Voices from the Field

Rural Communities Need Medicaid Expansion Now

Michael Waldrum, MD, is Chief Executive Officer for ECU Health

When the new ECU Health brand was announced earlier this year, it was launched with a singular vision: to solve complex health care challenges preventing eastern North Carolina from realizing its immense potential. We know that a strong and vibrant health care system is necessary to grow and sustain healthy communities. Our region, which is home to 1.4 million hard-working people, faces disproportionate rates of chronic conditions — conditions that, when not managed early, result in high medical bills and financial hardship, particularly for those without insurance.

I am proud of the work we’ve done in the region to create a premier academic health care system and none of this is possible without the incredible work by our health care professionals. They are living the ECU Health mission each and every day by purposefully delivering health care in our communities and training the next generation of health care professionals.

While we have much to be grateful for, it is also necessary to recognize the current state of health care across the nation, within all of North Carolina and here at home. Health systems and hospitals are facing financial challenges largely driven by the pandemic, labor shortages, inflation and market disruptions. Despite careful planning and the tireless efforts of our team members, ECU Health is facing the same unprecedented challenges as other health systems. Some of our current challenges stem from unexpected and extremely high labor costs in addition to the rising cost of supplies like medicine and equipment, which are significantly higher than they were just one year ago.

In rural regions like ours, navigating these realities is even more difficult. We already face a high burden of disease, a large geographical area where local providers and teams provide a literal lifeline to quality care and a large number of community members who don’t have access to adequate health insurance.
While we are making great progress in charting the future of health care in the East, the reality is our rural communities need immediate support from our elected officials on two fronts:
Medicaid Expansion: for years, ECU Health has consistently and vocally advocated for expanding Medicaid to support rural communities in North Carolina. Expanding Medicaid would increase access to high quality care for more than 500,000 North Carolina residents and provide coverage to treat chronic conditions, prevent illness and disease progression and support healthy, productive lives. It is the right thing to do for all of North Carolina and especially in rural communities where access to care is always a challenge.
Healthcare Access Stabilization Plan: health care across the state is also relying on state lawmakers to support this federal program that would provide North Carolina hospitals with up to $1.8 billion in funding. At no cost to the state, North Carolina can apply for this level of funding as a result of moving to Medicaid managed care. This program can help stabilize the financial well-being of rural hospitals as they continue to recover from the chaos of a worldwide pandemic.

As someone who has dedicated their career to health care, I know that in order to meet eastern North Carolina’s full potential, we must embrace the fact that a healthier community is a more economically vibrant community. It is imperative that we do not lose this opportunity to implement programs that will have life-changing impacts on so many North Carolinians.

That is why it is vital that the General Assembly pass Medicaid expansion and move forward with HASP funding. Together, these efforts will help close the insurance gap, provide care for our most vulnerable community members, lower medical bills, bring much-needed dollars to the state and allow health systems and hospitals to continue to provide high-quality care to those who depend on it.

Story originally published in the Daily Reflector by Bobby Burns.