Medicaid expansion passes Senate committee votes

North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, speaks on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, at a Legislative Building news conference in Raleigh, N.C. Berger and other Republican senators discussed new health care legislation that would direct the state to accept Medicaid expansion coverage for hundreds of thousands of low-income adults. Berger had been a longtime expansion opponent. (AP Photo/Gary D. Robertson)

RALEIGH — The Republican-led N.C. Senate advanced their Medicaid expansion proposal through a pair of committees Thursday as the measure seems destined for passage on the floor of the chamber next week.

“Like many of my colleagues, I’ve previously been against expanding Medicaid, but it has evolved from bad federal policy to good state fiscal policy. This comprehensive approach will help more North Carolinians access the care they need,” state Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth) said Thursday. “Additionally, this bill offers a lifeline for our rural hospitals through additional federal funding and providing coverage for telehealth services.”

Senate Republicans continued to hammer messaging about the plan: it increases affordable healthcare options, reduces regulations, and that the plan is sound policy after they’ve enacted reforms to the state’s Medicaid program.

Citing a study by the website WalletHub, Republicans in the chamber say that North Carolina ranks 49th out of the 50 states in healthcare costs. “Compared to other states, North Carolina has some of the highest healthcare costs in the nation, yet our outcomes and access do not reflect the cost,” a press release from their office says.

The bill as currently constituted adds $600 million from the federal government to establish the Healthcare Access and Stabilization Program, which is designed to bolster state hospitals. It also requires annual transparency reports from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) on costs.

Even if the bill passes the Senate floor, it may not receive a warm welcome in the North Carolina House of Representatives.

Expansion has “been one of the most contentious issues for years,” House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain) told reporters. “I don’t see an appetite for it right now,” he said in an Associated Press report.