State Senator Oley Larsen (Republican, Minot) offered an amendment on the North Dakota Senate floor that would eliminate Medicaid Expansion in North Dakota. The move would have kicked approximately 20,000 North Dakota residents off of health insurance. It is estimated as many as 35,000 individuals are eligible for the coverage.
Medicaid Expansion was contentiously approved in the 2013 Legislative Session. Originally included in former Governor Jack Dalrymple’s budget, House Majority Leader Al Carlson removed it from the Department of Human Services’ budget bill and placed it in its own bill. Carlson’s intent was to debate and defeat Medicaid Expansion.
Because we were forced to debate the merits of the program in a standalone bill, legislators inclined to vote against it because it was part of Obamacare heard the benefits. It wasn’t just the benefits of covering tens of thousands of people that we heard. We heard the benefits for the business community. We heard the benefits to our rural hospitals so they could stay open. We heard the benefits from the religious community. Because of those enormous benefits to our state, to a lot of people’s surprise, it passed and became law.
One of those members who wasn’t inclined to support Medicaid Expansion in 2013 was Sen. Oley Larsen. I was on the Senate Human Services Committee with him, I the lone minority member. After what felt like weeks of debate, the Governor called the Republican members of the Senate Human Services Committee into his office. It was the last day before the deadline to send it to the Appropriations Committee. I was left alone in the committee room for a long period of time with lobbyists and concerned citizens. I knew what was going on just as I’m sure many of the lobbyists did. Dalrymple and his staff were putting the “squeeze” on the Republican members to pass the bill. It worked and Senator Larsen reluctantly voted for its passage. I believe this is a highlight of Governor Dalrymple’s tenure.
Part of the compromise to passing the bill in 2013 was the need to reauthorize it again in 2017. Dalrymple included it in his budget before leaving office, and nobody was certain where incoming Governor Doug Burgum landed on it. He had made comments during the campaign which indicated he was open to eliminating the expansion. He didn’t and the legislature, up until today, had left it alone.
The Senate overwhelmingly rejected Sen. Larsen’s attempt. Here is the vote total:
- 43 Senators voted “NO”
- 4 Senators voted “YEA”
If you have a moment, send your Senator a note of thanks for defending the program. If you’re inclined, ask the other four why they supported kicking 20,000 neighbors off of health insurance. We’ll have more on this as details present themselves.