CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- At 18, Paul Morgan was one of America’s finest - A U.S. Marine who did battle for his country. Today Paul has the spirit of Semper Fi, but on the outside has the body of a man robbed of mobility by post traumatic stress and a stroke.
Today he does battle, not for his country, but with his country - fighting to get and then keep his medical benefits. Having to justify his income and assets, all of which he says is less than $10,000 a year.
“I have to be evaluated every six months and it’s like being interrogated. Medicaid and Medicare and food stamps - if it wasn’t for that, I would literally be homeless," says Morgan.
In Raleigh, our part-time state legislature receives a full time taxpayer-funded healthcare benefit and no one asks them any questions about their income or assets. In this budget cycle, state lawmakers have to try to fill a $139 million hole in Medicaid. And while it’s important to look at what is cut, it’s just as important to look at what isn’t.
Rep. Rodney Moore is in his first term for District 99 in Charlotte and accepts the state’s taxpayer-funded healthcare benefit - the same benefit given to full time state employees. It costs Rep. Moore just $21 a month and is his only source of healthcare.
“It’s worth looking into, especially if you are doing something like double dipping,” says Moore.
Out of 170 members of the state house and senate, 149 accept the individual healthcare benefit, each costing North Carolina taxpayers $4,931.28. All 149 members together will cost taxpayers $734,760.72 just this year alone. It’s a lot of taxpayer money spent on elected officials, many of whom already have healthcare coverage through their private business, which means they have double coverage.
“I think it’s fair but there again, it’s something that they are entitled to and each person has to use their own best judgment,” says Moore.
NewsChannel 36 asked every house and senate member in the Charlotte region if they have double healthcare coverage and one response got our attention.
Senator Tommy Tucker, who is running for re-election in 2012, said he was double covered and his response to our inquiry was then followed by a bold move.
“We don’t really think through that benefit we’re actually taking costs the state about $4,900 a year to carry a legislator as you pointed out and I since read, and as of March 1st, I’ll no longer have my state policy,” said Senator Tucker.
Senator Tucker’s move to drop his taxpayer-funded benefit and use only his private insurance will save the state almost $5,000.
“If you are going to have budget constraints on others then you need to practice that yourself and that’s what I intend to do,” said Tucker.
So is this a topic worthy of conversation amongst our elected officials?
“It’s worth talking about but as far as getting the body to act on it, may be kind of hard. Dead on arrival, that’s what I think,” said Rep. Moore.
It’s certainly a conversation Paul Morgan would like to hear, and perhaps, be part of in the future.
“Why are we all not entitled to the same type of healthcare that people in the Congress and the Senate are entitled to, even at the state level? Are they supposed to be better people than we are?” said Morgan.
How many House and Senate members take double coverage? We don’t know, but NewsChannel 36 emailed every single member to find out - if they’ll tell us.
North Carolina Legislators said they haven’t had a raise since 1994 and make a salary below other state legislatures and the benefit is simply offered in a mound of paperwork they fill out when they enter office.
Here is a list of the Charlotte-area legislators who responded to our question asking if they have double coverage.
Charlotte-area Legislators healthcare responses:
Sen. Charlie Dannelly (D) Dist. 38: “Senator Dannelly has medical insurance coverage through retirement from the state and he also has Medicare. The health insurance offered to legislators is the same coverage as it would be if he had not retired from the state first. He did not decline coverage as a legislator, he already had it. There is no difference in coverage, except that he earned it through 30+ years of work.”
Rep. Ric Killian (R) Dist. 105: “Thank you for the email. Representative Killian is currently serving in Afghanistan and is unable to respond at this time.”
Rep. Ruth Samuelson (R) Majority Whip, Dist. 104: “I do accept the health benefit. My alternative would be to go on my husband’s plan and pay the full cost. I think that would be about $350-$400/month last time I checked."
Sen. Daniel Clodfelter (D) Dist. 37: "To your question, I am not covered by the State Employee Health Plan and have not been covered by it since I was first elected. I have maintained my health insurance coverage through my group health plan here at the office in Charlotte, which I pay for myself."
Rep. Thom Tillis (R) Dist. 98: "Rep. Tillis does accept the benefit and it is his primary source of healthcare."
State Legislators who did not respond to our question:
William Brawley (District 103)
Becky Carney (District 102)
Tricia Ann Cotham (District 100)
Beverly M. Earle (District 101)
Malcolm Graham (District 40)
Bob Rucho (District 39)