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Increased benefits for pregnant women focus of Sen. Corbin bill

Increased benefits for pregnant women focus of Sen. Corbin bill

When Republican Sen. Kevin Corbin, R-Franklin, announced  during a March 25 listening session at Southwestern Community College that he intended to file a bill addressing the health care coverage gap, he also said he hadn’t quite formulated the particulars of it because he wanted to introduce something that would pass the Republican-controlled legislature. 

With the insertion of specific language into placeholder bill S530  on April 5, Corbin — along with co-sponsors Sen. Jim Burgin, R-Harnett, and Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Davie, — will now get his chance to see what the Republican appetite is for incrementally closing the gap for a very important demographic. 

“One of the most vulnerable groups that we have is new mothers,” Corbin said. “Many of those moms are dealing with a single income, some aren’t, but some are and they need to take care of themselves, so that’s part of the reason for starting with that group. It’s very much a bill to help people who are willing to help themselves.”

Currently, pregnant women with incomes less than or equal to 196 percent of the federal poverty rate are eligible for Medicaid, but only for pregnancy-related services and only for two months post-partum. Corbin’s bill would expand Medicaid coverage for pregnant women to a full 12 months post-partum, so long as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) continues to provide matching funds. 

Corbin estimates the bill could benefit hundreds of women in his district, and thousands across the state. 

While Corbin’s bill is not the full Medicaid expansion championed by some on the left, and some on the right, it would be a small step in closing the health insurance coverage gap and would also bring federal dollars back to Western North Carolina — in the form of income tax payments already made toward Medicaid expansion services North Carolina’s General Assembly continues to reject. 

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The bill includes a request that the General Fund appropriate $12,344,000 for fiscal year 2021-2022, and an additional $50,816,000 in recurring funds for fiscal year 2022-2023 to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Health Benefits. Those funds would serve as a required match for more than $131 million in federal funds, over the same timeframe. 

As an added bonus, something to get moms and their newborns started on the right path, the bill also stipulates that anyone eligible for Medicaid under the new 12-month postpartum provision would also be eligible for a waiver of tuition and registration fees at North Carolina community colleges. 

“If someone goes to one of our community college system schools through a special program like this, the state would reimburse the school for the cost of that tuition,” Corbin said. “With the community colleges, there’s no room-and-board, so it’s not a huge cost to the state. It’s only tuition. We felt like that was a reasonable thing to do.”

Mark Pless, who represents Haywood, Madison and Yancy counties in the N.C. House, said he’d support the bill if it makes it from the Senate to the House. 

“I think it’s a good idea. I know a lot of times what happens especially with young girls, they end up having a baby, the baby gets Medicaid and the mom ceases to have any kind of care,” Pless said. “Just from an ongoing medical care and a mental health perspective, I think it would be great to be able to do that for that first year so that the moms, especially if they’re having issues, they can get care instead of staying home.”

Swain, Jackson and Haywood Rep. Mike Clampitt said that he was interested in Corbin’s proposal as well. 

“We have talked somewhat about that,” Clampitt said. “We’ll see where it goes. His background is insurance, which is a good thing. And that’s the thing about the House of Representatives, all of us bring something to the table from our life experience. Mine was public safety. If he sees a way that we could have cost savings without being burdensome to the state and we can provide coverage for more people, I’m all about it.”

Rep. Karl Gillespie, who represents Cherokee, Clay, Graham and Macon counties, likes the idea of the postpartum expansion, but as a former trustee at Southwestern Community College seems to like the educational component of the bill even more. 

“Everybody knows how I support community colleges,” said Gillespie, who filed a bill that would allow residents in Georgia’s border counties to qualify for in-state tuition at Murphy’s Tri-County Community College. “I believe in the community college system. I think this is an excellent component. It gives that mom an opportunity to go to school where maybe she wouldn’t have been able to, so she can create a better life for herself.” 

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