Commentary

New letter to Burr outlines devastating impact of latest Trumpcare proposal

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the latest GOP initiative to repeal the Affordable Care Act — the so-called “Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson proposal” — is the most radical and potentially destructive yet. A new letter from an array of North Carolina nonprofits (including the parent organization of NC Policy Watch, the NC Justice Center) to, among others, Senator Richard Burr, explains why.

Here is an except:

“We the undersigned write to voice our collective opposition to the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson proposal. We are very discouraged that instead of continuing down a bipartisan path and working on issues to improve the strength and stability of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) marketplaces, the sponsors of this legislation have put forward a proposal that will:

  • Eliminate the financial assistance that helps North Carolinians with low and moderate incomes purchase health care coverage;
  • Prevent North Carolina from increasing access to Medicaid in the future and end expanded Medicaid coverage that helps millions of adults with low incomes in other states;
  • Gut Medicaid through deep, permanent cuts that would grow over time and threaten care for millions of seniors with low incomes, children, and people living with disabilities and shift massive costs and risks to states;
  • Jeopardize access to life-saving and effective treatments for addiction and weaken states’ efforts to address the current crisis of drug overdose deaths;
  • Undermine essential protections for people with pre-existing conditions;
  • Resurrect and worsen the devastating cuts in coverage and benefits that the American public and the majority of Congress have already rejected.

The Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson (GCHJ) proposal threatens the health and financial security of millions of North Carolinians, including older adults, families with low and moderate incomes, people living with disabilities, women, veterans, and people with pre-existing conditions. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that GCHJ slashes federal health care funding for North Carolina by $8.1 billion dollars between 2020 and 2026, and Avalere projects that the total losses in federal health care funding would grow to $98 billion by 2036. While the estimates vary across third party groups – whether they be the Kaiser Family Foundation, Avalere, Manatt, or the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities – they all agree that North Carolina is a financial loser under this bill.

The proposal does nothing to improve affordability or availability of coverage for consumers and will likely result in at least 1.1 million North Carolinians losing coverage by 2027 and will undermine the financial stability of our health care system and place additional fiscal strains on our state budget. Below we’ve laid out in more detail our concerns with this proposal and the devastating impact it will have on consumers in our state.

The letter goes on to detail each of the main failures of the proposal, including the absurd lack of process and transparency that have accompanied its recent rise.

The bottom line: If Senators Burr and Tillis vote for such a proposal and it actually becomes law, it will be one of the most harmful acts ever intentionally inflicted on our state by a group of elected officials.

Commentary

The two best editorials of the weekend

The people in Wilmington who get their drinking water from the Cape Fear River have plenty of reasons to be concerned about the ongoing GenX crisis, but of course, the truth of the matter is that water pollution and our eviscerated state environmental protection efforts are a problem for all of us. Thus, while it was predictable that the Wilmington Star News would editorialize yesterday against the absurd Republican efforts to deny the state Department of Environmental Quality the tools it needs to lead a clean up, it was also wholly logical for the Greensboro News & Record to weigh in as well. Here are some key excerpts from two fine editorials.

After detailing the desultory and pathetically partisan efforts of local New Hanover County Republicans, the Star News concludes this way:

“You see, the DEQ — which continues to have its budget whacked by the very Republicans who criticize it for not doing its job — is currently under the leadership of a Democratic administration. The priority for [Republican lawmakers] [Michael] Lee, [Ted] Davis and [Holly] Grange, therefore, has to be to follow the marching orders of Berger and Moore and try to make the governor’s office look bad. On the other hand, we guess that’s what you rely on when you know your supermajority is based on unconstitutional gerrymandered election districts.

But wait a minute — isn’t there another Wilmington representative from our area who could be help out or at least have some input?

Oh, that’s right. We forgot that Rep. Deb Butler — despite literally begging to be appointed to one of the committees investigating GenX — belongs to the governor’s party. She’s been told to butt out.

That’s right from the playbook we’ve come to expect Berger and Moore to use. We had hoped for better from Lee, Davis and Grange on the entire GenX response.

As we said, we’ve been terribly naive.”

