Raleigh, N.C. — Deep in the 2021 state budget bill was a provision requiring lawmakers to study the issue of Medicaid expansion. That resulted in the creation of the Joint Legislative Committee on Access to Healthcare and Medicaid expansion, which is scheduled to hold its first meeting next Friday, Feb. 18.
House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, named their appointees to the panel last month.
At a healthcare meeting Thursday, Sen. Jim Burgin, R-Harnett, said he expects GOP lawmakers will be talking about the issue in private, too.
“We’re gonna have that conversation. It starts next week,” Burgin told WRAL News. “We as the Republican body. I know the House is, too. We’re all going to be looking at it. I think there is a way to do some expansion.”
Burgin, who was not appointed to the joint committee, noted that the 2021 budget included a limited 12-month expansion of coverage for new mothers.
“I pushed hard for that, because I think it was the right thing to do. And I think it’s going to help those babies, it’s going to help those moms,” he said.
According to Burgin, the expansion would help hospitals across the state keep their doors open by reimbursing them for some of the charity care they’re currently having to write off.
“Plus, if we do expand Medicaid, we’re talking about $1.7 billion of new money that we would get, that I would want us to drive 100% into healthcare,” Burgin said.
The $1.7 billion Burgin referred to is from the 2021 American Rescue Plan. That federal package included additional money for Medicaid expansion to sweeten the deal for the 12 states, including North Carolina, that have thus far refused to expand it.
However, like most North Carolina Republican lawmakers who’ve spoken publicly on this issue, Burgin is not in favor of wholesale expansion.
“Medicaid should not be a place that people go to stay the rest of their lives. It ought to be a transition,” he said.
He said he would favor an expansion plan that would offer two years of coverage to help people get back on their feet.
“You’ll get free community college during that time, and we’ll pay for child care for you for that time. But then, you’re through.”
In 2021, Berger said Senate Republicans would be willing to discuss expanding Medicaid. This was a dramatic change of position — for years, Berger had refused to consider it, saying it lacked the majority support of the Republican caucus.
However, the House also changed its position. Some GOP leaders there, most notably Donny Lambeth, previously proposed a limited expansion with a work requirement. But courts have struck down work requirements in other states. Moore said last year that, without a work requirement, the majority of his caucus does not favor expansion.
Lambeth, R-Forsyth, will co-chair the joint study committee with Sen. Joyce Krawiec, also R-Forsyth.
House Speaker Tim Moore’s chief of staff Neal Inman said there are no plans at this time for the House caucus to discuss the issue outside of next Friday’s committee meeting.
“As House Republicans stated during the budget process, there are no predetermined outcomes for this committee,” Inman added.