Members of a political panel said they were optimistic that a new era of bipartisan cooperation could begin this year, but then went on to dissect some of the big issues that divide Democratic and Republican elected officials.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Democrats in the legislature have Medicaid expansion as a top priority.
Asked at a forum Wednesday night when the legislative session would end, Lee Lilley, Cooper’s director of legislative affairs, replied: “The session ends when we get Medicaid expansion.”
Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican, opposes expansion. He told The News & Observer that it “crowds out other spending.”
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Lilley said at the forum that Cooper’s first choice is a “clean” Medicaid expansion that follows the rules laid out in the federal Affordable Care Act, but that probably would not pass.
Cooper is going to work with Berger to address his concerns about the cost, Lilley said. “ I think we’re going to try to provide for him a solution that mitigates those concerns,” Lilley said.
Lilley participated in a panel discussion at the North Carolina Museum of History that was part of The News & Observer’s Community Voices series. He was joined by Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican who is senior chairman of the House Redistricting Committee and chairman of the House Rules Committee; Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Wake County Democrat, and Jane Pinsky, director of the NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform.
Medicaid expansion would allow more low-income adults to qualify for health insurance, with the federal government picking up most of the cost. Democrats say that expansion would help 500,000 adults in North Carolina get health coverage. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that expansion would help 339,000 people in the state.
While Lewis didn’t utter the words “Medicaid expansion,” he said there is an interest in insuring more people so they don’t get so sick they end up in emergency rooms.
Lewis talked about people who make too much to qualify for existing Medicaid and too little to qualify for government subsidies to help pay for insurance from health care exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act.
“These are working people, these are working families,” he said. “We are very willing to look at what solutions we can bring to the table to make sure we can (get) them the health care that they need.”
House Republicans have been talking about a form of Medicaid expansion that would require people who enroll to work and pay premiums, and where hospitals would pay the state’s share of the costs.
The state is in the middle of two court cases over gerrymandered election districts. A case challenging partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts has reached the U.S. Supreme Court, and a lawsuit over partisan gerrymandering of state legislative districts is in state court.
Some form of redistricting that would take away the power legislators have to draw their own districts has bipartisan support. Bills calling for independent redistricting are routinely introduced, but they often die in committees.
One of the past redistricting bills would have required districts be drawn without using political and marketing data on voters and without knowing where incumbents and challengers live, Pinsky said. She recalled one legislator who wanted a district drawn so he would be eligible to run in it after he moved to his parents’ farm.
It’s often the party out of power that pushes hardest for changes to how districts are drawn.
Chaudhuri said he co-sponsored a redistricting bill that was identical to a bill Berger filed when he was Senate minority leader.
Redistricting has resulted in “extremes” dictating the state agenda, he said: “It ends up resulting in bad legislation that doesn’t try to find common ground.”
Lewis said there’s a chance legislators will change the way they draw districts.
“If there is a better way to do that than we’ve done in the past, I’m certainly open to take a look at it,” Lewis said. “North Carolina and Texas have more litigation than the other 48 states combined. What we’ve learned from that is maybe there is, in fact, a better way.”
But politics will always be a part of redistricting, no matter the method, Lewis said.
“Even if we try, politics will still play a role in an inherently political process,” Lewis said.