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What Medicaid expansion means for North Carolina

Medicaid expansion will allow for more medical facilities in underserved areas of the state, like Outer Banks where residents have a handful of doctors and three urgent care centers to seek care. (Image: OBX Health via Instagram)
Medicaid expansion will allow for more medical facilities in underserved areas of the state, like Outer Banks where residents have a handful of doctors and three urgent care centers to seek care. (Image: OBX Health via Instagram)

North Carolina Republicans reached an agreement last week to expand Medicaid in the state, making it the 39th state to do so.

The program provides health insurance to more than two million low-income people across the state already and expansion is estimated to impact 600,000 people.

Reporter Will Michaels and Capitol Bureau Chief Colin Campbell at member station WUNC explain in detail what else expansion means for the state.


Will Michaels: This is big news. Republicans had been historically opposed to Medicaid expansion when the Affordable Care Act gave states the option to do so in 2010. What's changed? 

Colin Campbell: Yeah, I think over time you've seen other Republican states jump on board and expand Medicaid there. And Republicans here have been watching that closely to see what the budget impact was. You know, the initial concern was, oh, the federal government is going to give us all this money now to do this. But what if they change their mind later on and then we're stuck holding the bag as far as that goes? There's also some concerns about the stability of the Medicaid program in North Carolina. They had a deficit for a while. Now that's going pretty well. And so they feel pretty comfortable about expanding it to another half million or so people. 

W.M: If you could give us a brief rundown, what is in this agreement? 

C.C: The key provision of this is that it'll expand Medicaid. Starting sometime this summer, it's targeted to start when the budget passes, which is usually a few months out from now. The other provisions involve changes to health care regulations, and a certificate of need also has some provisions about other federal funding for hospitals and other medical providers that the state needs to enact on our end here in North Carolina in order to get those federal dollars flowing through. 

W.M: On the financial side of things, how much money will North Carolina get from the federal government as an incentive to expand Medicaid? 

C.C: There's a sort of signing bonus that the federal government has put out there to get more states on board with Medicaid expansion. And that's about a billion and a half dollars to support various sorts of mental health, public safety, rural health care, a variety of other things that the state will have to figure out exactly how it wants to spend. State Department of Health and Human Resources says between the the two different programs expansion and the thing known as HAMP, which is this additional funding for medical providers, we're talking about an additional $8 billion coming into North Carolina, both to the government and to health care providers. And that's huge in a state where our total state budget is about $28 billion. So this is a big chunk of change. 

W.M: So let's talk about certificates of need a little bit. Can you explain what those are and why some lawmakers wanted to do away with them?

C.C: So essentially, North Carolina has what might seem like odd regulations where if you want to build a new hospital, a new medical facility of some kind, you have to apply for a certificate from the state and they have to open it up to other providers that might want to open a similar facility in the same area. And if you've got two or more that want to be there, they have to compete and only one of them usually gets the ability to open that. So the Senate has long wanted to do away with that entirely. This is sort of a smaller step in that direction by getting rid of it for certain types of facilities, such as surgical centers and urban areas, mental health facilities, substance abuse, addiction treatment facilities, and a couple other categories of permits that normally are required under the current law. 

W.M: Our health system's likely to support that. 

C.C: They have put out a statement in support of the deal. They had a compromise offer that they put out last fall that the Senate initially didn't go for. So this is essentially a continuation of those negotiations. And my understanding is that all of these parties came together in the last couple of weeks to say yes to this particular compromise. 

W.M: And how has our governor, Roy Cooper and his fellow Democrats responded to it? 

C.C: Really positive. As you can imagine. Governor Roy Cooper has made Medicaid expansion a pretty big priority from him since day one of his administration, which was, you know, six years ago. Essentially, at this point, he says he'd like to see Medicaid expansion take effect immediately upon passage of the bill rather than waiting for the budget this summer. Republicans say that weight is necessary because the budget may deal with some of the financial aspects of this that need to come together all at once.

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