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GOP leader sponsors Medicaid bill he opposes

BISMARCK -- House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, proposed a bill he stands firmly against and hopes is killed on the House floor.

"Somebody had to put their name on it," he said.

Carlson is alluding to House Bill 1362, which he introduced Wednesday in front of a joint session of the House Human Services Committee and Human Services Appropriations subcommittee. The bill includes the exact language in Gov. Jack Dalrymple's proposed budget for the Department of Human Services, House Bill 1012, which would allow the state to receive federal funding to expand Medicaid.

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.

Carlson opposes the expansion, as do many Republicans who dislike the association with Obamacare, but said he proposed the bill to allow for more discussion, debate and input from North Dakota citizens.

"You get more eyes looking at it, get as many people engaged and informed on an issue that otherwise only a small subsection of people would have heard," Carlson said afterward.

"It makes more people understand it better and help make a better decision on the floor."

But Carlson believes the state should be focusing on those that are uninsured rather than, "expand a program with a questionable funding source and questionable care in the future."

So far, 15 states have supported the expansion program and 14 states have not, he said.

Carlson's testimony was followed by Maggie Anderson, interim director of the Department of Human Services, who provided the logistics of how the expansion would impact the state.

If the Medicaid expansion passes, Human Services would get an estimated $101 million to $158 million in federal funds for the program during the 2013-1015 biennium, she said. Anderson said this would pay for coverage for an estimated 32,000 North Dakotans that would be eligible to enroll.

The federal funding that would be received if House Bill 1012 is passed would cover 100 percent of the new enrollees, which would taper off to 90 percent by 2020.

And another $9.1 million is requested in the Human Services budget to cover expected costs for people who are eligible for Medicaid now, but have not applied for coverage, but would become more likely to enroll in the expanded program.

So far, Minnesota has not taken a side on the expansion program, the Montana Legislature has a proposed bill that would reduce the Medicaid eligibility levels, Wyoming has a proposed bill to change the eligibility for pregnant women and children but prevent further expansion and South Dakota's governor is against the program.