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NC Health Care Vigils Spotlight Medicaid Expansion

North Carolinians who want the  legislature to expand Medicaid to cover hundreds of thousands of additional adults are gathering across the state this evening.  BPR’s Helen Chickering has details.   

In a show of support for Medicaid expansion directed at state lawmakers, The North Carolina Justice Center, a research and advocacy organization is holding more than 20 vigils dubbed “Health Care Can’t Wait” including three in Western North Carolina. North Carolina remains one of 14 states that have not expanded Medicaid.

Pisgah Legal Services managing attorney Jackie Kiger says the simultaneous statewide events will focus on people impacted by lack of healthcare coverage- are designed to amplify the issue of closing the coverage gap during a critical time in state budget negotiations.

“And the time has come, this issue has been going on for way to long. There is a Harvard study that shows that we lose 1,000 lives in North Carolina every year and it is avoidable. If they lived in a state that had expanded Medicaid they would have a better chance of living and access the care and treatment they needed,” says Kiger,” it is such a critical issue and we know there are so many people in all of the different communities here and across our state. There are people who died because they didn’t have access to quality coverage through Medicaid and who are suffering now and could really use access to this life-saving care. We are standing up and speaking out to raise awareness and encourage our lawmakers to expand Medicaid.”

Kiger says expanding Medicaid would provide healthcare to an estimated half a million north Carolinians, including around 20 thousand in Buncombe county - who currently make too much money to qualify for Medicaid and too little to qualify for coverage under the affordable care act. Neither the House nor the Senate budget proposals include Medicaid expansion. 

The statewide vigils begin at seven o’clock (Wednesday, June 5).  Local events are being held in Pack Square in downtown Asheville, at the Fountain in downtown Sylva and on the lawn of the courthouse in Marion.  About 2 million people already qualify for Medicaid in North Carolina. More than 35 states already have expanded Medicaid eligibility in some form through the 2010 federal health care overhaul.

Helen Chickering is a host and reporter on Blue Ridge Public Radio. She joined the station in November 2014.