By Rose Hoban

The Senate debated their version of the budget bill Wednesday morning, and NCHN updated throughout the day on health care-related portions of the budget.

Senator Bill Purcell (D-Laurinburg): “I’m very concerned about cuts to Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program, in particularly Quitline. 17.3 million is the amount of money needed to maintain the programs. The house put in 5.4 million, the Senate put in zero dollars, basically eliminating the programs.

“If we’re gonna try to save health care dollars, we’ve gotta invest in preventative efforts. and I think this is something I just hate to see us do,” said Purcell, who is a retired pediatrician.

Sen. Dan Blue (D-Raleigh) debates the 2012 budget on the Senate floor
Sen. Dan Blue (D-Raleigh) debates the 2012 budget on the Senate floor Credit: Rose Hoban

Purcell then offered an amendment to the budget.

“This amendment eliminates (a) special provision… that prevents a private non-profit organization from receiving state funding to provide family planning, breast and cervical cancer screening, birth control and treatment and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. Apparently the only organization affected is Planned Parenthood, so it’s obvious that this provision targets Planned Parenthood,” Purcell said.

Last year, the General Assembly attempted banning Planned Parenthood from receiving state funding for services, but a federal judge struck down the ban, ruling it was unconstitutional for the state to target one business entity.

“Our local health departments are there for the express purpose of providing services such as this, these are appropriate outlets to provide these services,” said Sen Pete Brunstetter, (R-Lewisville) in opposition to the deal.

“We do have health departments but some times there are 3 to 4 month waiting periods in these communities. In some of  your communities, some of your constituents cannot get the services they need. so why would we do this?” asked Sen. Linda Garrou (D-Winston-Salem). “This is not some tear up the budget amendment, it’s a very modest amendment that says deal fairly with people across the state.”

The amendment failed 17-30 in a party line vote.

One amendment offered by Sen. Clark Jenkins (D-Tarboro) that would have provided money to pay for the eugenics compensation bill was blocked in a parliamentary maneuver.

No other health care related amendments were offered, but there was plenty of talk about Medicaid.

“We had about $200 million in excess,” said Sen. Stevens. “We had to take care of that in the very first week we were here, to balance Medicaid for the current fiscal year.

“The bottom line is that we need to get to the point where we’re not continually behind the Medicaid 8-ball.”

“The HHS budget is a tough budget because of Medicaid,” said Sen. Eric Mansfield (D-Fayetteville), an ear, nose and throat doctor. “In 2014, we’re going to have an additional 700,000 members at $1.8 billion of cost. Each year, we always wind up short in Medicaid by 150 million, 250 million, and then coming here and scrambling to find the money.”

Mansfield said he warned the General Assembly last year that some of the Medicaid savings projections were too optimistic, creating some of the problem with the Medicaid budget.

“I actually made that argument last year that we were $150 million short based on what I thought was the budget,” he said, “and we were actually $205 million, so i wasn’t too far off.”

Mansfield and others said many of the health care items left out of the Senate budget would become budget bargaining chips once the Senate budget goes to the conference committee.

“I think most people are just afraid that if we have a hard debate, with lines in the sand getting drawn, then people get their backs up and then they won’t get any money at all,” Mansfield said.

The senate budget bill will be read and voted on for the third, and final, time Thursday.

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Rose Hoban is the founder and editor of NC Health News, as well as being the state government reporter. Hoban has been a registered nurse since 1992, but transitioned to journalism after earning degrees...