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NC Sen. Berger willing to consider Medicaid expansion

Transgender Bill North Carolina
Gerry Broome
In this Jan. 13, 2021 file photo, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham speaks after being sworn in during the opening session of the North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh, N.C. Berger says he’s willing to consider enacting Medicaid expansion as part of horse-trading with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper over a state budget.

The North Carolina Senate’s top Republican, a longtime opponent of expanding Medicaid through the 2010 federal health care law, says he’s now been willing to consider enacting expansion as part of horse-trading with Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper over a state budget.

But Senate leader Phil Berger said this week that GOP legislators are not proposing expansion to Cooper in bargaining because legislative Republicans are divided over the merits of covering hundreds of thousands of additional adults, according to news outlets.

“In the context of getting a budget this year, particularly ... the budgets that were passed by the House and the Senate, that crafting Medicaid expansion on top of that was, in my view, a trade that was worth considering,” Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, told reporters Tuesday evening.

House Speaker Tim Moore reaffirmed Wednesday that there still is not the support in his chamber’s Republican caucus to back expansion. All but a dozen states have accepted expansion and the federal money associated with paying for most of the costs of additional coverage. And a federal COVID-19 relief package approved this year would give the states that have not accepted expanded coverage more money to cover traditional Medicaid patients through 2023 if they sign up. Cooper has sought expansion since taking office in early 2017.

Berger still believes expansion is a bad policy, but said Tuesday he’s “indicated that I thought that was something that would be appropriate for us to move forward with.” But he said his viewpoint does not matter that much if expansion can’t pass the legislature.

“So, I support the position that we have jointly come to with the House, which is that Medicaid expansion is not something that would be in the final package,” he said.

Moore and Berger said in separate interviews that GOP legislators remain far apart with Cooper over finalizing a two-year budget, with tax cuts and education spending and policy among their differences.

“We’re apart on some spending levels. We’re apart on the tax package, and those are things that I felt like … we continue to be not close enough to say that the gap is being eliminated,” Berger said.

Berger and Moore both suggested that the General Assembly may soon approve a budget to the GOP’s liking and work instead to try to override Cooper’s expected veto. A conventional, comprehensive state budget law was never enacted in 2019 due to a negotiating stalemate between Republicans and Cooper, initiated with a veto.

Moore said decision-making on how to move forward likely won’t happen until next week at the earliest.

“We’re certainly open to getting additional offers from the governor to see if we can get closer, but we do have to look at those other options. We have no choice,” Moore said. “We’ve been ready to get a budget passed.”

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