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Now that the Supreme Court has ruled — again — that the structure of the Affordable Care Act is constitutional, it is time to move forward with making the law work better in our state.

The first, and most important, step is accepting federal funds to extend the benefits of affordable health insurance coverage to 500,000 more people in our state. Gov. McCrory said last year that his staff was assembling options to expand coverage and that he would make an announcement about his recommendation after the Supreme Court ruled in King v. Burwell. The ruling has arrived.

When asked about expansion today McCrory was sort of squishy and said he wants a North Carolina plan. We all do. But first we need the Governor to draft and release such a plan. Conservative Governors in Ohio, Indiana, Utah, Michigan, Tennessee and other states have either closed the coverage gap or assembled a strategy to accomplish a coverage expansion. There’s no reason our Governor can’t do the same.

Legislators are still critical of expansion. Sen. Ralph Hise says that he doesn’t think the federal government will be flexible enough to allow a state option. His wish list includes wanting to expand using private insurance and imposing co-pays on recipients above the federal poverty level.

Of course, the federal government has approved even more conservative measures than Hise mentions. Several states including Arkansas, Iowa, and Michigan do use private insurance to expand coverage. Some states are charging co-pays and premiums even on enrollees earning less than the federal poverty level. The federal government has shown a degree of flexibility that makes many advocates uncomfortable. The idea that our hands are tied is, to quote Justice Scalia, pure applesauce.

Recently released data from the National Health Interview Survey show the dramatic impact of expanding coverage. In Kentucky the adult uninsured rate dropped from 24.1 percent in 2013 to 15.6 percent in 2014. In Arkansas the rate went from 27.5 percent to 15.6 percent. And, most stunningly, in West Virginia the adult uninsured rate went from 28.8 percent in 2013 to 12.2 percent in 2014. These numbers reflect only the first year of expansion and states nearly cut their adult uninsured rates in half. In North Carolina the adult uninsured rate moved from 25.6 percent to 22.5 percent.

A majority of states are expanding coverage while reforming their Medicaid programs. More states will join their ranks now the Supreme Court has ruled that the Affordable Care Act is here to stay. The Governor must show leadership on this issue and ensure that all of our citizens have access to comprehensive, affordable health insurance.

News

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory made a surprise appearance at the quarterly meeting of the state’s public-private economic development board Friday morning, asking for support for economic financial incentives and his $3 billion transportation and infrastructure bond package.

AGGAG-vetoHe also told board members, who are largely business people from around the state, that he’d made headway in showing the legislature that the public backed those proposals.

McCrory said that public support, which he referred to as “surveys,” may be set back after yesterday’s veto of a bill that would have permitted magistrates to refuse to marry same-sex couples and more vetoes he said were on the way.

“That [survey information] may change after yesterday’s veto and today’s veto and two other vetoes coming up,” McCrory said. “And I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.”

Shortly after the morning meeting, McCrory’s office announced he vetoed the “ag-gag bill,” which had been opposed by animal-rights groups and AARP and would have penalized whistle-blowers who exposed wrongdoings at companies they work at.

When asked afterwards about his comments about future vetoes, McCrory would not expand on his comments.

Another controversial bill making its way through the legislature that would require a 72-hour waiting period for abortions, and require doctors to send patients’ ultrasounds to the state health agency.

A list of other bills on McCrory’s desk is here.

At Friday morning’s meeting, McCrory also had sharp criticism for his Republican colleagues in the legislature, where his bond proposal is getting a lukewarm reception.

Photo: WRAL.com

Photo: WRAL.com

McCrory wants to put the proposal, which would fund a myriad of transportation and state government projects around the state, before voters. The proposal needs legislative backing to get on the ballot.

“We have support in the legislature but it is very soft support,” McCrory said, adding that the legislature was busy with budget proposals. “Frankly, they’re scared of their own shadow.”

He also said that he would play “hardball” and wouldn’t be deterred by opposition from those in his political party.

“I’m not going to let three or four people in the legislature block progress in North Carolina,” McCrory said. “I don’t care what party they’re from.”

Friday morning’s quarterly meeting of the economic development meeting is a public meeting, but N.C. Policy Watch was the only media member, as well as the only member of the public, to attend the meeting at  Red Hat’s headquarters in downtown Raleigh.

The public-private partnership was established last year by the state legislature, and transferred the tourism and business recruitment division of the state Commerce Department to the quasi-public group. It’s largely funded with public money ($16 million) but is on the hook to raise $1.25 million from private funders in its first year.

The group has raised $830,000 so far from private contributors, with several other gifts promised and about $250,000 more to be raised by October, said John Lassiter, a Charlotte attorney and chairman of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.

Want to hear for yourself? McCrory’s comments about the legislature and upcoming vetoes begin at the 4:40 minute mark:

 

Note: This post has been changed from the original to more accurately reflect McCrory’s comments about upcoming vetoes. He referred to the vetoes in the context of how “surveys” from the public may change in light of the vetoes, not his relationship with the legislature as initially reported. We apologize for the inconvenience.

