RALEIGH — Facing pressure from Republicans to support a budget that does not include Medicaid expansion, Rep. Charles Graham went on the offense Tuesday, holding a joint press conference to affirm his support for expansion and detailing benefits the people he represents would receive.
Joining the Democrat from Lumberton at the podium were Reps. Elmer Floyd, a Democrat from Fayetteville; Garland Pierce, a Democrat from Wagram; and Fordham Britt, director of Physicians Services at Southeastern Health.
“I feel that every citizen needs and deserves medical care that will enhance his or her quality of life,” Graham said. “There are benefits to all of us when we can live our best and healthiest lives.”
By 2022, Medicaid expansion likely would add about 616 jobs in Robeson County, would cover about 13,747 more county residents, and would add $97.8 million to the county’s economy, according to Graham, whose information came from a study by George Washington University. About half the jobs created would be in health care, with the balance in such industries as construction, retail and wholesale.
Expanding Medicaid coverage would prevent the cost of treating the uninsured from being passed on to taxpayers, he said. And the expansion could be realized without increasing taxes on state residents. Ninety percent of the cost would come from federal funds already paid through the federal income tax. The remaining 10% would be paid by hospitals and medical providers.
“It is every citizen’s right and privilege to live in this great country and have access to quality health care,” Graham said. “Our quality of life depends on our health-care opportunities. We all need to work together to assure that no one is left out.”
Graham has been targeted by Republicans as a Democrat who might vote in the House to override Cooper’s veto. Seven Democrats are needed, and Graham has suggested he might do so, citing the benefits for Robeson County and UNCP.
Britt stepped forward to say that, based on her 28 years in the health-care industry, she can attest to the benefits Medicaid coverage has provided the residents of Robeson and surrounding counties.
“As you know, Robeson County is one of the poorest counties in the nation,” Britt said. “It is rural in nature. It is vital that health services are provided in the communities where our residents live. Due to these factors, a large number of individuals rely on Medicaid to cover their health care costs.
“Unfortunately, Medicaid expansion in our state and many others has become political. We have lost sight of what is right and what really matters, the health and well-being of our residents.”
Major benefits will be realized if Medicaid expansion is enacted correctly and not entirely on the backs of hospitals, she said. Those benefits include medical coverage for the most vulnerable or those who are in danger of falling through the cracks and helping rural hospitals remain open.
“I urge our elected officials to put aside the bickering and political agendas and make a decision on Medicaid expansion because it is the right thing to do,” Britt said.
The lack of Medicaid expansion with no work requirements and no premiums was a major reason why Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, vetoed the two-year budget approved by the General Assembly on June 27 that would have spent $24 billion in the fiscal year that started July 1. An expansion plan approved June 9 by the House Health Committee requires participants to work and pay up to 2% of their annual household income for coverage. No action has been taken on House Bill 655 since June 9.
“This legislation received broad bipartisan support in committee, and I also support it,” Graham said. “Gov. Roy Cooper believes that leaders in both the House and the Senate must be willing to commit to a serious negotiation and a path forward for Medicaid expansion.”
Cooper’s veto of the budget has put on hold $2.75 million in immediate state funding for projects in Robeson County and threatens more than $90 million in funding over a period of years for a College of Health Sciences at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Among the money earmarked for Robeson County is $137,807 in fiscal year 2019-20 and $94,568 in fiscal year 2020-21 for a drug treatment court in Robeson County, funding placed in the budget through an amendment to the original House bill sponsored by Graham.
Rep. Brenden Jones, whose District 46 covers part of Robeson County, renewed his criticism of Cooper’s budget veto on Tuesday. The Republican from Tabor City said his community still is waiting on hurricane recovery assistance from the Cooper administration. Jones slammed the governor for holding the budget hostage and once again putting partisan politics ahead of the people of rural North Carolina.
“It is beyond frustrating that the governor would choose to play politics with something as important as our state’s budget, which includes critical resources for things like hurricane recovery for our rural communities,” Jones said. “My community is still waiting for the governor to deliver funds for Hurricane Matthew nearly three years after the storm made landfall. Yet, he is willing to use these much-needed resources as leverage to force Medicaid expansion. This marks a new low for the governor and I hope the people of rural North Carolina do not forget.”
Republican lawmakers continue to ask the governor to have a separate debate on Medicaid expansion, according to Rep. John Bell, House majority leader. They point to the fact that the budget passed by the General Assembly includes a provision that allows Cooper to call the legislature back for a special session this fall to discuss health care and Medicaid expansion.
According to Bell and Jones, key funding for rural communities being blocked by Cooper’s veto include:
— $112 million for disaster relief needs, grants, repairs and more.
— $150 million over the next decade for expanding rural broadband through the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology Program.
— $15 million to fight the opioid epidemic by increasing access to substance abuse treatment and recovery options.
— Extension of the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit, which has helped rural communities revitalize downtowns.
— 5% salary increase for most state employees.
— Funding for teacher raises, school construction and student safety.