Commentary, COVID-19

As he recovers, let’s hope Treasurer Folwell urges North Carolinians to work together by keeping apart

After five days of hospitalization for treatment of COVID-19, North Carolina Treasurer Dale Folwell has, thankfully, been released from the hospital. News reports indicate that he will continue to recover from home.

While all of us are grateful for the Treasurer’s recovery, I can’t help but wonder: would my 8-year-old asthmatic son survive such a diagnosis? Would my mother, who consistently struggles with respiratory issues, be as fortunate? Would she have access to a ventilator if it were necessary?

I want to see my students, who are seniors in high school, have the opportunity to walk across the stage.  I want to see my own son walk. I want his grandmother to be there.

While it’s tempting to simply let this matter drop given the unfortunate personal suffering Treasurer Folwell has had to endure, the fact remains that this is the same man who, in his role as leader of the State Health Plan, has admonished state employees and educators to be “watchdogs” and take “control of your medical costs – Be a smart health care consumer” so as not to unnecessarily and irresponsibly burden taxpayers.

Many people have been unduly complacent when it comes to social distancing and heeding the directives of public health experts during the current crisis, but when one of those people is an important state leader – especially one responsible for overseeing the State Health Plan – it merits additional scrutiny.

Where did Treasurer Folwell go when he proceeded with a “long-planned trip with his son” in the midst of a global pandemic?

Just how many people did he expose to the virus when he still showed up to work while displaying symptoms, including the reporters with whom he met to discuss the economic impacts on the State Retirement Plan? Three of his staff members have since been diagnosed with the illness. Did they contract it from their boss?

Treasurer Folwell is also the person who launched the controversial “Clear Pricing Project” – an effort that ended up placing over 700,000 state and public school employees, retirees, and their dependents in an uncomfortable “no man’s land” last year as he tried to force hospitals, like the hospital at which he was treated for COVID-19, to adopt a transparent and reduced pricing schedule. His insistence on transparency should not be limited to the places he seeks care, but should also apply to sharing more details about his trip that perhaps initiated his need for care.

In 2018, Treasurer Folwell reformatted the health insurance cards of state employees and educators to read “Paid for by YOU and other NC Taxpayers.” It would have been nice if he had taken his own words into account throughout his recent series of questionable choices.

To be fair, there was no “stay at home” directive when Treasurer Folwell chose to travel with his son, but the COVID-19 crisis had erupted worldwide and had already established a firm beachhead in the United States. It should not have taken an explicit order from our government for a top public official to act responsibly for himself, his staff, and for the residents of the state he was elected to serve.

For someone who has dedicated much of his political career to championing small government and personal responsibility, and whose job it is to manage risk, the hypocrisy of these lapses in judgement cannot go unchallenged, and is consistent with Folwell’s calls for transparency and watchdogs.

Let’s hope he is soon fully recovered and able to deliver a message urging all North Carolinians to take seriously the need for us to work together by keeping apart.

Stay home folks.

Kim Mackey is a veteran Wake County public school teacher and the author of the blog educatED Policy.

One Comment

  1. Rob Schofield

    April 24, 2020 at 8:58 am

    The following response to this post was sent to Policy Watch from Jimmy Davis, president of the State Employees Association of North Carolina:

    To whom it may concern,

    I was appalled by the recent articles from Rob Schofield and Kim Mackey that take advantage of State Treasurer Dale Folwell’s ongoing bout with COVID-19 in order to score political points in an election year.

    This is not the time for political theatrics, but rather a level of compassion both of your writers appear to lack. It’s not hyperbole to say Folwell almost died, and has a long road of recovery ahead. I can’t help but wonder if Treasurer Folwell were of a different political party, would your authors have had the same take?

    Since both authors suddenly seem to be so concerned with the safety of employees at the Treasurer’s office, I hope that both would pin equally fervent articles on the need for Governor Roy Cooper to consider the safety of employees under his management. DMV employees are unnecessarily risking their lives every day by being forced to continue in-person exams. Parole officers still have to perform in-person checks on offenders rather than utilizing remote capabilities. Correctional officers are sitting ducks for the virus every day.

    Both authors seem to suggest that state employees have suffered because Folwell fell ill. Unlike a lot of people in America, state retirees like myself received their pension checks on time in March and will again in April. Thanks to the conservative investment strategies of Treasurer Folwell, our retirement plan has suffered a seven point loss while the DOW closed its first quarter down 23 points. Teachers, state employees and retirees can find a welcome relief knowing their retirement is in one of the strongest pension systems in the country, thanks to our Treasurer.

    The State Health Plan staff worked out immediate measures to make sure COVID-19 patients don’t have to worry about huge out-of-pocket costs. Folwell and his staff also made changes to the plan to allow for free testing, expanded prescription refills and other measures aimed at easing the concerns for all Plan members. The work of the professional staff at the Treasurer’s office continues even as Folwell recovers, and we have confidence they are up to the task.

    There will be a time for policy debates in the next five months. We at SEANC believe the Treasurer is courageous for his effort to take on the funding crisis facing the State Health Plan through the Clear Pricing Project. His efforts to cut the outrageously reckless Wall Street fees paid by the retirement system have provided security for all state employees, teachers and retirees.

    Now is not the time to kick the Treasurer when he’s literally down. Schofield, Mackey and their publications owe Dale Folwell an apology, and the time to heal.

    Thank you,
    Jimmy Davis
    SEANC President

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