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Will NC Lawmakers Turn Money Down for Health Care?

PHOTO: This week the North Carolina State Assembly is expected to vote to turn down federal money that would expand Medicaid to provide health coverage to an additional 500-thousand uninsured people in the state.
PHOTO: This week the North Carolina State Assembly is expected to vote to turn down federal money that would expand Medicaid to provide health coverage to an additional 500-thousand uninsured people in the state.
February 4, 2013

RALEIGH, N.C. - The State Assembly is expected to vote as early as tonight on a proposal to opt out of Medicaid expansion for the state that would provide health coverage for an additional 500,000 North Carolinians. States are being encouraged to expand the program under the Affordable Care Act. Even though the federal government will pay the entire cost of the expansion for the first three years, the Republican-led assembly has indicated it will take a pass.

Doug Dickerson, executive director of AARP North Carolina, said it will be a tough pill to swallow for many in the state, including seniors.

"The state has taken an ideological view that 'we don't want the federal government's money and we'll just live with the consequences.' So if you're low-income in this state, you've got a target on your back."

The Medicaid expansion would offer health care for adults making up to $15,000 a year, which is the annual gross salary for someone being paid minimum wage in the state. It would also create an estimated 25,000 jobs in the state, according to the State Department of Health and Human Services. Next week, the state assembly is also expected to pass a 40-percent cut to state unemployment benefits.

Cutting unemployment benefits will make it especially tough for seniors who are out of work but unable to find a job and who cannot qualify for Medicare or Social Security yet, Dickerson added.

"It's a double whammy. It kind of depends on who you are, which one you think is more important. If you're unemployed, your first concern is about having some income. Second is you're losing any kind of health care coverage that otherwise you would have been eligible for."

Turning down the federal money will cost the state in the long run, Dickerson warned. According to the North Carolina Hospital Association, hospitals already will have to absorb almost $8 billion in previously scheduled federal and state cuts to reimbursements. Expanding Medicaid, he said, would offset that.

After the first three years of a Medicaid expansion, states would never have to pay more than 10 percent of the cost of the program.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC