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Political Notebook: Butterfield blames lawmakers for Vidant Health layoffs

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Wilson’s congressman says the N.C. General Assembly’s refusal to expand Medicaid is “a major contributor” to Vidant Health’s decision to lay off 191 employees, but Republican state legislators say the evidence suggests otherwise.

Multiple media outlets reported Monday that Greenville-based Vidant was cutting the jobs due to an $18 million budget shortfall in the first quarter of the 2020 fiscal year.

U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-Wilson, said he faults the state legislature for failing to expand Medicaid eligibility.

“It is unfortunate that Vidant Health had to make the difficult decision to lay off valuable hospital staff. Vidant Health, like many rural hospitals and health care providers, has experienced decreased revenue due to uncompensated care,” Butterfield said in Rural hospitals operate on razor thin margins and often do not have the capacity to absorb these costs. Studies have found that when states expand Medicaid uninsured rates for low-income adults decline drastically, which reduces uncompensated care and gives lifelines to rural hospitals. The General Assembly’s decision not to expand Medicaid has not only harmed patient access to care and the overall health care system of eastern North Carolina, but, as we are seeing today, it’s having devastating ripple effects across the local economy as well.”

Butterfield continued: “Make no mistake, the General Assembly’s decision to deny Medicaid coverage to low-income adults is a major contributor to these layoffs. The federal government has offered the state of North Carolina a 90% reimbursement if the General Assembly expands Medicaid. It is appalling that an excellent health care provider such as Vidant must lay off hardworking employees because of the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid.”

State Sen. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, countered Butterfield’s assessment Monday. In a news release, Steinburg cited a Foundation for Government Accountability study released last month that concluded Medicaid expansion “has not materially improved hospitals’ financial health.”

“Democrats are cheering hospital layoffs because they hope to score political points, which is sad,” Steinburg said in the release. “Shifting private insurance patients onto Medicaid would result in a lower reimbursement rate over time, which only puts hospitals on weaker financial footing. If Gov. Cooper would drop his Medicaid expansion ultimatum, we could work toward helping hospitals instead of playing politics with the livelihood of the men and women in eastern North Carolina.”

Folwell: State pension can weather market downturn

While the novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease it causes roil the stock market, State Treasurer Dale Folwell said North Carolina’s state pension payments aren’t at risk.

“We want to assure the nearly 950,000 members who are paying into or receiving pension payments from the North Carolina Retirement Systems that the stock market’s recent downturn will have no impact on their pension payments,” Folwell said in a prepared statement Monday. “As of today, the state pension plans are down less than 1%. This is because the plans have been conservatively managed under the Folwell administration and other administrations for the past 50 years.”

Folwell cited a Moody’s Investors Service report that ranks North Carolina’s retirement system the best-funded in the nation when looking at its adjusted net pension liability. He also said a Pew Charitable Trusts “stress test” shows the state pension fund is “well-positioned to maintain solvency during tough economic times.”

“We are in the check delivery business. We pay out over $6.5 billion a year in pension payments to those that teach, protect and serve the people of North Carolina,” Folwell said.

Tillis pushes to censure Schumer

Sen. Thom Tillis was among the 14 senators to introduce a resolution to censure Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer for his comments targeting Supreme Court Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch.

“Chuck Schumer’s threat to Supreme Court Justices Kavanaugh and Gorsuch that they will ‘pay the price’ and ‘will not know what hit’ them unless they vote the way Democrats want is beyond disgusting and dangerous,” Tillis said. “I strongly support this resolution to censure Senator Schumer to hold him accountable for such unacceptable rhetoric targeting the integrity of the Supreme Court.”

Schumer apologized for his remarks last week, explaining that he was referencing political consequences and that his words “didn’t come out the way I intended to.”

Commentators have roundly condemned Schumer’s statement. While some opponents have described Schumer’s message to the justices as an implicit threat of violence, legal scholars say the words don’t rise to the level of “true threats,” a narrow category of speech that lacks First Amendment protection.

Tillis sponsors bill to fight opioid addiction

Sen. Thom Tillis and other senators introduced the “Protecting Jessica Grubb’s Legacy Act” on March 3 in hopes of reducing opioid prescriptions for patients with substance use disorder.

“Although opioids are meant for healing and often necessary for patients, no one recovering from opioid addiction should receive the very substance they are breaking dependency from,” Tillis said. “This can be avoided by changing regulations that make sure medical records for those in recovery are up to date and this life-saving bipartisan legislation will provide protection for patients who are at the discretion of their medical provider, ultimately avoiding countless, needless deaths. I will continue to work with my colleagues to fight against opioid deaths across the country and in North Carolina.”

POLITICAL NOTEBOOK is a weekly roundup of local and state political news from The Wilson Times’ reporting staff. Send tips and comments to editor@wilsontimes.com.

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