Advocates want Legislature, Gov. McCrory to expand Medicaid for poor's medical treatment

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RALEIGH, North Carolina — Linda Dunn works as a house cleaner and as a nursing home aide so she can care for her 44-year-old daughter, who suffers from mental illness, diabetes and other ailments. Her 73-year-old husband has a job driving people to medical appointments.

And they say it's time for lawmakers and Gov. Pat McCrory to reverse course and accept federal funds to expand Medicaid health insurance coverage to about 500,000 people like them. Dunn, 68, and her family can't afford doctors and say it's time the state stepped in to help.

"I'm tired," she said Tuesday. "My health is beginning to take a toll. I won't always be there for my daughter. I've got to find some help for her when neither of us are there to help."

Supporters of people too poor to buy subsidized health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act contend North Carolina lawmakers and others opposing President Barack Obama's signature legislation are turning their backs on billions of tax dollars and thousands of jobs. The federal government said it's covering 100 percent of a state's expansion costs through 2016 and at least 90 percent afterward.

Advocates argued Tuesday that would translate to thousands of health care jobs while saving hospitals millions of dollars a year in unpaid bills for treatment they're required to give sick patients who can't pay.

"Right now, we are sending North Carolina middle-class tax dollars to states" that have expanded Medicaid and are receiving federal funds, said Rep. Gale Adcock, D-Wake. "Taking Medicaid dollars would have huge economic development impact."

Legislative leaders have said they don't want to expand the program after years of unexpected cost increases. Republican lawmakers have tried for more than a year to agree on revamping the state's Medicaid program to lessen the costs to taxpayers by having private providers take on the risk of exceeding budgets. The state and federal governments share the nearly $14 billion cost of covering 1.8 million North Carolinians.

"I don't believe throwing more money at it solves the problem," said House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, adding that about 200,000 will join Medicaid rolls this year under current eligibility standards as the state grows. "I just don't think it's the proper course for us to take and so I'm in agreement with the Senate leadership that expanding Medicaid is just not the way to go."

Gov. Pat McCrory has hinted he's open to Medicaid expansion if Washington allows a version tailored to North Carolina's liking. Last year, he signed into law legislation banning the state from expanding Medicaid without General Assembly approval.

The number of uninsured U.S. residents fell by more than 11 million since President Barack Obama signed the health care overhaul five years ago, according to a pair of reports Tuesday from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 37 million people remain uninsured, but that's the lowest level measured in more than 15 years.


Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio.

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