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McCrory waiting for Supreme Court before NC insurance choice

CARY — Republican Gov. Pat McCrory said Wednesday he won’t make a recommendation whether North Carolina should expand insurance to more of the uninsured through the federal health care law until after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Speaking to The Associated Press in a brief interview, McCrory said it makes sense to wait on litigation challenging some federal tax credits in the health care law linked to coverage obtained through federally-run online health insurance markets.

The court’s oral arguments are next month and a ruling is expected in the summer, about when the legislature traditionally seeks to adjourn. That could push any legislative action on a recommendation to 2016.

“I will not make any recommendation as to whether or not we extend insurance for the uninsured until the court case because there are so many ramifications of the court case,” McCrory said following a speech to a gathering of the North Carolina Hospital Association.

McCrory and his administration have been looking for months at expansion, whether through Medicaid as offered in President Obama’s 2011 health care law or through alternatives other states have sought. The governor met with Obama last month and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell on Feb. 6.

In recent weeks, the governor had been ambiguous about when he’d make public his decision, and sounded in no hurry to do so during his State of the State address to the General Assembly earlier this month.

Hundreds of thousands of North Carolina residents could benefit from expansion. Liberal-leaning groups and the state NAACP chapter have been pressing McCrory and legislators repeatedly to expand Medicaid, citing how the federal government would foot most of the bill and arguing it would create an economic benefit for hospitals and rural areas.

Republican legislative leaders remain skeptical, saying the current Medicaid program needs stability after years of financial and administrative troubles. Even among GOP lawmakers open to expansion, McCrory’s time frame aligns well with their arguments that any expansion discussion should wait until after the Supreme Court rules.

McCrory said Wednesday that other Medicaid changes would still remain among his top priorities for the Republican-led legislature to pass this year.

The House and Senate couldn’t work out a compromise last year to move away from the traditional fee-for-service model to one that rewards medical providers or managed care companies for cost savings and healthy patients. There are currently 1.8 million Medicaid enrollees. The program spends about $13 billion annually, with roughly two-thirds coming from the federal government.

“The current Medicaid program needs fixing,” McCrory said in the interview.

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