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Political Notebook: Rep. Sasser talks Medicaid expansion, bills advancing to Senate

SALISBURY — With deliberations about the 2021-23 biennial state budget on the horizon, Rep. Wayne Sasser says conversations are underway on a compromise for Medicaid expansion and access to health care.

A new budget was not finalized in North Carolina for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 fiscal years, with Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, vetoing the approved budget in 2020 due to the exclusion of Medicaid expansion by the Republican-led General Assembly. Thus, the state has primarily operated on the spending amounts outlined in the 2018-19 fiscal year budget.

Cooper has proposed $27.4 billion in spending for 2021-22 and $28.5 billion in 2022-23. His budget calls for school employee raises, Medicaid expansion and investments in infrastructure and health care. He does not propose raising any taxes.

Additionally, Cooper said federal funds from the American Rescue Plan can be invested into broadband, water and sewer infrastructure, business assistance, education and workforce training needs, with an announcement on how they’ll be allocated still to come.

Cooper is proposing $5 billion be invested for the expansion of Medicaid, adding that the American Rescue Plan provides an additional $1.7 billion in funds to support Medicaid expansion without the state covering any cost share for up to six years.

Sasser, a pharmacist and Republican representing Rowan and Stanly counties, said conversations are still ongoing, and that “a lot of people are taking a very hard look at compromise.”

Though he’s in support of broadening access to health care, he called “the elephant in the room” the uncertainty of the state’s responsibility or obligation after six years when the federal government may cease covering its share of the cost for Medicaid. He also prefers a way to help patients that also saves the state some money.

“There’s no free rides, and once you give someone something, you can’t give it back,” he said. “There’s got to be a happy medium somewhere. It’s what you don’t know that’s dangerous.”

Sasser said there should be more discussion about allowing people who cannot afford health care to still have a free, yearly physical to identify any chronic or urgent medical conditions, especially those that could lead to more serious health issues such as high blood pressure. Additionally, such a strategy is much less costly than the potential of covering Medicaid after the government’s six-year obligation.

He added that preventative measures can be taken to improve one’s health, but genetics play a major role in someone’s health.

Number of bills backed by Sasser advance to Senate

Sasser also is sponsoring a number of bills related to health care practices, judicial measures and minimum visitation limits during times of declared disasters.

Two bills Sasser is the lead sponsor of have made their way to the Senate, including House Bills 20 and 468. H.B. 20, which passed the House unanimously on April 13, would require the Secretary of Environmental Quality to authorize additional connections to waterlines being funded by the Clean Water and Natural Gas Critical Needs Bond of 1998, particularly those on residential and mixed-use zoned lots.

Sasser said the intent originally was to make the measure a local bill, affecting a limited number of communities, but it was broadened statewide following a sign-off from the Department of Environmental Quality for a project to be announced in Norwood.

In the late 1990s, Sasser said, the bond was meant to get water to homes unable to access clean water. The act then didn’t include developed land, but today there is much less land left to be developed across the state.

“A lot of things have changed in the last 20 years,” he said. “It looks like this is a win-win and good for the county.”

H.B. 468, which passed the House unanimously last week, establishes and outlines surgical technology standards and requires surgical technologists to successfully complete an accredited educational program or military training for surgical technology. Currently, there is no law requiring individuals employed as surgical technologists to be credentialed or complete continuing education.

The bill also defines “surgical technologist” as one who prepares the operating room and sterile field for surgical procedures, ensures equipment is sterile and functioning properly, passes instruments and supplies during procedures, applies sterile dressings to closed wounds and assists with transferring or positioning patients for surgery.

“The general consensus is we want the people that are providing our health care to have certification,” Sasser said. “It makes the patient feel more secure.”

Sasser added that there are currently a number of similar bills aimed at various areas of health care, like technologists involved in respiratory care, for example.

Another bill Sasser has backed is H.B. 252 related to the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act of 2017, or the “Raise the Age” legislation. That law raised the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 16 and 17 except in the cases of certain felonies, provides the victim an opportunity to request review of a decision not to file charges, authorizes school-justice partnerships statewide to reduce the school-to-prison pipeline and established the Juvenile Jurisdiction Advisory Committee.

H.B. 252 would cap sentences for 16- and 17-year-olds who were convicted of certain crimes until their 20th or 21st birthday, depending on the crime. It would also allow a prosecutor to decline to prosecute in superior court a matter that would otherwise be subject to mandatory transfer if the juvenile allegedly committed an offense that would be a class E, F or G felony if committed by an adult.

“There are people incarcerated who have rights, but victims have rights, too,” he said.

Sasser brings a different perspective to the table, however, as he lost his mother nearly 30 years ago by someone who robbed her after a drug deal. But even with such trauma, Sasser supports second chances for teenagers who indicate “they can be redeemed.”

“Even though I experienced the worst of the worst doesn’t mean I support locking up every teenager who’s done something hideous or think is the right thing to do,” he said. “But I don’t like repeat offenders.”

Another bill Sasser has sponsored, and an issue he’s passionate about, is H.B. 351, or “Clifford’s Law.”

The bill was inspired by 63-year-old Clifford Jernigan, who has the mentality of a 3-year-old and has been confined to a long-term care facility for most of his life.

The bill uses Jernigan’s circumstances to highlight the damage inflicted on long-term care residents because of restricted visitation during the pandemic. The bill requires North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen to set, no later than March 15, 2022, a minimum number and frequency of visitors during times of statewide declared disasters when normal visitation is suspended or restricted. It also establishes a minimum of at least two visits per month from one pre-approved visitor or pre-approved alternate visitor.

Sasser said he’s backing the bill because he sees the complete cessation of visitors at long-term care facilities for the duration of the pandemic “inhumane,” especially as so many are on the last legs of their life’s journey.

NCGOP hires new executive director

Jason Simmons, a Republican who worked for the Trump campaign in North Carolina in 2016 before later working for the Republican National Committee and the 45th president’s administration, will now serve as the new executive director for North Carolina’s Republican party.

“With his direction, the North Carolina Republican Party will be well-positioned to build upon our successes,” said NCGOP Chairman Michael Whatley.

Outgoing executive director Jason Dore, Whatley said, has taken a position with a national conservative organization.

Before joining the Republican Party of North Carolina, Simmons worked as a regional political director for the National Republican Committee and served in several positions within the Trump administration as associate administrator with the Small Business Administration and chief of staff of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Simmons has also served as the state director for the Donald J. Trump for President Campaign and in former  Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration.

Simmons graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in political science and a master’s degree in international studies. He served in the Army Reserves.



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