Political Notebook: Medicaid expansion looks promising in North Carolina, Rep. Sasser says

Published 10:00 am Monday, March 21, 2022

RALEIGH — Medicaid expansion could be a reality for North Carolina, says Rowan County’s Rep. Wayne Sasser, a Republican chairing the House Health Committee.

Sasser, a pharmacist representing Rowan, Cabarrus and Stanly counties, is part of the bipartisan Committee on Access to Healthcare and Medicaid Expansion, a joint legislative committee for the House and Senate formed in the state budget. That committee has met three times since mid-February to discuss the feasibility of expanding Medicaid, a federal and state health care program primarily targeted for low-income adults, children, pregnant women, elderly adults and people with disabilities.

North Carolina is one of just 12 states that hasn’t taken advantage of the federal incentive to expand Medicaid. Since March 2020, it’s estimated that an additional 200,000 North Carolinians have enrolled in the program. If expanded, it’d cover another 500,000.

But Sasser said the state has been paying 26% of the total cost of care given to those additional 200,000 people. Meanwhile, the federal incentive covers 90% of the costs for Medicaid, with the state on the hook for the remaining 10%. Sasser explained the savings from taking the federal deal can actually save the state money, especially since hospitals have offered to cover some of the state’s cost.

Sasser said now that numbers are on the table, lawmakers are looking at how it can be implemented. They’ve looked and heard from representatives in other states like Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky, but North Carolina has a chance to get it right, he said. Sasser said some states have enacted sunset provisions where lawmakers revisit their Medicaid program if the federal government ever decides to change its share of the cost burden. Other states have included programs that incentivize education and employment, though implementing work requirements for Medicaid is not allowed.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all,” he said. “We’re not going to have the same Medicaid program that California has or what New York has.” 

Medicaid expansion can also help rural hospitals whose primary patients include those on Medicaid or without health insurance. A report from University of North Carolina shows more than 100 rural hospitals have closed in North Carolina since 2010. Medicaid expansion could be the solution, Sasser says.

“We have to do something to protect those small hospitals and this looks like a good way to do it,” he said.

If expanded, there’d be an estimated 2.5 million North Carolinians enrolled, which represents just under 25% of the state’s population. Sasser said that’s “scary to a conservative capitalist,” but added that there seems to be some consensus across the aisle that Medicaid expansion “is the right thing to do.” He anticipates a vote by November. However, some other details must first be ironed out, like whether the current number of providers can handle an additional 500,000 patients, the full scope of practice and the addition of tele-health options.

“I think there’s a win-win in this deal,” Sasser said.

Second annual Elizabeth Dole Dinner Honoring Republican Women to be held Saturday

SALISBURY — Rowan County Republican Women will host the second annual Elizabeth Dole Dinner Honoring Republican Women Saturday night at the West End Plaza Event Center.

The keynote speaker at the event, held at 1935 Jake Alexander Boulevard West, will be Elizabeth “Beth” Harris, author of “Thirteen Ballots: The Manufactured Scandal That Overturned an Election.” That book is centered on what she calls the “overturn” of her husband Mark Harris’ election to North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District during the 2018 midterm election.

Initial results showed Harris’ defeat of Democratic opponent Dan McCready, but the results weren’t certified following reports of ballot fraud. Harris’ campaign employed Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., who was later criminally charged in connection with misconduct related to absentee ballot fraud. The allegations prompted an inquiry from the State Board of Elections, which threw out the results from that race and ordered a new election. Harris did not seek candidacy in the subsequent election.

The event will kick off with a social hour and silent auction at 6 p.m., followed by dinner and speeches at 7 p.m. The silent auction bidding ends at 7:30 p.m. For tickets, visit secure.anedot.com/rowan-county-republican-women/elizabethdoledinner.

Online absentee by mail ballot tracking now available

RALEIGH — Absentee by mail voters in the 2022 primary election can again track the status of their ballots using online service BallotTrax first introduced in the 2020 general election.

The State Board of Elections says voters can track their ballots from when they’re submitted to the county board of elections to when the completed ballot is received by election officials, with the online service sending alerts along the way. Absentee by mail voting began March 28 and voters can request those ballots from the State Board of Elections website. The state board reports more than 400,000 voters used the service in 2020.

Voters can also use the service to learn if their ballot cannot be accepted because of issues like missing signature or witness information. If this happens, the county board will reach out to those voters directly with instructions on how to correct the issue to have their ballot counted.

The deadline to register to vote is April 22 for the primary election. Early voting is scheduled to begin April 28.

To sign up for the online ballot tracking service, visit northcarolina.ballottrax.net/voter/.

About Natalie Anderson

Natalie Anderson covers the city of Salisbury, politics and more for the Salisbury Post. She joined the staff in January 2020 after graduating from Louisiana State University, where she was editor of The Reveille newspaper. Email her at natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com or call her at 704-797-4246.

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