Adam Linker: Berger’s claims off

February 15, 2013 

Berger’s claims off

Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger recently wrote a letter (“The missing Medicaid facts” Feb. 14) trying to justify the decision of the General Assembly to deny Medicaid coverage to more than 500,000 of our most vulnerable neighbors. If he has made a political calculation then that is one thing. But he should not misrepresent the facts.

One of his claims is that a recently released Medicaid audit shows problems with the system which make expansion unwise. Sen. Berger, however, held a news conference two full weeks before the release of the audit announcing that the Senate would block expansion. The audit clearly did not factor into his thinking.

He also claims that a Harvard study shows that Medicaid expansion will not cover the uninsured but rather cause people to transfer out of private coverage. One of the authors of this report has now responded by saying that Sen. Berger has misread the report’s findings. Dr. Steve Pizer says in part: “North Carolina has relatively high uninsurance rates and currently restrictive Medicaid eligibility policies. This means new Medicaid enrollees in North Carolina will have lower incomes and be more likely to be uninsured than in many other states.” He then adds: “The proposed Medicaid expansion would be an effective means to reduce uninsurance in this vulnerable population as well as among the low-income population more generally.”

Another claim made by Sen. Berger is that the Children’s Health Insurance Program nationally experienced high rates of children dropping private coverage for a public program. Again, when we have North Carolina data it’s unclear why Sen. Berger looks at national studies.

The Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at UNC studied this issue for North Carolina CHIP and found that the number of children dropping private coverage was negligible, somewhere between 1 percent and 3.5 percent. A survey of 371 parents found that six children had private coverage purchased by their parent before joining the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Hospitals in North Carolina know what is good for their finances which is why they all endorse expansion. As conservative Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said in accepting the Medicaid expansion: “Weigh the evidence and do the math. With the realities facing us, taking advantage of this federal assistance is the strategic way to reduce Medicaid pressure on the state budget.”

Adam Linker

Health Policy Analyst, N.C. Justice Center

Raleigh

The length limit was waived to permit a fuller response to the letter.

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