Closing the Coverage Gap to Boost Business Bottom Lines

There are 5,000 people McDowell County who can’t get health coverage. They’re in a “coverage gap”—they earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but too little to afford health insurance, There are over 400,000 people like them across our state. This summer, the North Carolina General Assembly has a chance to close this gap and get NC residents covered. Our representatives know that this is a human issue, but they need to understand that it’s a business issue as well.

As Executive Director of the McDowell County Chamber of Commerce, it’s my job to know the needs of local businesses.  I know that McDowell County businesses need the General Assembly to close the coverage gap. Getting people health coverage will help them get back to work and keep them healthy and productive on the job. This in turn will lower the cost of doing business, and will add millions of dollars to the McDowell County economy.

What our businesses need most of all is a large and healthy workforce. Small businesses here in McDowell County have had trouble hiring—in part because people who want to work and have the skills to contribute are afraid to step into the coverage gap. I know McDowell County. People here are hard-working. Here’s the problem: 15% of our workforce is in the coverage gap[1].  People who want to work often have to choose between getting a job and keeping their healthcare benefits. That’s not a choice anyone should have to make. But that’s the reality we’re living in until the General Assembly closes the coverage gap.

It is no wonder that states that have closed the coverage gap have increased employment, and no wonder workers in those states say it’s easier for them to find and keep jobs.

Business leaders know the problem is not just about getting people into our jobs. We need to close the coverage gap to make sure our workers can stay productive. Every year, every business in McDowell County loses an average of almost $1,700 in productivity per employee because of illness.[2] Getting health coverage for our hard-working employees is a no-brainer for our bottom line. Closing the gap allows our businesses to increase profitability and productivity, reinvest in business growth, and reinvest in their communities

In fact, closing the coverage gap makes health insurance less expensive for everyone—including for the McDowell businesses that already provide coverage for their employees. When people don’t have insurance, they wind up going to the one place that legally cannot turn them away: hospital emergency rooms. Hospitals cover these costs by charging higher prices for everyone else. That translates into higher insurance premiums. It’s why states that have closed the gap have premiums about 7% lower than states that haven’t. If North Carolina closes the gap, we’ll make coverage cheaper for everyone, including businesses.

For all these reasons, closing the coverage gap would cut the cost of doing business in McDowell County. and helps business revenues, too. If the Generally Assembly decides to close the gap, they’ll be putting money back in the pockets of every consumer in McDowell County and across the state. According to the North Carolina Rural Center, if we close the coverage gap, we’ll generate up to $54 million in new business activity right here in McDowell County. That’s not just healthcare spending.[1] That’s $54 million in new revenue shared across all our businesses—from restaurants to roadside gas stations and everyone in between.

Anyone who runs a business can tell you they’re trying to do two things: lower costs and raise revenue.  For businesses across McDowell County, closing the coverage gap does both at the same time. It’s time for the politicians in Raleigh to stop pretending that what’s good for people is bad for business. It’s time for the General Assembly to get health coverage for over 400,000 North Carolinians, thousands of them right here in McDowell County. Help them get back to work. Help them contribute to our economy. And help our businesses thrive.

[1] Takes number from this NC Child factsheet and multiplies by 63% (ConeHealth figure here) to estimate number of workers in gap in McDowell, then divides by NC DoC total workforce figure here.
[2] CDC figure here.

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