"North Carolina is estimated to have 238,000 laid-off workers who are losing health insurance. And that would mean that the state has about 20% of its adult population under the age of 65 without any health insurance whatsoever," said Stan Dorn, the Director of the National Center for Coverage Innovation and a senior fellow at Families USA.
Dorn is the author of the report; Families USA is a Washington, D.C.- based non-partisan, non-profit organization.
According to their findings, North Carolina is tied with South Carolina for the seventh-highest percentage of adults under the age of 65 who are uninsured. Dorn said those figures can have an impact on everybody in the community.
"We know that people without health insurance delay seeking care even when they begin feeling sick. They can't afford to go to the doctor, they can't afford to fill a prescription and that means that their lives are put in risk. But it also is a force multiplier, spreading COVID-19 to others in the community," said Dorn.
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At the same time, people are still experiencing chronic health issues separate from COVID-19.
"Without the financial backing of insurance, many of those people are left with the question of, 'Am I going to become financially destitute or am I going to become very ill?' And unfortunately for many of them, those are currently their only two options," said Dr. Piper Kilaptrick with CAQ Sports Medicine and Carolina Family Practice and Sports Medicine in Holly Springs.
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The healthcare industry has been particularly impacted by COVID-19, as they've seen a steep drop-off in the number of elective procedures and in-person visits, combined with an increase in uninsured patients.
"You have issues with reimbursement. Your office has to then track down how (to) get reimbursed for this. And you have a significant drop in revenue from what you'd normally have," explained Dr. Kilpatrick.
He added patients are routinely reaching out for guidance in how to move forward with treatment.
"Even as one of the clinics that's opened up the fastest, we on a day-to-day basis are receiving many phone calls from patients who have many questions about our protocols, the safety of our clinic, what's going to happen to them when they come into the clinic, what the ramifications are for certain insurance changes, what the payment structures are going to be for tele-health. And (for) many of (those questions), we've been able to move pretty quickly and have answers for them. But unfortunately for such a dynamic situation, sometimes we don't even have the answers and we have to work with our patients and get through the best we can," explained Dr. Kilpatrick.
The non-profit group Peterson Center on Health Care and Kaiser Family Foundation reported more than 1 million jobs in the healthcare industry have been lost as non-emergency practices see fewer patients.
"You have a tremendously large number of people who are not in a critical care setting who have seen sometimes 80, 90% drop-off in the number of visits, number of patients that they are taking care of, which obviously creates this huge decrease in the economic return," Dr. Kilpatrick said.
More recent job numbers have shown some signs of progress, particularly in areas with low infection rates. Dr. Kilpatrick said his Holly Springs office has seen a large increase in in-person visits over the past few weeks, thanks in part to enhanced safety measures now in place at the clinic.
While the federal government has implemented measures to try and address these issues--ranging from PPP loans to ensure employment to stimulus checks and enhanced unemployment benefits, Dorn believes more needs to be done to assist those in need.
"At the state level, Medicaid expansion is just a total no-brainer," said Dorn.
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The issue has been hotly-contested in North Carolina for years, though Republicans and Democrats were able to move forward on a Medicaid Transformation bill to encourage health care providers to focus more on preventative care for low-income patients.