Last year, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation that began the process of privatizing Medicaid in our state. Under the bill passed, “the state would enter into contracts with three companies that would offer statewide health insurance plans for Medicaid recipients, as well as up to 10 contracts with “provider-led entities” – networks of doctors and hospitals and that would offer regional plans.”
The process of privatization commenced this spring with a listening series hosted by the Department of Health and Human Services to receive input on a draft waiver that’s being submitted to the federal government today. Since a large amount of Medicaid dollars are provided by the feds, they must approve the waiver if North Carolina is to make significant changes to our Medicaid program. Listening sessions were held across the state, and NCAAN had advocates attend a number of the sessions to speak during public comment about the needs of those living with HIV in North Carolina.
HIV doctors and advocates spoke at the first hearing in Raleigh. Dr. Michelle Ogle, an HIV doctor from Vance County spoke about the need for HIV+ patients to be able to access specialty care. At the listening session in Huntersville, Christina Adeleke, NCAAN Communications and Development Coordinator, spoke about the importance of closing the Medicaid coverage gap in our state, and heard the stories of many who would benefit if the state did so. In Greenville, NCAAN advocates Esther Ross and Dr. Paul Cook spoke about how important Medicaid is to many low-income North Carolinians, including those living with HIV.
In addition to the listening sessions, DHHS provided an opportunity for citizens and advocacy groups to submit written comments. NCAAN partnered with the Duke Health Justice Clinic to submit written comments on our concerns related to maintaining and expanding care for those living with HIV on Medicaid. Our comments were written in partnership with a advisory committee of individuals living with HIV, medicaid providers, advocates and staff at AIDS service organizations, and endorsed by over a dozen national, regional, and North Carolina based organizations.
Today, the waiver will be officially submitted to the federal government. When it was presented at the legislature this morning, the staff even noted that one of the major themes they received during public comment was the need to maintain access to HIV specialists.
This waiver submission is just the first step in a long process, and North Carolina’s new Medicaid system is going to built in the months and years ahead. We’ll continue to advocate for the needs of those living with HIV in our state as we implement a new Medicaid system.
-Lee Storrow is the Executive Director of the North Carolina AIDS Action Network.