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Wos-and-Nichol

DHHS Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos (left), and Gene Nichol of the UNC School of Law (right)

If you missed it over the weekend, there are two-must read stories on where North Carolina stands in expanding Medicaid.

The Winston Salem Journal’s Richard Craver had a sit down interview with state DHHS Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos, in which Wos said she would “soon” be recommending expanding the state Medicaid program to Gov. Pat McCrory.

So, how soon is soon? Craver writes:

“Everyone needs to know that Medicaid expansion is complicated,” Wos said, slowing down to pronounce each syllable in “complicated.” “There is no flipping of a switch.”

She said physical and behavioral health care system expansion must come first so the system is able to absorb additional participants.

“Our state has to have industry adapt to providing enough health-care providers, and that is a process,” Wos said.

Wos said a key element of building DHHS’ foundation is “getting new skills in finance, economists and actuaries, that are absolutely critical to our organization.”

“If I am allowed to continue on this path, I guarantee you we will have that foundation. The rest of the process is building upon that foundation with standards, with flexibility built in.”

“We’re not too far away. Soon.”

Gene Nichol,  director of the UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity,  – who does not speak for UNC – wrote in Saturday’s Raleigh News & Observer that the longer the state goes without expanding Medicaid, the more lives are lost.

Here’s an excerpt from Nichol’s opinion piece:

‘The consequences for poor people of being excluded from health care coverage are real and dramatic. Losses in health, losses in emotional well-being, losses in financial capacity, losses in opportunity. And, for some, it’s worse.

A recent Harvard study indicates a significant number of our sisters and brothers will experience premature and preventable deaths as a result of the General Assembly’s rejection of Medicaid expansion. Many “low-income women will forgo breast and cervical cancer screenings, diabetics will (fail to receive) necessary medications,” blood pressure pills and other preventative measures will be denied, “diagnosis and treatment of depression” will be diminished.

As a result, the scholars estimate, the number of Tar Heels who will perish at the hand of our politics may well exceed a thousand a year. The wound inflicted by the Medicaid vote is grievous, deep and sometimes mortal.

I’ve wondered how it feels to cast a vote that means thousands might needlessly die. I can’t get my arms around it. Looking in the mirror must become tougher duty. I can see not wanting to dwell on it.

But when you make a decision that means people may lose their lives, surely you have to do more than offer empty slogans and nonsense-laden talking points to defend it. Surely you have to show you’ve done something more than merely taken instruction, more than mindlessly repeated what you’ve been told – like some malfunctioning teleprompter.

At least you ought to show that you’ve thought it through for yourself. That you’re not just siding with one gang or the other or proving your antipathy for various adversaries.

When politics becomes lethal, responsibility ascends.’

Read the full story in the Winston-Salem Journal here, and the full Point of View column by Nichol here in the News & Observer.

(Note: Nichol is a board member of the N.C. Justice Center, the larger anti-poverty non-profit that N.C. Policy Watch is a part of).
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Governor Pat McCrory issued a video press release Friday afternoon announcing his decision not to call the Legislature back for a special session.mc-912b

“It would be counterproductive and a waste of taxpayer money to bring the General Assembly back when there is no agreement in place on issues already voted on. And after a lengthy session they need a break, and frankly, I need a break from them,” the governor quipped.

“However, if a major job recruitment effort develops and it requires legislative support, I will bring lawmakers back to Raleigh.”

Rep. Susi Hamilton (D-New Hanover) and Rep. Ted Davis (R-New Hanover) wrote to McCrory in late August requesting a special session so legislators could pass an economic development bill, extend film tax credits, and reconsider a $20 million catalyst or closing fund.

State Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker also backed the idea of the special session. Decker told the state’s economic development board last month she had already heard that several TV shows and film projects may be backing out of North Carolina because of the changes to the tax credit program for the film industry.

Americans for Prosperity had urged McCrory to ignore those appeals and not have lawmakers return to Raleigh this fall.

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The U.S. Senate on Thursday rejected (54 – 42) a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. (The measure needed 60 votes to advance.)

S.J.RES.19 very simply would have granted Congress and the states the power to “regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents in federal and state elections.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) argued the proposal would “restrict the most important speech the First Amendment protects, core political speech.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) called Thursday’s vote a defeat for democracy, adding that Americans must continue pushing at the grassroots level to overturn a decision which “creates an open door… to pour unlimited sums of money into the political process.”

North Carolina’s two U.S. Senators split on the constitutional amendment. Senator Richard Burr voted against the resolution, while Senator Kay Hagan voted for it.

Click below to hear Sen. Sanders during his recent appearance on NC Policy Watch’s News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon, in which he discusses the need to overturn Citizens United.

Click here for Thursday’s complete roll call vote.

For more on the influence of big money in our elections, be sure to check out this interactive graphic by the Center for Public Integrity.

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Frack-2Members of the NC Mining and Energy Commission can expect a full house Friday when they hold their fourth and final public hearing on proposed draft fracking rules in Cullowhee.

Three previous hearings in Raleigh, Sanford, and Wentworth drew hundreds of North Carolinians wanting to have their say about the state’s guidelines to drill for oil and natural gas.

Hope Taylor, executive director with Clean Water for North Carolina, has attended all three of the previous public meetings. And Taylor recently joined us on NC Policy Watch’s News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon to discuss some of the concerns that have arisen from the proposed fracking rules.

Click below to hear our interview with Taylor:

Friday’s public hearing runs from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the Liston B. Ramsey Regional Activity Center ( 92 Catamount Road) in Cullowhee.

Can’t make it? Written comments may be submitted to the MEC from now until September 30th. Here’s the mailing address:

Mining & Energy Commission
ATTN: Oil and Gas Program
1612 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1612

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Dr. Aldona Wos defended her agency’s decision to award a $6.8 million, no-bid contract to a Washington, D.C. firm to help the state agency better organize its Medicaid finance office.

Wos credited the outside consultants at Alvarez and Marsal with helping improve the predictability of the Medicaid program, which has been plagued for years with cost overruns. This year, the agency projects it will return $63 million to the state’s general fund.

Still some members of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services were unhappy with the decision to pay the out-of-state firm a rate that amounts to about $473 an hour.

“We had an emergency in the department. We didn’t have enough people, and the right people, and we couldn’t get it right with the information, and the data, and the numbers and the budget, and everything else you’re asking us. That was an emergency,” explained Sec. Wos.

Wos pledged the department would be even stronger when they tackle Medicaid reform next year.

As Sarah Ovaska reported earlier on the Pulse, DHHS is opposed to a Senate proposal that would remove Medicaid from Health and Human Services, making it a stand-alone agency.

The oversight committee will look for another progress report from DHHS leaders when it meets again October 14th.

To hear some of Sec. Wos’ remarks from Tuesday’s meeting, click below:

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