NC Republican Senate hopeful backed state exchange in 2011

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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North Carolina Republican Senate hopeful Thom Tillis has been a very vocal critic of Obamacare, but when he was speaker of the state House, he helped bring a bill to the floor that would have created a state health care exchange.

Tillis is a potential challenger to Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, who is considered particularly vulnerable in November’s election.

House Bill 115 was introduced in the state House in February of 2011 and was passed in May. It later died in the Senate. The bill would have created the North Carolina Health Benefit Exchange Authority, a state-based healthcare exchange where North Carolinians could purchase insurance, instead of having to use the federal website.

“The General Assembly believes it is in the best interest of the state, and thus the purpose of the Exchange Authority, to promote competition and choice in the health care marketplace and to facilitate innovation by offering products with variation in price and design,” the bill reads.

The bill was sponsored by three Republicans and one Democrat. Tillis, as speaker, was not a sponsor of the bill, but as speaker, he had the authority to decide whether or not to bring a bill to the floor, and whether or not to bring it to a vote.

Bringing such a bill to the floor seems to run counter to Tillis’s professed dislike for the health care law. Tillis called Obamacare a “mortal threat to our economy” in September, and said he supported efforts to try to repeal it in the government funding fight at that time that resulted in a government shutdown.

But the bill actually came amid a number of bills designed to cripple the health care law. One of the first bills that the state House took up in its new session, with Tillis newly installed as the speaker, was the Patient Health Care Freedom Act, which tried to undo the individual mandate. It passed, but was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue.

The Associated Press reported Tillis saying in January 2011 that as provisions of the health care law were rolled out over the course of the next few years, “at every step we’re going to go after it.”

Tillis campaign spokesman Jordan Shaw explained that House bill 115 was brought to the floor because General Assembly and Senate leaders were working to figure out the best way to deal with the requirement in the new law to establish a state exchange or go on the federal exchange, and initially, it seemed that a state exchange was the better plan.

One of the motivating factors was evidently preserving the state’s power relative to the federal government’s in health-care related matters. The bill’s formal title was, “An act to preserve state-based authority to regulate the North Carolina health insurance market and to prevent federal encroachment on state authority by establishing the North Carolina Benefit Exchange.”

By May, when the bill passed the House, more information had become available, and “it became clear that that was not the best option,” Shaw said, so “the House and Senate agreed that the bill shouldn’t move any further.”

The Republican primary is May 6.

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