News
McCrory_budget3

Gov. Pat McCrory unveils his recommended 2015-17 state budget

Governor Pat McCrory unveiled his recommended $21.5 billion budget Thursday, which continues his promise to boost beginning teacher salaries up to a minimum $35,000 a year but does not provide significant increases for veteran teachers and makes yet another cut to the state’s university system.

“We’re changing the basic paradigm of how we evaluate and distribute our limited tax dollars,” McCrory told reporters Thursday. “The new paradigm is directing our monies toward where we’re having the highest attrition, where the greatest need is and based upon the market performance…we’re really speaking in a different paradigm that’s more market-oriented than civil service oriented.”

More than half of McCrory’s 2015-17 recommended state budget is devoted to education. An additional $200+ million is spent on fully funding student enrollment growth in K-12 education over the next two years, and around $84,000 is tagged for increasing beginning teacher salaries from $33,000 (which the General Assembly approved last year) to $35,000 beginning this fall.

While veteran teachers did not receive significant pay bumps in spite of the fact that many say they were cheated out of raises during last year’s much touted teacher pay raise, McCrory’s new budget director, Lee Roberts, emphasized that eligible teachers would still move along the newly-enacted state salary schedule if McCrory’s budget passes.

The old salary schedule for teachers had previously been frozen, Roberts said. The state’s new system provides teachers with pay bumps every five years.

McCrory’s budget hits the University of North Carolina system with a 2 percent funding decrease, also known as “allowing flexibility to achieve efficiencies.”

That cut comes on top of years of budget cuts to the state’s strapped universities. In addition, universities would also be capped at $1 million with regard to how many state dollars they can spend toward private fundraising efforts.

McCrory told reporters that he’s consulted with UNC leaders.

“We’ve talked to the university leaders about this and what they like is the flexibility we’re giving them, said McCrory. “Instead of the politicians out of Raleigh telling them how to find savings, we’re giving them the flexibility to do that.”

The word flexibility was a commonly used one in today’s budget reveal.

“In the past, they’ve [UNC] gotten the directive of what to reduce or increase out of Raleigh. Those days are ending. We want to give that flexibility to our universities and our community colleges and, by the way, our superintendents,” McCrory said.

Other education-related takeaways from the Governor’s budget: Read More

Commentary

NC Left Me OutA group of coalition partners working in North Carolina to close the Medicaid coverage gap has launched a new website called NC Left Me Out to collect stories of people who make too much for Medicaid and too little for private insurance. As the website explains, the Affordable Care Act specifically allocated funds to provide affordable insurance coverage to approximately 500,000 people in our state. Unfortunately, the Governor and the legislature have blocked those funds from coming to North Carolina. Many of the individuals and families who could use this money to get insurance coverage work in low-wage professions like construction, day care, and food service.

At a press conference today Dana Wilson, a woman in the coverage gap who suffers from MS, shared her story. You can watch her video here.

The legislature and the Governor need to hear from more people like Dana, the working poor who are being unfairly denied coverage. If you are in the coverage gap please consider sharing your story on the NC Left Me Out website. If you want to support the campaign then you can sign up as well.

Every week a new Governor shows the leadership to formulate a plan for extending insurance coverage to people in the Medicaid gap. Last week the conservative state of Indiana had a plan approved. States like Wyoming and Utah are moving forward with similar ideas. We need Governor McCrory to show us his plan for closing the coverage gap. He has publicly hinted that he wants to design a state-specific Medicaid waiver. Great, let’s get moving. Every day that we wait is another day people like Dana suffer.

We need to continue telling our stories to the media, to legislators, and to the Governor. If the economic arguments and moral arguments don’t win the day, maybe looking into the eyes of those who have been denied coverage will begin changing minds.

News

N.C. Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker says the $22.5 million fund to recruit business to the state is nearly empty, with enough money left to cover one additional jobs project, according to the Triangle Business Journal.

Decker was speaking to a group of commercial real estate developers at the Umstead Hotel in Cary when she made her comments about the state’s Job Development Investments Grants (JDIG) program.

Lawmakers did not fund the incentive program at levels desired by state commerce leaders, and Gov. Pat McCrory has said he is considering calling lawmakers back to Raleigh before their scheduled start in January for the long session.

From the TBJ article:

“And without JDIG, we will not be competitive,” N.C. Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker told members of Research Triangle chapter of NAIOP at its meeting Nov. 7 at the Umstead in Cary.

The JDIG program, since its inception in 2002, has been used by state economic development recruiters to sweeten the pot for companies that are considering a major investment in North Carolina that would lead to the creation of net new jobs in the state.

JDIG has typically been reserved for the largest new jobs deals, and pay-outs are only made after the company reaches a minimum job creation goal. Local companies that have been awarded JDIG grants include MetLife, Ipreo, Sygenta Biotechnology, Allscripts Healthcare and HCL Technologies.

Decker warns that the state is dangerously close to losing its chance to even negotiate on potentially large job-producing deals, including three big economic development prospects that are considering expansion and relocation options in the Triangle that could add another 4,100 jobs in region

You can read the entire article here.