Commentary, News

Lunch & Listen: As GOP leaders tweak Graham-Cassidy proposal, health care repeal bill is widely unpopular (video)

The latest effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act will be before the Senate Finance Committee later today. Senate GOP leaders pushing the Graham-Cassidy plan tweaked the bill over the weekend in hopes of persuading Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski to vote for the measure after losing Sen. John McCain’s support on Friday.

But Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling says Graham-Cassidy appears to be just as unpopular among voters as previous Republican efforts this year to gut the Affordable Care Act.

Click below to hear an excerpt of our weekend interview with Jensen.

For how President Donald Trump, Governor Roy Cooper and the General Assembly are faring in the most recent public opinion polls, click below to listen Jensen’s full interview with Policy Watch’s Chris Fitzsimon.

 

Senator John McCain has said he will not support the the Graham-Cassidy bill, but supporters of the legislation are giving it one last push.

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.

Environment

5 things to expect at Duke Energy’s rate hike hearing

Residents in Duke Energy Progress’s service area could pay an average of $18 more a month for electricity if the state utilities commission approves the company’s request for a rate increase. (Map: Duke Energy)

One of the few things less popular than an rate hike is a Duke Energy rate hike.

On Monday in Raleigh, the North Carolina Utilities Commission is holding a public hearing regarding Duke Energy Progress’s request for a 16.7 percent rate increase for residential customers. That equals about $18 more a month for the typical household. For low-income families, in particular, this is a significant increase.

Commercial and industrial customers’ rates would increase 13 to 16 percent.

The $477 million in additional annual revenue from the increase, the utility says, would help pay for its coal ash clean up, clean energy projects (although that includes not-so-clean natural gas) and expenses related to natural disasters, including Hurricane Matthew.

Already hundreds of public comments against the increase have been filed electronically with the commission.

If you’re planning to attend — and really, who would want to miss it? — here is what you need to know:

  1. Crowds
    Get there early, because the room will fill. There are overflow areas with audio feeds, but if you want the full visual experience, you’ll need to get a seat in the Commission Hearing Room.
  2. Security
    A protest is planned for 5:30 p.m. on the Halifax Mall. And where there are protests, there is heightened security.
  3. Anger
    After more than two years, dozens of households near Duke’s coal ash basins still rely on bottled water. Since part of the rate increase is ostensibly to help the utility pay for the coal ash clean up — a disaster of its own making — expect an outpouring of ire. The Coal Ash Management Act does not allow Duke to recover costs “related to unlawful discharges to surface waters of the state,” although there is wiggle room within the statute for “deferred costs.”
    Other pressure points: Duke Energy’s secret flood maps, which, until last Friday, the utility had kept private any information of who lives in flood zones should a dam/coal ash basin fail. The economic ramifications of the increase on low-income households. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the $5.5 billion natural gas project that Duke co-owns — which ratepayers will also foot the bill for.
  4. Math
    A lot of numbers and utility terminology will be thrown around: Dollars — millions of them — kilowatt hours, rate of return, demand, load dumping. Consider the experience a free class in utilities law and economics.
  5. A long night
    Utilities commission are regimented, quasi-judicial proceedings. Periods of tedium will be punctuated by lively comments. The hearing will be long but necessary. Bring water and trail mix.

When: Monday, Sept. 25, 7 p.m.,
Where: the Commission Hearing Room 2115,  at the Dobbs Building, 430 N. Salisbury St. It is right off Halifax Mall, behind the Legislative Building.

Additional hearings are scheduled for Asheville (Wednesday, 7 p.m., Buncombe County Courthouse); Snow Hill (Wednesday, Oct. 11, 7 p.m., Greene County Courthouse); and Wilmington (Thursday, Oct. 12, 7 p.m., New Hanover County Courthouse).

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.”

News

UNC responds to “Silent Sam” lawsuit threat, students boycott

Attorneys for The University of North Carolina responded late Friday to a threatened federal lawsuit from students over “Silent Sam” – a Confederate monument on the Chapel Hill campus.

The university’s response  suggests students claiming that the monument creates a racially hostile learning environment take their complaint to the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office at UNC-Chapel Hill but says the university disagrees that they have a valid Civil Rights claim under Titles IV and VI.

Hampton Dellinger, the Durham attorney and former N.C. Deputy Attorney General working with students toward the complaint, penned a response of his own Friday:

“I am surprised that UNC is contesting the fact that Silent Sam creates a racially hostile environment. The case law is clear that even a single verbal or visual incident can cause a hostile environment and that Confederate symbols are evidence of racial harassment.  In light of these precedents, we believe the courts will conclude that a towering armed soldier dedicated to white supremacy and placed permanently in the middle of campus creates a hostile environment for some African American students. UNC claims to have contrary administrative guidance, but we have not seen it and the university has not identified it.  It is time for UNC to acknowledge federal law and focus on removal not resistance.”

Meanwhile, a separate group of students is organizing a boycott of UNC over “Silent Sam.” In a press release Friday, the group outlined their position:

“While we understand that UNC may not have unilateral authority to move Silent Sam, we do expect Chancellor Folt, as the leading representative of our UNC community, to vigorously advocate for the removal of Silent Sam and publicly acknowledge the statue’s connection to both white supremacy and racism. Every day that she continues not to do so, she is failing us.

The latest example of Chancellor Folt’s failure regarding Silent Sam is the fact that UNC did not petition the N.C. Historical Commission, prior to tomorrow’s meeting, for permission to remove Silent Sam from campus.UNC could have petitioned the Historical Commission, and should have done so. And Chancellor Folt should have been out front, leading the effort.

It is because of the failed leadership of Chancellor Folt and the UNC administration that we are urging all people of conscience to boycott UNC from now until October 18. By withdrawing our financial support, we can show the UNC administration that we are absolutely serious when we say we expect them to vigorously advocate for the immediate removal of that racist statue from our campus.”