NC Lawmakers will get $688-million spending bill for hospitals, medical schools

by Julie Havlak

Raleigh, NC – North Carolina lawmakers will consider a $688 million spending bill and a series of policy reforms, after money and policy draft bills passed the House Committee on COVID-19 Health Care Working Group Thursday, April 23. 

photo by Dynamic Graphics

The $688 million draft funding bill would pour federal money into universities, hospitals, and the state’s Medicaid program. Its policy counterpart would temporarily roll back regulations on providers, telehealth, and reporting — and would expand Medicaid to cover COVID-19 testing and treatment for the uninsured. 

Some of the spending would give $75 million to rural hospitals, $50 million to stockpiling equipment, $25 million to virus testing and tracking, and $50 million to public and behavioral health capacity, topped with $110 million to universities for COVID-19 research and testing. 

The bill would dole out $25 million each to the Duke University School of Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Wake Forest School of Medicine, and the Brody School of Medicine. The money would target the development of vaccines, testing, and treatment for coronavirus. The Campbell University School of Osteopathic Medicine would get $10 million to launch a community and rural-focused primary care response to COVID-19.

If lawmakers pass the bills, they will temporarily expand Medicaid to cover COVID-19 testing and treatment for uninsured residents with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level.

The policy proposal would temporarily loosen regulations and reporting requirements on providers and hospitals. Providers would get more time to connect to the state’s health information exchange network. 

Lawmakers added an amendment to protect providers from liability during the pandemic. 

“There is a tremendous amount about this disease that we don’t understand,” said Rep. Perrin Jones, R-Pitt. “You have health care providers who at their own personal risk are in facilities taking care of patients and not knowing the best way to do that. That opens the door for a tremendous amount of liability concerns.”

Telemedicine would be made available to residents who were involuntarily committed, and insurance plans would have to cover telemedicine for physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. 

The draft bill forbids insurers from restricting access to telemedicine, and it requires health benefit plans to equalize the reimbursements for a telemedicine visit as for an in-person visit. 

The bill would authorize a pandemic health care workforce study to investigate the ability of the health care system to meet communities’ needs during the pandemic, as well as support health care workers. The study will look at the cost of canceling non-essential services on hospitals, patients, and providers. 

“States are going to spend all the money they get. They’re not going to let the federal government take it back, said Joe Coletti, John Locke Foundation senior fellow. 

The bills will go to the House Rules Committee, where they will wait until the General Assembly session begins Tuesday, April 28.