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Senate budget sets up Medicaid showdown

Since assuming office Gov. McCrory has throttled the theme that Medicaid is broken and must be reformed. He began by offering a radical proposal of dismantling our current system and selling it off to private insurance plans. He has since backed away from that idea and now wants a more modest expansion of what currently works in Medicaid.

The House, in a bipartisan bill filed this session, clearly agrees with the Governor’s new approach. The legislation, spearheaded by Rep. Nelson Dollar, would build Accountable Care Organizations (or ACOs)  in Medicaid. These provider led ACOs would move us toward greater integration of care and away from fee-for-service medicine. Medicare is using the ACO model as are many private insurers. In fact, Medicaid is one of the only payers in the state not moving to this method of organizing care.

In its budget, the Senate flatly rejects this approach. That chamber wants Medicaid to move to full capitation. In other words, legislators want to provide a set budget to Medicaid. The insinuation is that the Senate prefers the Governor’s original plan to pay private insurers to care (or not care, as the case may be) for our most vulnerable citizens.

The Senate also engages in some fantasy by pulling Medicaid into a freestanding department that will engage the nation’s best health care minds in this ambitious reform effort. At least that’s how Sen. Louis Pate described the proposed process. The trouble, of course, is that the nation’s best health care minds consider North Carolina’s Medicaid program to be an important model and they aren’t interested in helping to dismember it. The nation’s best health care minds also aren’t interested in coming to our state and spending time tearing apart care for low-income people as the legislature reduces services, limits eligibility, and slashes the budget. We are, in short, engaged in the opposite of innovation.

Rep. Dollar is a smart chap and likely realizes that his ACO bill isn’t going anywhere as a piece of legislation. That means he will need to stick the proposal into the House budget to give it a fighting chance. Hence, the showdown mentioned in the title of this post.

Certainly the House is moving in a better direction. But it’s a good time to reflect that Virginia is having its own budget battle over Medicaid right now. Except instead of fighting over how to fiddle with (or blow up) a program that is working, Virginia’s leaders are having a serious discussion about using federal funds to expand Medicaid coverage to 400,000 people. If that happens it means that our tax dollars will help boost Virginia’s economy, bolster its rural hospitals, and support its citizens.

That will certainly be charitable of us, but not wise.

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