Governor Roy Cooper wraps up a six-county tour of Western North Carolina on Friday. BPR caught up with him at Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital in Murphy where he was talking Medicaid Expansion.
At a roundtable with hospital officials and Murphy community leaders, the governor heard a lot about the need to expand Medicaid - especially for the Western end of the state.
Murphy Mayor Rick Ramsey explained that at the beginning of 2018 Tennessee-based Erlanger nonprofit health system bought Murphy Medical Center. Before that the hospital was in dire straits, and now that isn’t, mayor Ramsey it makes his town attractive for businesses:
“They want to know right at the top of the list: do you have quality healthcare? Now we can say yes but two years ago unfortunately we could not,” says Ramsey. “ So it’s an honor to have the governor in the far western tip of North Carolina.”
Mark Kimball, CEO of Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital, explains the hospital loses around $1.5 million dollars in uncompensated care each month. That money adds up - and Kimball says that can be the difference between a hospital keeping it’s doors open or not.
For the governor, that’s just one of the reasons he is seeking Medicaid Expansion under the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to ‘Obamacare.’ Passing expansion has been his goal since Cooper took office. He says that expanding Medicaid will cover almost 7,000 more people and bring over 700 jobs to the seven westernmost counties.
“Well what you see is rural efforts to keep what they have and Medicaid expansion will provide more opportunities to get jobs in healthcare more preventative care and it will avoid the cost sharing that occurs when indigents get treated,” says Cooper.
Western North Carolina has seen a number of hospital sales including the recent $1.5 billion dollar purchase of Mission Health System by for-profit HCA. Cooper says expanding Medicaid would give even more funding to hospitals.
“This decision has already been made,” says Cooper. “We are paying our federal tax money tot Washington to insure people in other states outside of North Carolina and it’s time for that to end.”
He says that there is bipartisan support for expansion of the healthcare system. Legislation for a Republican alternative to Medicaid Expansion bill was introduced this week. One of the major disagreements between the parties is on the idea of work requirements for those on Medicaid. Cooper says there is room for compromise on the issue.
“I think that we can work through that. Remember that medicaid expansion often impacts working people,” says Cooper. “We are talking about our neighbors who have mostly two jobs - they just work for employers who can’t afford to offer them health insurance.”
Medicaid work requirements have recently been struck down by federal judges in Arkansas and Kentucky. For Cooper the clock is ticking to get expansion passed this General Assembly session otherwise he says that it won’t happen for another 2 years.
“We need to get the number of votes to get the expansion so I think that you are going to find us accommodating so that people can get the healthcare that they need,” says Cooper.
Cooper is also focusing on outdoor recreation and education during his visit to Western North Carolina. He has visited Brevard High School, Western Carolina University and North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching in Cullowhee to talk about his Invest NC bond plan. The plan promises $2 billion dollars for schools across the state. Additionally, Cooper visited dowtown Hayesville and Robbinsville.
He says that these three issues - education, medicaid expansion and outdoor recreation - are key to success in rural Western North Carolina.
“ People like to talk about the challenges of Western North Carolina and we know what they are,” says Cooper. “But I like to talk about the opportunities: the lower cost of living, the beautiful views, the wide open space - but we know that for people to live here they need health care.”