RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina lawmakers approved a bill Tuesday barring the state from expanding Medicaid under the federal health care overhaul.
Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, has indicated he'll sign the GOP-backed bill when it reaches his desk.
The measure approved by the House and Senate makes clear that North Carolina doesn't want to expand Medicaid eligibility and will leave the operation of the state's online health insurance marketplace to the federal government. States have choices on both matters through the federal Affordable Care Act championed by President Barack Obama.
About 500,000 low-income North Carolinians would qualify for government health insurance under the expansion. The federal government said it would cover 100 percent of the state's expansion costs through 2016 and at least 90 percent thereafter.
But several Republican lawmakers said they don't trust Washington to continue paying into the future, predicting more and more of the cost would eventually be shifted to the state.
"This expansion will not help the poor, it will just hasten the day the health care system will collapse," Rep. John Blust (R-Guilford) said.
Democratic lawmakers countered that the state's refusal to expand Medicaid would cost lives and lead to more uninsured people depending on hospital emergency rooms for treatment, driving up health care costs for everyone else.
Sen. Josh Stein (D-Wake) read the expanding list of Republican governors across the country who have decided that Medicaid expansion is in the best financial interests of their states. GOP stalwart Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey became the latest this week, joining such tea-party backed conservatives as Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona and Gov. Rick Scott of Florida. Eight Republican governors have agreed to the expansion.
"What you're saying is that the tax dollars paid by North Carolina tax payers will instead go to Arizona, Ohio and New Jersey," Stein chided his Republican colleagues. "By rejecting expansion, you are failing to create thousands of jobs and save lives."