HUNTERSVILLE – Senator Jeff Tarte (R-District 41) believes that healthcare funding has long been a major issue for state politicians.

Tarte, a Cornelius resident, said N.C. House Bill 5 – an act requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to give temporary financial assistance to group homes serving non-Medicaid eligible people and special care units for Medicaid qualifiers on or after Jan. 1 of this year – serves as a good short-term method of solving healthcare issues in the state.

However, Tarte cautioned, more work must be done to solve the needs of patients, particularly the mentally ill.

“It’s a stopgap so the funding won’t be completely stopped until we get the best long-term solution we’re looking for,” he said. “We have a fundamental responsibility to ensure healthcare options are available to all our citizens. It’s very important.”

The House filed the bill Jan. 30, and the state General Assembly ratified it Feb. 27. The bill’s first section, including the DHHS’ expected monthly payout amounts to group homes and special care units, was signed into law March 6. It expires June 30 or once the $39.7 million budgeted for the bill is spent.

Cornelius resident Pat Townsend said in an April 5 letter to The Herald Weekly that her mentally ill son, a Medicaid patient, received care for 11 years that stabilized his condition. But new legislation unrelated to House Bill 5 meant her son and other patients would need to demonstrate need for assistance in three of five activities of daily living – bathing, dressing, mobility, toileting and eating – to receive Medicaid.

“In recent history, there have been several cases that involved horrible crimes committed by (people) with mental illness,” Townsend said.

“I’m thinking of the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings in Connecticut and the theater shooting in Aurora, Colo. These people could all bathe and dress themselves, were mobile, could go to the bathroom and feed themselves. These ADLs would have determined they were mentally stable.”

Tarte said the state continues to underestimate the usage of Medicaid. He added, following House Bill 5 and its attempted efforts to buy time for a long-term healthcare fix, there are more challenges ahead.

“We recognize a real, unmet need with mental healthcare,” he said.

“It’s still woefully unsolved. There is a huge area of demand. Locally, we’re hopefully going to be in a better (situation) with the new Carolinas’ HealthCare System’s behavioral health center in Davidson. We still don’t reach out far enough in this region, though.”

Rep. Charlie Jeter (District 92), a Huntersville resident, said lawmakers passed the bill quickly due to its importance. According to the General Assembly website, it never met a dissenting vote in any session.

Tarte, who is forming a workgroup among nationwide politicians to study healthcare funding, said the process of finding a long-term solution to healthcare support for group homes and others in need of mental or physical help is no easy task.

“Whatever we decide once this ends has to pass a Litmus test and fit the budget,” he said. “It’s one thing to know the cost, but you’ve also got to consider the where the funds come from, if they could come from taxpayers and where it all can go.”

He cited teen suicide as a major focal point in mental healthcare, in addition to a need for more child psychologists in the state.

“There’s only so much to work with,” Tarte added, “but (the bill and its impact) will be an important issue for a while.”