More than 600 people gathered at the Raleigh Convention Center yesterday to learn about the big issues facing North Carolina’s rural communities and hear from the state’s top elected leaders about their vision for the future of rural North Carolina.
Rural Day 2019 was the biggest event in the history of the 32-year-old NC Rural Center, a statewide nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of North Carolina’s rural people.
Thought leaders and elected officials from around the state and nation were present, including former Ohio Governor and current CNN political commentator John Kasich, former FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, and National Rural Health Association Chief Executive Officer Alan Morgan.
Elected state leaders who spoke at the event included Governor Roy Cooper, Lt. Governor Dan Forest, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, Attorney General Josh Stein, and many more.
The event focused on three major issues facing rural communities: affordable and reliable broadband expansion, small business development and support, and improving health and healthcare delivery in rural communities–three issues the NC Rural Center has identified as its top policy priorities for the current legislative session.
The Center identified its top issues after a year-long tour of the state’s 80 rural counties and follow-up events throughout the state seeking public input to shape the organization’s policy agenda.
“The turnout for Rural Day was incredible,” said Rural Center President Patrick Woodie.”Our state’s rural communities are ready to start speaking with a unified voice about the issues that matter the most to them and start identifying the solutions to those issues that will move this state forward. The public response to this day made that loud and clear.”
Closing the health insurance coverage gap
One of the most energetic conversations of the day was on closing the state’s health insurance coverage gap. The NC Rural Center estimates that more than 400,000 North Carolinians fall into the state’s health insurance coverage gap, meaning they are not eligible for Medicaid and earn too little to pay their insurance premiums in the marketplace.
Attendees heard former GOP Presidential Primary candidate John Kasich describe the efforts in the Buckeye State to expand Medicaid to get more working families the health insurance they need to keep working. Kasich stepped off the stage and walked into the crowd at the Convention Center to describe the imperative and economic benefits of expanding Medicaid in Ohio.
“When we get to heaven, St. Peter isn’t going to ask what we did to balance the budget. He’s going to ask what we did for the least of these,” Kasich told the crowd.
“Medicaid expansion is a human issue. This is about your mother, your father, or your neighbor,” Kasich said.
The NC Rural Center has called on the General Assembly to work across party lines to find a solution that works for North Carolina.
“The number one policy action that must take place this year for rural health and rural economies is closing the health insurance coverage gap,” said Rural Center President Patrick Woodie in his opening address to the crowd.
North Carolina is just one of 14 states that has not found a way to close the gap. The Rural Center estimates that closing the health insurance coverage gap would mean an additional 43,000 jobs in North Carolina and would help put the state’s rural hospitals on a more financially-stable footing.
Closing the gap would also mean more hardworking families, some who might be just one diagnosis or mishap away from economic catastrophe, would be better able to keep their jobs and build a better life for themselves and their children.
“The hundreds of thousands of hardworking North Carolinians who have no access to affordable insurance cannot wait another year for us to make up our minds,” Woodie told the crowd.
“It is time to close the coverage gap.”
About the NC Rural Center
For 30 years, the NC Rural Center has worked to develop, promote, and implement sound economic strategies to improve the quality of life of rural North Carolinians. The Center serves the state’s 80 rural counties, with a special focus on individuals with low-to-moderate incomes and communities with limited resources.