• 9 Investigates: The gap leaving hundreds of thousands uninsured in NC

    By: Allison Latos

    Updated:

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Having health insurance or buying groceries -- hundreds of thousands of people in North Carolina say they can't afford both and have to choose, but sometimes they are the ones who end up paying higher medical bills. 

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    They make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford insurance. One young man in that situation is now facing nearly $40,000 in hospital bills after a car crash, and he is just one of many caught in the middle of a fight over health care. 

    Xavier Munoz said he doesn't remember much about being hit last year on Interstate 77 in Statesville. He woke up in the hospital with a brain bleed, but his immediate concern wasn't his health.

    (WATCH: Munoz talks about what he remembers from the crash and his injuries)

    It was the fact that he didn't have health insurance. 

    "The impact of the airbag was really hard," Munoz said. "I couldn't see straight, couldn't think straight. Everything was foggy. First thing that came to my mind was 'How am I going to pay for this?'"

    Munoz said he couldn't afford health insurance. 

    Munoz's attorney Dre Fleury told Eyewitness News anchor Allison Latos Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston Salem, which is where Munoz was taken, demanded Munoz pay 100 percent of the bill. 

    There was no negotiated rate like patients with health insurance receive. 

    "Simple Tylenol, the hopsital charges $5 per tablet," Fleury said. "You pay your co-pay or your deductible, and they work it out. But, when you are uninsured and a hospital charges you 100 percent, we feel that's unfair."

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    Munoz said he owes the hospital $38,777.

    Munoz said he now lives with long-term effects from his crash and still doesn't have health insurance. 

    "My eye drifts and I start to see double vision," Munoz said. "Health care should be more accessible to everybody. Everyone deserves a fighting chance to live and to afford it."

    (WATCH: Munoz discusses his eye injury that he got as a result of the airbag hitting his glasses during the crash)

    He is one of 500,000 people in North Carolina in a health care coverage gap. They do not qualify for Medicaid but don't make enough to afford insurance. 

    The fight over making health care more affordable has been front and center in Raleigh. 

    Democratic State Sen. Jeff Jackson wants to expand Medicaid like 37 other states have so more people qualify for it. 

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    "There is no defense," Jackson said. "I can't say anything to that young man as a legislator other than we have done you and this state an enormous disservice. We're funding this in other states. It makes no sense."

    Senate President pro tem Phil Berger, a Republican, doesn't believe expanding Medicaid will increase access to care. 

    "If we expand Medicaid and the federal government changes how much they're going to pay for the expanded Medicaid population, then what happens to those hundreds of millions of dollars we would then have to make up," Berger said. "What we need to do is find ways to incent the private sector to offer to adopt solutions that will enable people to get access to the care that they need."

    (WATCH: Munoz describes how he felt waking up in the hospital and realizing he did not have health insurance)

    Munoz was not at fault in the crash and did receive some money because of it His attorney argues he should be able to use that for future medical care, recovery and school.

    Channel 9 reached out to Wake Forest Baptist Health about discounted rates to patients without insurance, but it has not contacted us to comment. 

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    Atrium Health said it offers a 50 percent discount to uninsured patients on hospital services deemed "medically necessary." 

    Novant provides financial assistance if the household income is at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level. For patients who don't qualify, Novant does offer a discount.

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