McCrory's health care worries will be addressed by House

Feb. 05, 2013 @ 11:50 PM

The leader of the North Carolina House said Tuesday his chamber would seek to address financial worries from Gov. Pat McCrory over a Senate bill that prevents the state from offering or operating optional portions of the federal health care overhaul.

House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, released a statement minutes before the Senate gave its final approval to a measure that blocks state government from expanding Medicaid to more of the uninsured and tells the federal government to build the state's online marketplace for health insurance.

McCrory, Tillis and Senate leaders are all Republican, and all seem to agree the state should, for now at least, stay out of the activities that are included under the 2010 Affordable Care Act signed by President Barack Obama.

But McCrory's administration has said the bill's current form could make it hard for the state to pay for a computer program that determines eligibility for Medicaid and other services. The Senate didn't delay the bill's passage even though a McCrory aide wrote to senators before the first of two required votes Monday and asked them to slow down so the financial ramifications could be examined.

Senators said they didn't see a need to delay, but Tillis said he's listening to the new governor.

"I remain consistent in my opposition to both an expansion of Medicaid and the establishment of a state-based health exchange in North Carolina," Tillis said in a release, but "we will work closely with the Governor's Office to address his concerns in ways that are in the best interest of North Carolina taxpayers."

Speaking to reporters Tuesday morning, McCrory said he'd like to see his unease about the bill addressed before the final bill reaches his desk. "We're optimistic that we can hopefully work out an agreement with the House to deal with some of our concerns about the cost to the North Carolina taxpayers and to make sure that we can continue to operate the existing Medicaid program," he said.

McCrory Press Secretary Crystal Feldman said late Tuesday the governor looks forward to working with Tillis and that "reform of the current Medicaid system remains his No. 1 priority."

Like Monday night's vote, Tuesday's Senate approval of the bill fell along party lines in favor of Republicans, who repeated they're not persuaded the federal government will keep its promise of paying for nearly all of the Medicaid expansion costs in the long run. The bill would require the state to return tens of millions of dollars in federal grant money it's already received to build a state-federal exchange.

Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, said the Medicaid expansion, which is expected to help 500,000 uninsured residents get coverage, would help the state economy. Even if the bill passes, Nesbitt said, lawmakers could still change their minds on the options later this year. Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, has said that was possible.

"We can come back if the promises of the federal government seem to be better than they seem at this time," Berger said Monday.

Consultants hired by the state Department of Health and Human Services reported extra Medicaid funds would add about $1.4 billion to North Carolina's economy and increase total employment by about 23,000 jobs. Republicans contend instituting the health care overhaul will actually be a drag on the economy, halting job growth because of increased responsibilities upon businesses.

Without the Medicaid expansion or alternative coverage, community hospitals will have trouble meeting the health care needs in their region and for patients, with rural hospitals feeling the pinch first, a North Carolina Hospital Association executive wrote Monday in a letter to senators. These hospitals could be forced ultimately to eliminate services and lay off workers, association lobbyist Hugh Tilson wrote.