North Carolina state Senate Leader Phil Berger offered up his public boast about the results of the elections. He claimed voters showed a “preference for Republican governance.” Hallmarks of that governance – “lowered taxes, balanced state budgets, returned children to classrooms, expanded parental choice in schools, increased transparency in education, and created a state policy environment conducive to private sector job growth,” he said
“Republicans will continue to champion policies that strengthen our economy, support quality education, and provide for public safety and order,” Berger pledged.
Nowhere in his 600-word litany of partisan Democratic Party bashing and Republican Party chest thumping is the word "health" mentioned. Berger and his allies have repeatedly found ways to block, delay and politically entangle Medicaid expansion.
Berger, after suggesting it would be handled before year’s end, has now pushed back any consideration of Medicaid expansion into the new year. It has already become entangled with unrelated concerns about the certificate of need regulations for hospital expansion. There are indications it will also be tied to concerns about medical debt and perhaps even stricter limitations on access to abortion. Medicaid expansion needs to be enacted, without delay and without any extraneous baggage. This is -- no exaggeration -- a life and death matter.
About 600,000 North Carolinians – equal to nearly a third of all the votes Republican state Senate candidates received – have since 2013 been denied by state law from access to affordable health care. Yes, not only has Berger and his allies failed to vote FOR expanding Medicaid, they actually passed a law (Senate Bill 4
) in 2013 prohibiting it – with only Republican votes in the Senate and a single Democrat (who later switched affiliation to the Republican Party) in the House.
The costs have been staggering
– as many as 14,700 lives -- of those unable to get the care they needed -- have been lost; 230,000 diabetics have not been able to get the life-sustaining medications they require; 107,500 mammograms missed.
And, particularly for politicians who brag of frugality and job growth, the state has missed out
on $17.44 billion in federal funds. That is money North Carolina taxpayers already send to Washington that’s paying more than 90% of the Medicaid expansion costs in 39 other states and Washington, DC.
In North Carolina, Medicaid expansion is more about antipathy toward former President Barack Obama than it is a partisan matter. GOP strongholds like Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kentucky have all expanded Medicaid. It is widely supported. In September, the Emerson College Poll
found 57% of the state's voters back Medicaid expansion and just 18% oppose it.
Medicaid expansion is a job-creating force – and North Carolina’s failure to act has cost the state
nearly 120,000 jobs. It is also a force in helping keep rural hospitals open and financially viable.
If Berger believes he can take credit for all the advances the state has made – he too must take responsibility for the devastation that has befallen families because they haven’t been able to get the critical – and often life-saving – health care they’ve needed.
Expand Medicaid now – no strings attached. Maybe the next time Berger takes to bragging, he won’t need to leave “health” off his list.