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Closing the state’s coverage gap would mean better health and more jobs for North Carolinians 

The NC Rural Center has launched a new county-level database that lets users explore who would benefit from closing the health insurance coverage gap, and the possible economic impact it could have for the state.

It is estimated that nearly 500,000 North Carolinians fall into the coverage gap, meaning they are either ineligible for Medicaid or earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to pay their insurance premiums in the marketplace.

The Rural Center’s database presents Census data on poverty and near-poverty populations and provides estimates on insurance coverage to explore who might benefit from Medicaid expansion. The database also reviews the economic importance of the state’s health sector and the economic impact of closing the coverage gap for local economies.

“The foundation of any healthy economy is a healthy workforce,” says Rural Center President Patrick Woodie. “Closing the coverage gap, connecting more working families to accessible and affordable health care, is both a moral and economic imperative for our state.” 

Many individuals who fall into the coverage gap are part of the “working poor,” the portion of the workforce who are actively employed but living day-to-day in a financially precarious position. They are individuals and families, friends and neighbors, who are only one lost paycheck or adverse health event away from economic ruin.

“Cone Health Foundation understands that closing the coverage gap for hardworking North Carolinians is not a rural issue or an urban issue – it is a state-wide concern,” says Susan F. Shumaker, president of the Cone Health Foundation, an organization focused on improving health outcomes in the Greensboro area. “That’s why the data visualization work commissioned by the Rural Center is important. It tells the complete story: there are high rates of being uninsured in every county across the state.”

The data visualization tool puts into context the economic impact the coverage gap has at the state and county level. By most current estimates for North Carolina, the health-care sector accounts for 590,275 jobs and nearly $7.6 billion in taxable wages.

By not providing help to those who have fallen into the coverage gap, the state will miss out on a potential 43,314 new jobs and more than $21 billion in state business activity.

“Our state cannot attract new businesses or grow established ones if our health provider network is financially vulnerable. For rural communities in particular, whose hospitals and medical practices rely more heavily on Medicaid and Medicare payments, even those with health insurance should care a great deal that we stabilize health systems, ” says Rural Center Senior Fellow Jason Gray, who along with Rural Center colleagues developed the new online tool. 

The data visualization tool is meant as the start of a public conversation about how the state can assist those individuals who are working and trying to create a better life for themselves and their families.

“Care4Carolina is pleased the Rural Center has provided this valuable resource to shed light on who the uninsured are and where they live in our state,” says Carla Obiol, director of Care4Carolina, a state-wide coalition working to close the state’s coverage gap. “This report provides a snapshot of who and where our uninsured are in all 100 counties. Care4Carolina supports finding a solution that will provide health insurance coverage to all uninsured in North Carolina to promote a healthier people and economy. “