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Medicaid 3As state lawmakers and Gov. McCrory argue about ways to cut public outlays for Medicaid — the public health insurance system for people of low income — the lead editorials in North Carolina’s two largest newspapers offer some straightforward and compelling truths this morning that ought to guide their discussions:

1) Service cuts harm real people in need and 2)  Things ain’t gonna’ improve as long as Dr. Aldona Wos runs the show.

As Raleigh’s News & Observer reminds us, when legislators cut services to save money (even though, as the editorial notes, per person costs are down and quality of service is up) they make life hell for people like Mason Leonard and his mom Colleen:

“Mason Leonard, 14, of Cary is severely disabled. He was brain-damaged at birth and cannot care for himself. He can’t be left alone, can’t feed himself or look after any of his needs.

But thanks to a few Medicaid services, he receives therapy, gets out a little, gets trained in things like making his bed, which, when he accomplishes it, is considered a big step….

A Medicaid policy change last year, for example, eliminated weekend hours for teaching Mason how to function with basic skills. His mother understandably fears what new hardships further “reform” will produce.

Here is what the public needs to understand about the budget cutting and reform conducted under the banner of ‘efficiency.’ For each cut, for each decision to eliminate some benefit, a disabled person such as Mason Leonard or a poor person with no alternative for care except what Medicaid provides and their caregivers and family members suffer discomfort or pain.”

And then there’s this bit of plain truth from the Charlotte Observer: state Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos simply has to go. As the Observer notes: Read More

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In case you missed it, Mike Meno of the ACLU of North Carolina posted the following insightful essay last Friday about action by the state House to allow physicians to recommend an oil derived from marijuana for treating certain epilepsy symptoms:

Marijuana legalizationNC House Overwhelmingly Approves Marijuana Extract for Epilepsy, but Ignores Countless Others Who Could Benefit from Compassionate Laws

Yesterday, the North Carolina House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill that would allow neurologists to recommend an oil derived from marijuana compounds to certain patients suffering from epileptic conditions. The legislation was inspired in part by 7-year-old Charlotte Figi, who made national news on CNN for a chronic, debilitating condition that could be relieved only through the marijuana-based treatment. Charlotte suffered up to 50 painful seizures a day before her parents discovered that an oil derived from a strain of marijuana that was high in the cannabinoid CBD (cannabidiol) but low in the psychoactive cannabinoid THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) virtually ended her seizures entirely and allowed her to live a happy and healthy life. Read More

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…is highlighted in this fine editorial in the Charlotte Observer entitled: “Expand Medicaid – It has value in NC.” To quote:

“N.C. lawmakers don’t seem inclined to reconsider their unwise decision not to expand Medicaid. But that doesn’t mean we should stop shouting loudly why they should. A new Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report last week underscores the value for the Tar Heel state.

The report looked at the Affordable Care Act’s impact in 14 large U.S. cities. Charlotte was among the seven cities in states where lawmakers opted not to expand eligibility for Medicaid. Even so, the number of uninsured Charlotte residents is expected to drop by 36 percent, or 63,000, by 2016 because of ACA. That was the highest drop among cities with no Medicaid expansion. Among all states, North Carolina has the fifth-highest ACA federal online sign-up.

The report points out that had North Carolina expanded the state’s Medicaid program for low-income and disabled residents, the decrease in uninsured in Charlotte would be even greater – an estimated 57 percent. That would be an additional 36,000, bringing the number of Charlotte residents gaining insurance to 99,000 by 2016. Read More

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The House budget includes a requirement that the position of Medicaid Director be subject to confirmation by the North Carolina General Assembly. Here’s some of the language:

4         APPOINTMENT AND CONFIRMATION OF MEDICAID DIRECTOR
5         SECTION 12H.36.(a) Effective July 1, 2014, and applying to Directors of the
6         Division of Medical Services appointed on or after that date, G.S. 108A-54 is amended by
7         adding a new subsection to read:
8         “§ 108A-54. Authorization of Medical Assistance Program; administration.
9         …
10       (e) The Medicaid Program shall be managed by the Director of the Division of Medical
11       Assistance (Medicaid Director), who shall be recommended by the Secretary of Health and
12       Human Services and appointed by the Governor, subject to confirmation by the General
13       Assembly by joint resolution. [...]

This provision should raise many questions and concerns. The legislature does not have appointment authority over any other position that is so central to carrying out the policy agenda of the Governor. If, for example, the legislature is bent on limiting access to Medicaid while the Governor wants to streamline enrollment, then the conflict will likely shut down any ability to get a Medicaid Director in place.

And while there is a clear process to appoint a Director if the Governor does not forward a nomination, the budget does not spell out what happens if the legislature refuses every nominee from the Governor. What would most likely occur is that the Governor would have to wait until the legislature is out of session and then appoint a temporary Medicaid Director.

If all of this sounds familiar it’s because this is how the process works in Washington, DC, where politics clouds every decision and ties up the basic functions of government. Instead of fostering bi-partisanship and stability, Congress has caused major disruptions in the running of Medicare and Medicaid by refusing to approve presidential nominees.

The same is likely to happen in Raleigh.

The Governor, who is elected statewide, should be able to appoint his or her preferred Medicaid Director to carry out the policies that he or she was elected to enact. If this confirmation requirement survives negotiations between the House and the Senate then leadership elected in select pockets of the state will have veto power over how the Governor runs one of the most important agencies of the executive branch.

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The folks at Carolina Public Press in Asheville have more responses from the trenches today in a story about the North Carolina Senate’s proposal to privatize Medicaid and do away with the state’s award-winning Community Care NC program:

“Medicaid management nonprofit faces closure

Community Care of North Carolina, a nonprofit with 14 networks across the state — including Western North Carolina — would lose its contract with the state under the Senate’s plan.

The proposed elimination of the nonprofit network is part of the Senate’s plan to remove Medicaid management from the state Department of Health and Human Services and create a new agency to handle the program, as noted in its budget document.

Community Care of Western North Carolina, which has an office in Asheville, serves eight WNC counties: Buncombe, Henderson, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Transylvania and Yancey, according to its website. It serves 64,342 Medicaid enrollees, according to July 2013 figures, with an additional 12,000 enrolled in other programs. Read More