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Rep. Ray Russell Co-Sponsors His First Bill

NC Sen. Gladys Robinson (D-Guilford) speaks on why she supports Medicaid expansion in North Carolina at a press conference held Wednesday by House and Senate Democrats. Rep. Ray Russell is located in the center back.

Rep. Ray Russell (D-Watauga) co-sponsored the first bill of his legislative career, House Bill 5 “Close the Medicaid Coverage Gap.” Today, about 2000 people in Ashe and Watauga County cannot get health care when they need it because they can’t afford health insurance. These working families are in a “coverage gap,” meaning their incomes are too low to afford coverage through healthcare.gov, but too high to qualify for traditional Medicaid.

If enacted, the bill would provide much-needed health care coverage for 500,000 uninsured North Carolinians, including more than 3,300 Ashe and Watauga county residents. Additionally, it would provide a financial boost for rural hospitals. Appalachian Regional Medical Center and Ashe Memorial Hospital (and other local medical providers) would receive a boost of roughly $4.2 million per year in previously unreimbursed medical costs.

The effort to expand Medicaid has the support of at least one local hospital official.

“We recognize the tremendous need to increase access to quality health care and support efforts that allow all members of our community to have access to care,” said Ashe Memorial Hospital CEO Laura Lambeth.

The bill targets mostly low-income workers and their families. For example, a family of three with household income between $29,435 and $39,148 would be eligible for coverage under the plan. The uninsured in this group often are self-employed or work for small business that do not provide health insurance benefits.

“Rural counties have the most to gain from this bill because so many citizens in the current ‘Medicaid Gap’ live in rural areas,” Russell said. The bill has ripple effects through the local economy. Estimated economic impacts of this bill just in Ashe and Watauga Counties include:

  • About 425 new jobs.
  • Over $45 million per year in new business activity.
  • Roughly $1.3 million in additional tax revenue.

Additionally, Medicaid Expansion is the single most effective thing North Carolina could do to fight the opioid epidemic and address behavioral health needs across the state. The plan would extend care for up to 150,000 people across North Carolina who currently need help.

“Helping working families with affordable healthcare is one of the greatest needs in this region. I’m proud to make this the first co-sponsored bill of my legislative career,” Russell said. “If enacted by the NC Legislature, it will be in effect by November 1, 2019.”


Ku, L.,Bruen, B., Steinmetz, E. & Bysshe, T. (2014). “The Economic and Employment Costs of Not Expanding Medicaid in North Carolina: A County-Level Analysis.” https://www.conehealthfoundation.com/foundation/nc-medicaid-expansion/

“Medicaid Expansion: Closing the Health Insurance Gap.” https://www.ncruralcenter.org/2017/12/closing-the-health-insurance-gap-in-north-carolina/