Politics & Government

‘Type of Medicaid expansion’ set for discussion in NC House, amid budget stalemate

Republicans in the state House are countering Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s budget veto with a “type of Medicaid expansion” they’re calling Carolina Cares. The bill is set to be discussed in a House committee Tuesday morning.

More than a week into the new fiscal year with no budget in place, Cooper invited Republican leaders in the legislature to meet at 8 a.m. Tuesday.

At the core of the impasse is Medicaid expansion. Cooper wants it. Democrats want it. But many Republicans don’t, and they didn’t include it in the budget. Supporters say the expansion will bring jobs as well as offering health insurance coverage to more North Carolinians. Critics say it will cost too much and future federal funding is uncertain.

House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters Monday afternoon that Republican leaders agreed to take up what he called the Carolina Cares bill, which he described as “a type of Medicaid expansion” that has work requirements and “things that project the taxpayer.”

The bill will be discussed in the House health committee on Tuesday. It is House Bill 655, which is called “NC Health Care for Working Families.” Rep. Donny Lambeth is among its primary sponsors.

In addition to the work requirement, the most recent publicly available version of the bill would cover those residents who meet all federal Medicaid citizenship and immigration requirements and are not eligible for Medicaid under the current program. Other requirements: Their modified adjusted gross income is not higher than 133% of the federal poverty level; they are not entitled to or enrolled in Medicare Part A or B; and they are between the ages of 19 and 64.

Moore, a Cleveland County Republican, put the budget on the House’s agenda Monday but there was no vote.

“We really do hope we can get the votes to override,” Moore said Monday. He said if the opportunity is there, he would hold the vote, but also wants to see if Cooper sends a new plan.

“I’ve heard all this discussion out there that the governor’s gonna have a plan. I haven’t gotten it. So, we’re waiting to see if there is something,” Moore said.

If all lawmakers vote, House Republicans need seven Democrats to override Cooper’s June 28 veto. Just three Democrats joined Republicans to support the budget deal when the House approved it.

“I am very confident that when the vote occurs that there are not enough votes to override,” Rep. Grier Martin, a Wake County Democrat, said Friday.

Meanwhile, both sides have criticized the other for holding up the budget.

Senate leader Phil Berger’s office has been pointing out other budget items that await passage — like raises for state employees, money to implement a shift in how teenagers are prosecuted, and funds to help clear a backlog of untested rape kits.

“Governor Cooper is playing a political game with the lives of thousands of state employees because he disagrees with us on one policy issue and that’s not right,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown said in a statement.

The state Democratic Party, for its part, has been sending out figures on the impact of Medicaid expansion in each county. The “budget fails to do anything to close the coverage gap that would make healthcare more accessible for working people,” the party’s statements say.

“It’s just unfortunate it seems like politics is overshadowing what should be good policy,” Moore said.

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Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan covers North Carolina state government and politics at The News & Observer. She previously covered Durham for 13 years, and has received six North Carolina Press Association awards, including a 2018 award for investigative reporting.