JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – On Monday, Gov. Roy Cooper signed House Bill 76, Access to Healthcare Options, into law.
The legislation will expand Medicaid, which is expected to provide health coverage to over 600,000 additional people across North Carolina and bring billions in federal dollars to the state. North Carolina is the 40th state to expand Medicaid.
“Medicaid expansion is a once-in-a-generation investment that will strengthen our mental health system, boost our rural hospitals, support working families and so much more,” said Cooper. “This is a historic step toward a healthier North Carolina that will bring people the opportunity of better health and a better life.”
“This is a historic moment that will transform the health and well-being of North Carolina,” said Secretary of Health & Human Services, Kody H. Kinsley. “Medicaid expansion is foundational in improving access to health care in rural areas, for better mental health and for veterans, working adults and their families. For 600,000 people, Medicaid expansion is life-changing.”
Expanding Medicaid has been a top priority for Cooper since he took office. Since 2017, he has worked within the confines of state law to begin the expansion of Medicaid, even when Republican legislators sued him in federal court to stop the process.
Without Medicaid expansion, North Carolina has missed out on an estimated $521 million each month that could go to improving mental health and helping rural hospitals remain open.
Veterans, early childhood educators, restaurant workers and nursing home workers are all among the groups that often fall into the coverage gap and sometimes have to work two or more jobs to afford health care.
In North Carolina, rural residents are 40% more likely to be uninsured and eligible for Medicaid expansion, and 11 rural hospitals have closed in North Carolina since 2005, with more at risk of closure due to a lack of paying customers. North Carolina, like other states, is currently dealing with an opioid and substance abuse crisis. About 40% of overdose patients in emergency departments are uninsured, making it harder for them to get the follow-up mental health care they need.
Cooper’s budget, First in Opportunity, proposes using a portion of the almost $1.8 billion Medicaid expansion signing bonus to create the Improving Health Outcomes for People Everywhere (IHOPE) Fund. The plan focuses on three areas: making mental health services more available when and where people need them; building strong systems to support people in crisis and people with complex behavioral needs; and enabling better health access and outcomes with data and technology.