When it comes to health insurance, North Carolina has the sixth largest uninsured population in the nation. One in five Jackson County residents under the age of 65 is uninsured, nearly twice the state average.

Who would benefit directly from Medicaid expansion? People who work one or even two jobs but don’t make enough money to afford health care or qualify for Medicaid under North Carolina’s eligibility rules; or earn too little to purchase coverage plans using subsidies from the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). That would include at least 2,488 people in Jackson County, 2,549 in Haywood, and 833 in Swain. In North Carolina, half a million people.

More than 40 percent of state residents have annual incomes below $17,236 for a single household or $29,435 for a family of three. By expanding Medicaid, our communities could bring health benefits to fast food and restaurant employees, retail workers, cleaning and maintenance workers, production workers, construction laborers, veterans, our friends, our neighbors, ourselves.

Passing clean Medicaid expansion legislation, a plan currently being considered in Raleigh (HB5 and SB3), would not only help those who are currently uninsured, it would strengthen our communities through better health care. For example, Medicaid expansion would help fight the opioid crisis by expanding and/or maintaining access to addiction treatment. North Carolina had the second highest increase in overdose deaths in the country in 2017. And our rural hospitals would get a financial boost. Five rural hospitals have recently shuttered their doors and eight more are at risk of financial distress.

New businesses would become more interested in investing in our communities. Estimates tell us that Medicaid expansion could create 305 jobs, bring in $103,800,000 in business activity and $668,000 in new tax revenue for Jackson County. In Haywood it could create 115 jobs, $54,500,000 in new business activity and $767,000 in new tax revenue. In Swain it could create 833 new jobs, $11,100.000 in new business activity and $61,000 in new tax revenue.

Ninety percent of the funding for expansion would come from taxes we have to pay to the government. The cost of expansion would almost immediately be recouped by the jobs produced, by decreasing uncompensated costs to hospital emergency rooms, and by increased business activity and tax revenue. We could lower costs even more and help more people if we also reduce unnecessary administrative hurdles such as excessive reporting requirements by passing a clean Medicaid expansion bill.

Please join DownHome NC of Jackson County and Indivisible Common Ground WNC at a nonpartisan rally to support clean Medicaid expansion today (Thursday) at 4:30 p.m. at 500 Mill St. in Sylva. Additional information may be found at www.ncjustice.org.

Joan Parks,