COVID-19, News, public health

Health care bills take shape as General Assembly prepares to return next week

State House members unveiled two draft bills Thursday that would put more than $600 million into COVID-19 research and treatment, support for rural hospitals and distribution of personal protective equipment for medical personnel.

The draft bill dealing with funding,  includes:

* $100 million for “vaccine development, community testing and other COVID -19 research” through the medical schools of UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke University, Wake Forest University and East Carolina University. The schools would each receive $25 million.

* $75 million in funding to the North Carolina Healthcare Foundation for rural hospitals across the state.

* $50 million to purchase and stockpile personal protective equipment or PPE for medical professional.

* $25 million for COVID-19 testing, trend analysis and contact tracing

* $10 million for Campbell University to develop a “community and rural-focused primary care workforce response.”

* A 5% increase in Medicaid provider payments, or about $68.4 million in non-federal funds.

* $2.25 million for supplemental payment for foster care, or $100 for each child getting foster care assistance from April through June.

Lawmakers discussed the bills in Thursday’s Health Care work group of the House Select Committee on COVID-19, which has been preparing bills for quick passage once the General Assembly returns April 28. The committee members emphasized that these bills will just be the first phase of relief efforts.

Significantly, one of the bills would authorize the state Department of Health and Human Services to provide Medicaid coverage for COVID-19 testing for the uninsured during under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act for the length of the pandemic. The coverage would be retroactive, to the extent that is allowed, for those who have tested positive for the virus. If the federal government approves, the bill would fund testing and treatment for those living at 200 percent of the federal poverty level, which equates to about $50,200 for a family of four.

Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Forsyth), co-chair of the committee, said the work of House members on these bills has been exhaustive but the work of state lawmakers on pandemic relief has truly just begun.

“The package is a robust plan based on what we have heard in the last several weeks from our communities from the mountains to the ocean,” Lambeth said. “But this is a package I would consider to be phase one. We will continue to monitor the situation and we will address the next phase at some point in our future.”

“It has been historical, it has been stressful, it has been scary and dangerous to an extreme,” Lambeth said of the pandemic. “Just as Carolinians have done time and time again, during major hurricanes, floods and wildfires and now this virus, we have responded.”


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