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State leaders say deal would restore funding for Vidant

Kandie Smith

Kandie Smith

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By Ginger Livingston
The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

House leaders told one of Pitt County’s representatives that a deal removing possible cuts to Vidant Medical Center’s Medicaid reimbursements is near and asked for her support in overriding a potential veto by Gov. Roy Cooper of the state’s new budget.

House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and House Majority Leader John Bell, R-Wayne, on Tuesday released the letter they sent to Rep. Kandie Smith.

The first-term Democratic representative wrote the House leadership last week asking them to restore an estimated $35 million cut to the Medicaid reimbursement Vidant receives for serving as the teaching hospital for East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine. The cut was a reaction to Vidant Medical Center and Pitt County Board of Commissioners ending the University of North Carolina Board of Governors appointment of members to the hospital Board of Trustees.

“The fate of our local healthcare network is far more important than this dangerous proposal by the Senate,” Smith wrote, adding, “As you can imagine, many people are frustrated and scared of what will happen if we make these cuts in the final budget. I am determined to stand up for the people of my district, region, and state.”

The leadership’s letter stated her concern for her constituents was appreciated and members of the budget conference committee were notified of her request and “welcome your call for putting the needs of your people above politics.”

“You will be pleased to know that we are close to securing an agreement to restore funding for Vidant’s teaching hospital at ECU and to also provide additional funds requested by the Brody School of Medicine,” the letter stated.

“Please provide us assurance that we can count on your vote for the state budget and to override a potential veto by the Governor if the funding you advocate for is successfully secured in the spending plan.”

The state House and state Senate each adopt budgets that typically have different spending priorities. In this year’s House budget there was $28 million in funding to plan for the construction of a new building for the Brody School of Medicine. That money was not included in the Senate budget. The Senate budget cut Vidant’s Medicaid reimbursement, an item that wasn’t in the House budget.

“I am grateful for a response,” Smith said. “I am certainly glad that the House leadership, that they are willing to right a wrong.”

However, the health care services of eastern North Carolina shouldn’t be a pawn in a political game, Smith said. Also, it’s difficult to commit to supporting a budget that hasn’t been finalized.

“I did vote against the House budget because there were a lot of things missing, such as Medicaid expansion,” she said. “Now I am being asked to vote for a budget and then possibility a veto override (for a budget) that only righted a wrong to the people of eastern North Carolina.”

There are 120 seats in the state House of Representatives, and 65 are held by Republicans. A veto override requires 72 total votes. If all Republican members are present, the House would need seven Democrats to vote for the budget to override any veto signed by Gov. Roy Cooper.

Republican votes also are important. Rep. Greg Murphy, R-Pitt, also sent a letter to the House leadership stating his intention to vote against any compromise budget that didn’t include funding for Vidant and for the medical school’s planning. Other eastern North Carolina representative also are on board, Murphy said.

“The representatives for eastern North Carolina are firmly united against the Vidant Health cuts,” Murphy said. “I have commitments from several members that they would not vote for a budget with these cuts, a number who are from eastern North Carolina.”

Murphy declined to say how many legislators have given their commitments.

Senate leaders declined to speak about the House leadership’s letter or to address a letter Sen. Don Davis sent the budget conference on Friday asking the Senate to remove the Medicaid cuts.

“Many residents in eastern North Carolina are terrified about the potential impact of the Senate provision that cuts $35 million from this teaching hospital,” Davis said. “The effect of this cut could result in a considerable reduction in services and access to health care for a significant portion of the 1.4 million residents within 29 counties in eastern North Carolina.” Vidant Health has more than 12,200 employees and they are concerned about losing their jobs, Davis said.

“Please keep in mind that these cuts would be on top of another $38 million due to take effect on January 1, 2020, due to provider reimbursement changes to the State Health Plan,” he said.

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