Commentary

Join us next Wednesday for a discussion of reproductive freedom

Join us next Wednesday, February 28 for a very special Crucial Conversation luncheon –

The Hyde Amendment at age 41: The path forward in the fight for reproductive freedom for low-income women

Click here to register.

The Hyde Amendment was first introduced by an anti-abortion congressman in 1976 as a way to explicitly bar low-income people from accessing abortion care, and it’s been a provision tacked onto the federal budget ever since. For 41 years, legal and safe abortion has been the only type of health care stigmatized and politically targeted in this way.

And for 41 years, the tentacles of the Hyde Amendment have grown. In North Carolina in 2018, no federal, state, county or local government employees can obtain coverage for abortion care through their employee benefits; and North Carolina residents who access their health care through the military, Indian Health Services or the United State Peace Corps volunteer program cannot have an abortion covered through that insurance. State lawmakers have even forced private health insurers that offer plans on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace to drop abortion coverage.

With the procedure typically starting around $500, plus potential travel, child care and lost work costs, many low-income patients seeking an abortion are forced to scramble to come up with the money needed to access this common, safe and legal medical procedure.

So, where do things stand and what is the path forward in the battle to restore and guarantee reproductive freedom for all?

Join us as we tackle these and other urgent and timely questions with representatives of three of our state’s leading advocacy groups for reproductive freedom:

Omisade Burney-Scott of Sister Song, Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. Sister Song’s mission is to strengthen and amplify the collective voices of indigenous women and women of color to achieve reproductive justice by eradicating reproductive oppression and securing human rights.

Marles Earle of the Carolina Abortion Fund, a volunteer-run nonprofit that provides financial assistance to North Carolinians who choose to have an abortion but cannot afford the full cost.

Tara Romano of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, a statewide advocacy organization that works to ensure all North Carolinians can make the reproductive health care decisions they need, including preventing pregnancy, carrying a pregnancy to term safely, and terminating a pregnancy.

When: Wednesday, February 28th, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (At the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Click here for parking info.

Space is limited – preregistration requiredClick here to register.

Cost: $15, admission includes a box lunch. Scholarships available.

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com

Commentary

National experts assail Trump’s latest healthcare treachery

In case you missed it, the Trump administration has launched yet another outrageous attack on the Affordable Care Act today. Under the new proposed rule, the ACA ban on junk/sham health insurance policies would be, in effect, repealed. This is from an assessment by the experts at Families USA:

“The draft rule released by HHS allows insurance companies to sell sham insurance plans that do not cover essential health benefits or preexisting conditions, protections that are required under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). More specifically, the rule allows short-term, sham insurance plans, which currently may only be sold for a coverage period of 3 months, to be sold and marketed for up to 364 days. These sham plans can include fine print that, for example, would exclude coverage of asthma, diabetes, or cancer treatments, exclude critical services like pharmacy or maternity care, or include hidden limits, like covering only two days or no days of hospital care a year.”

Families USA executive director Frederick Isasi says the proposal would have disastrous consequences:

“The consumers who buy these plans won’t be the only ones harmed by the Trump administration rule. These sham plans are likely to cause the price of comprehensive coverage to escalate if healthier individuals and families exit the marketplace where comprehensive coverage is sold and instead buy these junk policies.”

Experts at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities were also highly critical:

“The proposed rule change would roll back 2016 regulations defining short-term plans as those lasting less than three months, defining them instead as those lasting less than one year. It will be open for public comment until April 23.

Because short-term plans offer less coverage and can deny coverage or charge higher prices to people with pre-existing conditions, they offer lower premiums for some healthy consumers than comprehensive plans that comply with the Affordable Care Act (ACA). As a number of groups representing both insurers (such as America’s Health Insurance Plans and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association) and consumers (including CBPP) have warned: “If short-term plans are allowed to be sold as a long-term alternative to regular health insurance, they will attract healthier consumers away from the regular insurance risk pool and endanger people’s access to comprehensive coverage.”

