RALEIGH — Several physicians and nurses said Monday the N.C. General Assembly's choice to cover more uninsured people through Medicaid should be a no-brainer because it will create jobs, save state money and make people healthier.
The medical professional spoke at a Legislative Building news conference a day before a House committee takes up a bill to prevent North Carolina from expanding Medicaid under the federal health care overhaul.
The measure, which passed the Senate last week, would block state government from covering an estimated 500,000 uninsured people through Medicaid and tells the federal government to build the state's online marketplace for health insurance.
The federal government will repay states all costs related to the expansion for three years, ultimately falling to 90 percent. Republicans contend they can't be assured the federal government will keep its word and instead be required to pay significantly more in a state Medicaid system they say is already struggling with overspending.
Dr. Charles van der Horst, an AIDS researcher at professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, said it makes no sense to surrender $15 billion the federal government would pay for the expanded coverage. An outside consultant for the state Department of Health and Human Services said the expansion would generate 23,000 net jobs through 2021 and annual real disposable income of $1 billion.
"And what do you think the voters will say that we're turning this down?" Van Der Horst asked, adding Republican elected leaders in other states support the expansion. Without the expansion, North Carolina hospitals will continue to have pay for charity care in emergency rooms, the cost of which will keep getting passed along to patients with private insurance, he said.
"It's morally wrong to not expand Medicaid," said Dr. Mohan Chilukuri with Durham Family Medicine. "It fiscally doesn't make any sense."
Tuesday's version of the Senate bill will be amended to address concerns from Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, said Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly, who filed an identical bill in the House. McCrory supports the concept of declining to expand Medicaid right now and to start a state-based exchange in 2014, an administration official said last week.
Burr said the House version of the bill could be on the chamber floor for debate later this week.
Surgeon and first-term Rep. Jim Fulghum, R-Wake, a brain surgeon, said Monday after the news conference he doesn't know yet how he'll vote on the measure and wants more information about exactly how much it may cost the state. The state is still expected to be required to spend cumulatively hundreds of millions of dollars on the expansion through the end of the decade. He watched the news conference and said he didn't like the tone of some speakers.
"I didn't hear a willingness to hear anybody else's point of view," he said.
Van der Horst criticized the contents of an online petition by Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, urging supporters to sign up to "Stop Obamacare in North Carolina," saying they were misleading.
Berger spokesman Ray Martin said the petition information is "completely accurate" and accused a professor such as van der Horst of pushing "a misleading and partisan political agenda."
"It is not surprising to me that some of those folks would react or overreact to any statements that are made that criticize Obamacare," Berger told WRAL-TV on Monday evening.