Politics & Government

In Charlotte, Gov. Cooper renews Medicaid expansion push. Will it make a difference?

Speaking in Charlotte Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper renewed his call for Medicaid expansion, calling it “one of the most important life-saving decisions we can make.”

Cooper spoke at a ceremony to honor a Mecklenburg County health program designed to encourage healthier lifestyles and diets in the African American community.

The county’s Village HeartBEAT Initiative, which has reached 24,000 people through local churches, was awarded a $500,000 grant from the Aetna Foundation.

Cooper, a Democrat, took the opportunity to push for Medicaid expansion. Democratic lawmakers have introduced bills this session to do just that. Up to 500,000 North Carolinians would benefit from expansion.

Democrats have introduced legislation before, only to run into opposition from Republican super-majorities. But this year some Republicans appear to be more open to a form of expansion.

“What we don’t want to do is simply expand just a handout and be a discouragement for folks to get jobs or get employment,” GOP House Speaker Tim Moore said last month, according to Spectrum News. “But if there is something we can do to help the working poor, I think that’s something we ought to try to do. “

Speaking to reporters, Cooper said, “Already Republicans have indicated they’re very interested in doing this.”

Thirty-six states plus the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid under the 2011 Affordable Care Act. North Carolina is one of 14 states a that have not. At least three states passed ballot initiatives last fall to expand it.

The federal government pays 90 percent of the cost of expanded care. Under the bills introduced this year, the other 10 percent would be paid by an assessment on hospitals and other health care groups.

Cooper said expansion would be an economic boost. He likened it to attracting a new industry that would bring a $4 billion economic infusion into the state while adding jobs and making people healthier at the same time.

“Everything we do to affect the health of people matters,” he said.

Jim Morrill, who grew up near Chicago, covers state and local politics. He’s worked at the Observer since 1981 and taught courses on North Carolina politics at UNC Charlotte and Davidson College.