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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell tells North Carolina residents to get covered

Posted by on Tue, Jan 26, 2016 at 1:15 PM

HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell
  • HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell

Were you planning on signing up for health care coverage this year through North Carolina’s health insurance marketplace? If so, you’d better do it soon—enrollment ends on Sunday.

According to recent estimates from the Department of Health and Human Services, North Carolina ranks third in total number of enrollments for health insurance, with more than 500,000 people signed up as of Jan. 16.

But more than 126,000 people in the Raleigh-Durham area still need coverage. And if you can afford to pay for health insurance but don’t sign up, the penalty this year is pretty hefty: $695 or 2.5 percent of your income, whichever is higher. Last year, 91 percent of those seeking financial assistance in North Carolina qualified for it. This year, HHS estimates that 81 percent of North Carolina consumers can find a plan on the exchange for $75 or less after financial assistance.

We’ve spilled a lot of ink recently explaining why the state should accept billions of free dollars from the federal government to expand Medicaid, to help out hundreds of thousands of low-income people in North Carolina who can’t afford to buy health insurance on the exchange.

But you don’t have to take it from us.

“The benefits of Medicaid expansion are like all other methods of insuring people, they’re about financial and health security for individuals,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell told the INDY in an interview this morning. “Many people who are eligible for Medicaid are working or are part of a working family. And there are benefits to the local economy, and to the state itself.”

Burwell cites a joint study by the Deloitte consulting firm and the University of Louisville that shows Kentucky’s expansion of Medicaid will add 40,000 new jobs and $30 billion to the state’s economy by 2021.

Regarding the criticism from Republicans who claim that expanding Medicaid will make premiums—which have risen in North Carolina—even more expensive, Burwell says she “wouldn’t understand the logic of that at all.”

“Medicaid expansion’s interaction with pricing is that it reduces the amount of uncompensated care,” Burwell says. “We’ve seen across the country in states that have expanded the amount of uncompensated care reduced. The general impact on broader premiums for everyone else is their care is cheaper because they’re not paying for people going to the emergency room when they get sick, and they’re not being compensated for by hospitals.”

Additionally, Burwell says, out of all the methods of insuring people—Medicaid, Medicare, the marketplace and employer-based coverage—Medicaid is actually the most cost effective.

And a majority of North Carolina voters—72 percent—support Medicaid expansion, according to Public Policy Polling, from a survey commissioned by child advocacy group NC Child that was released Tuesday morning. The poll surveyed 2,003 North Carolina voters and found that, in addition to the 84 percent of Democrats who support Medicaid expansion, 62 percent of North Carolina Republicans and 62 percent of independents support using available federal funds to close the insurance gap.

“We hope this sends a clear message to Gov. McCrory and state legislators that all North Carolina voters will support an effort to expand health insurance coverage,” says Michelle Hughes, executive director of NC Child. “This data should give comfort to conservative candidates who haven’t been sure what their constituents think on this issue.”

A press release from NC Child notes that in North Carolina, “about 350,000 adults, including thousands of parents, are stuck in the coverage gap with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid and too low to qualify for tax credits under the Affordable Care Act. Most of them are working, but they cannot afford to buy health insurance on the prevailing wages in industries such as retail, construction, or food service.”

If you still need coverage, you can enroll at healthcare.gov at any time before Sunday, or call 1-800-318-2596. Check localhelp.healthcare.gov to find free, in-person assistance nearby. 

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