- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 14, 2014

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The company providing coverage for North Dakota’s Medicaid expansion told state lawmakers Wednesday that many residents who haven’t seen a doctor in years are doing so now.

Lisa Carlson, director of Planning and Regulation for Sanford Health, told the Health Care Reform Review Committee that some residents hadn’t been seeking treatment for cancer and other diseases because of the lack of money.

More than 7,880 people have been enrolled in the expanded state’s Medicaid program since January. Officials estimate more than 12,000 people - mostly adults without children - are still eligible under the Medicaid expansion, a component of the federal Affordable Care Act championed by President Barack Obama. Under the new law, residents whose income is up to 138 percent of the poverty level qualify for Medicaid, the health program for the poor.

“There is a consistent theme with the population of delaying testing, not filling medications or making follow up appointments due to no coverage,” Carlson said. She told lawmakers of several incidents where previously uninsured North Dakotans are getting medications for diabetes or are now being treated for testicular, rectal, lung and esophageal cancers that might not have been detected without the broadened coverage.

“Nurses are finding great fulfillment with many ‘bless yous’ and notes of thanks from individuals who were not getting care due to their lack of financial resources,” Carlson told the panel.

North Dakota’s Republican-led Legislature reluctantly voted last year to expand Medicaid to cover more uninsured residents of the state. GOP lawmakers in both chambers testified that they don’t like the new federal law championed by Obama, but believed the state’s residents would have to shoulder more costs without it.

Carlson said in an interview that “absolutely” lives are being saved due to the expansion of Medicaid.

Mike Schwab, executive vice president of the North Dakota Pharmacists Association, said his group supported legislation last year to expand Medicaid to cover more uninsured residents of the state. But Schwab told lawmakers the association is regretting it now. He said more than 30 pharmacies in the state have expressed frustrations with the new law, including reimbursements that don’t “cover the cost of doing business.”

“If we had known it would be administered in an unfair and unreasonable manner to many of our provider members we would have adamantly opposed Medicaid expansion,” Schwab said.