One of my jobs as a state representative is to make sure everyone has access to affordable health care and that we do what we can to help eliminate disparities where they exist.
Over the past two years, I have helped develop budgets and policies that address some of these issues.
Along with my colleagues in the General Assembly, I have worked to put more money into preventing childhood obesity and chronic illnesses, such as diabetes. We also continue to help children gain access to dental care and provide grants to help pay for services for our seniors. This past session, we established a study with the North Carolina Institute of Medicine that will look at many of the issues related to access to health care, and we hope it will guide us as we prepare for the coming session in January.
We continue to push to create healthy environments for our children and people in the workplace. New laws approved last year ban smoking in government owned spaces and prohibit tobacco in our schools.
During this past term, the state also made major changes in how we pay for Medicaid and in the services provided to mental health patients and those who are considered high risk patients. I will have more information later about our efforts to reform and restore confidence to the state’s ailing mental health system, but this week I wanted to provide some highlights relating to health care.
As always, thank you for your support and for allowing me to share this information with you. Please feel free to contact me if I can be of assistance.
Medicaid costs — an estimated $500 million this fiscal year – are a huge burden for counties to bear. Last year, the state agreed to assume the counties’ share of Medicaid costs in a three-year phaseout. This will help ensure the long-term viability of this program and protects our small and rural counties with a large number of people on Medicaid. Every county will end up with at least $500,000 more than they would have had otherwise. This is going to free up money in the counties for school construction and other needs and that means, we hope, lower taxes and a better standard of living for you.
This change allows people who receive this service to expect the same standard of care they have always received. And we believe that shifting the entire cost to the state means that the long-term financial stability of the program will be protected.
Mental Health Parity
North Carolina now has a law that guarantees insurance parity to people who receive mental health services. The new law (H973) requires insurance companies to cover bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and three other mental illnesses the same way that they treat and cover physical illnesses. All other mental health conditions will be covered for up to 30 inpatient/outpatient days and 30 office visits.
High-Risk Insurance Pool
The General Assembly has created a high risk insurance pool to help those who suffer from serious or terminal illnesses. These people are often considered uninsurable or are forced to pay expensive premiums because of their illness. This new law ((H265) will make sure they get the affordable insurance they deserve and ultimately receive the preventative care they need to stay healthy.
We have expanded the North Carolina Health Choice program to provide healthcare to some of the thousands of uninsured children of this state. Families who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but cannot afford rising health insurance premiums can get free or reduced price comprehensive health care for their children through NC Health Choice. It offers the same coverage provided by the state for the families of state employees and teachers, plus vision, hearing and dental benefits. The out-of-pocket costs for the program cannot exceed 5 percent of the family’s income. This year’s expansion cost $9.4 million and will allow the program to reach a total of nearly 130,000 children.
We also continue to expand the NC Kids’ Care to provide health coverage to children from low-income and middle-class families. This expansion of health insurance means that thousands more children will become eligible for affordable health coverage. NC Kids’ Care allows families to pay deductibles, co-payments and monthly premiums on a sliding scale based on income.
Insurance and Prescriptions
We in the General Assembly believe that health insurance should be included with employment. We have given a tax credit to small businesses that provide health insurance to their employees and this year we expanded the credit. This credit has lowered the employers’ cost of providing health insurance while at the same time increasing the number of people who have insurance.
NC Health Net, a program that coordinates free care for low income uninsured patients, received about $6.6 million.
Community health centers and groups are on the frontline of the battle to keep our people strong. The past two budgets have included $9 million for rural health centers, free clinics and school-based clinics. The state budgeted $6.8 million for aid to all health departments.
The General Assembly has also set aside almost $2.5 million for health centers and community programs to reduce rates of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, injury and infant mortality.
$2 million in last year’s budget was marked for additional HIV prevention programs. This money will go to local health departments, HBCUs, and community organizations to provide HIV counseling, testing, and early medical interventions. In addition, the AIDS Drug Assistance Program and the Health Disparities Initiative each received $500,000.
Women’s Health Services will receive $200,000 to serve women who are uninsured and are not eligible for Medicaid. We have also set aside $2 million for screening and diagnostic services for breast and cervical cancer through the North Carolina Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program.
Parents and guardians of children in grades 5-12 will receive information about cervical cancer, cervical dysplasia, human papillomavirus, and the vaccines. The General Assembly ratified a bill (S260) that requires public schools to give parents this information at the beginning of the school year.
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As I’ve said many times before, I hope you will continue to let me know how you feel about the issues that are being debated by the North Carolina Legislature and the challenges you and your family are facing each day.
By working together, we can make Northampton, Vance and Warren Counties and all regions of North Carolina a better place to live, work and raise a family.
Please remember that you can visit the General Assembly’s Web site to look up bills, view lawmaker biographies and access other information.