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Report: Early-Childhood Educators Lack Health Insurance

Statewide, 1-in-5 early-childhood educators is without health insurance, according to a new report. And in some rural North Carolina counties, those numbers may be even higher. (kinni72nni72/Twenty20)
Statewide, 1-in-5 early-childhood educators is without health insurance, according to a new report. And in some rural North Carolina counties, those numbers may be even higher. (kinni72nni72/Twenty20)
March 25, 2019

WAKE FOREST, N.C. -- Early-childhood educators are finding themselves choosing between basic needs and health care. The median salary for child-care workers in North Carolina is not quite $21,000 - too high to qualify for Medicaid, but leaving many early-childhood educators in the gap.

A new report from one group that advocates for Medicaid expansion in North Carolina interviewed early-childhood educators from across the state, and 1-in-5 said they don’t have health insurance. One educator who asked to be referred to as "Eryka," said she plans her budget very carefully each week for rent, food, electricity, and gas to get to work. But buying private health insurance is far out of reach for her.

She said that means she goes to work even when she’s sick.

"Most of the time, I kind of just have to ride it out and hope I get better. Otherwise, I am going to the ER, wasting their time, or the urgent care, wasting their time, for something small,” Eryka said. “If I had strep throat, I have to go pay $75, $100, to go to urgent care just to get antibiotics. Nothing is easily accessible when you don't have good health insurance."

Two measures in the state Legislature, House Bill 5 and Senate Bill 3, would raise the income level for those eligible for Medicaid. Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Eden, took aim at provisions in both bills, saying it represents a tax that ultimately will be passed on to patients and taxpayers.

Bills in the House and Senate propose to use federal funding to expand access to Medicaid, as 37 other states already have done. Leaders from both parties and the governor have different approaches to increasing access to health care, but would need to reach a compromise in order to actually pass legislation this session.

Statewide, it's estimated that 500,000 people are in the "coverage gap," earning too much for Medicaid. Among them are thousands of early-childhood educators such as Meranda who said that while she enjoys working with toddlers, the fact that she's been uninsured for more than a year is frustrating.

"If they expanded Medicare, it would be such a huge burden lifted off,” Meranda said. “Then I wouldn't have to worry about getting sick and how long I am going to stay sick for. Am I going to get OK, or is this something serious because I have cancer that runs in my family. All four of my grandparents had it, my great-grandparents had it, my mother had it."

Members of the Early Childhood Advisory Council appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper wrote to legislators last week to share how expanding Medicaid to close the health-insurance coverage gap can help the state's more than 1 million young children.

Reporting by North Carolina News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the Park Foundation.

Antionette Kerr, Public News Service - NC