Health care

Medicaid Overhaul in North Carolina Now Officially Law

medicaid_bill1RALEIGH — Gov. Pat McCrory says his signature on far-reaching Medicaid legislation is just the beginning of a years-long process to transform the health care program that serves more than one in six North Carolina residents.

McCrory signed a Medicaid overhaul bill into law during a ceremony Wednesday at the Executive Mansion, surrounded by legislators who helped negotiate the law. Also there was Rick Brajer, the new secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, which will carry it out.

The law will phase out the fee-for-service method North Carolina Medicaid uses to pay for treatment for most of its 1.8 million enrollees. Insurance companies and provider networks will enter into contracts and receive a fixed amount per month for each patient. This change isn’t expected until 2018 or 2019.

– Associated Press

NC Lawmakers are Considering Offering a Paid Sick Leave for Employees

paid sick daysRALEIGH– Some advocates are pushing North Carolina lawmakers to mandate paid sick leave for employees.

There are several bills that have been filed this legislative session, which say employers must allow employees to earn paid sick time.

The bills distinguish how much leave should be offered whether it’s a small business or larger one.

For employees, they say they need the opportunity to earn paid leave so they can deal with inevitable family illness.

“Being asked to come in and work, sick. Work a whole day. Put my family at risk. Child care is expensive. So I couldn’t afford to be out of work. I had small kids to feed as a single parent,” said Tolanda Barnett, a child care worker.

Bills filed in both the House and Senate have been assigned to committees.

But neither have been put on any calendar for consideration.

New State Law to Allow Patients Access to Unapproved Drugs

Medication-1RALEIGH — North Carolina recently became the 22nd state to allow terminally ill patients the “right to try”.

A new state law says if you have a disease that is considered life ending, and you want to try a drug not yet approved by the FDA, under proper protocol you will be allowed to.

For patients fighting for their lives, they sometimes find themselves fighting legal protocols as well. Specifically—the fight to get access to drugs or treatments that have not yet gotten final approval from the FDA.

Dalton Power’s dad was diagnosed with ALS last year.

“I understand why the FDA has those rules in place. But it is a double edged sword.  its kept people in the past safe from drugs that might harm them. But in this case, this is the only treatment that could help save him right now and they’re keeping it from him,” said Power.

For him and his family, they say they understand his disease will ultimately take his life. But they say they are still frustrated he hasn’t had access to some promising treatments.

“Now there are several treatments in the pipeline. The only issue is the FDA approval process takes years, possibly even 10 years. So probably for this generation and the next generation of ALS patients are not going to make it,” said Power.

Right To Try Act Provisions:
• Patient is terminally ill
• Tried all other treatments currently available
• Has a physician’s recommendation to try an investigational drug or treatment

If the criteria is met, the person would be given the “right to try”, even if the FDA has not given final approval.

“Because these folks are terminally ill. A lot of them will die before they get approved. So what are you hurting by letting them go ahead and try the drug now. You’re not hurting anything. The only thing you can do is help that patient,” said House Majority Leader Rep. Mike Hager.

Rep. Hager was one of the lead sponsors of this bill as it worked its way through the General Assembly. A process that proved to be a fairly easy one, with unanimous votes in both the House and Senate. The governor signed this idea into law last week. He said for him, this is a proposal that just makes sense.

“My own family has had to deal with circumstances where they have tried everything and I think we ought to give people that decision making capability on their own,” said Gov. Pat McCrory.

The provisions within this new state law will take effect Oct. 1.

– Loretta Boniti

Supreme Court Upholds Nationwide Health Care Law Subsidies

ACA_newestWASHINGTON—The Supreme Court saved the Affordable Care Act on Thursday for the second time in three years.

The High Court rejected a challenge to the law, which would have caused thousands of North Carolinians to lose their health coverage.

By a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that federal tax credits called for in the Affordable Care Act are legal. The income-based subsidies help make health insurance more affordable and are crucial to its success.

Opponents argued that a single phrase in the law prevented the government from providing subsidies in the 34 states that don’t have their own marketplaces. That includes North Carolina.

