COVID-19 bills take shape ahead of General Assembly’s return April 28

A North Carolina House Select committee working group took its first steps toward crafting a COVID-19 response bill Thursday, establishing a list of priorities and areas of concern that it will shape into bills the General Assembly can pass when it convenes at the end of this month.

The Health Care working group has been meeting since last month, hearing from experts across the state on everything from the needs of front-line medical workers to overwhelmed rural hospitals and racial health disparities during the pandemic.

The committee established eight “policy buckets” for acute issues such as health system capacity, access to care, supporting medical professionals and COVID-19 testing.

They also established a list of 69 possible policy funding options. These range from requiring all insurers, including Medicaid, to continue to reimburse for telehealth services for the remainder of the emergency period, to establishing a state stockpile of personal protective equipment for frontline healthcare workers.

On one of the most contentious political issues of the last few years — the expansion of Medicaid — there seems to be some bipartisan agreement, at least in terms of testing and treatment for COVID-19 cases.

“Is it possible to expand Medicaid just for the testing process?” asked Rep. Carla Cunningham (D-Mecklenburg). “What would be the down-side of that?”

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), who sat in on some of the call, said he would support that limited expansion.

House Speaker Tim Moore addressing Thursday’s Health Care work group meeting.

“If you have folks who have tested positive on this, pay for that treatment and of course, pay for the testing as well,” Moore said. “That’s something I support.”

The House members will work this week and next to narrow their focus so that bill drafters can get legislation in shape for filing ahead of the General Assembly’s return on April 28.

The details of how lawmakers will return to pass those bills while observing safe social distancing practices are still in the works.

“My understanding is that on the 28th we’ll just be called into session and all these bills will just be referred to [a health committee and an appropriations committee on the 29th],” said Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-Forsyth). “There will be no action taken on the 28th or the 29th on the floor of the House chamber. We do not need to be physically present until the 30th.”

“We’ll be phased in in some way, we’ll be spread out,” Lambeth said. “As you may have heard, some of us may be sitting up in the gallery. We’ll be spread out to vote that way. The voting will be open for more than the traditional fifteen seconds so that we can allow people to come in and out. I also saw where they might take our temperature in the building just to check us out.”

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