaker from Wake County.
Batch is a proponent of increasing health care access in the state, primarily through expansion of the state’s Medicaid program that’s currently open to very low-income seniors, persons with disabilities, children, and some of their family members.
The inaction by her colleagues at the NC General Assembly, she said, has needlessly hurt North Carolinians just trying to get by.
“It puts people in a terrible position, we haven’t done enough in North Carolina to close that gap,” Batch said.
Record drop in insurance coverage
Nationally, 5.4 million workers who lost jobs also are now going without insurance, a figure that Is likely to go up as the economy continues to buckle during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Families USA report found.
It was the highest drop in health care coverage the US has ever experienced.
“Families in America are losing comprehensive health insurance in record numbers,” the report concluded. “This creates particularly serious dangers during a grave public health crisis and deep economic downturn.”
Families USA researchers analyzed data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on changes to the workforce between February and May. They then factored in findings from an Urban Institute report that found many who lost their job-related health insurance are often unable to replace it.
No health insurance for 1 in 5 NC adults
North Carolina is also among the worst-hit when it comes to the effects the pandemic is having on health insurance coverage.
The state’s 20% uninsured adult rate means it joins states like Texas (where 29% of the state’s adults are now uninsured), Florida (25%), Georgia (23%), Mississippi (22%), Nevada (21%), and South Carolina (20%).
While coverage is offered to terminated employees through COBRA, a federal requirement to extend offers of health insurance for a period of time, that can cost hundreds of dollars a month as people are scrambling to pay their rent or mortgage and feed their families.
“They find themselves in a position where they have to make a hard decision,” Batch said, between paying for their living essentials and health care coverage.
So that means once people lose their jobs, and their employer-provided insurance, there’s often nowhere to turn other than to go without and hope for the best.
Medicaid expansion hasn’t come to NC
These largely Southern states with skyrocketing rates of uninsured adults also are like North Carolina in that they haven’t expanded Medicaid, a key piece of former President Barack Obama’s 2010 Affordable Care Act. [Nevada is the exception to this, having expanded Medicaid in 2014].
A US Supreme Court decision issued after the act’s passage left it up to states to choose whether or not to extend the government-funded health care program to childless adults unable to afford health insurance on their own. The agreement would have the federal government paying 90% of the cost, with the state picking up 10% of the remaining bill.
Most states have done that, but North Carolina and 12 other states haven’t. Oklahoma became the most recent state to clear the way for Medicaid expansion when voters passed a ballot measure earlier this month.
Meanwhile, in North Carolina, the state legislature left their session this summer without making a move to consider Medicaid expansion, an issue that’s been a top point of conflict between Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, and Republican leaders of the state legislature.
As Cardinal & Pine reported in June, Democrats in the state legislature began pressuring GOP leadership to reconsider Medicaid expansion, but Republican lawmakers in the state Senate have been unwilling to consider it. Experts estimate expansion could deliver a mostly federally-funded boost to health insurance for hundreds of thousands of low-income North Carolinians.
But Sen. Joyce Krawiec, the Davie and Forsyth County Republican who heads the Senate’s key health care committee, called C&P “fake news” when asked about expansion.
A bipartisan attempt to pass a diluted version of Medicaid expansion faltered last year, before the pandemic was on anyone’s radar for 2020. Cooper and Republican legislative leaders entered into a stalemate over the state budget because of it and it remains a top issue going into November’s election.
Inaction from Congress so far
The pandemic opened up a chasm when it comes to health insurance – and more Americans are now without health insurance than ever before.
And the question has been asked: What’s being done about it?
In effect, nothing.
The US House of Representatives, in the HEROES Act (H.R. 6800), included language that would cover premiums for laid-off or furloughed workers. But the Senate has yet to take action on the bill.
The Families USA report authors called on Congress to take action before the lack of health coverage prompts a crisis of its own.
“Now is the time to fill that gap by including protections for comprehensive health insurance in the next COVID-19 bill,” the report’s authors wrote.
Labor organizers and essential workers have also called on North Carolina’s two Republican Senators, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, to support the HEROES legislation last month, according to the Triangle-based Indy Week.
Tillis is up for re-election this November, in what’s expected to be a tight race against his Democratic challenger, Cal Cunningham.