RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A House panel moved forward Thursday with a new bill that could lead to the state expanding Medicaid coverage later this year even as the Senate’s leader criticized the plan. 

House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) rolled out the bill Wednesday after refusing to take up a different bill the Senate passed earlier this month that would expand Medicaid and make other changes to healthcare regulations. 

“It is not the approach the Senate will take, and we’ll have some conversations with the Speaker,” said Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) on Thursday. “I don’t see that being the pathway to make progress on this issue.” 

If the state expands Medicaid – as 38 other states and Washington D.C. have done – about 600,000 low-income people would gain coverage. It’s been a priority for Democrats for years. 

State health officials have urged the General Assembly to act soon, as North Carolina stands to receive $1.5 billion up front if the state expands Medicaid this year. Democrats in Congress included the additional incentive to try to get the 12 non-expansion states to move forward with it. 

Speaker Moore said the plan came after meetings with state Health and Human Services Sec. Kody Kinsley. 

The House’s plan calls for officials in Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration to negotiate an arrangement with the federal government first. If it meets the parameters Republicans outline, then the House would hold a vote in December.  

“I think our approach is the best that I’ve seen,” said Speaker Moore. “There are the votes, with those guardrails, when we come back in December to pass a plan.” 

Moore said the state would have to ensure that expanding Medicaid would save the state money, and that state health officials would have to push to include work requirements in the agreement.

The federal government pays 90 percent of the cost of expansion. If it drops below that threshold, then expansion would end.  

“So, we’re not doing this blindly. We’re doing this after we’ve got all of the information on the table. We have everything that we know. We have the assurance that it’s going to be fiscally sustainable,” said Moore. 

Republican legislative leaders are still trying to negotiate an agreement on the state budget with the goal of ending the current session next week. 

“It’s not a deal-breaker for me, although I think the budget would be a much better budget if we could go ahead and include expansion in it,” said Sen. Berger. 

Rep. Cynthia Ball (D-Wake) who has supported Medicaid expansion for years said she hopes that by some key Republicans dropping their long-held opposition to expansion, it could lead to a deal this year. 

She’d prefer to see Medicaid expansion passed as a stand-alone issue as opposed to being lumped in with other changes, she said.  

If the state fails to act, she said there will be consequences. 

“Rural hospitals that are in trouble, they’ll close,” she said. “People will die. It’s just not fair to continue increasing the gap between what some people and (other) people have.” 

The North Carolina Healthcare Association, which represents hospitals, and the NC Medical Society released a joint statement Thursday calling the House proposal “thoughtful.”  

The group added that it “puts forth a fiscally responsible road map for Medicaid expansion and modernization that maximizes available federal resources along with providing the promise of health care coverage for over half a million North Carolinians caught in the gap, particularly those in rural communities.”

They added, “We support this proposal as introduced today. Other proposals in consideration include changes to healthcare policy that would compromise the quality of patient care. We look forward to working with House leaders as they continue to refine the details of this important legislation.”