Small business insurance bill becomes law over governor's objections

Posted August 25, 2019 4:30 p.m. EDT

— Senate Bill 86, which would allow small businesses, real estate agents and others with statewide trade groups to work together to set up health insurance plans, became law Sunday without the signature of Gov. Roy Cooper.

Under the new law, trade groups of smaller businesses would be treated much like large companies, letting them pool their membership and offer insurance plans regulated by the state Department of Insurance. Those plans would have to cover pre-existing conditions, but they wouldn't always come with the coverage generally required now by the Affordable Care Act, such as maternity care.

The governor, who said, "People have a right to be frustrated with the cost of private health insurance plans ..." hesitated to sign the bill despite bipartisan support, citing concerns that cheaper plans would mean less coverage.

He took the opportunity Sunday to again push for expansion of Medicaid as a way to insure more people.

"A proven and effective way most other states have used to drive down the cost of private health insurance has been to accept the billions of federal dollars to expand Medicaid. We must find a bipartisan way to do this too," Cooper said.

Medicaid expansion has been a sticking point in the budget process that has now dragged on for almost two months. On June 28, Cooper vetoed the $24 billion state budget presented to him by the GOP-majority legislature, but so far House Speaker Tim Moore has held off on a vote to override that veto, an inaction that legislative observers interpret as an indiction that Republicans haven't been able to pull in enough Democrats to meet the necessary three-fifths threshold.