But Thursday’s ruling means the nearly half-million North Carolinians who currently receive the subsidies will keep them.

“We will not go backwards and more and more people will get the health care they need to protect their families,” said Ron Pollack, Founding Executive Director of Families USA.

Chief Justice John Roberts again sided with the court’s liberal wing in defending the law. He wrote: “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them.”

Justice Antonin Scalia was among the three no votes. His dissent dripped with disdain:

“We should start calling this law SCOTUScare,” Scalia wrote, suggesting the court partly owns the law now that it’s twice upheld it.

The Affordable Care Act is still unpopular in some quarters, but the law is a survivor. It’s withstood more than 50 repeal efforts in the House, and now two Supreme Court rulings. Shortly after the ruling, President Obama delivered a statement from the White House Rose Garden.

“Today is a victory for hardworking Americans all across this country whose lives will continue to become more secure in a changing economy because of this law,” said President Barack Obama.

It’s also a victory for President Obama, with the High Court reaffirming his legacy issue. And while Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation blasted the court’s ruling and the president’s health care law, President Obama says the matter is settled.

Statement from President Obama:

I applaud the Democrats and Republicans in Congress who came together to give the United States the chance to negotiate strong, high-standard agreements for free and fair trade that protect American workers and give our businesses the opportunity to compete. With bipartisan majorities, Congress also voted to expand vital support for thousands of American workers each year, and to bolster economic relations between sub-Saharan Africa and the United States. Of course, we still have more work to do on behalf of our workers, which is why I’ll continue to encourage Congress to pass robust trade enforcement legislation that will help us crack down on countries that break the rules. But this week’s votes represent a much-needed win for hardworking American families.

As President, I’ve spent the last six and half years fighting to grow our economy and strengthen our middle class, and that remains my top priority today. I believe we should make sure that the United States, and not countries like China, write the rules of our global economy. We should support more good jobs that pay good wages. We should level the playing field so that our workers have the chance to compete and win. That’s what this new legislation will help us do, and I look forward to signing these bipartisan bills into law as soon as they reach my desk.

Eyes Focus on Medicaid Expansion Following Supreme Court Ruling

magistrate_vetoRALEIGH—Many people in North Carolina have been watching and waiting for the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act subsidies.

The governor had indicated earlier this year, that the ruling could have an impact on whether or not he would recommend expanding the state’s Medicaid program.

However, the ruling may not move that Medicaid issue any closer to resolution.

With the Supreme Court ruling saying all citizens can get subsidies for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, states who were bracing for potential chaos if the ruling had gone the other way can now move on to other issues associated with the law.

President Barack Obama said he wants that effort to be on Medicaid expansion.

“I’m going to work as hard as I can to convince more governors and state legislatures to take advantage of the law, put politics aside and expand Medicaid and cover their citizens,” said President Obama.

North Carolina is one of those states that did not accept federal dollars through the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid. Earlier this year, Gov. Pat McCrory said he was holding making his recommendation on expansion until after this ruling.

“It is a very complex issue. You can’t just say are you for it or against it,” said Gov. McCrory.

On Thursday, he was not ready to make a decision. The governor said he is studying how successful expansion has been in other states, and if he believes it could work in North Carolina.

“We’ve got to make sure that in order to make sure those people falling through the cracks that we don’t break the entire system for those who currently have insurance. And that’s the balance at this point in time,” said Gov. McCrory.

But the final decision for expansion, would need to pass through the legislature. For his part, the leader of the Senate is clear that he is against it.

“We continue to have a Medicaid system that grows at rates far greater than inflation. We cannot contemplate adding more people to the Medicaid rolls at a time when we are having difficulty sustaining the Medicaid system that we currently have. That situation is exactly what it was before this decision,” said Sen. Phil Berger, President Pro-tem.

The House, Senate and governor are all currently working on Medicaid reform for the state which does not include expansion.

