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RALEIGH – In a round table discussion with Gov. Roy Cooper and Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen, early childhood professionals from across North Carolina shared stories of how the health care coverage gap is negatively affecting their colleagues.

Attendees expressed concern that too many early childhood educators without access to health care are living with and dying from preventable diseases, and they urged legislators to expand Medicaid.

“We place a lot of trust and responsibility in the hands of early childhood educators, and it’s heartbreaking to hear about how many of them can’t afford health care,” Cooper said. “Our child care and pre-K teachers should be healthy so they can focus on preparing our children for lifelong learning, and it’s time we expanded Medicaid to help half a million North Carolinians access affordable health care.”

Cassandra Brooks, owner of Little Believers Academies in Garner and Clayton, told the governor that she is grieving the loss of her employee and friend, Brenda Pernell. An early childhood educator for more than 30 years, Pernell died from a stroke in April. Without health insurance, she had been unable to get care for her high blood pressure. Earlier this year, Pernell had joined other early childhood educators to speak out about the lack of access to health care that she and so many other families face.

Earlier this year, the NC Early Childhood Advisory Council urged the General Assembly to expand Medicaid.

Nineteen percent of early childhood educators in North Carolina do not have health insurance, according to reports. A median hourly income of $9.86 coupled with the high cost of health care means that they are often unable to access the care they need.

In February, Governor Cooper hosted a statewide Early Childhood Summit where he released the NC Early Childhood Action Plan. The plan provides a framework to galvanize coordinated, statewide public-private action to achieve 10 measurable goals for young children that address health, safety, family resilience and learning outcomes.

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