NC gov uninterested in Medicaid expansion session

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Gov. Pat McCrory said Monday that calling legislators back to Raleigh for a special session to reconsider Medicaid expansion in North Carolina was “out of the question,” refusing requests by Democrats and allied health advocacy groups to take a second look.

McCrory agreed with GOP legislative leaders last winter in blocking the expansion and leaving operation of the state’s online health insurance marketplace to the federal government. On Monday, he reiterated his opposition to expanding on fiscal grounds.

The state’s Medicaid program, which has been beset by almost annual shortfalls in recent times, first needs to be repaired before taking on a significantly large category of new consumers, according to McCrory’s office.

About 1.6 million people are already eligible for Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for mostly poor children, older adults and the disabled. A report said the expansion, which states have the option to participate in though the federal health care overhaul law, could increase enrollment by up to 20 percent.

“I will not sacrifice quality care for the people truly in need, nor risk further budget overruns by expanding an already broken system,” McCrory said in a statement. “Calling a special session to further expand Obamacare in North Carolina is out of the question.”

The Republican governor’s rejection of the special session wasn’t surprising given earlier comments.

McCrory and other Republicans in charge of state government have been critical of the overhaul President Barack Obama pushed through Congress. The federal online exchange, meanwhile, has been undermined by computer malfunctions.

But speakers at a small news conference in front of the Legislative Building on Monday morning said it made sense for McCrory to take a second look several months after the state law passed stopping expansion.

They said McCrory and lawmakers acted too rashly or partisan and should now embrace the expansion, which the federal government would have paid in full for three years, falling over time to 90 percent. They added it would provide a steady reimbursement stream for fiscally challenged rural hospitals and doctors treating the covered and create Medicaid-related jobs.

Passing the law blocking expansion was “a short-sighted decision,” said Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham. “We need to give health care in North Carolina a shot in the arm. Medicaid expansion will help us do that.”

About half of the states have chosen not to go forward with the expansion at this time. The Kaiser Family Foundation calculated this month almost 320,000 people in North Carolina will miss out on the expansion — people in between making too much to qualify for Medicaid but remaining too poor to qualify for tax credits for private insurance through the online exchanges.

House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, and Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said Monday it would still have cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for its share and questioned how it would be paid. They’ve also said they didn’t trust Washington to keep paying for the lion’s share of coverage in the future.

The General Assembly had to locate close to $500 million by the end of June to cover a Medicaid shortfall, and lawmakers already are worried about another deficit this year. House Minority Leader Larry Hall, D-Durham, said there are fiscal challenges throughout state government and the expansion would bring in additional revenues — like those created through new jobs.

McCrory’s administration is already assembling a Medicaid overhaul plan that legislators want by mid-March. The General Assembly isn’t scheduled to reconvene until May.

“We will continue to evaluate what is best for the state, the Medicaid program and the health care needs of our citizens,” McCrory sasid Monday.

Dr. Gary Greenberg, medical director of the Open Door Clinic in Raleigh, which treats poor uninsured patients, said Monday he can’t understand why the state now won’t accept federal funds that will improve the lives of citizens.

“I’m puzzled why we can’t say yes to that,” Greenberg said.

The General Assembly’s budget did plan for expected Medicaid enrollment growth as a result of the health care overhaul. That’s because it’s anticipated almost 70,000 new Medicaid recipients this year are expected to enroll after learning about the health care law but qualifying under the old eligibility rules.

Groups backing the expansion at Monday’s news conference included the North Carolina Health Access Coalition, Planned Parenthood Health Systems and Action North Carolina.

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