Statement from NC Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin:

The case did not rule anything further on Medicaid expansion but it will provide some growing interest in states that haven’t expanded Medicaid to consider to do so. This is a long standing, controversial matter. I do not expect this particular ruling to end the controversy, but it does provide some level of comfort for 450,000 North Carolinians.

Statement from Speaker Tim Moore:

“The Affordable Care Act has forced many North Carolinians to pay higher premiums, has limited personal choice of doctors and coverage, and has cornered businesses of all shapes and sizes. Today’s Supreme Court ruling is disappointing, but does not change the fact that this flawed policy is doing more harm than good for our State.

This week, the House passed the 2015 Medicaid Modernization Act in an effort to transition the government-run program to patient-centered, provider-led healthcare. This reform will allow the State to fully fund enrollment growth and eliminate wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars. Medicaid Reform, not expansion, will remain the priority, and today’s Court ruling will not directly impact North Carolina’s final decision.”

– Loretta Boniti

Supreme Court Won’t Revive North Carolina Abortion Law

US_Supreme_CourtWASHINGTON—On Monday, the justices declined to hear the case of a North Carolina abortion law, however they could soon decide the fate of abortion restrictions elsewhere.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to reinstate a North Carolina law that would have required that abortion providers show and describe an ultrasound to a pregnant woman before she has an abortion.

The 2011 law, which never took effect, required an ultrasound even if the woman objected. The High Court left in place a Federal appeals court ruling which said the law violated the First Amendment rights of both doctor and patient.

Since 2010, Republican-led states have passed a wide range of abortion-related laws. A separate appeals court ruling involving a Texas law is expected to soon make its way to the Supreme Court.

That law requires that abortion clinics in the state meet the same standards as surgical centers and that abortion providers have hospital-admitting privileges.  Lawyers for the abortion clinics say the requirement , which was upheld by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, could force 11 clinics to close by July 1.

Abortion opponents say the law is designed to ensure women get medically safe abortions. But those on the other side argue the restrictions are aimed at preventing legal abortions.

“These laws are sham laws. They do nothing to promote women’s health and safety. What’s they’re doing is denying women access to high quality care by shutting down clinics,” said Kristine Kippins , with the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Activists on both sides may soon have the ruling of the highest court in the land to clear things up.

The Guttmacher Institute says North Carolina is one of 23 states, mostly in the South and the Midwest, that passed this type of law.

– Geoff Bennett

NC Senate Gives Initial OK to 72-Hour Abortion Wait Period

abortionRALEIGH—A bill that would extend the abortion waiting period to 72 hours in North Carolina has moved closer to passage with a favorable vote on the Senate floor.

After a lengthy debate, the full Senate gave tentative approval to the bill on Thursday. A final Senate vote could come next week.

The bill is more wide ranging than what was previously approved in the House, and now includes  some provisions dealing with domestic violence and statutory rape. For opponents of the proposal now known as theWomen and Children’s Protection Act of 2015, they say the intentions of this bill is clear: to limit abortions and take the decision making power away from women.

“It is patronistic and it is insulting to say that I cannot make up my mind and that I need 72 hours to consider my options,” said Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram.

Under the waiting-period provision, women would have to talk to a doctor or other qualified professional 72 hours before having an abortion, unless there’s a medical emergency. Several other states have 72-hour waiting periods.

A new item on the senate side- says that only OBGYNs can perform abortions, whereas currently other doctors may do the procedure as well.

“I mean the purpose of this is basically limit women’s rights to basically choose what they would like to do with their bodies, and to make it more difficult, more challenging. I guess if this body could overturn Roe v. Wade they would,” said Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham County Democrat.

A version of the bill has already passed the state House, but that chamber would need to approve provisions added by Senate Republicans that include several criminal justice measures.

– Loretta Boniti

Pro-Choice Advocates Ask Gov. McCrory to Keep Promise on Abortion Restrictions

abortionCHARLOTTE—Pro-choice advocates are asking Gov. Pat McCrory to keep his promise on abortion restrictions, as House Bill 465 moves forward.

The bill would make women wait two more days before they can get an abortion.