Compounding the problem, the tax law enacted in December will, in 2019, end the ACA’s individual mandate that most people have health coverage or pay a penalty. This year, the mandate could provide some protection against the expansion of short-term plans because enrolling in one wouldn’t protect someone from having to pay the penalty during 2018. But next year, without the mandate, short-term plans would likely attract more enrollees.”

The center says the change will likely lead to higher premiums in the individual market, the demise of market reforms and access to comprehensive coverage in the individual market, and the exposure of more consumers to gaps and high costs.

The proposal will, in other words, continue the Trumpists’ nefarious effort to undermine a law that they could not muster the votes in Congress to repeal. As such, it is yet another perfect symbol for a dishonest, illegitimate, incompetent and utterly heartless presidency.

Commentary

Editorial: What NC can and should do about gun safety

There’s an excellent lead editorial in this morning’s Charlotte Observer that spells out a logical path for North Carolina in the aftermath of last week’s assault weapon massacre at a Florida high school.  The editorial points out that after Congress failed to act in the aftermath of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, state officials took matters into their own hands:

“In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, state lawmakers passed and Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy signed a package of strong gun measures. The package expanded a ban on the sale of assault weapons and required the registration of existing assault weapons and high-capacity gun magazines. It launched a registry of weapons offenders and mandated background checks for all sales of firearms.

It worked. As the New York Times reported Sunday, gun deaths started to drop after the laws passed. In four years, the number of deaths resulting from firearms – including homicides, suicides and accidents – fell from 226 to 164….With few exceptions, states with the strictest gun control measures have the lowest rates of gun deaths. North Carolina does not; we’re 23rd in the country in firearm deaths per capita, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

To be more precise: In Connecticut, Nikolas Cruz could not have legally purchased the AR-15-style rifle and high capacity magazines he used to mow down the victims in Parkland, Fla. In North Carolina, he could have.

Changing that – and passing other tough gun control measures – is harder in our state thanks to North Carolina’s Republican-led General Assembly. But that doesn’t mean Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, shouldn’t try. As North Carolinians grapple with the possibility of a Florida mass shooting happening here, Cooper should call for lawmakers to address the spiraling toll of gun violence. He should follow up by working to help legislators introduce tough gun measures like Connecticut’s, as well as other sensible measures such as raising the minimum age for gun purchases. If we don’t think 18-year-olds have the maturity to hoist a beer, they sure shouldn’t be able to lift and fire their own semiautomatic weapons.

That legislative package also should include measures that address the mental health issues that Republicans often cite as the cause of mass shootings. Confronting gun violence shouldn’t be about choosing one party’s preferred approach, and there is no one law that will prevent gun violence. But a package of measures that help lessen the chance of the next deadly day is one worth passing.”

While the Observer concedes that such action would no doubt meet resistance from the gun lobby and its de facto employees in the Republican leadership at the General Assembly, it urges Cooper to, at a minimum, try to make a record of that resistance so that voters will know where their lawmakers stand come November. Amen.

Commentary

Wow! Conservative N&O columnist hits home run

J. Peder Zane is a conservative columnist for Raleigh’s News & Observer who can almost always be counted on to produce maddening takes on a wide array of issues. Last Friday, however, Zane did something quite refreshing and praiseworthy: he wrote a column about the central problem confronting our public schools that was right on the money.

In “Instead of ‘fixing’ public schools, address poverty,” Zane shined a light on the issue that is clearly the elephant in the room in the debate over public education: poverty. This is from the column:

“Our public schools are not broken. They graduate thousands of capable and curious children each year, many of whom continue their studies at America’s colleges and universities, which are the envy of the world….

Our schools only appear broken because of the many children who bring a wide array of often heartbreaking problems to school – problems that make it hard for them to take advantage of the opportunities available to all.

If we have any hope of fixing our schools for them, we need to shift our focus from significant but secondary issues, including teacher pay and racial equity, to the deeper issues at work.”

