On August 2, 2007, the 2007 session of the North Carolina General Assembly adjourned.
After 111 legislative days that began on January 26, 2007, a $20.7 billion budget was enacted, and 344 bills have already been signed into law. An additional 208 bills remain to be signed by Governor Easley. Unless the Governor chooses to veto any of the remaining bills on his desk, the number of bills enacted into law will total 552 out of 3,654 bills introduced.
For the next few weeks, I will offer my “top ten” lists of legislative actions for this session in the areas of healthcare, education, job creation, public safety, the environment, and good government reforms. This week’s newsletter will summarize the most important initiatives in healthcare.
TOP TEN MOST IMPORTANT LEGISLATIVE ACTIONS ON HEALTHCARE
1. Healthcare Coverage for Children of Working Families
The 2007/2008 budget allocated: a) an additional $7.5 million to maintain full health insurance coverage for families earning $40,000 or less per year, and b) an additional $7 million to match federal dollars to expand the program to provide assistance to families earning up to $60,000 annually. This expansion to those with incomes of $60,000 requires families to pay a subsidized premium. Most critically, some 10,000 additional children will likely qualify for new, affordable coverage.
2. High Risk Insurance Pool Established
North Carolina residents with serious illnesses that make them uninsurable in the private health insurance market will have another option. A state-sponsored insurance pool for people with serious illnesses who cannot afford or qualify for private coverage will help as many as 14,000 people in North Carolina within 10 years. The High Risk Insurance Pool coverage is not free. Subscribers will pay 65% of the cost of their premiums. Premiums will be set at 150% to 200% of what a healthy person would pay for private insurance. The coverage will be subsidized by using existing revenue from a tax on health insurance premiums. In addition, the State Employees’ Health Plan will pay about $700,000 a year into the pool, the equivalent of $1.50 for each person who has insurance through state government. The Health and Wellness Trust Fund, which handles some of the money from the state’s share of the 1998 tobacco settlement, will provide $5 million in the first year.
3. Mental Health Parity
Private health insurers will now be required to cover fully nine major mental health illnesses and provide coverage on a more limited basis with regard to other mental illnesses.
4. University Cancer Research Fund
The budget establishes a UNC University Cancer Research Fund of $25 million in 2007-2008 and $40 million in 2008-2009 before reaching a permanent level of $50 million in 2009-2010. One-third of current patients die from cancer, and even life-saving treatments have toxic effects on the body. Research promises hope of targeting specific vulnerabilities in cancer cells or, better still, by detecting it in the earliest stage or even preventing cancer. The UNC University Hospital treats cancer patients from all 100 North Carolina counties. The Cancer Research Fund will make North Carolina a national and international leader in cancer research, while at the same time serving North Carolina patients and expanding the state’s economy.
5. Soldier Institute for Regenerative Medicine Funds
The budget includes $12 million during the next two years on regenerative medicine at Wake Forest University, where researchers are developing techniques to treat soldiers’ battlefield wounds and reconstruct tissues and limbs.
6. Mental Health Reforms Establishing Accountability and Authority of the Local Mental Health Entities
These reforms were in my last newsletter to you; additional copies are available upon request.
7. Long Term Care Insurance Premium Tax Credit
This provision reinstates a state tax credit for the purchase of long term care insurance of 15% of the premium cost up to a maximum of $350 for qualifying individuals. To qualify, income levels must be as follows:
Filing Status – Adjusted Gross Income
Married, filing jointly – $100,000
Head of Household – $ 80,000
Single – $ 60,000
Married, filing separately – $ 50,000
8. Star Rating System for Adult Care Homes
Following the successful implementation of a star rating system for childcare facilities, the General Assembly expanded this concept to Adult Care Homes. Star ratings quickly inform family members with a loved one in an Adult Care Home what care options are available. The Medical Care Commission will adopt rules allowing the issuance of certificates that rate Adult Care Homes based on inspections and substantiated complaint investigations conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services. Specific areas to be reviewed include a) admission and discharge procedures, b) medication management, c) physical facility, d) resident care and services [including food services, resident activities, and safety measures], e) residents’ rights, f) sanitation grades, g) special care units, and h) use of physical restraints and alternatives.
9. Amendments to Dental Hygienist Act
Dental hygienists will be able to perform services in nursing homes, rest homes, long-term care facilities, and in rural and community clinics outside the direct supervision of a dentist. The new law protects North Carolinians by requiring that the hygienist meet certain minimum levels of experience, certification, and training. Only the dentist can authorize the performance of these services by the hygienist. The dentist must have performed an evaluation of the patient within 120 days prior to the hygienist services.
10. Organ Donation
This new law provides that the heart symbol on a person’s driver’s license is sufficient consent for organ donations unless revoked by the donor. Currently, the heart symbol is not legally binding, and a family member must give permission to allow an organ to be donated.
In the next several weeks, representatives in District 7 (Representative Lucy Allen, Representative Jim Crawford, and Representative Michael Wray) plan to join with me in having town hall meetings in Franklin, Granville, Vance, and Warren counties. All the details of these meetings have not been finalized, but we hope to share with you the details of the budget and the results of the recently ended session. As of now, we plan to meet with the Franklin County Commissioners on Monday, August 20, 2007, at 7:00 p.m. at the County Administration Building in Louisburg, and on Wednesday, August 22, 2007, in Warren County at the Courthouse, with the meeting beginning at 6:00 p.m. On Thursday, August 30, 2007, we will meet in Granville County at the Commissioners’ Meeting Room, 145 Williamsboro Street, Oxford, at 7:00 p.m. Finally, on Tuesday, September 11, 2007, we will meet in Vance County at the Ambassadors’ Inn and Suites, 197 Parham Road, Henderson, from noon to 1:30 p.m. You are most welcome to attend any, or all, of these meetings. If you need further details, please contact my office at (919) 715-8363.
In these hot days as summer winds down, I hope that you will be able to stay safe and as comfortable as possible. We all need to check on our neighbors and friends who may need extra help.
As I always assure you, it is my genuine privilege and pleasure to serve as your senator in the North Carolina General Assembly. I do appreciate your comments, your opinions, and your input.