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WNC Republican Calls For Medicaid Expansion

Lilly Knoepp
Vice Chair Macon County Commissioners Ronnie Beale, Graham County Commissioner Dale Wiggins, and Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority CEO Casey Cooper are panelist at Care4Carolina meeting with Executive Director of Southwestern Commission Sarah Thompson.

One Western North Carolina Republican wants North Carolina to expand Medicaid. 

State and local representatives – mostly Republicans - gathered at Southwestern Community College to talk about the need to “close the health coverage gap.” Sarah Thompson, executive director of the Southwestern Commission explains what that gap is:

“The coverage gap refers to people who do not qualify for Medicaid because they earn too much to qualify but they make too little to qualify for a subsidy in the private insurance marketplace or to afford health insurance on their own,” said Thompson.

This impacts over 600,000 people in North Carolina, according to some estimates.  

Ever since he took office, Democratic Governor Roy Cooper and leading Republicans in the General Assembly have been fighting over Medicaid expansion.  One GOP lawmaker is hopeful that this won’t be the case this year - Senator Kevin Corbin.

Corbin, an insurance agent, was a co-sponsor on the proposed “Working Families” bill which outlined Medicaid expansion with work requirements.  Democrats did not support that requirement. Ultimately no budget was passed because of a lack of a lack of negotiation between parties.

When he ran for Senate last year, Corbin touted Medicaid expansion – even though Republicans said his base wouldn’t support it.   

“We had a primary election and a general election that we won handily. It did not hurt me. And I’ve got one of the most conservative districts in the state. So I don’t buy that argument,” said Corbin on Friday.

The counties in Corbin’s district all voted over 50 percent for former-President Trump last year.

Corbin says he hopes to put forward hopes a new bill focused on expanding access to healthcare in the next few weeks. 

Advocacy coalition Care4Carolina with NC Rural Center and others sponsored Friday's event. Including local consultant Brittney Lofthouse. Lofthouse shared the story of her father’s death at age 55 – which she believes could have been prevented if he had health insurance.  

Dogwood Health Trust President Susan Mims, Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority CEO Casey Cooper, Vice Chair of Macon County Commissioners Ronnie Beale, NC Rural Center President Patrick Woodie, and Care4Carolina Business Advisory Council representative Peg O’Connell were all also panelists.

Graham County Commissioner Dale Wiggins has been a longtime advocate for Medicaid expansion. As a panelist at the event, he shared about his battle with cancer and how his faith influences his belief in access to healthcare. He’s also on the Governor’s Council on Healthcare Coverage.

“Do you see Jesus walking over to someone who is sick and saying ‘Do you have a job?,’” asked Wiggins.  

Two Republican state representatives in Corbin’s senate district -  Karl Gillespie and Mike Clampitt – both were also at the event. Both aren’t supporting Medicaid expansion right now. 

Clarification: Senator Kevin Corbin clarified the bill will  focus on ‘expanding access to healthcare’ which he hopes will include measures that will gain widespread support.  

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