SeHealth roots for Medicaid expansion

By Mike Gellatly -

LUMBERTON — Southeastern Health is among rural health care providers applauding Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration’s efforts to expand Medicaid coverage in North Carolina.

Cooper’s expansion of Medicaid would benefit Robeson County in more areas than health, according to Reid Caldwell, government affairs and policy management officer for Southeastern Health, which manages Southeastern Regional Medical Center.

“Additional jobs would bring more dollars into the county and would serve as an economic stimulus,” Caldwell said. “Expanded coverage would provide additional income to the medical center to help reduce our charity care costs that we currently incur to care for people that have no coverage. In addition, it would give more people access to the health care system than currently do. It would help to increase nursing and allied health jobs in the medical center to provide care to people not currently being served.”

Cooper’s administration last week asked a federal judge to let the new Democratic governor continue to take first steps toward expanding Medicaid coverage to as many as 500,000 uninsured people in the state. There are no hard numbers on how many would benefit in Robeson County, but a large slice of the county is already on Medicaid.

According to the North Carolina Department of Medical Assistance’s 2016 annual report, 59,628 Robeson County residents are Medicaid eligible, which represents 44.7 percent of the residents.

Proponents point to the fact that almost 30 states, including Indiana, where Vice President Mike Pence was governor, have expanded Medicaid under the ACA. They say it would bring $4 billion a year into the state and create thousands of new jobs.

Cooper is pushing for Medicaid expansion at a time when the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature legislation, is facing an overhaul by President Trump and a Congress controlled by Republicans.

According to the documents, Cooper’s decision to submit a proposed change to expand the eligibility won’t obligate the state to pay anything without legislative approval.

The state would have to provide a financial match to receive the federal Medicaid funds. Cooper has suggested the match could come from hospitals. But the lawsuit challenging Cooper says expansion could commit the state to spending more than $500 million through 2021.

In a court filing last week, attorneys for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore “have depicted an emergency characterized by a parade of horribles, including a governor who has arrogated unto himself the unilateral right to expand Medicaid and who — if not stopped by this court — will commit the state to spend millions of dollars without legislative approval.”

If the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approve Cooper’s amendment, then the governor would propose, in his upcoming budget, “an expansion of health care coverage that not only allows economically disadvantaged citizens to receive medical care but to do so largely at the federal government’s expense,” the filing says.

While the fight in U.S. District Court continues in Raleigh, Caldwell hopes a mutually beneficial decision can be reached.

“We also have a strong preference that the governor work with the General Assembly in a bipartisan, collaborative way to ensure there is a plan for coverage that everyone agrees with moving forward,” he said.

By Mike Gellatly

Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly

Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly

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