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Adam O'Neal

Mayor Adam O’Neal – photo credit Twitter.com

“You can’t close hospitals and let people die to prove a point.” So spoke the conservative Republican mayor of Belhaven, North Carolina, Adam O’Neal, this morning at a press conference at the state Legislative Building in Raleigh.

O’Neal’s appearance (and his linking of hands with Rev. William Barber of the North Carolina NAACP) was the highlight of a powerful event at which advocates called on Gov. McCrory and legislative leaders to reverse course and admit that their ideologically-driven decision to refuse to expand the state’s Medicaid program under the terms of the Affordable Care Act is threatening the physical health of hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians and the financial health of dozens of hospitals — especially ones located in poorer, rural communities like Mayor O’Neal’s.

O’Neal’s speech was an especially moving and courageous act by a man who claimed to disagree with Rev. Barber on most issues and who obviously placed any political ambitions he might harbor at risk by so publicly breaking with the leaders of his own party. But it was also obviously heartfelt and genuine — a fact that made it all the more powerful. Read More

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Medicaid expansionThe benefits to North Carolina and its citizenry of expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act  have been explained many times, but they definitely bear repeating again today — Medicaid Expansion Lobby Day at the General Assembly (click here for details). Prof. Nancy MacLean of Duke University does the honors with the following helpful and handy list:

If North Carolina Accepts Medicaid Expansion:

  • 500,058 uninsured low-income North Carolinians would finally be protected by health insurance, many for the first time.
  • Each year, 2,840 individuals will live, who would otherwise die due to lack of health care coverage. Doctors will be able to catch their cancers and other illnesses early enough to treat them effectively, and provide treatment for other life –threatening illnesses such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Each one of the people whose lives will continue is a mother or father, daughter or son, sister or brother, friend and neighbor, so their survival will enhance many thousands of other lives and spare them the grief of loss. Read More
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Medicaid expansionMedicaid — the absurd failure to expand it at federal expense for a half-million low-income North Carolinians and the state Senate’s latest remarkable proposal to slash the program still further– remains front and center in the state policy debate these days. Moral Monday protesters highlighted the issue last night and the real life stories of average working people whose lives are darker and shorter because of legislative leaders’ Scrooge-like behavior continue to pour in. Tomorrow, activists from an array groups will gather at the General Assembly to lift up this most obvious of issues once again.  Here’s yet another story that makes the case from the good folks over at Women AdvaNCe and Planned Parenthood:

Stuck in the Medicaid gap
By Emily Callen

A few weeks ago, while talking to people about Medicaid expansion at a festival in downtown Raleigh, I met Linda. Though she seemed tired after a day at work and was probably eager to change out of her Bojangles uniform, Linda took the time to talk to me. “I really need this,” she said, filling out a postcard urging legislators to take action. “I tried to sign up for Obamacare but it was just too expensive.”

I learned later that Linda, who considers herself generally healthy, had been in a car crash last December. Broken bones kept her out of work for a few weeks, and she still sees an orthopedist because her collarbone hasn’t healed yet. Since Linda doesn’t have insurance, she’s worked out a deal to pay her doctor a little bit each month. It will take her a long time to pay off the bill, and in the meantime she will continue to struggle to make ends meet.

Linda’s experience is not uncommon. She is one of over 300,000 North Carolinians who fall into the Medicaid Gap; Read More

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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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With the growing success and momentum of the Affordable Care Act, it’s increasingly evident that opponents have lost the national debate. The national media are now overflowing with stories about how the right is desperately searching for a new issue to focus on during the upcoming fall elections.

Here in North Carolina, where conservative obstruction continues to hold sway for the time being — at least with respect to a federally-funded Medicaid expansion for 500,000 low-income people — we’re also seeing growing signs that the blockade is starting to crack and crumble.

The newest evidence of the occurred this week at the General Assembly where ACA opponents ran headlong into advocates for people with autism. As Adam Linker explained here the other day and Raleigh’s News & Observer explained this morning, the advocates are fighting for health insurance coverage of Autism Spectrum Disorders are running into opposition from the corporate lobbying community, which as usual, is doing everything in its power to save itself money and limit coverage.

The interesting twist is that the debate over autism coverage has served to help bottle up a conservative anti-ACA bill that would also ban new insurance mandates.

In other words, the efforts of lawmakers to pass another anti-ACA law has been revealed yet again to have an Achilles’ heel — namely, that people want health insurance. Try as they might to undermine the new law, ACA opponents cannot overcome the simple on-the-ground reality that Americans of all stripes want coverage for themselves and their families and will not — in the long run — allow politicians to deny it to them. The debate over autism coverage at the General Assembly is just the latest example of this powerful reality.