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What does N.C. Medicaid expansion mean for African Americans?

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At long last, the Republican legislative leadership and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper are on the same page when it comes to Medicaid expansion in North Carolina. They’re all for it.

Last week, state House and Senate leaders announced that they had reached a deal that would extend the important health insurance coverage program to approximately 600,000 poor North Carolinians.

“That’s going to provide help for so many in this state,” House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters. “But it’s going to do it in a way that is fiscally responsible.

Gov. Cooper was elated, having fought Republican legislative leaders for years without success to get Medicaid expanded for thousands of the state’s neediest citizens.

“An agreement …to expand Medicaid in North Carolina is a monumental step that will save lives, ” Cooper said in a statement.

So what does this news mean for low-income African Americans living in North Carolina, which is now the 40th state to expand Medicaid?

According to the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid Facts, Medicaid is a major source of health coverage for African Americans across the nation. Blacks are one in five Medicaid enrollees.

In 2009, 27 percent of African Americans - 10 million people, including five million children - were covered by Medicaid, compared to 39 percent covered by employer-based coverage and 9 percent covered by Medicare, according to the Kaiser Commission. That same year, Medicare covered 49 percent of poor African Americans, and half of all Black children in the United States, including 64 percent of low-income Black children.

And for African Americans in poor health, Medicaid covered over a third (35 percent) of Blacks in fair or poor health, and 59 percent of Blacks living with HIV/AIDS.

Per the North Carolina deal, Medicaid expansion becomes effective upon passage of the proposed new state budget. Gov. Cooper told reporters he would like to see it take effect immediately.

“Since we all agree this is the right thing to do, we should make it effective now to make sure we leverage the money that will save our rural hospitals and invest in mental health,” Gov. Cooper said.