By Lauren Flynn Kelly

In the middle of an epic budget standoff between the state’s Democratic governor and the Republican-controlled legislature over Medicaid expansion and teacher pay, North Carolina’s plan to transfer some 1.6 million Medicaid enrollees into managed care in February is now indefinitely delayed, the North Carolina Dept. of Health and Human Services (DHHS) said on Nov. 19.

Because the North Carolina General Assembly adjourned on Nov. 15 without providing the needed funds and program authority for a Feb. 1, 2020, managed care start date, said DHHS, it has suspended implementation and open enrollment, which began for part of the state in July and went statewide in October.

With an estimated annual spend of approximately $13 billion, North Carolina is the largest state in terms of Medicaid expenditures that has not yet made the move to managed care. And the five managed care organizations taking part in North Carolina’s Medicaid transformation began enrolling beneficiaries on Oct. 14.

Taylor Griffin, a spokesperson for the NC Association of Health Plans, says the MCOs are ready to go live on schedule. “Once the state approves a budget, health plans are fully prepared to serve North Carolina’s Medicaid managed care recipients,” he tells AIS Health.

AmeriHealth Caritas North Carolina, one of the insurers contracted to serve the new Medicaid program, said it “remains committed to helping North Carolina bring about its innovative plan for Medicaid transformation” and does not intend to lay off any staff, as one GOP lawmaker had suggested insurers would be forced to do.

But one industry expert cautions against the statewide implementation. “When you push everything statewide all at once, your problems tend to magnify and it becomes very, very challenging for a state to manage not just the beneficiaries — figuring out where to go, how to go, all of that — but the state to manage their five contracted [payers],” remarks Jeff Myers, former Medicaid Health Plans of America president and founder of health care consultancy OptDis.