17 January 2023
RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – Those members of the North Carolina legislature who are pushing for Medicaid expansion have new data to help make their point: a poll that shows that more than 82% of the state’s voters want the program to grow.
That was the headline of data released Tuesday by the American Cancer Society, which commissioned a poll of 500 likely voters statewide. The telephone poll has a plus/minus of 4%, but there is no question about these responses.
More than 8 out of 10 respondents said that expanding Medicaid is important to them and that they would support expanding the program (78.2%), the poll found.
Those same sentiments carried across the political spectrum, with 95.1% of Democrats, 79.3% of unaffiliated voters and 69% of Republicans agreeing.
About 1 in 4 Republicans didn’t think expansion was important and about 16% of unaffiliated. About 98% of all respondents had a firm opinion.
But even higher percentages of Democrats (96.2%) and unaffiliates (70.7%) said they support the idea of expansion. Even 63.9% of Republicans support the idea.
Those numbers may be why most members of the General Assembly do now after so many years of opposition from Republican leadership during a decade of pushes by Democrats.
The problem now appears that lawmakers in the Senate and House can’t agree on some of the other ideas of expanding access to health care across the state.
North Carolina is one of 11 states that have not expanded Medicaid since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in March 2010. Kody H. Kinsley, North Carolina’s secretary for Health and Human Services, sent a letter to the leaders of the General Assembly in late August telling leaders they would lose more than $1 billion in federal payments and jeopardize medical coverage for thousands of residents if they didn’t expand by the end of September.
It has been close
Lawmakers have appeared close to making this happen.
If you recall, when the General Assembly adjourned last July, Gov. Roy Cooper and state Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Winston-Salem), a principal in Medicaid expansion legislation, were expressing hope and optimism that even though the session had been completed that Medicaid could be expanded soon.
The issue was that Republican leaders in the Senate and the House couldn’t get on the same page with the same bullet points.
Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden), a converted longtime opponent, had led the bipartisan passage of an expansion bill in the Senate. That bill also took steps to broaden access to health care in counties where that is a problem. These included easing the way that new medical facilities can be licensed to open, expanding telehealth and allowing nurse practitioners to take on more tasks reserved for physicians.
The House, though, declined to take up the Senate’s bill and proposed its own bill, which called for another study team to work through the plans and report back in December for a potential vote.
Lambeth, a co-chair of the House Health Committee, had participated in a study and in 2021 wrote the Medicaid bill that the House passed and the Senate then adjusted and passed. He also was part of the last bill the House discussed but the Senate hadn’t considered.
The key issue is that some hospital systems opposed part of the Senate’s bill because it included new requirements for a “certificate of need,” which is approval for new medical facilities to open. And that seems to be a priority for the long legislative session that opened last week.
Lambeth last week told WGHP that Medicaid expansion is his No. 1 goal for this session and said, “Certificate of Need reform also will be passed.”
State Sens. Michael Garrett (D-Greensboro) and Graig Meyer (D-Chapel Hill) and rep. Kanika Brown (D-Winston-Salem) all had access to health care as their top priorities.
Ready ‘to get this done’
“North Carolinians are ready for the legislature to get this done.” Lucy Dagneau of the American Cancer Society Action Network told WNCN-Ch. 17 in Raleigh. “There’s been a lot of debate over the years. There’s been a lot of conversation, and they’re looking for action.”
Kinsley’s letter last summer said that, once Medicaid expansion were live, North Carolina could draw more than $500 million per month in federal money.
House Speaker Tim Moore, who has been slow to complete the deal in his chamber, said that lawmakers need to note that there could be a $1 billion bonus for making this work.
“So, we want to make sure that whatever we do is cognizant of that,” Moore told WNCN. “There are some deadlines approaching that we take advantage of that because that’s one of the key things that makes it financially work.”