Gov. Pat McCrory left his sickbed Monday afternoon to talk about his Health and Human Services budget proposal ahead of the Short Session set to begin later this month.
McCrory has been fighting a virus for the last few weeks and made an appearance at the Governor’s Mansion in the garden to announce plans to expand Medicaid coverage for children and adults with autism and those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and expand funding for substance abuse aid, pre-K funding and emergency housing.
“Many of you might know I’ve been fighting a virus for about five weeks now that’s been going across North Carolina, and I’ve sadly got that virus and I’m still fighting it today and I’m hoping to be able to stand up at this podium for the next several minutes to make it through,” McCrory said. “I’m glad I’m around a lot of doctors, I’m drinking plenty of fluids, I’m taking my medicine and I’m trying to get rest, but this is the perfect place to be with so many health care personnel.”
McCrory said that he was presenting his budget as part of his Constitutional duties and that the legislature would have his full budget before the Short Session begins.
“Last week I talked about the highlights of our education budget, which included 5 percent pay raises and almost 3 percent bonuses,” he said. “I talked about university spending for thousands of new students in the NC system, spending on technical needs in our community colleges and I also talked about STEM training to recruit new teachers for our public schools throughout NC and to help our universities recruit new teachers to get into our education programs in our schools. And I’m very, very proud of that announcement that we made last week. Today as part of our rollout is to talk about our five major proposals with regards to our health care policies here in North Carolina.”
McCrory said the state’s Medicaid system has been improving greatly over the last three years, providing room to expand Medicaid to new segments of the population in the coming budget.
“After four straight years of Medicaid shortfalls totaling $2 billion, North Carolina’s Medicaid program is on target to finish three consecutive years with cash on hand due to responsible lending and budgeting,” he said. “North Carolina improved its overall public health rankings more than any other state in the United States of America. That’s a heck of a benchmark. In other words, we are number one.”
McCrory said that he offered a compromise deal to President Obama for Medicaid expansion with the condition that those covered under the expansion participate in job training programs, but that deal was shot down.
“Now I realize there are issues regarding Medicaid and my major priority is to help those who can’t help themselves and encourage those who can,” McCrory said.
Five areas of focus
“What we’ve done in working with our budget is focus on five major areas and prioritize with my budget director exactly what we plan to do,” McCrory said. “The first one is we’re going to support the recommendations of the Governor’s Task
Force on Mental Health and Substance Abuse. They are going to be rolling that out during the coming days. I got a sneak look and I said we’re going to help you any way we can. And within the budget we’re going to submit $30 million to help this task force accomplish its goals.”
McCrory said that the issue of mental health is a top priority in the state and the budget gives it the attention it deserves.
“It’s an issue that’s being hidden in our emergency rooms, in our county jails and in our state prisons and underneath road bridges across North Carolina,” he said. “We can no longer ignore that issue and I’ve made that commitment that we are not going to ignore that issue. So this is what we are going to be doing.
“First of all, as the secretary mentioned, we are going to increase funding for medication assisted treatment and access to Naloxone. This will serve more than 2,000 individuals with substance abuse disorders and expanded access in areas across the state. This is a life and death matter.
“With all due respect to all the other issues that we are dealing with in NC, this is the most important. People are living and dying based on whether or not they have access to this drug.”
The budget proposal will include $9 million to expand the availability of Naloxone, a life-saving emergency overdose medication.
“Every day at this point somewhere across the state this drug is saving lives,” McCrory said.
The budget includes $3 million to assist with transitioning mentally ill out of jails and hospitals and helping them before they end up in the system so they don’t get caught up or go back. McCrory said the funding will save the state in the long run.
The governor also announced $5 million to expand the state’s specialty courts, which offer alternative punishments to drug users besides jail time.
“Putting an addict in prison accomplishes nothing and we need to help them get help because they will just go right back out on the street and have the same difficulties with themselves and their families and the community and then it becomes a life and death situation,” he said.
The budget also provides $13 million for transition care for children in foster care, $3 million to expanded home care for Alzheimer’s patients, $8.6 million for expanding the state social services system to protect children, and $750,000 to prepare for possible fallout from a Zika virus outbreak in North Carolina.
To see more about the historical background of North Carolina state budgets and taxes, click here.