Expanding Medicaid will transform these parents’ lives

North Carolina parents share what closing the coverage gap would mean for them and their kids

By: Claire Hermann | July 2022

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If the North Carolina legislature expands Medicaid, it will make a real difference in the lives of more than 100,000 parents with kids at home in our state. These hardworking parents need to be able to care for themselves so that they can care for their families.

These challenges are often amplified for the parents of kids with special needs. These parents work hard to make sure their kids get what they need to thrive – but that work usually doesn’t come with a paycheck or benefits. In a 2021 NC Child survey of North Carolina parents of children with special needs, 87 percent of uninsured parents reported skipping needed health care because of cost.

Tifini Ferrell, a mom of five, including triplets on the autism spectrum, explained one reason why health care questions are high-stakes for these parents.

“A lot of parents can think about their kids going on to be independent after high school or after college. I’m looking at a lifetime. So I need to be healthy for them.”

A life-changing difference

A.J. is a single mom with four teenagers, one of whom has special medical needs. She is also caring for another child who was previously homeless. A.J. works at a day care, a preschool, and as a habilitative technician. She’s also studying to earn her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education at Western Carolina University.

“I’m just a busy person,” she says. “I fall in the gap where because I work, I make too much money for Medicaid, but I don’t make enough for health insurance. With me being a single mom of four kids, it takes everything I have.”

A.J. hasn’t had a physical in years. She has hundreds of dollars in bills from complications from COVID and cannot afford to see the specialists she has been referred to. For emergencies, she goes to the hospital or urgent care. “I do have some medical bills from that,” she says. “But I usually don’t go to the doctor. It’s impacted my health.”

“If Medicaid was expanded, it would make a big difference. It would enable me to be healthy to take care of my kids. It’s life-changing, just to know that you’re able to go to a doctor when things go wrong. Because at the end of the day, I have to be healthy to be able to provide for my children.”

“There’s a lot of people like me, especially in Gaston County,” says A.J. “The cost of living – we can’t afford it.”

Health coverage is everything

Rachel Radford is a single mom of two autistic sons in Wayne County who lives with life-altering chronic illness. Her job lets her work the schedule that she needs to be able to care for her children – but she doesn’t earn enough to qualify for a subsidized plan on HealthCare.gov. She currently has emergency Medicaid, but she has been in the health insurance coverage gap before – and she likely will be again when the current Public Health Emergency ends.

“I’m terrified to be back in that coverage gap again,” she says. “I remember how poor my health was both physically and mentally. I remember just praying all the time and asking God – Just get me through this day, because I have to be Wonder Woman for my kids.”

“For me, health coverage is everything. I cannot be the super mom that I need to be for my autistic sons every day without health coverage. If I’m not here, who’s going to raise my children?”

Having Medicaid allowed Rachel to finally get treatment for many health issues she had put off for years while uninsured and manage ongoing concerns. If she loses coverage again, she won’t have that support. “It’s going to be a lot for me,” she says. “What sacrifices am I going to have to make, that my family is going to have to make with me, because I don’t have health insurance?” She anticipates having to choose between food, electric bills, and health care. Her biggest worry, though, is whether she can keep those struggles from her kids so they believe everything is all right.

“I haven’t given up for years,” she says, “and I won’t give up, because North Carolina will expand Medicaid. It will happen.”

Contact your legislator

The North Carolina House of Representatives and Senate both passed bills moving forward with Medicaid expansion this year. Now they need to agree on a shared strategy. Legislators return to Raleigh on July 26th. Please take a moment to ask legislators to expand Medicaid for parents and caregivers throughout our state.