RALEIGH: Health mandate coverage clouds NC session opening - WNCN: News, Weather

Health mandate coverage clouds NC session opening

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

North Carolina lawmakers returning to Raleigh already are entangled in disputed legislation before the first gavel on this year's session falls.

A General Assembly study committee examining the effects of the federal health care overhaul on North Carolina failed Tuesday to draw enough House members to perform business.

Most House members on the committee stayed away on purpose, according to one of their colleagues. They don't like a bill before the committee that would place an 18-month moratorium on new insurance mandates while lawmakers study the effects of their costs on patients, insurers and state government. Committee leaders prepared to meet again Wednesday morning in hopes of having enough lawmakers present to act.

The measure, which needs a recommendation from the committee to be considered this year, appears to clash with another bill that passed the House in 2013 requiring health insurance providers to cover autism diagnosis and treatment, said Rep. Charles Jeter, R-Mecklenburg, a committee member. The Senate hasn't yet heard that bill, which passed by a wide margin in the House.

Jeter, who supports the autism coverage mandate, said fellow House members are unhappy with the moratorium.

"I don't want to certainly vote on any bill that's going to kill the possibility of (the autism coverage bill) becoming law in the short session," Jeter said. He said an amendment was being considered to exempt autism-related services from the 18-month stand-down.

The moratorium wouldn't take effect until next Jan. 1.

Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus and a study committee co-chairman, said the panel's proposal doesn't conflict with the autism legislation because it can still be passed before the deadline. Hartsell said he doesn't know what his fellow senators think about the autism bill.

The moratorium, Hartsell said, was proposed to address the uncertainty in North Carolina health insurance markets in light of the Affordable Care Act and provide some stability.

Two autism-related groups seeking the mandate brought supporters, parents and their children to Tuesday's meeting. "We're not in favor of a moratorium that ties the hands of the legislature for a particular type of bill," said Lorri Unumb, a vice president with Autism Speaks.

The debate is further complicated because House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, has recognized Autism Speaks while running for the U.S. Senate. He wore a lapel pin shaped liked a puzzle piece - a symbol of the group - in a campaign television ad.

The full General Assembly convenes at midday Wednesday.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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