State Politics

Critics warn bill could 'swallow the NC budget' — but its creator killed it

A North Carolina House Democrat has moved to kill her own bill that would have started the process to create a statewide universal health care system.
A North Carolina House Democrat has moved to kill her own bill that would have started the process to create a statewide universal health care system. TNS

In an unexpected move Thursday, a North Carolina House Democrat moved to kill her own bill that would have started the process to create a statewide universal health care system.

Republicans had resurrected the bill Wednesday night in an effort to highlight the economic impact of such a system.

Rep. Verla Insko of Orange County, one of the primary sponsors of House Bill 916, asked to have her bill removed from consideration. The bill contained language about a study of the effects of a statewide health plan that would have been due Jan. 1, 2018, and because of that Insko said she would have liked to have a committee substitute for any hearing.

The bill — which had been sitting dormant in the House Appropriations Committee since April 2017 — was put onto the House Rules Committee agenda late Wednesday, surprising many observers because liberal policy proposals typically don't get committee hearings.

Insko said on the floor Thursday morning that she was surprised it was eligible since the appropriations in the bill were for the last state budget.

Hours before the House met Thursday morning, the conservative Civitas Institute released an analysis of the bill, which it characterized as a "monster that could swallow the North Carolina state budget."

The analysis claimed that the proposed single-payer North Carolina Health Plan run by the state could cost more than $101 billion in its first year. However, according to the General Assembly's nonpartisan Fiscal Research Division, it would cost the state an additional $72 billion. Including federal dollars that go toward health care — about $30.1 billion — the state would have to shoulder about $41.89 billion, according to the estimates from fiscal staff. That figure is almost double the current general fund budget.

The bill included a $5 million appropriation to study the impact of a universal, single-payer health care plan. But it also noted that it was the "intent of the General Assembly that the State shall offer the North Carolina Health Plan, a comprehensive health care plan for all residents of North Carolina, on January 1, 2019, in accordance with the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act." So any fiscal analysis had to extrapolate the impact of the bill beyond the funds for the study. The analysis from the General Assembly is based upon the total health care spending on North Carolina residents.

On Wednesday night after the agenda addition was announced, Rep. Darren Jackson, a Wake County Democrat, called it "nothing more" than a "cheap political stunt."

"If #ncga was serious about health care we would do some serious study, consider expanding medicaid etc. There are things we could do to actually help folks," Jackson tweeted.

Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican, said the price tag on the bill was "staggering." He noted that Republicans and the legislature have been attacked for not expanding health care so they were going to hear the bill as drafted. "We don't play gotcha politics here," Lewis said. "(Rep. Insko) asked the bill to be pulled, so we pulled it."

There are no plans for the bill to resurface this session.

Lewis, in an interview with the Insider on Thursday night, said with it being the last days of session there is no time for political stunts. He said House Rules had the authority to hear the bill because it was a study bill, and that the committee had the intention of hearing the bill before it was removed by its sponsor. Lewis said he thought it was interesting that someone would file a bill and then "run from it."

While lawmakers weren't able to hear the bill in committee, the House Republican Caucus launched a website decrying the potential spending increase and criticizing Democratic House members and candidates for signing on to the Future Now Fund agenda, which advocates for such things as a livable wage for all, labor rights and universal health care with "a cap on out-of-pocket expenses."

"Single-payer healthcare will destroy our economy and cost us jobs," the website says.

While the Future Now Fund is a political organization, it also has a 501(c)(4) nonprofit arm that has started donating money to candidates running in state legislatures, but has yet to start spending in North Carolina.

"The same Republicans who refused to expand Medicaid and threatened protections for preexisting conditions are now launching a partisan, election year attack to mislead people about where Democrats stand on health care," Robert Howard, spokesman for the North Carolina Democratic Party, said in a statement Friday. "Political games won't change the fact that Republicans are driving up premiums and making it harder for people with preexisting conditions to get health care."

Democrats have been saying that health care is one of the top issues for voters going into the 2018 midterms.

According to a poll conducted by the Civitas Institute earlier this month, 10 percent of those polled said health care or more affordable health care was the most important issue to them. It was second to education and education funding, which had 32 percent.