Health Care Working Group finalizes COVID-19 response bills

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 24, 2020

By Liz Moomey

SALISBURY — The state House COVID-19 Health Care Working Group will present two bills when the General Assembly goes back into session next week. 

Those bills aim to help improve the state’s response to COVID-19 emergency and provide funding. They will create a state stockpile of personal protective equipment, provide support to health care providers to respond to COVID-19, increase flexibility of N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and increase access to health care through tele-health.

Rep. Wayne Sasser, a Stanly County Republican, requested additions to the final bill draft last week to allow pharmacists to administer COVID-19 vaccines once developed, antibody testing, dispense naloxone and help manage chronic diseases. He also wanted legislation to ensure drugs can be mailed to patients. But the proposed bill did not include a section that would allow for pharmacists to test for COVID-19 and antibodies.

Sasser said the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services does allow for pharmacists to administer both tests.

“We would rather have the North Carolina Board of Pharmacy or the NCDHHS overseeing what the pharmacists in North Carolina are doing, instead of some federal agency that will probably never come to North Carolina,” Sasser said.

Sasser, a pharmacist, asked for an amendment to be added before the goes for a House vote.

The second bill would:

  • allocate funds to enhance capacity for public and behavioral health crisis services.
  • fund additional Medicaid-related costs because of the COVID-19 emergency.
  • fund an increase in the state’s supply of personal protective equipment and safety supplies in the amount of $50 million.
  • fund efforts toward tracking, tracing and trend analysis in the amount of $25 million.
  • allocate funds to food, safety, shelter and child care expenses.
  • provide targeted support to rural and underserved regions of the state.
  • provide relief to hospitals.
  • provide funds for COVID-19 research in the amount of $110 million.

The bill allocates more than $688 million for COVID-19 response directed to health care.

Co-Chair Rep. Donna White, R-26, said the bills are the “battle plan “for North Carolina.

“COVID-19 has changed our lives and for the last seven weeks, it’s controlled our lives,” she said. “The work of this committee from the health and human services perspective is going to show this virus that North Carolina is strong, united and fighting back.”

Co-Chair Rep. Perrin Jones, R-9, said the legislation will be a real benefit to North Carolinians and the state is coming to come out a lot stronger.

Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-75, who is also a co-chair, said he foresees these bills as a phase one and the committee will evaluate the situation and may need to return for a phase two.

White thanked House Speaker Moore for his vision and immediate action by forming the four working groups. She said committee members were the warriors and Moore was the general.

The House will convene at noon on Tuesday.