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Political notebook: Burr announces support for health care bill, Tillis undecided

By Josh Bergeron 

josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com

One of North Carolina’s U.S. senators supports the newest GOP health care bill and the other hasn’t decided yet.

Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, both Republicans, released statements about the newest version of the GOP’s plan to reform health care shortly after its public release on Thursday. Burr expressed support for the newest version of the bill. Tillis said he would carefully examine the measure and did not express an opinion.

The bill is similar to one passed earlier this year by the U.S. House. Both have the same goal — to alter former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act through a process known as budget reconciliation, which requires a simple majority rather than 60 votes in the Senate.

In his statement, Burr touted the bill’s provisions pertaining to Medicaid, funding for community health centers, the opioid epidemic and pre-existing conditions.

“This draft legislation outlines a number of initiatives that are good for North Carolina,” Burr said. “While not perfect, the bill does provide the funding we need to support our most vulnerable North Carolinians.”

Pertaining to Medicaid, Burr’s statement specifically said the bill would restore “hundreds of millions” of Medicaid dollars to North Carolina and its health care systems. Critics of the bill, however, have said the Senate bill would make cuts to Medicaid, which provides insurance to the poor, elderly and disabled.

In his statement, Tillis said any replacement plan must be an improvement over the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare but did not take a position on the recent bill.

“I look forward to carefully reviewing the draft legislation over the next several days,” he said in an emailed statement.

In order for the health care bill to pass the U.S. Senate, it must receive at least 50 votes, meaning Republicans cannot lose support from more than two Republicans. Already more than two have expressed opposition to the newest GOP health care bill.

Congressmen express support for Veteran Affairs bill

Last week, the President signed a bill that enables the Department of Veteran Affairs to more easily fire problem employees, and the move drew praise from two of Rowan County’s members of Congress.

On Friday, President Donald Trump signed the “VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act.” As its name suggests, the measure provides protections for whistleblowers and gives greater authority to the VA secretary to remove, demote or suspend any employee for poor performance or misconduct.

Tillis, who co-sponsored the measure in the Senate, said the bill gives the VA “long-overdue authority to remove bad actors.”

“While the majority of employees at the VA are hardworking individuals who are committed to providing the best healthcare possible for our veterans, it is unacceptable the VA has to comb through layers of red-tape to remove poor-performing employees,” he said. “Now that this legislation has been signed into law, I look forward to the VA having the tools it needs to have the right personnel in place.

Meanwhile, Rep. Richard Hudson, R-8, also expressed support for the bill signing.

“The problems at the VA aren’t from one bad actor or a lack of taxpayer dollars — it’s a rotten culture of unaccountability that puts bureaucrats ahead of veterans,” Hudson said. “Our veterans deserve real solutions to break the back of this bureaucracy, and today’s law is a significant step in that direction.”

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.

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