Millions in federal money has gone unspent for weeks because legislators have put off talking to the state Department of Insurance about how a national health insurance grant will be used.Health insurance exchanges were a feature of both the Republican and Democratic proposals on health care reform and rightly so because the exchanges will increase the availability, transparency, and efficiency of health insurance. There is no good reason not to begin planning for how to set up the state's exchange.
Lawmakers dropped discussion of the $12.4 million grant from the Oct. 27 agenda of a high-powered group called the Joint Legislative Committee on Governmental Operations. Agencies must consult with the committee, which House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger run, before spending grant money in certain circumstances.
The money is for the state to do prep work for a health benefit exchange that the federal health insurance law would require of all states by 2014. With no grant money to support it, most of the work at the state Department of Insurance and the N.C. Institute of Medicine on the exchange has stopped.
The approach is also counter-productive to Republican goals because it increases the chances that North Carolina will have to operate under a possible federal exchange program rather than a North-Carolina-run and tailored program.
In addition, the delay hurts North Carolina economically. The $12.4 million would provide an economic boost to a state that sorely needs it. Over the last year, North Carolina has effectively had no job growth, and last month, the state had the dubious distinction of leading the nation in job losses. Given that sorry record, you would think that the Republicans would feel some urgency to get the money into the economy.
Instead, much like they did with the federal unemployment money, Republicans are engaged in a senseless, self-defeating, job-killing delay.