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Leslie Boyd

Yesterday at the Moral Monday rally on Halifax Mall behind the state Legislative Building, one speaker did an especially good job of pointing out the double standard of many “pro-life” politicians. Leslie Boyd, a person familiar to NC Policy Watch readers, explained that when she was advised to have an abortion because her unborn son had a virus, she “chose life” by opting to carry the pregnancy to term. However, when he later acquired an illness that would prove fatal without treatment, the same politicians who encouraged her to “choose life” deprived him of life by denying him the healthcare he needed. Boyd eloquently proclaimed that his blood was on their hands, and that they were, in effect, responsible for his death.

Boyd is right, of course. If politicians are going to demand that women “choose life” before a child is born, the least they can do is assure that after a child is born, s/he receives the necessary healthcare everyone deserves. Otherwise they are advocating a double standard, and at that a very strange one: the unborn life is treated as more worthy of protection than those who are already living in this world. As long as North Carolina politicians seek to prevent the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and to block Medicaid expansion while also shrinking Medicaid, those of insufficient income for necessary health expenses – as many as 2,800 per year according to some estimates – will suffer the loss of life, whether their own or the lives of loved ones.

Michael Dise is currently a seminary student at Wake Forest Divinity and a summer intern for the NC Justice Center. 

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Medicaid expansionMedicaid — the absurd failure to expand it at federal expense for a half-million low-income North Carolinians and the state Senate’s latest remarkable proposal to slash the program still further– remains front and center in the state policy debate these days. Moral Monday protesters highlighted the issue last night and the real life stories of average working people whose lives are darker and shorter because of legislative leaders’ Scrooge-like behavior continue to pour in. Tomorrow, activists from an array groups will gather at the General Assembly to lift up this most obvious of issues once again.  Here’s yet another story that makes the case from the good folks over at Women AdvaNCe and Planned Parenthood:

Stuck in the Medicaid gap
By Emily Callen

A few weeks ago, while talking to people about Medicaid expansion at a festival in downtown Raleigh, I met Linda. Though she seemed tired after a day at work and was probably eager to change out of her Bojangles uniform, Linda took the time to talk to me. “I really need this,” she said, filling out a postcard urging legislators to take action. “I tried to sign up for Obamacare but it was just too expensive.”

I learned later that Linda, who considers herself generally healthy, had been in a car crash last December. Broken bones kept her out of work for a few weeks, and she still sees an orthopedist because her collarbone hasn’t healed yet. Since Linda doesn’t have insurance, she’s worked out a deal to pay her doctor a little bit each month. It will take her a long time to pay off the bill, and in the meantime she will continue to struggle to make ends meet.

Linda’s experience is not uncommon. She is one of over 300,000 North Carolinians who fall into the Medicaid Gap; Read More

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With the growing success and momentum of the Affordable Care Act, it’s increasingly evident that opponents have lost the national debate. The national media are now overflowing with stories about how the right is desperately searching for a new issue to focus on during the upcoming fall elections.

Here in North Carolina, where conservative obstruction continues to hold sway for the time being — at least with respect to a federally-funded Medicaid expansion for 500,000 low-income people — we’re also seeing growing signs that the blockade is starting to crack and crumble.

The newest evidence of the occurred this week at the General Assembly where ACA opponents ran headlong into advocates for people with autism. As Adam Linker explained here the other day and Raleigh’s News & Observer explained this morning, the advocates are fighting for health insurance coverage of Autism Spectrum Disorders are running into opposition from the corporate lobbying community, which as usual, is doing everything in its power to save itself money and limit coverage.

The interesting twist is that the debate over autism coverage has served to help bottle up a conservative anti-ACA bill that would also ban new insurance mandates.

In other words, the efforts of lawmakers to pass another anti-ACA law has been revealed yet again to have an Achilles’ heel — namely, that people want health insurance. Try as they might to undermine the new law, ACA opponents cannot overcome the simple on-the-ground reality that Americans of all stripes want coverage for themselves and their families and will not — in the long run — allow politicians to deny it to them. The debate over autism coverage at the General Assembly is just the latest example of this powerful reality.

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Throughout his first campaign ad for the U.S. Senate race against Kay Hagan, Thom Tillis wears an Autism Speaks lapel pin. Autism Speaks is an important science and advocacy organization that is active nationally and in North Carolina.

One of the organization’s top legislative priorities is enacting a law that requires insurance companies to cover treatments for Autism Spectrum Disorders. In 2013 the autism community passed such a bill through the House with 105 votes in favor of the requirement and 7 against.

This will likely set up a showdown with the National Federation of Independent Business. Last month the NFIB asked the Joint Study Committee on the Affordable Care Act to pass legislation prohibiting the introduction of new insurance mandates in North Carolina for some period of time. The committee, acting with great haste, agreed to discuss this NFIB bill at a May 13 meeting. Coverage for Autism Spectrum Disorder is the only proposed insurance mandate eligible for consideration this year.

It would be jarring if Speaker Tillis touted his ties to the autism community in a campaign ad only to undermine the central policy push of Autism Speaks in his chamber. We will soon find out whether or not his commitment is bigger than a pin.

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Politicians and members of the press are keenly interested in premium rates for Affordable Care Act Marketplace plans next year. Lawmakers want to use insurance prices as a cudgel on the campaign trail and the media knows that talk of premium spikes will attract attention.

That’s why reporters were interested in the announced enrollment statistics for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina on Friday. The resulting coverage noted that BCBSNC enrollees were older and sicker than the company expected. In the race to make political hay out of these numbers there are a few points to keep in mind.

First, approximately 91 percent of ACA plan enrollees in the state receive a subsidy to purchase coverage. For this population premiums are capped as a percent of income. If, for example, you earn 150 percent of the federal poverty level then you will need to pay 4 percent of your household income for an ACA plan regardless of how premiums behave. Unless your income changes, you will pay the same rate next year.

Second, an older risk pool is not a major driver of premiums. Insurance companies certainly need younger and healthier enrollees to balance out payments for customers who use a lot of medical services. Still, as Kaiser Family Foundation has pointed out, even if insurers miss the mark substantially, this less healthy risk pool will only have a 1 or 2 percent impact on premiums. The primary drivers of premiums continue to be underlying medical costs and negotiated payment rates to providers.

Third, insurance companies have an interest in talking up their bad risk and steep medical costs. Insurance companies are, after all, companies. They want to set rates as high as the market will allow yet they also have to justify premium hikes to regulators. So, if they begin preparing the public for large premium increases the companies can then blame older and sicker enrollees for the requested boost in rates. Insurers also use the poor risk pool when negotiating with hospitals to explain cuts in payments for certain services. This is not to impute ill will to the insurance companies. It’s just how the game is played.

The risk pool mix, premium increases, and changing medical costs are all critical policy issues. We must restrain the rise in health care costs because, in the end, we all pay for our unnecessarily overpriced system. But when you hear that ACA Marketplace premiums will increase next year keep this context in mind.