COVID toll, Medicaid pilots, test requirements and more
Legislative business at the General Assembly has slowed to a crawl. The budget is taking shape and that is what has taken precedence. The Governor has presented his budget and now the General Assembly will provide its budget and the two will be compared for likenesses, as well as differences. Hopefully, there can be some consensus on what is best for North Carolinians.
Legislation has been approved for the usage of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act for North Carolina. Mecklenburg County will receive over $215 million dollars.
North Carolina reported its 1 millionth positive test for COVID-19 on Thursday, 450 days after reporting its first. More than 13,000 North Carolinians have died due to the virus, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.
The Director of the Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina told The News & Observer that in his four-decade career, he has never seen anything like the COVID-19 pandemic. “As a physician and a public health person for 40 years, there’s really nothing like this,” he said. “This is like the beginning of the HIV pandemic on steroids.” The Director said crucial lessons have been learned during the pandemic, such as knowing how diseases like COVID-19 primarily spread — through respiratory droplets in close contact with other people. But to be ready for another pandemic, he said, the politicization of infectious diseases needs to stop. “Politicizing an infectious disease never makes sense,” the Director said. “It’s still politicized. That’s very unfortunate because we need to get past that getting ready for the next pandemic.”
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday announced the selection of organizations to serve three regions of the state, marking a major milestone towards launching the nation’s first comprehensive program to test evidence-based, non-medical interventions designed to reduce costs and improve the health of Medicaid beneficiaries. The groundbreaking program will create a systematic approach to integrating and financing non-medical services that address housing stability, transportation access, food security and interpersonal safety into the delivery of health care. Following a competitive selection process, the following organizations will reach three regions, two in eastern North Carolina and one in western North Carolina.
• Access East Inc.: Beaufort, Bertie, Chowan, Edgecombe, Halifax, Hertford, Martin, Northampton, Pitt
• Community Care of the Lower Cape Fear: Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover, Onslow, Pender
• Dogwood Health Trust: Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, Yancey
The program, known as the Healthy Opportunities Pilots, was hailed by Seema Verma, the former director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), as an “innovative” and “groundbreaking” new approach. She wrote, “As we seek to create a health care system that truly rewards value, we must consider the impact that factors beyond medical care have in driving up health costs.” CMS approved the Healthy Opportunities Pilots in 2018 as part of the state’s waiver to transition to Medicaid managed care.
To be eligible for and receive pilot services, NC Medicaid Managed Care members must live in one of the three selected regions, have at least one qualifying physical or behavioral health condition, and have one qualifying social risk factor.
Students looking to attend a university in the UNC System in the fall of 2022 will not have to submit SAT or ACT test scores with their application. The UNC System Board of Governors voted Thursday to extend a waiver for standardized test requirements because of the ongoing cancellations and disruptions to testing availability due to COVID-19. Last summer, the board waived the testing requirement for students applying for admission through 2021. UNC-Chapel Hill, N.C. State and the other institutions will continue to be test-optional, and students can still submit SAT and/or ACT scores with their applications.
A Board of Governors member said this waiver is necessary to keep things fair because North Carolina students had inconsistent educations last year, with some in classrooms and others in virtual classes. The BOG member chairs the educational planning committee that brought the waiver forward for a full board vote. He said the vast majority of UNC System chancellors and provosts support this one-year waiver. He also noted that 1,400 other schools around the country also made this move, including the University of Texas System, the University of Virginia and Ivy League schools. Other board members noted the cost and accessibility of standardized tests, particularly for students in rural, low-income, and underrepresented communities.
Another BOG member argued against the waiver, saying it is an important tool to gauge a student’s ability to be ready for college. He proposed an amendment to allow students to submit an exception saying they were not able to take two standardized tests. But the amendment was not approved by a vote. One member also argued that this waiver is a “slippery slope” toward lowering standards of the university system and that will set students and families up for failure financially and academically. Six members voted against the waiver.
The Governor has signed a proposed deadline extension for healthcare providers to join the statewide Health Information Exchange Network — just days ahead of a June 1 deadline in the previous mandate. The database known as N.C. Health Connex is designed to help providers share information — the idea is that doctors would be able to see what another doctor has prescribed the same patient, for example. But providers have been slow to input their records. House Bill 395 extends the deadlines approaching later this year to Jan. 1, 2023. Thursday’s signing effectively clears the Governor’s desk of pending bills ahead of the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Earlier this week, Cooper signed Senate Bill 172, which allocates billions in federal COVID-19 relief dollars. The governor said that it is “critical that these funds be used to emerge from the pandemic even stronger than before with rent and utility assistance, food for children, help for local governments and help for children trying to catch up in school.” And he signed Senate Bill 69, which reduces the waiting period for teens to get their full driver’s license. “This temporary adjustment keeps life-saving training while smoothing a process disrupted by the pandemic,” he said in a news release.