RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – One of the leading Republicans in the General Assembly says he’s not expecting a bill to expand Medicaid coverage to make it to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk this year. 

Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said while discussions are still underway about the details of a healthcare reform package, he doubts that will be finalized until after a new legislature is sworn in following this year’s election. 

“I don’t have any sense that we will be taking a vote on that any time between now and the end of the year,” he told CBS 17. “I think it’s more likely that we’ll see actual passage of something once we get beyond this election and into the new year.” 

After years of opposition to the idea, Berger and most other Republicans in the state Senate got behind a bill earlier this year that expands Medicaid coverage to about 600,000 low-income people and makes a variety of other regulatory reforms that Republicans say would increase overall healthcare access. 

The state House of Representatives never took up that bill, instead calling for state health officials to negotiate an agreement with the federal government first with the potential for a vote in December. That would be after the election but before new lawmakers are sworn in. 

“It’s not locked in,” said House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland). “As far as we’ve gotten on it and with so many major things having been resolved on a bipartisan basis, I’m optimistic we’ll get there.” 

One of the sticking points has been whether to relax the state’s certificate of need laws related to hospital competition. The North Carolina Healthcare Association raised concerns about the bill the Senate passed and publicly released a compromise proposal last month but Sen. Berger panned it as being more about public relations. 

Gov. Roy Cooper has said Berger’s proposal has “merit” and has urged hospital leaders to compromise with him.  

State Health and Human Services Sec. Kody Kinsley wrote to hospital leaders and state lawmakers in September urging them to act soon, noting that once the program is implemented, the state would begin drawing down more than $500 million per month. He noted by waiting until December, that would mean the state couldn’t implement all of the changes until April 2023.  

Speaking to CBS 17 at a town hall on mental health, Kinsley said it remains a key priority.  

“If there is one thing that we could do for mental health and change the game, it would be Medicaid expansion,” said Kinsley. “Having 600,000 people that could get healthcare tomorrow and that means get their physical health, their mental health and everything else treated would be a game changer for those individuals and those families.” 

During a press conference Friday morning, Rev. Dr. William Barber criticized the leaders of the General Assembly. 

“It can happen in two minutes. They can call a special session and it can happen,” he said. “The sinfulness of it is even in a pandemic, people could not bring their hearts to a place to at least protect people with healthcare.” 

Speaker Moore said since the legislative session ended in July, he’s received assurances that if North Carolina adopts an expansion plan, it would not have a negative impact on the state budget.  

“They’ve essentially adopted the parameters the House spelled out in the expansion bill for that. So, that gives me a great deal of comfort. And, I think will give our members comfort when we deal with this,” he said.  

North Carolina is among 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The federal government is offering an additional incentive to those states.  

For North Carolina, Sec. Kinsley says it would mean $187.5 million per quarter over eight quarters, which “could be used for mental health, rural health and other initiatives.”