June 28--Reaction to Thursday's announcement of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that essentially upholds President Obama's health care law was for the most part positive among Cape Fear health and social service officials.
For Jody White, 51, of Winnabow, it was a welcome birthday present.
White is among the millions of Americans who could benefit from provisions of the law that would expand Medicaid eligibility.
"I'm still one of those stuck with no insurance," White said Thursday when told of the ruling. "It means I'll go reapply and see if I can get some assistance."
The former truck driver remains unemployed because of back problems that keep her from getting a job. She receives no unemployment and is waiting on a ruling about whether she can receive Social Security disability benefits from her late husband who died three years ago.
Meanwhile she's living with her boyfriend in his daughter's home in Winnabow. She depends on the Brunswick County Health Department to supply her with medications for bipolar disorder, depression and insomnia -- drugs that can cost as much as $40 to $100 for each refill.
While she appreciates what the health department does for her, she said it has its downside.
"If I call today it can be three months before I can get an appointment," White said.
If she qualifies for Medicaid under the expanded eligibility rules, her life would improve, she said.
"I could actually go to the doctor," White said.
Shelbourn Stevens, president of Brunswick Novant Medical Center in Supply, said the decision improves access to health care services.
"At Brunswick Novant Medical Center, we support the expansion of health coverage because it creates better access to medical care. Our physicians, nurses and other staff witness the adverse effects, every day, among uninsured patients who are not accessing primary and preventive care," Stevens said.
"While we offer financial assistance and charity care to the poor and uninsured, there are many people who still fall through the cracks and, as a result, either seek care too late or not at all," Stevens said.
The ruling effectively takes the teeth away from a portion of the law that would require states in 2014 to expand Medicaid eligibility to all adults within 133 percent of the poverty level.
States were given the incentive of federal dollars to pay for most of the expansion. At the same time, the Medicaid funding states were already receiving was put at risk if they did not expand Medicaid coverage.
Under the ruling made public Thursday, states are given the option to not expand coverage and to turn down new federal money for Medicaid expansion -- without fear of losing their existing Medicaid funding.
LaVaughn Nesmith, director of the New Hanover County Department of Social Services, said while his office is preparing for the forecast doubling of Medicaid clients by July 2014, it also is waiting to hear how state policy-makers will respond to the decision.
"Whatever the state sends down, we're here to serve the public," Nesmith said. "The way the thing is set up, it would be to the state's advantage to get those federal dollars to expand its Medicaid program."
In the first year of expansion, the federal government would pay 95 percent of all costs, he said.
"Whatever method they use, I know it will be better than what we have because it will address the uninsured."
Each month, New Hanover County DSS handles about 9,000 adult Medicaid cases and about 14,500 family and children cases.
Check back later for more local reaction on today's historic Supreme Court ruling.
Jim Ware: 343-2387
On Twitter: @jimware
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