Zane went on to highlight the close link between the success rates of individual schools and the number of impoverished children whom they try to educate. As the leaders of the Wake County Public Schools so long argued, when the percentage of poor kids gets above a certain threshold, the challenges for the school rise significantly. He also points to the fact that family and social traumas (what researcher Dr. Nadine Burke Harris classifies as “adverse childhood experiences” or “ACEs”) can actual alter a child’s biology and play a huge role in their ability to survive and succeed in school:

“Essentially, these stressful ACEs trigger the body’s natural flight or fight response, including release of the hormone cortisol. This can be helpful when confronting short term threats. But children (and adults) living with incessant disruptions, she writes, suffer ‘toxic stress,’ which makes it hard for them to sit still and follow rules while also making people more vulnerable to a host of health problems, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

The science, [Harris] writes, is predictive. ‘If a patient had four or more ACEs, she was 32 times more likely to have learning or behavior problems … the life expectancy of individuals with ACE scores of six or more is 20 years shorter than it is for people with no ACEs.’

About 24 percent of North Carolina’s children 17 and younger have an ACE score of at least two, according to the 2011 National Survey of Children’s Health. No doubt many of them are being raised by parents whose ACE scores are even higher.

An honest discussion of education needs to recognize this obvious but often neglected fact – a child’s home life has more impact on their educational achievement than their schooling.”

Zane’s essay is not perfect. He overstates the hopelessness of the situation in some respects — we know that good teachers and schools with adequate resources and early interventions  can make a big difference, even for very poor children — but he’s right that we’re kidding ourselves if we think we can solve this huge problem without dealing with poverty and the horrific traumas it inflicts on children. For his next act, let’s hope Zane takes another step toward the light by calling out his fellow conservative travelers for their brutal blitzkrieg on the public safety net that has done so much to worsen poverty — both here in North Carolina and across the nation.

Commentary

Burr and Tillis stick to their irresponsible, NRA-funded lines in aftermath of Florida high school massacre

Sen. Richard Burr

Sen. Thom Tillis

Raleigh’s News & Observer reports this morning that North Carolina’s U.S. senators are two of the top four campaign funding recipients from the National Rifle Association. What a shock it is, therefore, to read in the remainder of the story that neither man is willing to say or do anything of substance to address the crisis that afflicts our nation as a result of the widespread easy availability of mass killing machines. Here is the most maddening section of the N&O story:

“On Thursday Burr declined to say whether he thinks assault style weapons like the AR-15 used in Wednesday’s shooting should be banned, or their magazines limited.

‘I’ll leave it up to investigators to finish their investigation,’ he said.

Pressed on whether gun control should at least be discussed, he said, ‘I’ll wait until they come out with their full report.’”

Give us a break, Dick. Wait for a full report? Such a statement is akin to refusing to take a stand on cigarettes until more studies come in about their health effects. What the hell else do we need to know? Did we need an investigator’s report to tell us that bazookas, flamethrowers and long range cannons shouldn’t be sold at Wal-Mart? Dick, our nation is already drenched in the blood of mass shootings committed by sick people with military-style assault weapons and your serial inaction on the matter has aided and abetted the crisis.

For his part, Tillis took his usual route of a political wimpdom by avoiding the issue and calling via a Tweet for people to “keep the victims, their families, first responders and the community in your thoughts and prayers.”

Sorry, Thom, that’s not going to cut it. North Carolinians already know how and when to pray. What they elected you to do is to make their lives better, safer and freer and one of the best ways to do that would be for you to unhook yourself from the narcotic of NRA cash and get serious about passing laws that would save lives and reduce the terror factor in our schools, movie theaters and other public places.

The good people at North Carolinians Against Gun Violence put it this way in an email distributed early this morning:

“We all saw the awful news. Yet another nearly unspeakable, yet highly preventable, mass killing. 17 people killed at a Florida high school by a murderer using an AR-15 military style assault rifle.

The Florida killer used an AR-15, the same type of military style assault weapon used repeatedly in mass shootings, including Sandy Hook School, Orlando and Las Vegas. These weapons do not belong in the hands of civilians….

Congress’s inaction is outrageous but we can’t stop pushing. Clearly, lives depend on it. And while of course our hearts go out to the victims and their loved ones, taking time for thoughts and prayers has become a delay tactic. This has to stop.

Until Congress acts, it’s just a matter of time until the next assault weapon massacre. It is high time to start really honoring the American lives lost and preventing more carnage.

BAN MILITARY ASSAULT WEAPONS NOW!