Other voices: A thaw in resistance to Medicaid expansion?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 17, 2021

State Senate leader Phil Berger, a longtime opponent of much-needed Medicaid expansion in North Carolina, says he’s now willing to consider enacting expansion as part of his negotiations with Gov. Roy Cooper over the current state budget.

It’s not much, but it’s something.

“In the context of getting a budget this year, particularly … the budgets that were passed by the House and the Senate, that crafting Medicaid expansion on top of that was, in my view, a trade that was worth considering,” Berger told reporters last week. He says he still believes expansion is a bad policy, but he’s “indicated that I thought that was something that would be appropriate for us to move forward with.”

It’s a little disappointing, frankly, that Berger would consider allowing Medicaid expansion as part of a “horse trade.” A program that benefits the health and well-being of North Carolina citizens at bargain-basement prices should pass on its own merits — and does, with a majority of North Carolinians, including many business leaders and medical authorities, as well as many who care about the rural areas of the state that could use a helping hand.

But since we’re talking strategy, maybe Berger just needs an excuse to abandon his longstanding, illogical opposition to a program that could clearly benefit the state.

If it takes budget negotiations to allow him to move the pieces on his chessboard, so be it.

Medicaid expansion would provide medical coverage for North Carolinians who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid — because the vast majority of them are working — but too little to qualify for a subsidy via the Affordable Care Act — because they’re working for low wages. Medicaid expansion would benefit up to 600,000 North Carolina residents, by some counts, including 35,194 residents in Guilford County and about 25,500 in Forsyth.

North Carolina is one of only 12 states that are doing without.

Of course, more would be needed than Berger’s agreement. The N.C. House still refuses to support expansion, House Speaker Tim Moore reaffirmed Wednesday.

Maybe House members need to hear from more of their constituents.

According to a report from WRAL last week, a slim majority of Republican voters in North Carolina favor expanding Medicaid — and their numbers grow when they learn more about who benefits.

According to a poll commissioned by NC Child, when specific points about Medicaid expansion are highlighted, support among GOP voters increases significantly.

Some of the aspects the poll highlighted include:

Providing coverage to more than 30,000 uninsured veterans, including a quarter of those who served in Afghanistan and Iraq — 75% support, 13% oppose.

Helping people get medication and treatment for chronic conditions like diabetes, cancer and other life-threatening diseases — 72% support, 15% oppose.

Increasing early detection of cancer, heart disease and other life-threatening illnesses — 72% support, 12% oppose.

Limited to legal U.S. residents (undocumented immigrants would receive no benefits) — 75% support, 13% oppose.

Requiring applicants who aren’t working to enroll in a job-training program — 76% support, 14% oppose.

A little education can go a long way.

The ice around Moore may be thawing, also. “We’re certainly open to getting additional offers from the governor to see if we can get closer, but we do have to look at those other options. We have no choice,” Moore said. “We’ve been ready to get a budget passed.”

So are North Carolinians, who are, no doubt, tired of annual negotiations that have, at times, prevented new budgets from being passed for embarrassingly lengthy periods.

In the meantime, the state legislature has also been ordered by a North Carolina judge to pump an additional $5.6 billion into education funding through 2028 — an order that Republican leaders have ignored.

This also occurs as Republicans in the legislature seek (yet again) to tighten their grip on the state via gerrymandered election maps.

We appreciate that they have a vision for the state that is so compelling that they’re willing to force it on the electorate. But we wish, in these matters and so many others, that they’d listen to the people and trust them enough to let them choose for themselves.

— Greensboro News & Record