BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The Republican-led North Dakota House voted Wednesday to expand Medicaid to cover more uninsured residents of the state.
The chamber approved the measure 57-36. The House bill now goes to the Senate for consideration, as the Legislature heads to its mid-session break.
Several Republican lawmakers testified Wednesday that they don't like the federal Affordable Care Act championed by President Barack Obama, including the plan to expand Medicaid. But the lawmakers said it's in the best interest of the state to accept it because of the potential for North Dakota residents to shoulder more costs if they didn't. Under the health care law, the federal government would cover the full cost of expanding Medicaid through 2016, with the state's contribution rising in stages to 10 percent.
Wednesday's debate on the North Dakota measure was among Republicans; Democrats remained silent on the House floor, a move some said privately was intentional as to not upset their GOP counterparts and lose valuable votes for the measure.
"I wish the whole thing was not before us," said House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo. "The Affordable Care Act — I quite honestly can't find anything affordable about it."
But Carlson told fellow lawmakers: "I think we have to go down this road, unfortunately."
North Dakota's Medicaid program now covers about 65,000 people a month. If the state expands eligibility, an additional 20,000 people — mostly adults without children — would be added to the program.
Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield and chairman of the Human Services House Human Services Committee, said he likes little about the federal legislation but doing nothing would "increase costs to businesses, increase costs to medical providers and do nothing to help with bad debt and charity care."
North Dakota hospitals tallied $225 million last year in charity care and uncollected bad debt and some of that money could be recouped by expanding Medicaid, said Todd Porter, R-Mandan.
Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, said approving the measure was "probably the right thing to do" but he opposed it for his constituents "back home."
Weisz said he was approving it for the same reason.
"As much as I don't like it, it is for the people back home," he said.
Scott Louser, R-Minot, said the federal health care overhaul put the state in a tough position.
"We're forced to play the role of Charlie Brown and Lucy is holding the football," he said.
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