It all seemed to be going so well for Senate Bill 323 today.
The latest proposal to staunch the red ink in the State Health Plan made it through its initial House vote Tuesday with some partisan wrangling. But the two parties came together this afternoon to support an amendment by Rep.Tim Moore, R-Cleveland.
Moore's amendment removed the premium for lower-tier coverage for active state employees. Plan members and retirees would still have to pay a premium for better coverage, but both groups could keep basic health insurance for free.
The NC Association of Educators had sought that change, arguing that forcing workers to start paying premiums would amount to a pay cut - a concern also voiced by Gov. Bev Perdue when she vetoed the first version of the measure, Senate Bill 265.
"That’s the part most folks seem to have heartburn with," Moore said. “And I understand the Governor’s office would find this agreeable.”
Minority Leader Joe Hackney took a phone call from Perdue on the House floor just before session. “I do think that if the bill reached the governor in this form, she would sign it.” Hackney said. “This would solve the problem.”
The amendment even had the approval of House Insurance chairman Jerry Dockham, R-Davidson, who said that with the amendment, “This truly is a compromise bill.”
The premium change would cost the state about $16 million dollars, House Republicans said - $11 million from the General Fund, and $5 million from the Highway Trust Fund, which pays for some state workers' coverage.
Moore's amendment passed 116-1, and the measure passed its final House vote, 83-34.
Not so fast
The bill's whirlwind trip to the governor's desk came to a screeching halt in the Senate, where a concurrence motion was defeated 48-0 at the request of bill sponsor Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson.
After the vote, Apodaca said he was concerned about the new price tag.
"They removed premiums and set up additional costs that we hadn't budgeted for," Apodaca said. "They didn't tell me where they were gonna get the extra money from, and I don't know, so that's one thing we've gotta look at."
"Our folks are pretty well dug in," he added. "We've allocated all the monies to the State Health Plan that we're going to at this point. So we've really gotta take a look at it."
Conferees have already been appointed to try to come up with a compromise on the measure. House GOP leaders are hoping to send the bill to Perdue's desk by Friday.