Key Southern States Are Hearing From the People They Left Out of Health Coverage

03/16/2015 12:32 pm ET | Updated May 16, 2015
Jochen Sands via Getty Images

Most Southern states are in a hot mess when it comes to health care these days. While much of the nation -- and even some Southern states like Arkansas and Kentucky -- are experiencing record drops in the rates of uninsured adults, we're seeing incredibly slow progress in other Southern states like Mississippi, Texas and North Carolina (my home state). Case in point - only 9.8 pecent of Kentuckians are currently uninsured compared to 24.4 percent in Texas.

What's the difference? Two words: Medicaid expansion.

The Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare") was designed to help people struggling to afford health insurance. It offers subsidies to buy health insurance for those who fall slightly above the poverty line (but still too poor to afford the high cost of quality health insurance) and was supposed to provide Medicaid coverage for lower-income adults in all 50 states.

However, due to a ruling by the Supreme Court in 2012, states were given the option whether to expand Medicaid. This has resulted in a "Medicaid Coverage Gap" in non-expansion states where there are now people who earn too little to qualify for a subsidy to buy health insurance. This wasn't supposed to happen.

Advocates in these lagging Southern states aren't giving up though, despite their state leadership putting politics before people. They've launched a new "Left Me Out" movement that is sweeping the South and are reminding their lawmakers of what everyone knows: Medicaid expansion is a win-win for every state.

Supporters of Medicaid expansion in each state are gathering support for closing the Medicaid Coverage Gap and collecting stories from people who don't have access to affordable coverage at their respective "Left Me Out" websites. If you live in Mississippi, North Carolina, or Texas, join the Left Me Out movement to stand with those who have been left out of health coverage by state lawmakers. And if you've been left out of coverage yourself, please consider sharing your story about why health coverage matters for you:

Twenty-nine states so far have found a way to expand Medicaid which has contributed to substantially decreasing the rate of uninsured people in the United States. While a handful of states are still in talks about whether to expand health coverage, 16 other states have chosen to stand firmly against expanding health coverage to their poorest residents.

Who are the people being left without health coverage?

  • Adults in families at or below 138 percent of the poverty level ($27,000 for a family of three) in states that chose not to expand Medicaid
  • 86 percent live in the South
  • 44 percent are White; 26% are Black; 24 percent are Hispanic
  • Two-thirds are in a family with a worker and over half are working themselves

  • (Source: The Kaiser Family Foundation)

People who are in the Medicaid Coverage Gap don't have access to affordable coverage through an employer, but also don't make enough money to buy insurance on their own. They are often students, parents, and caretakers. They are part-time workers, seasonal workers, and job-seekers. They work at restaurants, child care centers, elder care facilities, salons, and your favorite retail stores. They are construction workers, farm workers, shopkeepers, and cashiers. They are our friends, our family members, and members of our communities.

If you know someone who is uninsured, they very well may fall into the Medicaid Coverage Gap, and they need your voice.

It's not too late for state lawmakers who've decided not to expand Medicaid to change their minds (or be replaced by those who support it). Each and every one of us in these states need to be contacting our lawmakers and asking them to do so, because too many uninsured people have been shamed into silence. Let's help make sure that no one is left out of affordable coverage.