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COVID-19 Cost 238,000 North Carolinians Their Health Insurance. As Federal Benefits Run Out, They Worry They Can’t Afford Care.  

As Senators Thom Tillis and Mitch McConnell continue to fumble the coronavirus response, unable to come to a consensus within their own party to preserve the expanded unemployment benefits North Carolinians are relying on, we are reading more and more about how this the pandemic, and with it the loss of jobs and health care, is impacting North Carolinians. 

A report from Families U.S.A. found that 238,000 North Carolinians lost their health care due to job loss during the COVID-19 pandemic, estimating that more than 1.2 million adults across the state lacked health insurance in May 2020. 

Morgan Childers of Cullowhee takes thousands-of-dollars-worth of medication every month so “[she] couldn’t afford to be uninsured.” And now, as Tillis failed to extend the federal unemployment benefits, she worries that she won’t be able to afford the critical care she needs: “If I don’t find a job, I’ll be using the rest of my savings to cover the next two months…It’s hard to figure out what direction to go in.” 

Further, “[a]mong the newly uninsured, some may land in the state’s ‘coverage gap’ and struggle to access new plans.” Without Medicaid expansion, even more North Carolinians will fall in the coverage gap during a time when access to health care is even more urgent. Expanding Medicaid would extend coverage to more than 634,000 North Carolinians and lower health care costs for everyone. But Thom Tillis continues to back the GOP lawsuit that would dismantle the Affordable Care Act, and with it, the opportunity for states to receive a federal match to expand Medicaid, and will not call for a special enrollment period. Cal Cunningham has called on Congress to reinstate the 100 percent cost share as an additional incentive for states that have not yet expanded. 

Thom Tillis’ failure to lead through this crisis has caused immense anxiety and unnecessary financial hardships for the people he is supposed to serve. In November, North Carolina families will remember that. 

Read more below. 

Fayetteville Observer: COVID job losses cost 238,000 health insurance

By Brian Gordon – July 30, 2020 

  • No longer getting health insurance through work, unemployed N.C. residents face complex options to regain coverage
  • In late March, Morgan Childers, 30, of Cullowhee, logged onto the website,, and starred at the plans filling her screen.
  • Childers had never searched for insurance before, but things changed after she lost her job and employer-sponsored coverage from Western Carolina University. She has an autoimmune disorder and takes thousands-of-dollars-worth of medication every month.
  • Childers couldn’t afford to be uninsured.
  • She wasn’t alone in looking for insurance this spring. Nearly half of North Carolina residents get coverage through employers. As the state’s unemployment soared – from 3.6% in February to 12.8% in May – thousands became uninsured. Those fortunate to qualify for new plans were left, perhaps for the first time, to locate insurance on their own.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic took away health insurance from 238,000 North Carolinians this spring, according to a new study.
  • The nationwide analysis, from the consumer health care advocacy group Families USA, found a 24% increase in North Carolina workers who became uninsured from February to May. Overall, the state ranks fifth in the country with 1.2 million uninsured adults.
  • Yet most who lost insurance during the pandemic will face an array of options, each carrying varying costs and benefits.
  • 46% of insurance increases during the pandemic were seen in 5 states: Calif., Texas, Fla., N.Y. and N.C.
  • An estimated 20% of N.C. adults under 65 are uninsured, up from 16% in 2018.
  • More than 1.2 million N.C. adults lacked health insurance in May 2020
  • Among the newly uninsured, some may land in the state’s “coverage gap” and struggle to access new plans. North Carolina remains one of 13 states to eschew Medicaid expansion under the federal ACA, commonly known as Obamacare.
  • While the official ACA enrollment period starts in November, certain “qualifying life events” – like having a baby, getting divorced, or being laid off – triggers a 60-day special enrollment period. 
  • Miss the deadline and a person would have to wait until late fall to acquire subsidized healthcare through the federal marketplace.
  • Van Arnam estimated 500,000 North Carolina residents a year connect with his network of six nonprofits. He said determining eligibility in North Carolina is more difficult due to the lack of Medicaid expansion.
  • In recent years, Navigators have seen less assistance from the federal government. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Navigators in North Carolina received 85% less federal funding from 2016 to 2018 as the Trump administration reduced its support for Navigators nationwide.
  • “That significantly hampered our efforts in manpower and outreach, and you know in spreading the word,” Van Arnam said.
  • Health care advocates are concerned that many North Carolinians who can currently access plans will soon fall into coverage gaps once their unemployment benefits run out.
  • Morgan Childers is worried too. She fears she won’t be able to afford her COBRA plan if the $600-a-week federal unemployment bonus ends. She continues to look for jobs with health insurance, but has found the search challenging in rural Western North Carolina.
  • “If I don’t find a job, I’ll be using the rest of my savings to cover the next two months,” she said. “It’s hard to figure out what direction to go in when it comes to health care, but all the average person knows is, ‘I need health care to be available to me.’”