Commentary, Uncategorized

Advocates continue to press for Medicaid expansion

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Advocates, providers, and people in the coverage gap gathered at the General Assembly yesterday to champion for Medicaid expansion. When NC legislators passed SB 4 in 2013, which purposely blocked the state from closing the coverage gap, advocates knew that it would take continued action of many to ensure that NC legislators understand the health, social, and economic benefits of Medicaid expansion.

The press event hosted by Sen. Floyd McKissick at the General Assembly was the culmination of a week of activities that helped raise awareness about the impact of failing to extend coverage to approximately 500,000 people in the coverage gap. On an individual level, Medicaid expansion will increase people’s ability to receive less costly preventive care and improve people’s ability to manage chronic medical conditions instead of relying on emergency care. Sonya Taylor, who is in the coverage gap, shared her story during the press event. Ms. Taylor noted that she has to rely on the support of church, family, and friends not just to deal with the pain, but to be able to afford to see a primary care provider. She works and saves money, but because of the complexity of her medical condition, she cannot report good health because occasional visits to a primary care doctor are not enough.

Ignoring the call to expand Medicaid also impacts entire counties. As Dr. Charlie van der Horst said during his speech, residents in low-resource counties such as Scotland, Vance, Caldwell, Anson, and Lenoir counties are two times more likely to die prematurely than residents of more affluent counties like Wake County. Statewide, closing the coverage gap could prevent 1,000 unnecessary deaths each year. When you consider the fact that many rural hospitals are especially vulnerable to closing without the financial boost they would receive from Medicaid expansion, many more children, families and working adults are likely to face poor health outcomes.

On the state-level, lawmakers rejected 43,000 jobs by 2020 when they failed to expand Medicaid this year. Each year that legislators refuse increasing access to health care to nearly a half million North Carolinians, they are also failing to accept $2 billion in federal funds. Refusing to close the coverage gap also prevents approximately 144,000 children from receiving necessary health care because they lack health coverage. Further, 29,000 fewer individuals in NC would report experiencing depression each year if lawmakers would expand Medicaid. Each year policymakers fail to the close the coverage gap, 40,000 women do not receive preventive screenings. While the day of advocacy is over, we must continue to remind legislators that closing the coverage gap is a not a political game, but a policy that impacts the health and economic well-being of children, workers, families, communities, and the entire state.

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GAO finds hazardous conditions in poultry, meatpacking continue

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The General Accounting Office (GAO) publicly released a report yesterday on workplace health and safety conditions in the poultry industry.  While noting a decline in injury and illness rates from 2004 to 2013, the report highlights the problem of underreporting and inadequate data collection.  The GAO report includes 3 recommendations for Executive Action:

Recommendation: To strengthen DOL’s efforts to ensure employers protect the safety and health of workers at meat and poultry plants, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health, working together with the Commissioner of Labor Statistics as appropriate, to develop and implement a cost-effective method for gathering more complete data on musculoskeletal disorders.
Agency Affected: Department of Labor

Recommendation: To develop a better understanding of meat and poultry sanitation workers’ injuries and illnesses, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health and the Commissioner of Labor Statistics to study how they could regularly gather data on injury and illness rates among sanitation workers in the meat and poultry industry.

Agency Affected: Department of Labor

Recommendation: To develop a better understanding of meat and poultry sanitation workers’ injuries and illnesses, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to have the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conduct a study of the injuries and illnesses these workers experience, including their causes and how they are reported. Given the challenges to gaining access to this population, NIOSH may want to coordinate with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to develop ways to initiate this study.

Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

The report follows a recent release from Oxfam America focusing on the poultry industry’s denial of bathroom breaks to workers.

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HB2, the tourism industry, and the “more progressive state of South Carolina”

While Gov. Pat McCrory continues to attack opponents of HB2 and blame the media for how it is covering the damage caused by his anti-LGBT law, leaders in the tourism industry in North Carolina have a clear message for McCrory and the General Assembly—repeal the law that is hurting their businesses.

The Lumina News reports that Mary Baggett, owner of the Blockade Runner Beach Resort in Wrightsville Beach, didn’t mince any words at a recent meeting of the N.C. Tourism & Travel Coalition in Wilmington.

At an industry event Monday, Mary Baggett, owner of Wrightsville Beach’s Blockade Runner Beach Resort, said the state’s legislature needed to take immediate action to repeal the bill and that the NC State Tourism Coalition should be lobbying that message to state’s General Assembly that is currently in session.

“We fought hard to become a destination state. Now it’s all undone,” Baggett said. “I hope your organization comes forth to rally us.”

Baggett also shared a recent story about an interaction with a potential tourist that includes a line that many North Carolinians never thought they would hear.

Baggett described an email she received from a family from Massachusetts traveling through the region who had planned a stay at the Blockade Runner. The family will be staying in the “more progressive state of South Carolina”, said Baggett referencing the email cancelling the four-night booking, because they would “rather go to a state that’s not judgmental” of people’s lifestyles.

The more progressive state of South Carolina? It is hard to believe where McCrory and his pals in the General Assembly have taken us.

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Major education nonprofit, North Carolina New Schools, to close, WRAL reports

school-busespng-91b35e2c325e0b5bSurprising news from WRAL today about a theoretically well-funded education nonprofit that is shutting its doors. 

The news station reports that North Carolina New Schools, a group that helps to train teachers and administrators across the state, will be closing, although no reason was provided.

From WRAL:

A spokeswoman for the group said it is a “difficult day” and that more information would be released this afternoon after conversations with staff.

On Thursday morning, NC New Schools’ President Tony Habit sent an email announcing that he resigned Wednesday after nearly 13 years as the organization’s founding president. WRAL News reached out to Habit, as well as other employees with the organization, but they have not responded.

NC New Schools is based in Research Triangle Park and has received millions of dollars in donations and federal grants since it began in 2003, including nearly $26 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a $20 million grant in 2014 and a $15 million grant in 2011 from the U.S. Department of Education.

Policy Watch has reached out to some supporters of the program, which is generally well thought of in the state. We’ll let you know when we learn more.

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Virtual charter leaders dispute state’s attendance, testing data

virt-chartLeaders with North Carolina’s pilot virtual charter schools are disputing a report presented Wednesday to the N.C. State Board of Education that marked soaring dropout numbers and lower-than-expecting testing in the new programs.

Wednesday’s report counted withdrawal rates at both N.C. Connections Academy and N.C. Virtual Academy at about 26 percent, an increase on the programs’ already troubled numbers we reported in January.

This week’s report also includes data that would seem to show the schools are not meeting state accountability standards either, at least as far as third-grade testing is concerned.

Tammy Howard, director of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s (DPI) accountability division, reported both schools have a target this year of administering the Beginning of Grade 3 test to 95 percent of their students.

But Howard said N.C. Connections Academy tested just 105 of 140 students, about 75 percent, and N.C. Virtual Academy tested 134 of 147 students, or about 91 percent.

Both schools moved quickly to dispute the data, blaming incomplete calculations by the state, discrepancies between the school and the state’s enrollment records, and rapid fluctuations in enrollment for the problems.

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