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Legislators in surprise special session considered provision to give McCrory health care for life

Pat McCrory and the NCGAThe News and Observer reported [1] on Christmas Day that legislation drafted but not enacted at a recent surprise special session [2] would have kept outgoing Gov. Pat McCrory on the State Health Plan after he left office, meaning he would have received free health coverage for life.

The health care provision would have also made any outgoing Council of State member eligible for free health insurance after serving at least half a term in office, according to the newspaper.

The provision did not end up in a publicly filed bill. But the provision was discussed in closed-door Republican caucus meetings last week before it was dropped from one of the bills that swept through the legislature and reduced Cooper’s authority over appointments.

“There was a great deal of empathy for McCrory: He gave it all he could,” said Rep. Leo Daughtry of Smithfield, a Republican. “People ought to help him as much as we could.”

Daughtry and other legislators said the proposal didn’t advance far. House Speaker Tim Moore said there were too many other issues under consideration to spend much time working on the provision that would have helped McCrory, a one-term Republican.

“With all the other stuff we’ve been dealing with, that took so little bandwidth,” Moore said. “I mean, it was just a conversation about ‘this is the idea, here’s the reason,’ and the cost was just very minimal.”

Moore said the intention wasn’t to single out McCrory but to extend insurance coverage to Council of State members, noting that General Assembly members also qualify for insurance, and there has long been interest in extending that benefit to those elected department heads.

“You get folks who will leave a career in the private sector, come in for a short stint, whether it’s four years or even if it’s eight years, and they can’t fully vest for benefits,” Moore said. “If you want highly qualified people to run for those offices, it’s something you need to consider.”

State employees currently must have at least five years of service paying into the State Health Plan to qualify for retirement benefits. They don’t qualify for premium-free insurance until they reach 20 years of service, the article states. McCrory will have only served one term, or four years, as governor.

The provision in a draft version of House Bill 17 – one of two bills passed in the special session – proposed to make the governor and the rest of the Council of State eligible for the health plan if they served at least two years. It also proposed that former Council of State members qualify for “noncontributory coverage” beginning in January.

Reactions to the provision were mixed.

Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause N.C., told the newspaper that the idea might have merit but that it’s concerning when ideas like that come up behind closed doors outside the regular sessions rather than in public meetings.

Sen. Andy Wells, a Hickory Republican, would not confirm whether the legislation was discussed, but said he couldn’t support such a proposal. He noted the latest report from the State Health Plan showed an unfunded liability of $32.5 billion.

Rep. Gary Pendleton, a Raleigh Republican, told the paper that he favored a variation that would have the state picking up the tab for Medicare supplemental coverage for Council of State members who had served at least two years of their four-year terms.