In December 2014, a first-of-its-kind, county-by-county study showed that by 2020, North Carolina’s workforce could grow by more than 43,000 jobs and the state’s economy could gain tens of billions of dollars in business revenue if the state expanded Medicaid eligibility.

The report, a nonpartisan economic analysis authored by university researchers and paid for by the Cone Health Foundation and the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, included data for all 100 North Carolina counties and concluded that nearly 500,000 residents would benefit if the state closed the Medicaid coverage gap.

It is important to understand North Carolina’s current Medicaid coverage policy — you must be a low-income child, a pregnant woman, an extremely low-income parent, a low-income senior or a person with a disability to qualify for Medicaid in North Carolina. Who gets left out? Adults who don’t have children, no matter how low their incomes are. These are people we all know and rely on every day: people working for a living in construction and food service, people taking care of our children.

Many North Carolinians in the coverage gap do not get insurance through their jobs and cannot afford insurance on their own. Surprisingly, their incomes are too low to qualify for tax credits through Healthcare.gov and too high to qualify for Medicaid. That’s the coverage gap we need to close for the hard-working people our service-based economy depends on.

We can still close the coverage gap. North Carolina has the opportunity to shape how we take care of our own, through Medicaid reform, passed by state lawmakers in September. The Medicaid reform mandate passed by the General Assembly puts the state on a tight timeline to customize our plan. The goal is to ask for permission from the federal government by June. North Carolina can negotiate with the federal government for a Medicaid waiver that is North Carolina-specific, that closes the coverage gap and takes advantage of $21 billion in federal money. This does not have to be political. North Carolina can join the 30 other states that have expanded coverage.

The report makes the case that closing the coverage gap could be an important engine for economic growth and job creation across the breadth of North Carolina. Expanding coverage for a half-million North Carolinians will enable them to get timely, affordable health care, including preventive and primary care that can help keep them healthy, as well as meet their needs when they are ill or injured.

Our foundations bear the names of some of the titans of economic development in North Carolina, Reynolds and Cone. These names are synonymous with job creation, leveraging opportunity and caring about the future of North Carolina. Closing the coverage gap for hard-working North Carolinians continues that legacy and fuels economic and employment growth. Let’s make sure our lawmakers understand that economic reality.

Susan Fitzgibbon Shumaker is the president of the Cone Health Foundation. Allen Smart is the interim president and vice president of programs at the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.

Panel discussion on Tuesday

Susan Shumaker, president of the Cone Health Foundation, will be part of a panel discussion in Greensboro Tuesday. The program is “The Medicaid Coverage Gap: The Price of Politics in North Carolina.” It is sponsored by the League of Women Voters and will be held at noon at Holy Trinity Church, 607 N. Greene St.

Other panelists are Rob Luisanna, managing partner for Pilot Benefits, and Adam Linker, co-director for the Health Access Coalition at the N.C. Justice Center.

There is no cost to attend, without lunch, but a reservation is required. Go to www.lwvpt.org/lunch.html.

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