By Rose Hoban

Voters of every stripe believe the state should expand the Medicaid program to include those who are currently too poor to have insurance. That’s according to results of a survey from Public Policy Polling released on Tuesday.

In a survey of more than 2,000 registered voters, clear majorities of men, women, Democrats, Republicans and Independents said they supported  the legislature and Gov. Pat McCrory fixing “the coverage gap by creating a special North Carolina plan in partnership with the Federal government.”

Medicaid_Numbers_BoxUnder the federal Affordable Care Act, states are allowed to expand Medicaid, the program that covers about 1.9 million low-income North Carolinians [see box].

North Carolina is among those states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, and between 360,000 and 500,000 North Carolinians are today too poor to afford private insurance or to receive federal subsidies to help buy insurance but make too much money to qualify for Medicaid.

Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have chosen to expand the program, which will be paid for in whole by the federal government until 2017. After that, the federal government will pick up about 90 percent of the tab.

The poll asked whether North Carolina should make a plan to fix the health insurance coverage gap; 84 percent of Democrats and 62 percent each of Republicans and unaffiliated voters answered yes. The poll also found majority support for expansion among all age groups and all races.

Because of the large number of participants in the poll, the margin of error is only +/- 2.2 percent.

“This poll shows that there is widespread, bipartisan support for closing the health insurance coverage gap,” said Michelle Hughes, executive director of NC Child, in a press release.

NC Child is a statewide advocacy group that commissioned the poll.

“We hope this sends a clear message to Governor McCrory and state legislators that all North Carolina voters will support an effort to expand health insurance coverage,” Hughes said. “This data should give comfort to conservative candidates who haven’t been sure what their constituents think on this issue.”

In 2013, the General Assembly pushed through a bill, which McCrory signed, restricting decisions about whether or not to expand Medicaid to the legislature alone.

Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) could not be reached for comment about the poll. In a response to a request for comment, Berger’s chief of staff, Jim Blaine, called Public Policy Polling “highly partisan Democrat Party political hacks.”

A Fordham University study found PPP to be the most accurate of the nation’s polling organizations during the 2012 elections, despite the organization’s Democratic affiliation.

“We don’t respond to their propaganda,” Blaine wrote in an email.

Insured parents = insured kids

About 95 percent of North Carolina children are insured, thanks largely to the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers children in families earning up to 211 percent of the federal poverty level ($50,324 for a family of four).

When asked why his organization commissioned the poll if so many children are already insured, NC Child spokesman Rob Thompson responded that there are still about 100,000 North Carolina kids who aren’t covered.

“That’s enough to fill up a big football stadium,” he said. “About two-thirds of those kids are eligible for health insurance, they’re just not enrolled.”

Thompson said evidence from the SCHIP program indicates that when parents get insurance, they often learn that their children are eligible.

“It creates this welcome-mat effect,” he said. “When the parents come in and get their own insurance, the children get insured as well. So we think it’s a good strategy for getting that tough remaining 5 percent.”

Thompson also said insuring adults could help bring down North Carolina’s stubbornly high infant-mortality rate, one of the highest in the country.

He said getting women more healthy even before they conceive is important to positive pregnancy outcomes.

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