HENDERSON, N.C. (WNCN) – CDC Director and former state Health and Human Services Sec. Mandy Cohen said Friday that rural healthcare will be “stronger” in North Carolina once Medicaid expansion takes effect next month. 

Cohen joined other officials in President Joe Biden’s administration who visited Vance and Granville counties Friday to highlight efforts to address access to healthcare in rural parts of the country. 

After years of political battles over Medicaid expansion, the state General Assembly voted earlier this year to move forward with the program, which will lead to more than half a million low-income people gaining health coverage. 

It will take effect Dec. 1. On that day, state health officials say about 300,000 people will be covered immediately. State and local agencies are working to identify other people who qualify to help them apply.

“Republicans and Democrats came together for this solution for North Carolina,” said Cohen. “We know that just having an insurance card in your wallet is step one. But, it’s a really important step.” 

As part of the American Rescue Plan, which President Joe Biden signed into law in 2021, North Carolina will receive about $1.6 billion in one-time money which state officials will use in a variety of ways including bolstering mental health services and constructing a new children’s hospital.  

State Atty. Gen. Josh Stein (D), who is running for governor, noted that eight hospitals in North Carolina have closed in the last 15 years. Another four have stopped providing inpatient services, he added. 

“We know, though, with Medicaid expansion our rural partners will be stronger. They will be able to survive. We see that in other states. So, I’m excited about this new chapter for North Carolina,” said Dr. Cohen. 

U.S. Health and Human Services Sec. Xavier Becerra also visited met with local officials with Granville-Vance Public Health, which recently received grant funding to help provide services to children and adolescents.  

The agency will receive $1 million each year for four years.  

Fatima Gutierrez, who lives in Oxford, said the program has helped one of her children receive therapy when it would have been too difficult to travel to Raleigh or Durham for those services. 

“It’s always a matter of time, taking off our work or school,” she said. “All this situation started during the pandemic. And, I think it was not only for our family but many other families.” 

Becerra pointed to the upcoming Nov. 17 deadline for Congress once again to avert a government shutdown. 

The secretary said programs which have already received funding would be able to continue to offer services as long as that fund lasts. However, his agency would not be able to award new funding.  

“We have no capacity, in fact no authority under the Constitution, to do more unless there’s a budget that is passed before Nov. 17,” he said. “Otherwise, we start to shut down. Not just personnel not working, but the ability to go out there and move forward programs across the country, that shuts down with it.” 

A potential shutdown is not expected to impact North Carolina’s ability to move forward with Medicaid expansion. Sec. Becerra said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services already have taken the necessary steps for that coverage to take effect Dec. 1.  

While Dr. Cohen was in Henderson, she also urged more people to get flu, COVID-19 and RSV vaccines for those who are eligible. 

A report by the CDC shows that as Oct. 14 only 7% of adults had received the most recent COVID-19 vaccine.  

“I want (people) to know two things. First, that this virus has changed and you want the most updated protection you can. And, second, that your protection from having had COVID before or getting vaccinated decreases over time,” Dr. Cohen said. “I wouldn’t recommend anything for North Carolina that I wouldn’t recommend for my own family, so we start there.”