RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Republican state Senate leader Phil Berger said Tuesday there’s been “absolutely no movement” in negotiations on a bill to expand Medicaid in North Carolina since the legislative session ended earlier this month.
He said he still believes there eventually will be an agreement, but that may not occur until next year.
“There remains a window to get something done. But, quite frankly, as long as the hospitals remain as intransigent as they are, I don’t see that we’re going to make any progress,” Sen. Berger said. “We’ve signaled and actually provided concrete proposals on compromises that would be acceptable and there is absolutely no movement.”
A few lawmakers were back in Raleigh Tuesday for the first time since the session ended on July 1. There are no votes expected this week.
A bill the Senate passed in the spring would expand Medicaid coverage to about 600,000 low-income people, which has been a priority of Democrats for several years.
Republicans also included a variety of other changes to healthcare regulations in that bill that they say are necessary to improve overall healthcare access as the state adds more people to the Medicaid program.
The North Carolina Healthcare Association, which represents hospitals, criticized some of the provisions in that bill, particularly reforms to telehealth and the state’s certificate of need laws, which deal with the state’s approval process for allowing healthcare providers to add to their facilities and equipment.
“There were elements of the bill that would be harmful to hospitals and erode the state’s safety net,” said Cynthia Charles, a spokesperson for the NCHA, in response to Sen. Berger Tuesday.
“North Carolina’s health systems and hospitals have been advocates for Medicaid expansion for many years. We are disappointed that expansion hasn’t been resolved and urge state legislators to get it done sooner rather than later. Getting more people access to healthcare, improving health outcomes and bringing more money in to the state should be a no-brainer,” said Charles.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives never voted on the Senate bill, instead passing a different one that authorized state health officials to negotiate an agreement with the federal government first before the legislature would vote on it. The Senate didn’t agree to that plan.
“It’s like buying a car without seeing it and doing a test drive. We want to know what exactly we’re getting. We don’t want any surprises for the taxpayers,” said House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland). “I don’t think there’s really any pressure right now to do it. I do think, though, that we’ve all agreed that it’s a good idea with the parameters that were put in place. So, I think we ought to do it. If we don’t, it’s a missed opportunity.”
The federal government has offered an incentive to the 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid, including North Carolina, to take that step. If that happens, North Carolina would receive about $1.5 billion up front.
A group of people advocating for Medicaid expansion held a vigil Tuesday morning, highlighting stories of people who lacked health coverage.
They brought pictures of people who’ve died in recent years and whose families believe they could have been saved if they’d had coverage and could afford routine screenings and medical care.
Courtney Crudup, of Oxford, talked about her own experiences living with and without health coverage.
“I would be so sick sometimes. And, I would cry myself to sleep at night because I knew that I couldn’t afford it,” she said.
She said for seven years she couldn’t afford to take her kids to the doctor or dentist regularly or stay up to date on their vaccinations. She was working in cosmetology at the time, making too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to afford coverage on her own.
It wasn’t until she became pregnant during the pandemic that she qualified for Medicaid. Once she did, she said it made a significant difference.
“My kids were able to get glasses. They were able to get their teeth done and cleaned, myself as well. We got all caught up on our shots,” she said. “It’s been real stressful.”
She said she’s working on the next move in her career but doesn’t plan to go back to cosmetology, a field she loves, out of concern she could end up in the coverage gap again.