REIDSVILLE (September 10, 2019) – Expanding Medicaid is the right choice for North Carolina as well as rural hospitals and economies, said health advocates and local officials today in Reidsville.

The NC Justice Center hosted the press conference to highlight research from their latest report, “Strong Medicine: Why Medicaid expansion is the right treatment for rural hospitals, economies.” As has happened in many states where Medicaid expansion has been blocked, rural hospitals in North Carolina are struggling to cope with a number of pressures, including high uninsured rates and uncompensated care costs, the report says.

“Medicaid expansion could, in one stroke, profoundly improve the physical and economic health of rural communities,” said Patrick McHugh, co-author of the report. “Expansion would ensure lifesaving care for hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians, support rural hospitals currently facing financial ruin, and stave off the economic damage that follows hospital closures.”

The report is particularly relevant to Rockingham County, home of Morehead Hospital, which filed for bankruptcy in 2017 and was almost forced to permanently close its doors — as five other rural North Carolina hospitals have had to do since 2010. UNC Hospitals stepped in and purchased Morehead, now named UNC Rockingham, and offered a five-year respite, but there are no guarantees past that time.

“One of the issues facing rural communities is not just attracting new industries, but attracting people to move here and live here who can work in these industries,” says Jay Donecker, Mayor of Reidsville. “Medical care is very important for all stages of raising a family and afterwards. If we don’t have that hospital, it’s hard to attract employees. It’s also hard to attract people to come back and spend their retirement years here.”

Although Medicaid expansion will not fix all the problems facing rural hospitals, it will help to deal with the high levels of uncompensated care that these institutions currently face.

“Annie Penn Hospital and Cone Health strongly supports expanded health insurance coverage, inclusive of Medicaid expansion, to close the coverage gap and provide essential health coverage for North Carolinians,” said Stokes Ann Hunt, Director of the Annie Penn Hospital Foundation. “Insuring more people allows us to care for patients in the most cost effective way and with the highest quality care possible.”

Seventy of North Carolina’s 80 rural counties are already designated as “medical deserts” for their lack of primary care availability, according to the “Strong Medicine” report. If the General Assembly doesn’t pass Medicaid expansion this year, even more rural communities stand to lose their primary provider of critical health services.

“Hospitals are the lifeblood of rural communities, providing both healthcare and jobs,” said Dr. Joel Gallagher, an allergy and immunology specialist. “Medicaid expansion would provide a much-needed boost to these facilities by bringing in $4 billion in federal dollars and creating 43,000 jobs. No more delays. Let’s get this done for the people of North Carolina.”