RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A new poll released Tuesday shows widespread support for North Carolina expanding Medicaid coverage to more people as Republican legislative leaders have identified it as a top issue in this year’s session.

The poll that was released by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), found 78 percent of North Carolina voters support Medicaid expansion. Additionally, 96 percent of Democrats are in favor, with 71 percent of unaffiliated voters and 64 percent of Republicans as well.

The American Cancer Society has been urging Republicans to reach an agreement on the issue, running TV ads last year pressuring them to act as the legislative session ended with no resolution.

“North Carolinians are ready for the legislature to get this done. There has been a lot of debate over the years. There has been a lot of conversation, and they’re looking for action,” said Lucy Dagneau, ACS CAN senior director for state and local Medicaid campaigns.

State leaders estimate about 600,000 low-income people would gain health coverage if North Carolina expands Medicaid. Thirty-nine other states and Washington, D.C., have already approved it.

“So, there’s broad support for the general idea of yes or no to Medicaid expansion, but that in and of itself doesn’t tell the whole story,” Mitch Kokai said, the senior political analyst at the conservative John Locke foundation.

Kokai raised concerns about the federal government continuing to pay its share of the cost of expansion and whether there are adequate resources in the healthcare system to handle this change.

“When you have a federal government that’s multi-trillions of dollars in debt, at some point they’re going to decide that the feds can’t cover 90 percent of the bill for expansion,” Kokai said. “Healthcare supply problems that we have now are going to get even worse if you add hundreds of thousands of people to the Medicaid program without having an increase in supply.”

Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) listed Medicaid expansion among the key issues he wants to address this year.

During last year’s session, the Senate passed a bill that would also make a variety of reforms to address supply issues and access to care.

The Republican-controlled House was unwilling to take that bill up.

Instead, the House passed a bill calling on North Carolina to negotiate a deal with the federal government first to address concerns about long-term costs. Ultimately, no bill made it to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, a long-time supporter of Medicaid expansion.

“In order to get the broad bipartisan support that we had for the Medicaid expansion bill that we had before, there have got to be some measures that address the supply side,” Berger said.

Gov. Cooper has urged Republicans and stakeholders, such as hospital executives, to compromise on the various regulatory issues involved, including reforms to laws dealing with hospital competition.

“Our state’s failure to expand Medicaid is irresponsible, wasteful and cruel. This is costing lives and we’re turning away $521 million a month. It’s time we get this done,” Gov. Cooper recently tweeted.

As Republicans moved forward with expansion last year, the conservative group Americans for Prosperity vowed to “launch a full-scale campaign to combat the effort.”

Tyler Voigt, the deputy director of AFP-North Carolina said in a statement Tuesday, “In states that have expanded Medicaid, it’s the same story: Higher costs for taxpayers, less access to good doctors, and longer wait times. Instead of expanding Medicaid, lawmakers should reform it by giving North Carolinians a Personal Option that puts patients in control of their health care and ensures a strong safety net for those who need it the most.”

The American Cancer Society also asked voters in the poll about various messages related to the impact of Medicaid expansion to see what makes people more or less likely to support it, such as people having access to preventive care, the impact on rural communities and healthcare access for veterans.

“And overwhelmingly, North Carolinians said yes it’s important to us,” Dagneau said.

Kokai was critical of those portions of the poll, saying, “The rest of the poll that we see from the American Cancer Society is a classic example of push polling. Basically, you want to have a result that shows that people support Medicaid expansion, so you ask questions in a way that gets them toward that goal.”

The legislature is scheduled to be back in session next week. Republicans said at that point they plan to meet with members of their party to talk about when they want to address various issues throughout the session over the next several months.