No deal on State Health Plan

State lawmakers tried but failed to meet a 3:00 pm deadline for a compromise on fixing the State Health Plan.

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Laura Leslie

For an hour or so there, it looked like lawmakers and Gov. Bev Perdue were on the brink of a deal to fix the State Health Plan.

Last week, State Health Plan chief Jack Walker told state lawmakers they ran the risk of costing the plan millions of extra dollars if they didn't approve changes for next year by 3:00 pm today. Part of the cost could come from changing enrollment periods and a delay in implementing new price hikes. More importantly, if the Plan can't put some other changes in place by a federal deadline of July 1st, it could cost the state $87.7 million.

As you probably remember, Perdue vetoed the first health plan fix, Senate Bill 265. The Senate voted to override that veto. The House did not, opting instead for a compromise measure that might win the Governor's approval. That compromise, Senate Bill 323, added a no-premium coverage option for state employees.

Perdue signaled she would sign the compromise. But the Senate turned down the fix yesterday, citing concerns over the $16 million cost of the no-premium option.

The conference committee was appointed yesterday, but hadn't met as of this afternoon.

The Senate had already left for the weekend when House GOP leaders, who'd earlier said Walker's deadline was flexible, suddenly decided that maybe it wasn't, and it had to be met after all. With the Senate gone, there was only one way to do that - to override the governor's veto of the earlier measure. (Yes, you read that right.)

In order for the plan to work, the Governor and the Senate would first have to agree on a compromise on the premiums. Then the Governor would "release" House Democrats to vote with the Republicans. At that point, the House GOP would have enough votes to override the veto of S265, the older bill, which would cover the deadline issue. The premium updates, they said, would be run as a separate bill.

This was all supposed to happen in an hour. What could go wrong?

Plenty, and it did. The 3pm deadline rolled around without a deal. No Dems were released, no veto override vote was held.

Had it worked out, it would be a win-win-win. The Democrats and Perdue would have proof of their bipartisan bona fides. The GOP would have a veto override to write home about. And the Plan wouldn't run up avoidable extra costs.

As it turned out, though, it was mostly an platform for finger-pointing.

House leaders of both parties said the problem was between the Governor and the Senate, who couldn't agree on a halfway point on the premium issue. "We were prepared to work with the Governor in whatever capacity she thought best," said Minority Leader Hackney's spokesman Bill Holmes, "but the details had not been fully worked out."

The governor's office said the problem was on Jones Street.

"[Perdue] was hopeful the House could negotiate an agreement with the Senate before adjourning today, but that apparently wasn’t possible," said spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson in a written statement. "She appreciates their efforts and hopes they will pick up where they left off next week." 

And from the Senate? A statement from Pro Tem Phil Berger's spokeswoman Amy Auth said only, "Senate and House leadership will be communicating with the governor’s office over the weekend to reach an agreement."

At this point, no one seems to know exactly how much a one- or two-day delay could cost the state. It looks like we'll have to wait and see.

WRAL anchor Debra Morgan and I talked about the deadlock on tonight's 5:30 newscast.  Watch it below.

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