Supporters say increasing the waiting period from 24 to 72 hours gives women time to get information about the procedure or alternatives. Opponents say the delay is medically unnecessary and an attempt to limit abortions.

The state House passed the bill, and it’s now being considered by the Senate. If it makes it to the governor’s desk, men and women who rallied in Charlotte Monday say Gov. McCrory needs to stand by his word and veto it.

During a 2012 gubernatorial debate, the governor was asked, “If you’re elected governor, what further restrictions on abortion would you agree to sign?

His answer: “None.”

Those against H.B. 465 say his message couldn’t have been more clear.

“Is that right to make a bold campaign promise during a debate, and just blow it off and break that promise?” said Gerrick Brenner with Progress NC Action.

Pro-choice advocates are hitting the road with a 20-foot billboard with McCrory’s debate answer on it, in the hopes of stopping the momentum of H.B. 465 as it moves forward. Monday’s stop in Charlotte was the first stop on their eight-stop tour around the state.

– Caroline Vandergriff

NC House Approves Extending Length of Wait Time Before Abortion

abortion room genericRALEIGH—The state House has approved a bill by a 74-45 vote to extend the waiting period before a woman can have an abortion.

The legislation states that a woman has to wait for 72  hours after their initial contact with a medical provider before the procedure can be performed. The debate was lengthy and at times emotional, as lawmakers discussed whether or not changes need to be made to North Carolina’s abortion laws.

The key provision within the bill says the wait time for abortions in the state would be extended from 24 hours to 72 hours. The vast majority of the speakers on the bill were women—with supporters saying the additional time this bill offers gives women the wait time they need to get the information they need about abortions and alternatives.

“To see those fingers and toes in some circumstances, when they are given that opportunity, so many of them change their mind. Why do we not want them to have the opportunity to change their mind,” said Rep. Pat McElraft, a Carteret County Republican.

But opponents say this is an issue the Legislature should be staying out of.

“This decision was up to me, my husband, my doctor, and my god. It was not up to any of you in this chamber,” said Rep. Tricia Cotham, a Mecklenburg County Democrat.

The bill now heads to the Senate.

– Loretta Boniti

Abortion Bill Extending Wait Time Advances out of House Committee

abortion room genericRALEIGH—State lawmakers have advanced a bill that would make women wait two days longer before they can have an abortion.

Opponents say this is an effort to remove a woman’s control over her body, but supporters say they believe  this extended wait time is key to improving women’s health.

Currently, women in North Carolina have to wait 24 hours after their initial contact with a medical professional before they can get an abortion. Under the proposal, the wait time would be extended to 72 hours.

“This bill still places arbitrary and unnecessary delays on women seeking an abortion. This can be a very time sensitive procedure and it is important women are allowed to make this decision without political interference,” said Melissa Reed, of Planned Parenthood.

During debate in the House Health Committee, supporters of the bill said they believe this extended wait time just makes sense.

“I’ve never known of an emergency abortion that couldn’t wait for a few hours. I have known women who have told me that the impact of their choice didn’t hit them until one fall weekend when they saw the school bus come and realized that their child might have been on their way to Kindergarten that year. It is a irrevocable decision,” said physician Dr. Melinda Synder.

Opponents say their voices were stifled in this debate, and they take offense to the characterization of how women make decisions like the one to abort a child.

“Women were portrayed as we can’t make a decision that fast, and we need to get extra resources because of our emotions. That is shameful and it is extremely patronizing,” said Rep. Tricia Cotham, a Mecklenburg County Democrat.

Beyond the waiting period, the bill also addresses how late-term abortions are reported. However, the legislation removes a provision banning abortions at UNC system medical facilities.

Supporters say even though that was removed, their intent is still clear.

“We realized there are really some logistical issues with that. However we have discussed that this is an issue that we have discussed that we have to make sure that taxpayer funds are not going toward performance of abortions,” said Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer, a Mecklenburg County Republican.

The bill was advanced along a party line vote. The proposal needs one more committee consideration, before it goes to the full House for consideration.

– Loretta Boniti