Nearly 4,600 Wayne County families would benefit from a state House bill that would expand Medicaid coverage in the state, a co-sponsor of the legislation said.

In Wayne County, expanding Medicaid also would create 443 jobs, $216.4 million in new business activity and $1.462 million in new county revenue, state Democratic Rep. Raymond Smith of Goldsboro said.

The state’s residents should not be forced to put the health of their families on the back burner because they can’t afford insurance, Smith said.

By introducing a bill to expand Medicaid as the first bill of the 2019 legislative session, state Democrats are signaling their No. 1 priority is helping working families, he said.

The bill and a companion Senate bill were introduced Jan. 30. Both passed their first read Jan. 31.

“Right now people are not going to the doctor because they cannot afford to,” Smith said. “Well, that money that would be generated from people actually going to the doctor and a doctor providing those services. We are talking nursing home. We are talking rehab facilities. We are talking the full gamut.

“So that money that would be generated by people now actually being able to finally go to the doctor. The doctors will bill for that service, and Medicaid will pay for it. So, that is where the money is coming from.”

Smith, who just began his freshman term as the House District 21 representative, is a co-sponsor of HB5, a proposal to expand Medicaid in North Carolina and increase access to affordable health care for more than 500,000 North Carolinians.

For the past several years the Republican-controlled General Assembly has fought Medicaid expansion.

Now with a new legislature, it is time to find out if its members are willing to work together on issues that really matter to people and will affect communities regardless of which side of the aisle they are on, Smith said.

Medicaid is a community issue, not a political one, he said.

“We are optimistic because mainly we are in a better position now to have intelligent and heartfelt conversations with the Republican Party because they no longer hold a supermajority,” Smith said. “We are at the point where we can sit down and have meaningful discourse about these types of issues.

“The reason we put the numbers into this legislation in the way that we did is so that individuals can see the impact of having this conversation and the necessity. We definitely feel optimistic about our chances because we hope the people in our community who read this article throughly read it and understand what is happening in our own community.”

Smith said once that happens he hopes the community will support the legislation and residents ask their legislators to support it as well.

The numbers in the bill are projections provided by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, Smith said.

Expansion would not add cost, he said. The federal government would provide 90 percent of the funding. The remaining 10 percent would be from providers, Smith said.

The goal is to close the gap on medical coverage and ultimately lead to a healthier community, he said.

“We’ve got people who can actually now get health care — they can go to work and be productive members of the community,” Smith said. “This does not discriminate. It is something that I really believe that our community as a whole should get behind and support.

“I hope this is something our community can see the overall benefit from and understand that this is an effort to fix something in our community that has been broken for a lot of years. I truly believe if the community gets behind it and support the effort that we will have a better, healthier community to live in.”

Rural North Carolina has the most to gain from Medicaid expansion, Smith said.

Rural hospitals are struggling — since 2010, five rural hospitals in North Carolina have closed and two have lost critical services like maternity and labor wards— while rural hospitals located in states that have expanded Medicaid are 84 percent less likely to close, he said.

Expanding Medicaid will keep the doors open on rural hospitals, providing vital health care to communities, and is a crucial tool in reforming the way the state treats mental health care and addressed the opioid epidemic, he said.

Expanding Medicaid will expand mental health services and bring in more funding for mental health, and would make addiction and mental health treatment more affordable, allowing those struggling with opioid addiction to get the help they need, Smith said.

Also, expanding Medicaid is the single most effective thing North Carolina could do to fight the opioid epidemic, he said.

According to published reports, in Wayne County, there were 19 opioid deaths and 109 emergency department visits for opioid overdose in 2017 alone, Smith said.

Expanding Medicaid would make addiction and mental health treatment more affordable, allowing those struggling with opioid addiction to get the help they need, Smith said.

“The expansion of Medicaid is not only good for our community, it will also help our economy, and our precious families,” he said. “I am excited about discussing this critical issue with people throughout my district, and encourage each of you to join me in this very important effort.”