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TJ Jerke, Forum News Service, Published February 21 2013

Wide swath of ND groups back Obamacare-funded expansion of Medicaid

BISMARCK - A group of 23 insurance, medical, family and religious organizations have signed onto a pledge supporting the state’s expansion of Medicaid and are calling on the Legislature to enact the federal program.

“The bottom line is that if North Dakota does not expand Medicaid coverage, our residents will be subsidizing expansion in other states without receiving the benefit of additional federal funding for our own uninsured population,” the document says. “We urge the State of North Dakota to participate in Medicaid expansion because it makes sense both for the health of all North Dakota residents and for the state budget.”

Lawmakers will determine whether the program is enacted during the current legislative session. House Bill 1362 includes the language for the expansion, which was pulled out of the Department of Human Services budget, found in House Bill 1012, to allow for more discussion on the individual topic.

Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield, chairman of the House Human Services Committee, said HB1362 will likely be heard Tuesday morning in order to push it out of committee by Wednesday’s deadline.

The expansion program is part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed by Congress in 2010. The act would provide insurance for individuals under 65, who are not disabled, don’t have insurance and have an income less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

Those living under 138 percent of the federal poverty level include an an individual earning $15,415, family of three earning $26,344 and a family of four with $31,809.

Weisz, who opposes the expansion, held an informal discussion about the expansion program late Wednesday morning to help get legislators up to speed on the upcoming discussion.

He said afterward the list of groups are those that are expected to push for the expansion program are those that will benefit the most.

The group of lobbying organizations includes the Greater North Dakota Chamber, Blue Cross Blue Shield North Dakota, North Dakota Education Association, North Dakota Catholic Conference and the North Dakota Medical Association.

Courtney Koeble, a representative for the NDMA, said the broad base of support by the organizations shows many organizations are getting behind, “one of the biggest decisions in history of Medicaid.”

Kayla Pulvermacher, a lobbyist for the NDEA, said, the expansion would help maintain healthy students, who are found to learn better than unhealthy students.