Wednesday evening, folks gathered in front of the McDowell County Courthouse as a call for action on the expansion of Medicaid in North Carolina.
“We are living in a time where the truth is a lie and a lie is the truth,” said Mayor Pro Tem Billy Martin at the vigil. “We have people in North Carolina who are hurting in so many ways because our legislative leaders in Raleigh refuse to expand Medicaid. A half million citizens in our state could obtain health insurance if our politicians would do the right thing.”
Around 25 people gathered Wednesday evening at the courthouse for the Health Care Can’t Wait vigil, which was organized by the N.C. Justice Center and the West Marion Community Forum. Marion stood in solidarity with more than 20 other cities and towns across the state holding similar events. These simultaneous memorial vigils were held to honor and remember the people who have died and suffered because of the Medicaid coverage gap, according to organizers.
North Carolina remains one of only 14 states that have not expanded Medicaid while 36 other states have expanded it. These vigils will amplify the issue of closing the health coverage gap during this critical time in budget negotiations, since both the North Carolina House and Senate have left Medicaid expansion out of their budgets, according to the N.C. Justice Center.
At the local vigil, members of the Marion City Council, representatives of the West Marion forum and other concerned residents expressed their support for expanding Medicaid.
“We hear how our economy is booming in our country but I am here to say the economy is not booming for everybody,” said Martin. “Our (state) Senate leader says expanding Medicaid would give people the incentive not to seek employment. First, let me say there’s not 500,000 people in North Carolina who fall into this category and second among those, a half million residents are people who are willing to work but due to some medical issues they are experiencing and no health insurance, they can’t get well enough to go to work.”
He also read an editorial from The Asheville Citizen-Times about how the state Senate’s budget proposal harms health care for rural areas in North Carolina because of petty matters.
Paula Swepson Avery, executive director of the West Marion forum, talked about what it was like for her when she did not have health insurance. During the vigil, participants lit candles in memory of those who have died or as an expression of support for those who are suffering now because of this issue.
“I would venture to say none of you here this evening has anything negative about expansion in 36 other states,” said Martin. “It disturbs me to no end when our leaders who have health insurance try to justify not making it possible for others to have health insurance too. Some changes are going to have to happen in Raleigh. It’s not who is right. It’s what is right.”
Similar vigils took place Wednesday evening in Asheville, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Sylva, Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Durham and other cities in the state.