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Health care among top issue confronting Pitt County legislators

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Se. Don Davis

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Along with education spending, criminal justice reform and the economy, members of Pitt County’s legislative delegation said their main priority for the 2019 long session is protecting Vidant Health from the effects of the state treasurer’s recommended reduction in reimbursements rates to health care providers.

The General Assembly convenes its 2019-20 biennium session at noon on Wednesday with the swearing in of its 170 members and election of officers. While committees and task forces will meet in the coming weeks, legislators officially begin on Jan. 29.

This year, newly elected representatives Kandie Smith, D-Pitt, and Chris Humphrey, R-Lenoir, joined veterans Sen. Don Davis, D-Pitt, and Rep. Greg Murphy, R-Pitt, in Pitt County’s legislative delegation.

Davis, Humphrey and Smith said Vidant Health officials have discussed with them their worries about Treasurer Dale Folwell’s proposal to reduce reimbursement rates to care providers by 14 percent on average. Folwell said it will save $300 million for taxpayers and $65 million for plan members annually.

Vidant officials said the cuts would disproportionately affect it and other hospitals that care for large indigent populations. Vidant said its system could lose $40 million annually.

“If health care is jeopardized, I am probably one of those people who would fall in the cracks,” said Smith, a training coordinator who served about nine years on the Greenville City Council. Her District 9 seat represents much of north and western Pitt County.

“We’re trying to make sure the smaller places don’t shut down because people need health care in the rural areas,” Smith said. “We need to make sure that can be sustained.”

Davis, whose Senate District 5 represents all of Pitt and Greene counties, said he recognizes the treasurer is trying to protect the state health plan by saving money but doesn’t think his proposal will solve the problems he wants to address.

“I think it’s a myopic approach that has been taken,” Davis said. “At the end of the day, I think it would be an enormous benefit if cooler minds ask to take a step back and look at it from a greater approach of how do we deliver health care and bring in stakeholders to this process so we can have a more comprehensive approach.”

Humphrey said that along with Vidant officials, he has talked to doctors who also are concerned about the proposed reimbursement cuts.

“I’m gathering information to see how we can save taxpayers money and make sure our rural hospitals are viable,” Humphrey said. “That is going to be a pretty delicate topic over the next two years for sure. I’m just hopeful we can find common ground witn the treasurer.”

Everyone wants to save tax dollars, he said, but protecting rural hospitals also is important.

“I’ve heard the Vidant side but I definitely feel like I need to sit down with folks from the treasurer’s office,” Humphrey said.

Rep. Greg Murphy, a Greenville urologist who is a former chief of staff at Vidant Medical Center, was unavailable for comment last week. His District 9 seat represents most of southern and eastern Pitt. He has said the treasurer’s goal is absolutely correct but his methods could devastate rural health care.

Smith and Davis said expanding Medicaid in North Carolina would give individuals who normally require indigent care some insurance to will pay hospitals for their treatment.

Smith said it could offset some of the revenue lost if the treasurer’s plan is approved.

The Republican-led General Assembly has rejected Medicaid expansion since it was launched as part of the Affordable Care Act.

“I see it as a win-win. I believe we have to have the hard conversations and have a debate about it,” Davis said. “There must be something that can work for our residents.”

Now that Republicans have lost their super majority in both chambers and can no longer guarantee overriding any vetoes by Gov. Roy Cooper, there never has been a better time for collaboration, Smith said.

“When you don’t have that super majority, you’ll find collaboration necessary,” she said.

Davis said he also wants to secure $15 million for recurring expenses at the Brody School of Medicine and slightly more than $14 million for planning the expansion of the medical school.

Aiding the medical school is important because there is a need to graduate more doctors who will practice in rural areas and the school has an important role in providing health care to people who struggle financially, Smith said.

Outside the health care arena, Smith said her priorities “are the priorities of the people,” and people have talked to her about the need to reform the redistricting process to stop gerrymandering. Smith said she also will be looking for ways to address issues of mental health.

Smith said one of her long-term goals is criminal justice reform.

“That doesn’t mean work can’t begin,” she said.

Smith wants to re-examine legislation approved in 2016 that exempts police body camera footage from the state’s open records laws. Footage cannot be release except by court order.

Making such video public, Smith said, brings about greater accountability.

Smith also wants to examine training requirements for law enforcement and if they are learning the skills they need.

Humphrey said he does not have a set agenda at this time. His District 12 seat represents all of Lenoir County and southwestern Pitt County.

“I’m ready to go in, roll my sleeves up and just go to bat for folks in this district, in rural North Carolina,” he said. “Whether it be transportation needs, health care, education, jobs and the economy, all are big things.”

House Speaker Tim Moore said his priority is assembling an education bond package to help schools fund construction and renovations projects, Humphrey said.

“I don’t see how we can’t support that,” he said.

Smith, Humphrey and Davis also said they want to partner with other eastern North Carolina legislators to find ways to increase opportunities for economic growth in the region.

“There is a great divide that is taking place across the state and is wreaking havoc across eastern North Carolina,” Davis said. “When we talk about this great divide we have to look at it from an economic position.”

Creating more short-term workforce training programs is needed so workers can gain the skills that open up a greater number of employment possibilities, he said.

Davis said he also wants to support a project Pitt County Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Marvin K. Blount III has proposed locally that would allow individuals charged with misdemeanors and non-violent offenses to be freed without bond if they participate in a supervision program.

“I think there are some real opportunity, with minor offenses, to think about the big picture and realize some savings out of it. We need to explore that vision,” Davis said.

There also is a need to increase the state’s savings, also known as the “rainy day fund.”

The fund, which had slightly more than $2 billion when the current fiscal year started July 1, is now at $1.25 billion because approximately $816 million was spent on recovery efforts stemming from Hurricanes Matthew and Florence.

Elected leaders in the towns of Bethel, Grimesland and Winterville also are seeking funds to help with sewer system and road improvements improvements, Davis said. The town of Grifton is seeking legislative support in its attempt to relocate the Duke Energy Progress substation that flooded during Hurricanes Matthew and Florence, he said.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570. 

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