Commentary

Trump’s healthcare sabotage in action: New rate hikes from Blue Cross

From the good folks at the NC Justice Center’s Health Advocacy Project:

Blue Cross Confirms Trump’s Sabotage Will Cause Higher Premiums for North Carolinians in 2018
Ending subsidy payments to insurers raises company’s premium increase from “near zero” to 14.1 percent

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina announced today that it would raise its premiums by an average of 14.1 percent for individual market plans in 2018. The company stated that their average premium increase would have been “near zero” if it were not for the Trump administration’s recent actions to sabotage the Affordable Care Act.

As we’ve previously warned, North Carolina consumers are the ones who will suffer from the Trump administration’s decision to end payments to insurance companies that compensate them for providing discounted plans under the ACA.

Blue Cross states it plainly in their press release:

…ending these federal reimbursements will drive up premium costs and make it harder for insurers to participate in the ACA marketplace in the long run. Had [Cost-Sharing Reduction] payments not been eliminated, Blue Cross NC’s final rate request for ACA customers’ average would have been near zero; however, most customers receiving premium assistance will see that assistance rise in 2018 to offset the higher increase that was needed.

“Earlier efforts to undermine enrollment—shortening the Open Enrollment period to only six weeks, cutting funding for outreach and enrollment assistance, using taxpayer dollars to create anti-ACA videos, etc.—destabilized the insurance markets in ways that some consumers may have not yet noticed,” said Brendan Riley, policy analyst for the NC Justice Center’s Health Advocacy Project. “But Trump’s decision to end the cost-sharing payments is directly driving Blue Cross to increase their premiums by double digits. North Carolinians will face higher prices for their health care in 2018, and they have no one to blame but the Trump administration.”

Most North Carolinians still qualify for financial assistance and can find affordable options despite the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine enrollment and raise costs. Every consumer should shop around on www.HealthCare.gov for better plans and prices during the shortened Open Enrollment period from November 1 to December 15 this year. Free in-person enrollment assistance is available at www.NCNavigator.net and 1-855-733-3711.

Environment

NC WARN taking its solar case vs Duke Energy to state Supreme Court

NC WARN installed a 5.25-kilowatt solar system on the roof of Faith Community Church and sells it the electricity. Duke Energy has successfully argued that the sales qualify NC WARN as a utility. (Photo: NC WARN)

The question of whether the nonprofit environmental group NC WARN behaved like a public utility in selling a small amount of solar power to a Greensboro church will now be decided by the state Supreme Court.

NC WARN filed its intent to appeal today. Three judges from the state appeals court ruled against the nonprofit — and for Duke Energy — in September. But since the decision was split 2–1, the case automatically goes to the supreme court.

The dispute began in 2015, when NC WARN, at the request of Faith Community Church,  installed a 5.25-kilowatt system on the roof. The system covers only part of the building’s energy needs; the church buys the rest of its power from Duke.

Legislation passed this year made is legal in North Carolina, under certain circumstances to lease solar power as a third-party. But NC WARN is selling the energy as part of its financing agreement for the solar system with the church.

As part of a power purchase agreement, the church leases the system from NC WARN by paying 5 cents a kilowatt hour for solar-generated electricity. Duke Energy has successfully argued that the very act of selling power transforms NC WARN into a utility and infringes on Duke’s legal monopoly.

Appeals Court Judge Chris Dillon, though, disagreed. He wrote that NC WARN wasn’t acting as a public utility because one church doesn’t meet the definition of “public.” Nor does the nonprofit’s financial arrangement of leasing the system — basing it on a kilowatt hour basis rather than a flat monthly rate, Dillon wrote.

The Rev. Nelson Johnson, pastor of Faith Community Church, issued a statement about the case today:

“We are eager to take this pivotal case to the NC Supreme Court with our partners at NC WARN.  With the ominous recent advances of global heat and destructive weather that are hurting so many people nearby and around the world, there has never been a more important time to challenge Duke Energy’s attempts to control the benefits we are all provided by the sun.”  

NC WARN has stopped selling power to the church until the court case is resolved. The group has escrowed the money the church had already paid.

News, Trump Administration

Chalkbeat: Independent charters distance themselves from networks, Trump

President Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Despite a clear alliance between some of the U.S.’ largest charter networks and President Trump cohorts such as U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, independent charter companies are looking to separate themselves from the fray, Chalkbeat reports.

This week, the site covered a fascinating New York symposium that reportedly touched on, among other things, a divide in the nation’s growing charter movement between major networks and small, “mom-and-pop” charter operators.

From Chalkbeat:

Stand-alone charter schools say they’re often overlooked in favor of big-name networks like KIPP — while at the same time being unfairly tied to Betsy DeVos’s agenda.

At a symposium last week, a number of school leaders agreed to try to change that by launching a new national organization dedicated to independent, or “mom-and-pop,” charters.

“When people think of charters, they do not think of us,” said Steve Zimmerman, an organizer of the conference and founder of two independent charter schools.

In a hotel conference room in Queens, leaders from nearly 200 schools across 20 states unanimously called for the group’s creation. They also adopted a progressive manifesto that tried to separate the members from the Trump administration and common criticisms of the charter schools.

It marks yet another fissure in the nation’s charter school movement, which has seen political and philosophical divides open up in the wake of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s appointment.

And while the loose group of independent charters does not yet have a name or a clear funding plan, its leaders believe they can provide a louder, more democratic voice for their concerns than existing charter advocacy groups, which they say are too focused on expanding networks.

