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January 30, 2013

Rep. Tolson discusses possible changes to healthcare legislation

TARBORO — State Rep. Joe Tolson spoke to a group of healthcare providers at the Golden LivingCenter in Tarboro on Monday about possible changes to healthcare legislation.

“It’s important to be educated on the issues. It can help us to make informed decisions,” said Effie Webb, executive director of the Golden LivingCenter and one of the founders of the Edgecombe County Comprehensive Healthcare Committee.

Kathy Keel of Vidant Home Health and Hospice, another participant, agreed.

“We’re all referring to each other, so we all need to know the regulations that are affecting all of us so that we’re all on the same page and all on board,” she said.

North Carolina’s legislators — both in the house and senate — convene at noon today to review the state’s budget. Tolson said about 24 percent of the state budget generally is allocated to health and human services. The House will deal with a proposed $29 million cut to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)’ $4 billion budget.

“Medicaid and Medicare are going to be key issues that we’re going to have to deal with,” Tolson said. “With the new healthcare act that’s in the process of being put in place, you’ll see Medicaid grow, and one of our concerns at the state level is how do you generate the funds for that, and that may be a real problem for the state.”

“Medicare and Medicaid changes will definitely affect home health,” Keel said. “Irregardless, we’re going to continue to provide quality care [to our clients].”

The state representative discussed the health insurance exchange that President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act mandates. The tenants of the healthcare act have been “a long time coming,” according to Tolson.

“State has a choice. State can develop the health exchange or they can let the feds develop that exchange. The feds have already sent North Carolina $45 million to develop the health exchange,” Tolson said. “I hope that North Carolina decides to do their own. I’d like to think that we can do it better if we do it and manage it ourselves rather than depending on somebody in Washington.”

“These health exchanges are supposed to be able to help people find health insurance at a good rate, and of course we’re hoping what you see is health insurance will come down as more people are buying health insurance,” Tolson went on to say.

Overall, Tolson predicted that North Carolinians would see “a lot of changes in our tax structure” with the new administration in Raleigh. Included possible cuts to corporate and personal income taxes and increases in food and service taxes.

Tolson also expressed his concern about Medicaid fraud, which costs an estimated $350 million in North Carolina, and alluded to a bill that he supported, implementing a “Smart Card,” using biometrics to determine if the person using the Medicare card is the person authorized to use the card.

“This is a big issue we’ve got to tackle,” Tolson said.

Another healthcare issue that Tolson talked about is the incentives written into North Carolina’s laws for pharmacies to use generic drugs rather than brand names to cut costs. The Edgecombe County native said he is still a proponent of hometown pharmacies that provide one-on-one customer service and give “the personal contact that you need to make sure your medications aren’t interacting with one another,” rather than mail-order medications sent by drug companies. Webb mentioned that the Golden LivingCenter plans to begin construction on a pharmacy in April, with the goal of opening the pharmacy by the end of the year.

“We’ll have our medicine in house,” she said.

Monday’s meeting ended with a question-and-answer session and Tolson encouraging the healthcare providers to voice their concerns in Raleigh.

“We actually have a voice out in the rural communities. If we’ve got issues and concerns, we can contact Mr. Tolson,” said Andy Thompson, community relations specialist for 3HC (home health and hospice care). He said meeting with the competing healthcare providers and sharing information was helpful.

“We’re competitive, but we’re also good friends and support each other,” said Webb.

The healthcare committee meets at a different facility each time and Webb said it’s helpful to go into the different facilities and keep up with what other providers are doing.

The committee was formed in the late 1970’s and the collaboration between healthcare professionals helped the county mobilize an emergency management plan following the flood of 1999. Currently, the healthcare providers are working with subcommittees to create a common form covering end-of-life decisions.

“It will sort of have us all on the same page,” Webb said. “We all agree to use it.”

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