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State official touts benefits of Medicaid expansion

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State Commerce Secretary Anthony Copeland gives the opening speech Thursday at the 2019 Twin Counties Education and Business Leaders’ Summit in Brown Auditorium at Nash Community College.

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BY WILLIAM F. WEST
Staff Writer

Friday, August 2, 2019

State Commerce Secretary Anthony Copeland did more than speak about economic development while he was at a business and education gathering Thursday in the Twin Counties.

Copeland called for the audience to support expanding Medicaid in North Carolina.

“I’m looking at this from an economic development point of view — billions of dollars, 50,000 jobs,” Copeland said.

Near the end of a speech at Nash Community College, Copeland asked the people in attendance whether they remembered the hoopla about efforts to convince online shopping giant Amazon to consider North Carolina.

Amazon was looking for a site to build a massive second headquarters, with Copeland recalling more than 50,000 jobs were expected to be created through a 15-year period. The site will be in the Arlington, Va., area.

Copeland said Medicaid expansion would provide for both a similar number of jobs and billions of dollars spread out over five years across North Carolina.

Medicaid since 1965 has been designed to help provide health insurance coverage to low-income Americans. In 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the federal Affordable Care Act, part of which allows states to expand Medicaid to help subsidize people with incomes 138 percent below the poverty line.

In 2013, the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed a law banning Medicaid expansion in North Carolina. News stories have reported that Republicans cited a list of reasons, including the national debt, in opposing an expansion of Medicaid.

Presently, 36 states and the District of Columbia have approved expanded Medicaid coverage.

Gov. Roy Cooper’s proposal for Medicaid expansion in North Carolina would cost $2.13 billion.

During his speech at NCC on Thursday morning, Copeland said about 500,000 people in North Carolina have access to health care.

“They’re already getting health care — and it’s being paid for by the hospitals and they’re not getting reimbursed,” Copeland said. “Our rural hospitals are closing one after another.”

Copeland told the gathering if one expects to recruit a business or an industry to an area where their employees have to travel about two hours to a hospital, that prospect will not commit to that area.

He said Medicaid expansion would result in about 4,700 jobs in Wake County, about 3,000 jobs in Durham County, nearly 1,600 jobs in Johnston, Harnett, Wilson and Nash counties and about 3,000 jobs in Greensboro.

“So I would urge you to understand the significance of Medicaid expansion and an added benefit: It pays to have healthy children going to school and a healthy workforce to have access to health care,” he said.

He went on to point out the federal government would pay 90 percent of the costs, with health care providers to pay the remaining 10 percent.

“And our estimates show that corporate health care premiums would go down by 7 percent, which is not an insignificant number, is it, Cummins?” he said, looking at representatives of the Cummins Rocky Mount Engine Plant as he made his last point.