Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said state Senate President Phil Berger (R) was retiring. He is running for re-election.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) said Monday he would leave the door open to expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act if federal officials allow his state to craft a plan that fits its own individual needs.
In an interview on WFAE, Charlotte’s NPR affiliate, McCrory defended North Carolina’s refusal to expand existing Medicaid programs until fixes are made.
“We decided not to [expand the program] because first of all the existing Medicaid system in North Carolina is broken,” McCrory said. “I felt, before you expand something, why don’t you fix the services to those people in which Medicaid was originally designed.”
Asked directly whether North Carolina would ever expand Medicaid, McCrory said nothing is off the table: “I’m leaving that door open. Once we fix the current system, I have not closed that door as governor.”
McCrory was one of a handful of governors, along with New Jersey’s Chris Christie (R), Connecticut’s Dannel Malloy (D) and Nebraska’s Dave Heineman (R), who met over the weekend with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell on the sidelines of the National Governors Association meeting in Nashville. McCrory said he was exploring whether HHS would sign off on waivers that would allow North Carolina to craft its own plan.
“What we’re trying to figure out is how we can get more waivers to adapt to what North Carolina needs. For example, if I expand Medicaid, can we do it in a strategic way instead of across the board?” McCrory said.
If North Carolina and HHS were to agree upon waivers, McCrory would be following a well-trod path of Republican governors who accept federal money to cover more low-income Americans under Medicaid, even if they don’t call it Medicaid expansion. Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) and Christie accepted federal funding to expand Medicaid. So did Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), though his administration cast it as a solution individually tailored to Hoosier needs.
But passing Medicaid expansion, or anything like it, would be politically difficult, given the heavily conservative bent of the Republican-dominated state legislature. The legislature passed a measure in 2013 to prevent the state from accepting Medicaid expansion, and both House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) and state Senate President Phil Berger (R) are against expansion.
McCrory said he appreciated Burwell taking the time to meet with the bipartisan group of governors.
“She’s got the hardest job in the nation,” he said.