New bipartisan group aiming to reduce number of health insurance-less North Carolinians convenes for first time

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Gov. Roy Cooper (D) convened a new bipartisan group that met for the first time Friday seeking to reduce the number of people in the state without health insurance.

Cooper made Medicaid expansion a top priority in his first term as governor, but he’s been at odds with Republican leaders in the General Assembly who have resisted moving forward with that.

“We’ve got to tackle the shortcomings in the system, and the fact remains that we’ve got at least 1.2 million North Carolinians who don’t have access to health coverage,” Cooper said Friday.

He said he formed the North Carolina Council for Health Care Coverage not to develop specific policies but to find areas of agreement that can be a starting point for when the General Assembly reconvenes in January. The group includes more than three dozen leaders across the state, including Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature, representatives from the healthcare industry, the business community, and others. The Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy is leading the council’s meetings.

Cooper won re-election in November, and Republicans maintained their majorities in the House and Senate.

“This is not gonna be easy,” Cooper acknowledged.

Most of Friday’s meeting was spent talking about Medicaid and the potential impacts of expanding the program in North Carolina to provide coverage to hundreds of thousands of people currently uninsured. Thirty-eight states and Washington, D.C., have expanded Medicaid. The federal government pays for 90 percent of the cost, and states pay the remainder.

“To be honest, I was a little disappointed when I saw we were starting with Medicaid expansion because it has been such a controversial topic,” said state Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R-Davie/Forsyth). “We also know to improve access, we need to find ways to reduce costs.”

Krawiec said the group should study other issues as well, such as improvements to telehealth, recognizing out-of-state health care licenses and make it easier for businesses to work together to buy insurance. Legislators also mentioned reforms to “certificate of need” laws related to new medical facilities.

House Majority Leader John Bell (R-10th District) echoed some of Krawiec’s concerns. In an email, he wrote, “I was disappointed in today’s meeting and the fact that we immediately went into the most controversial topic, Medicaid expansion. There seemed to be a clear agenda being pushed from the start on expanding Medicaid. This was my biggest concern coming into our discussions. If we want to find real solutions to our health care challenges, it can’t be about pushing a political agenda. There needs to be a serious effort to identify bipartisan solutions. I am remain hopeful we can refocus our efforts to find ways to help the people of North Carolina.” 

Christina Persico said she was covered under Medicaid until a few weeks after her daughter, Nova, was born. For about three years she hasn’t had health insurance, as her family makes too much money to qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford the monthly payments to include her on her husband’s insurance plan.

Last year, she got so sick she had to go to the emergency room and discovered she was anemic. She said the doctor told her it was likely the result of inadequate care after giving birth because her insurance ran out.

“My emergency room visits were over $25,000,” she said.

She requires ongoing care, which includes additional infusions. But with the cost of that care, she said she’s doing “the bare minimum to keep myself from kicking the bucket.”

“It’s extremely frustrating because I feel like if I had access to regular medical care, I wouldn’t have ended up in the emergency room,” she said. “I need to see a hematologist, an endocrinologist and because of prolonged anemia I now need to see a cardiologist because of cardiac problems. But, I can’t afford to. I’m able to get labs taken periodically but I really don’t know what I would do if I got sick again. I’d probably just go without care.”

The council is scheduled to meet again Dec. 18. They’ll continue working into January, when the General Assembly is scheduled to convene.

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