Last week, Congress approved an $8.3 billion emergency spending package in an effort to combat the coronavirus. Almost $13 million has been set aside for emergency aid for North Carolina as local health officials prepare for the outbreak.
Across the country, some states are setting aside funds to waive fees for patients who lack healthcare and cannot afford the coronavirus testing. For states that have expanded Medicaid, the number of patients are small, but for North Carolina, the state budget stall has prevented the expansion, posing a major obstacle as more cases emerge.
Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration is giving serious consideration to using some of those emergency federal dollars to pay for those who do need to be tested but cannot afford it. Such a move would be the right thing, not just helping those with financial challenges, but also because it is the right thing to protect the public health.
But this is a state where the General Assembly’s leadership has steadfastly refused to extend health coverage to those who need it but cannot afford it. Should Cooper decide to use the emergency federal funds for the coronavirus testing, no one should ignore the very real possibility legislative leaders might try to block it.
“If people with COVID-19 symptoms don’t get properly tested, we could have a catastrophe on our hands,” Duke University professor and physician Gavin Yamey, who directs the Center for Policy Impact in Global Health, wrote recently. “Infected people could get sick and die. They could infect others.” In his Time Magazine column last week, he added: “If any of the 28 million people (nationally) without insurance develop symptoms and get coronavirus tests, they could face medical bills that could push them further into poverty.”
Since 2017, North Carolina holds the 10th highest uninsured rate in the nation with over one million — 10.7 percent of the state’s population — uninsured. Without Medicaid expansion, those without it will lack the financial resources to receive coronavirus testing.
Lawmakers who have continuously blocked Medicaid expansion, have left millions vulnerable as the growing number of coronavirus cases continue. To protect public health and safety, federal funds should be used for everyone who needs to be tested.