RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Republican-controlled state Senate gave initial approval Monday night to a bill that would keep the state government from carrying out elements of President Barack Obama's federal health care overhaul despite the reservations of new Gov. Pat McCrory.
The party-line 31-17 vote in favor of the legislation occurred when Republican Senate leaders decided to move ahead with the bill despite receiving a letter hours earlier from McCrory's legislative lobbyist urging more time to consider how the current bill could harm the state financially.
"We believe additional time is necessary to evaluate the serious financial ramifications of (the bill) to North Carolina taxpayers," said former Rep. Fred Steen, officially the governor's legislative liaison.
But legislative leaders say the content of the bill — to block expansion of Medicaid under the health care overhaul and leave it to the federal government to build the state's online marketplace for health insurance — was important enough to move ahead. The second of two required votes was expected before the bill heads to the House. McCrory would be asked to sign any bill into law.
Under the Medicaid expansion, the federal government will repay states all costs related to the expansion for three years and 90 percent thereafter. But opponents say Washington could back out of that promise, leaving states to shoulder the burden alone.
"We cannot afford it," said Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, adding he's worried the generous matching rate will disappear "and we will continue to saddle the citizens of this state with a large burden that we didn't ask for."
The state government is still struggling to control its own Medicaid costs, which has been running up shortfalls the past three years and had become a "cancer" to the rest of the state budget, said Sen. Pete Brunstetter, R-Forsyth, one of the chamber's chief budget-writers.
Passing the legislation in its current form would delay or possibly eliminate funding for a federally mandated computer system to determine eligibility for programs like Medicaid, Steen wrote. The General Assembly previously agreed to pay for the program with federal grants that will be necessary even under a federal-run exchange.
Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, a chief sponsor of the bill and the Senate Rules Committee chairman, said he read the letter and "didn't see anything in it to be concerned over." Apodaca said his attorneys told him the state can still obtain all if not most of the funding for the North Carolina Families Accessing Services through Technology program if the bill were to become law.