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Cherokee County Hospital Calls on General Assembly to Close Health Coverage Gap


MURPHY: Today, the CEO of Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital presented Governor Roy Cooper with a resolution “urging the North Carolina General Assembly to expand Medicaid in North Carolina as soon as possible.”

“The single best thing we can do for our rural communities is to close the health insurance coverage gap, which will pump $4 billion into our economy, create thousands of jobs and help more North Carolinians – including 1,000 people right here in Cherokee County – access affordable health care,” said Governor Cooper.

“Delayed care often results in acute emergencies requiring expensive hospitalizations,” said Mark Kimball, Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital CEO. “Creating accessibility to affordable health care while simultaneously creating jobs is an important part of this resolution and we encourage the representatives of North Carolina to support the NC Health Care for Working Families legislation. As a critical access hospital, we see how lack of care accessibility and income dramatically effects our communities.”

Expanding Medicaid would particularly impact rural North Carolina, where 29% of low-income people are uninsured. In addition to providing access to affordable health care, it is estimated that expanding Medicaid would bring $4 billion into North Carolina’s economy, create more than 13,000 jobs in rural counties within five years and help rural hospitals remain financially viable.

The hospital’s resolution highlights the challenges rural hospitals face. It estimates it costs Erlanger Western Carolina more than $17 million per year to treat uninsured patients. Across North Carolina, 40 percent of rural hospitals are operating with budget deficits, and four have closed since 2014. Nationally, 82 percent of rural hospital closures since 2014 have been in states that did not close the coverage gap.

The resolution was part of a roundtable discussion with Governor Cooper and hospital leaders about the state of rural health care and the need to expand access to affordable, quality health insurance. Mark Kimball, CEO of Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital was joined by hospital leaders, as well as Pastor Tim Huff from Murphy Free Methodist Church and Tom O’Brien, President/CEO of Industries Opportunities, Inc.

Closing the health insurance coverage gap for families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid is a top priority for Governor Cooper. Currently, a family of four with working parents must earn less than $9,000 to qualify for Medicaid. The same family’s income would have to exceed $25,000 to qualify for a federal subsidy. Since 2014, 37 states including the District of Columbia have passed Medicaid expansion to close this coverage gap.

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