Finding Health Insurance When You Need it Most

Tightness in his chest brought Carolina Beach resident Larry Ellington, 58, to the doctor’s office. “I don’t like going to the doctor if I can help it,” said Ellington. “But sometimes you have to. You get sick. You need care.”

After an initial examination, Ellington learned that he may have pulmonary fibrosis but that a formal diagnosis required an expensive series of tests, including a biopsy of his lungs. As the doctor explained this to him, Ellington said the potential diagnosis was a secondary concern. “All I could think about was, ‘What’s this going to cost and can I afford it?’ ”

Ellington, who had recently lost his job and the insurance benefits that went along with it, thought he was out of options. “It’s just the worst feeling. I left the doctor’s office that day totally dejected,” he said.

Fortunately, Ellington learned about options available to him through the Affordable Care Act. “I’d heard about it on television, but then all of a sudden I realized, ‘Hey wait, this can help me.’ So I called and a navigator helped me through the process of enrolling,” he said.

The navigator was one of several helping people get enrolled in health insurance around the state. This past year the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust funded 14 organizations around the state to increase the number of navigators helping people identify insurance options and to improve access to health care, particularly in rural areas where more than 30 percent of North Carolinians are eligible for the health insurance marketplace.

The Affordable Care Act has made lower cost health insurance accessible to millions of people whose current health insurance options are limited or nonexistent. The Trust has invested nearly $3.2 million to help North Carolinians identify and secure health insurance, with the long-term goal of ensuring everyone has access to affordable health care. In addition to its efforts in rural communities, the Trust is particularly focused on helping the state’s Spanish speakers understand their health insurance options, as nearly 40 percent of North Carolina’s Latino residents are uninsured.  

North Carolina has successfully enrolled more than 550,000 people, double the rate of other states without a state-run insurance exchange, but many still have few options because of the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid. A recent report funded by the Trust and Cone Health Foundation found that if the state expanded Medicaid in 2016, nearly 500,000 residents could gain insurance and the state’s economy could gain $22 billion in business revenue.

Today, Ellington pays $200 dollars a month at the pharmacy for the medicine that allows him to monitor his pulmonary fibrosis. His monthly premium is $20. He’s thankful he once again has access to health insurance. “It’s not a good feeling to be sick and need medicine you can’t afford. You’re trapped.  But I’m not trapped. And that’s everything,” Ellington said.

Above: Larry Ellington