The News & Record put it this way in commending Gov. Cooper’s veto of the dreadful House Bill 56 last week:

“House Speaker Tim Moore reacted harshly to the veto: ‘It defies belief that Gov. Cooper is still making the false claim that GenX contamination is related to recent state budgets, and more shocking that he would reject emergency funds intended to protect the citizens of the Cape Fear region to continue this irrelevant assertion,’ he said.

Cooper didn’t claim that the GenX problem happened because of budget cuts. Rather, the state’s ability to respond is hampered because it’s been given less funding for regulatory work by an anti-regulatory legislature.

Ironically, it was Moore who blamed inadequate government action: ‘The GenX crisis is decades in the making due to the failure of state agencies — spanning multiple, bipartisan administrations back to the 1980s — to properly regulate clean water resources in North Carolina,’ he said in a statement.

In that case, Moore should lead a legislative effort to replace HB 56 with a better bill that empowers appropriate state agencies to address the GenX problem and also begins to restore their ability to properly safeguard our state’s precious water resources.

Threats have been decades in the making. GenX won’t be the last. It’s time to strengthen the state’s ability to regulate them before people are harmed.”

Commentary

The more we learn, the worse the new Trumpcare proposal looks — especially for North Carolina

Another day, another bevy of revelations about just how dreadful the so-called “Cassidy-Graham” healthcare proposal would be for the country if the U.S. Senate is irresponsible enough to push it through next week (click here for a fine/fun summary from talk show host Jimmy Kimmel). The latest bad news comes from the fiscal policy wonks at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. This is from a post that just went up this morning entitled “Cassidy-Graham Would Hit State Budgets Hard, Restrict State Flexibility”:

The bill would harm state budgets in several ways:

“First, it would eliminate the ACA’s Medicaid expansion and marketplace subsidies in 2020 and replace them with an inadequate block grant, which would disappear entirely in 2027. The block grant would be too small to allow Medicaid expansion states to provide ACA-levels of health coverage without new, state-created sources of revenue. And if a recession hit, boosting the number of uninsured people, states wouldn’t get any increased funding to meet the increased need.

When the block grant disappeared in 2027, those already tough problems would get much worse. If states wanted to keep providing people with coverage, they’d have to cut funding for schools or other non-Medicaid services or raise taxes significantly. They’d likelier end up cutting Medicaid eligibility, benefits, or provider payments to compensate for the funding loss. The loss of funding, for instance, to replace the Medicaid expansion would cost Arizona about $4.6 billion in federal funds in 2027 alone. It would cost Senator Cassidy’s home state of Louisiana about $4.2 billion that year.

Second, the bill would cut and cap federal Medicaid funding in all states, forcing states to either cut Medicaid services or raise their own revenue to cover the loss of federal funding. These additional cuts would equal about $44 billion nationally in 2027 and grow steadily larger thereafter. States would be left holding the bag, forced to reduce services for their residents or raise taxes significantly. Under the cap, Senator Graham’s home state of South Carolina would lose about $597 million in federal Medicaid funding in 2027.

States can’t afford cuts of this size. Cassidy-Graham’s Medicaid funding cuts equal 16 percent of projected state budgets in 2027. That’s more than what states provide for higher education. States that expanded Medicaid would face especially harsh cuts, and all states’ budgets would be squeezed by shrinking federal funding.

Third, the bill would make it harder for states to raise their own share of the funds to sustain Medicaid — by sharply restricting state taxes on health care providers, which every state but Alaska uses to help finance Medicaid, as my colleague Jessica Schubel pointed out yesterday. This provision would interfere with states’ ability to make their own decisions on Medicaid financing.”

The post goes on to highlight the observation of the bond rating agency Fitch Ratings that the bill “could have implications for states’ credit quality and for the credit quality of related public finance entities that depend on state funding. . . . In a time of already muted revenue growth, spending cuts could affect K-12 and higher education the most, as those are the other largest areas of state spending outside of Medicaid.”

In short, the bill is an utter disaster waiting to happen. Let’s hope senators come to their senses and reject it once and for all.

