WILLIAMSTON, N.C. (WNCT) — One of three stops Gov. Roy Cooper will make this week as part of a listening tour of rural communities impacted by hospital closures will be in Martin County on Tuesday.

Statement from Town of Williamston

In a media release from the governor’s office, officials said the meeting will “highlight the urgent need to start Medicaid Expansion that has already been agreed to in a strong bipartisan vote of the legislature.” Roundtable discussions will also be held in Richmond County and Yadkin County with healthcare providers, members of law enforcement, local elected officials and others “who have been impacted by the failure to expand Medicaid.”

At 2 p.m. Tuesday, Cooper will be part of the roundtable discussion at Innovation Campus in Williamston. Following that, he will view the recently closed Martin General Hospital. 

Richmond County and Yadkin County also have experienced hospital closures in recent years. Martin General Hospital in Williamston closed on Aug. 3.

“The continued failure to pass a budget and start Medicaid Expansion is devastating for our rural communities who have been waiting for years for this support and cannot afford any more hospital closures,” Cooper said. “Whether it’s drawing down federal money to battle the opioid epidemic or just keeping the hospital doors open, Medicaid expansion is critical to supporting rural North Carolina, and we cannot delay any longer.”

Since the beginning of 2014, when states first became eligible to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, seven rural hospitals in North Carolina have closed, due in part to high levels of uncompensated care when patients do not have health care or the ability to pay for services. That includes the former hospital in Belhaven and the hospital in Plymouth. Washington County Hospital stopped offering medical services in February 2019 but reopened in May 2019 under new management as Washington Regional Medical Center.

In recent weeks, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services has started the legally-required process of removing people from Medicaid who are no longer eligible with the end of the federal Public Health Emergency. Since June 1, at least 18,000 people have lost healthcare coverage who likely would have been able to keep it under Medicaid Expansion and an estimated 9,000 people will continue losing coverage each month until Medicaid Expansion starts.

Medicaid Expansion includes a so-called signing bonus of $1.8 billion in addition to $521 million per month to North Carolina that would boost rural hospitals by increasing reimbursement rates and reducing the risk of financial troubles. The signing bonus can be used to boost mental health services across the state that are key to fighting the opioid epidemic.

Governor Cooper signed a bill authorizing Medicaid Expansion into law on March 27, but a provision that the governor opposed in the bill tied the enactment of Medicaid Expansion to the passage of this year’s state budget. A new state budget has not been met with approval by the NC Legislature.