Several bills were introduced this week, which focused on improving the health of North Carolinians. Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, introduce legislation (House Bill 265) that would establish a high-risk insurance pool, which has already gained the support of 53 co-sponsors in the House, including me. The bill seeks to help people who cannot afford health insurance because of pre-existing health conditions. It would guarantee coverage to patients with premiums of no more than 175 percent of a standard health care plan, and insurers would pay a fee of up to $2 – phased in through 2012 – per each traditional customer it serves, which would go into the pool to pay the health care costs of the high-risk patients. Supporters of the high-risk pool say this is a first step toward providing affordable health care to more than 1.3 million North Carolinians who do not have health insurance. The House passed a similar bill in 2006, but it was not considered by the Senate before adjournment.
House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman of Davidson County has introduced a bill (House Bill 259) that seeks to better protect the health of North Carolinians by banning smoking in public places, such as restaurants and work places. Exceptions are made for bars and private clubs, retail tobacco shops and designated rooms in hotels. As the bill is currently written, it would take effect Jan. 1, 2008. Local health directors across the state would track ALL violations. Holliman sponsored a similar bill in 2005, which failed in the House by five votes. Several states have already adopted similar smoke-free legislation aimed at reducing second-hand smoke, including Florida, Colorado, and New York. New York State experienced a 12 percent drop in smoking rates the year the bill was passed. Members of the Guilford delegation and I plan on introducing legislation in the next two weeks to allow Greensboro to enact stricter smoking regulations than are currently permitted by state law.
House members have also introduced legislation (House Bill 335) that seeks to reduce health disparities between Caucasian North Carolinians and African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and American Indians in our state. The bill would provide $6 million to the Department of Health and Human Services over the next two years, which would be awarded to local health departments, community organizations and American Indian tribes that seek to reduce infant mortality, cancer, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, homicides and motor vehicle deaths.