Commentary

Editorial: NC WARN is right in its solar power lawsuit against Duke Energy

NC WARN’s 5.25-kilowatt solar system on the roof of Faith Community Church (Photo: NC WARN)

Last week, a split state Court of Appeals panel ruled in favor of Duke Energy and against the consumer watchdog group NC WARN in a dispute over whether it could generate solar power from panels it had installed on a Greensboro church roof.

This morning’s lead editorial in the Greensboro News & Record does a good job of explaining why NC WARN shouldn’t give up in its quest to promote widely distributed third party electric generation and sales. This from the editorial:

“Durham nonprofit NC WARN, which promotes clean energy, installed solar panels on the roof of Faith Community Church and sold the electricity generated to the church for the bargain price of 5 cents per kilowatt/hour. Duke Energy contended the arrangement encroaches on its monopoly as a regulated utility.

The N.C. Utilities Commission agreed, and in a 2-1 decision Tuesday, so did the N.C. Court of Appeals. But the dissenting opinion, written by Judge Chris Dillon, justifies a further appeal to the N.C. Supreme Court. A different outcome there is certainly possible.

This case presents new circumstances in North Carolina and can address the legal questions arising from small, off-the-grid renewable energy developments.

State law was written for the era of big energy plants. Does it allow for small-scale projects like the one on the roof of Faith Community Church? If not, shouldn’t it be updated?….

Competition is the hallmark of the free-enterprise system, but state law protects utilities such as Duke Energy, which is granted a monopoly in the Greensboro area and much of North Carolina. In return, it is required to serve all customers and to submit to regulation by the N.C. Utilities Commission, which sets the rates it can charge.

While NC WARN took just a tiny slice from Duke’s sales, one solar installation can lead to many more….

There would have been no case at all if the church had installed its own solar panels to create electricity for its own use. The violation, according to the Utilities Commission, came from the sale by NC WARN of electricity it generated. No one found any fault on the church’s part.

Duke Energy welcomed the majority opinion, while NC WARN embraced Dillon’s view. The split decision grants an automatic right of appeal to the Supreme Court, and NC WARN should pursue its claim there for a definitive ruling.

In the meantime, the legislature should consider whether it means to bar arrangements such as this. When a public utility invests billions of dollars in big power plants to meet the energy demands of millions of customers, granting regional monopolies makes sense. But when small solar arrays can supply homes or businesses with electricity, perhaps the law should make room for such providers.

Duke Energy is a public utility. If NC WARN meets the same definition under the law as Duke by supplying electricity for a single church, the law may have made a mistake.”

Click here to read the entire editorial.

Commentary

Opposition grows as Trump seeks to make federal judge out of NC voter suppression champion

As reported in this space last week, the chorus of opposition to President Trump’s absurd nomination of one of North Carolina’s most notorious far right attorneys to a lifetime appointment as a federal judge continues to grow. This is from a letter issued yesterday by the North Carolina NAACP:

“The North Carolina NAACP takes serious exception to this nomination and to the efforts by Senators Tillis and Burr to advance the nomination of an individual who has repeatedly demonstrated his open hostility to the protection of the constitutional and civil rights of African Americans, Latinos and the poor in this State. It is the position of the NC NAACP State conference that if this nomination is confirmed, it will represent an historic insult to justice and to the people of North Carolina.

It is no secret that there are serious racial divisions which exist in North Carolina. Thomas Farr consistently has placed himself on the side of that division which seeks to oppress racial minorities. With this background, which we will discuss hereafter, North Carolinians of color, who represent a significant segment of this state’s population, can have no faith that they will receive equal and unbiased justice before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Farr’s confirmation will guarantee that, once again, racial minorities cannot be assured that they can receive justice within our federal court system.”

The letter goes on to detail numerous instances in which Farr has dedicated much of his professional career to the disenfranchisement of African American voters and offer this summary conclusion:

“Based on his outspoken history and aggressive litigious style of opposing African Americans and the rights of the vulnerable, African Americans have no trust or faith that Thomas Farr can be independent, fair, and impartial in serving as member of the esteemed federal judiciary.”
Stay tuned. There are sure to be many more such voices speaking out in the days ahead.