“The National Alliance [for Public Charter Schools] truly believes they act in the interest of all charter schools. And to some degree they do,” said Zimmerman, referring to the country’s top national charter advocacy group. “The truth is, though, that they can’t really represent the real interests of independent charter schools because their funders really believe in the network model.”

National Alliance spokeswoman Vanessa Descalzi said the group supports independent charters.

“Advocating for independent, community-based schools is in the National Alliance’s DNA,” she said. “Where folks feel we could do more, we look forward to continued discussion and seeking solutions together.”

Zimmerman is the co-director of the Coalition of Community Charter Schools, an organization for independent charters based in New York City that co-sponsored last week’s conference. That symposium, he said, came out of a desire to shift the discussion around measuring schools away from just test scores.

“We felt that there was too much thinking of outcomes as being the bottom line of the enterprise … and that was keeping our schools from being innovative,” he said. “It felt like a zero sum pissing game of comparing test scores all the time.”

When the Trump administration took office, a new set of concerns arose for many leaders of schools like his. In Zimmerman’s telling, there was “too much coziness between major players in the charter world and the incoming administration.”

He declined to offer specifics. But Eva Moskowitz, the head of the Success Academy network in New York, met with Trump soon after he was elected, and the National Alliance initially praised a Trump budget proposal featuring deep cuts to education spending but an increase for charter schools. Both have since distanced themselves further from the administration.

“To have in any way the charter world associated with that felt that it was really going to hurt our message,” Zimmerman said.

Charter networks nationally and in North Carolina have embraced privatization in some cases. As Policy Watch has reported, school choice advocates connected to networks like TeamCFA, which operates 13 schools in North Carolina, led the push for state lawmakers to approve a controversial charter takeover of low-performing schools last year, a program that may open the door to private control of traditional public facilities.

Read more

Commentary

Veteran journalist: GOP plan “the worst proposal yet for our courts”

It’s a high bar to scale, but veteran Greensboro News & Record columnist Doug Clark couldn’t be more right in his assessment of yesterday’s bizarre NC GOP proposal to amend the constitution so that every judge in the state must stand for election every two years.

Here’s the conclusion to the column Clark posted yesterday:

It would be a free-for-all. The entire [supreme] court could be overturned, and with multiple candidates for every seat, winners could be declared with far less than a majority vote.

Want to turn our state’s highest court into a total joke? You couldn’t find a better way to do it.

But that would just be for starters.

The title of this bill, ‘Increase Voter Accountability of Judges,’ is offensive.

Judges aren’t supposed to be ‘accountable’ to voters.

They’re supposed to be accountable to the constitutions of the United States and the state of North Carolina, and to the laws.

They aren’t politicians who should carry out the will of the people. They aren’t supposed to make decisions based on what’s popular but according to what is right, just and lawful.

The Founding Fathers decided that judges should be given lifetime terms to insulate them from the politics, or passions, of the day.

In North Carolina, judges at the Superior Court, Court of Appeals and Supreme Court have eight-year terms because the authors of our constitution were wise enough to provide a long period of protection from elective politics.

Two-year terms would destroy the integrity of our courts.

Our legislature has taken enough steps already to compromise the integrity of our judicial system. This would be the most egregious violation yet.

It must not advance.”

Commentary

Editorial: Berger and Moore’s “malfeasance and mismanagement” wreaking havoc on NC

This morning’s lead editorial on WRAL.com rightfully pulls few punches in assessing the behavior of Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore vis a vis North Carolina’s duly elected governor. It accurately accuses the two of engaging in the kind of behavior one would more commonly associate with a banana republic junta and dictatorship.

“Did Senate Leader Phil Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore and others at the North Carolina General Assembly miss the election for governor a while back? While a very select sample of voters in their gerrymandered districts elected them to run the legislature, the voters across North Carolina elected Roy Cooper to be their governor.

That may not be a result the legislative leaders preferred, but it is time for them to stop working so hard at preventing the governor from doing his job.

The latest in their secretive plot to thwart the governor’s constitutional leadership has been months-long stonewalling critical gubernatorial appointees, most significantly to the State Utilities Commission, State Board of Education and trustees for the Teacher’s and State Employees’ Retirement System . It is just another chapter in the legislature’s growing collection of case studies in bad management.”

After listing numerous acts of malfeasance by legislative leaders, including their shameless blockade of numerous Cooper appointees to various boards and commissions, the editorial concludes this way:

“The governor was right to adopt a stern tone in his letter to legislators this week seeking action. Legislators are ‘disrespectful.’ Their treatment of the appointees is ‘dilatory’ and ‘unacceptable. … This is not the way to treat these appointees who have committed themselves to public service.’

Berger’s defense was more illustrative of a banana republic’s tin-horn dictator than the leader of a legislature in the greatest democracy on the planet.

‘The governor, really, until we got this letter today, had not been pushing for these nominees to any appreciable extent that I’m aware of,’ Berger told WRAL-TV’s Travis Fain. Did Berger really say that with a straight face?…

It is past time for the secret, hyper-partisan machinations from Berger’s junta to end.

With these delays, ambushes and subterfuge, Berger, Moore and those who follow their dictates have produced a perfect storm of incompetence, disrespect and petty spite.

And closer to home, what justification do members of the Wake County legislative delegation – Senators John Alexander and Chad Barefoot along with Representatives Chris Malone, Nelson Dollar and Linda Williams – have for their continued votes to prevent the governor from doing his job?

Listen to the voters. Let the governor do his job.

North Carolinians deserve better.”

Click here to read the entire editorial.