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lw-1-21Standards and assessment, teacher pay and school vouchers were some of the hottest  education issues that key stakeholders predicted would dominate this year’s legislative session at a breakfast hosted Wednesday by the Public School Forum in Raleigh.

Tom Campbell, host of the weekly talk show NC SPIN, held a special taping of his program at the breakfast, during which he quizzed Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union) and others about what lawmakers plan to do this year for education.

“I do think we need to look at expanding it [the school voucher program],” said Horn. “The number of applications alone for these vouchers show the demand by the public.”

“We need to watch it very carefully,” Horn added. “I’m not at all suggesting that we fling the doors open, but we have got to allow parents to take control of the education of their children.” Read More

Commentary

We have written before about King v. Burwell, the case that will be heard before the US Supreme Court to determine whether or not health insurance subsidies can flow to states that refused to establish state-based marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act. As John Stewart has noted, justices would have to be more literal than Amelia Bedelia to find for the plaintiffs, but we live in strange times where anything seems possible.

The next question then is if the Supreme Court strikes down subsidies how many people would it impact? Now Kaiser Family Foundation has a helpful interactive map to estimate an answer. KFF researchers think more than 13 million people nationally, and about 1 million people in North Carolina, would lose tax credits if the Supreme Court denies subsidies to federal marketplace states. For most of these folks insurance would immediately become unaffordable. This is especially true because prices would most likely spiral upward as younger, healthier enrollees lose coverage.

That is a stunning figure. It would be like the Supreme Court cutting the number of North Carolinians receiving Medicare in half.

The cruel truth is that Congress could easily fix this problem by adding a few words to the Affordable Care Act, but they are so obsessed with repealing the legislation that they are unlikely to repair it. The state legislature could also provide a patch by at least establishing a governance structure for a state-based marketplace, but they are also unlikely to move. After all, the federal government stands ready to pay the state to expand insurance to 500,000 more state residents and that hasn’t gained any legislative traction.

So, we wait, while medical care for 1 million North Carolinians hangs in the balance.

News

Senator Phil Berger and Speaker Tim Moore

Asked if he planned to change his approach to paying North Carolina’s veteran teachers by offering them better pay raises during this legislative session than what he had originally sketched out for them in 2014, Senate leader Phil Berger stuck with his game plan on the opening day of the 2015 General Assembly on Wednesday.

“We passed last session one of the largest pay raises teachers have seen in North Carolina,” Sen. Berger (R-Guilford, Rockingham) said during a press conference he held jointly with newly minted Speaker of the House Tim Moore (R-Cleveland)

After much political wrangling, lawmakers passed an average 7 percent pay raise for teachers in 2014–but those at the beginning of their careers were the ones who saw the largest bumps in pay. Many veteran teachers saw very small salary raises after coping with several years of frozen salaries, and should expect more of the same for 2015 based on salary plans presented last year.

“I think we’ve made a commitment, and I think it’s one of the things the Senate is intending to do and I think the House is and the Governor as well, is to get the beginning pay up to $35,000,” Berger said, not directly addressing the question of veteran teachers, some who had as much as 30 years of experience only receiving a 0.3 percent pay bump last year. Read More

Commentary

A new report from Cone Health Foundation and Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust finds that North Carolina lost out on billions of dollars and thousands of jobs by refusing to close the Medicaid coverage gap in 2014 and 2015. If the state acts in 2016, however, we can recoup some lost ground by covering 500,000 more people. Such a move would create 43,000 new jobs by 2020 and reap $1 billion in tax revenue for the state and counties. Closing the coverage gap would save the state budget more than $300 million by 2020.

As followers of this blog know the state had a chance, starting in 2014, to expand Medicaid eligibility to all individuals and families earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level. More than half the states have now opted into this deal and they are attracting a huge return on investment. This new report is the first of its kind in the nation that takes a detailed look at every county in the state and uses a nationally respected model to estimate the impact of Medicaid expansion on tax revenue, job creation, business activity, and coverage.

The results are startling. In Robeson County expanding Medicaid would generate more than 700 jobs. In Moore County it would create nearly 500 jobs. In Nash County it would create more than 300 jobs. This is the equivalent of a fleet of new large employers locating in dozens of communities across the state. The increased economic activity will produce more county tax revenue at a time when many local governments are sputtering by on fumes. For Wake County, Medicaid expansion would net more than $25 million in tax revenue. It would earn Guilford County more than $11 million.

New data confirms in finer detail what we have always known, expanding Medicaid eligibility is a no-brainer. Thankfully, Gov. McCrory seems to be moving to the right (or should I say correct) side of this issue. Now that the federal government is allowing governors and legislators the flexibility to design state-specific expansions Wyoming, Indiana, Utah, and Tennessee — hardly redoubts of liberalism — are starting to embrace expansion. We should follow suit.

This is a rich report that deserves a close reading. You can find some reporting on it here, here, here, and here.

 

 

Commentary

As we report below the US Supreme Court has decided to hear another legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act.

You can read the details of the lawsuit in our earlier post, but some context is important. This new fight focuses on subsidies extended to individuals and families earning less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level who purchase private insurance. For these families subsidies are available to make insurance plans more affordable. In North Carolina about 91 percent of people purchasing Affordable Care Act plans received subsidies. Of those, the average cost of insurance is $81 per month.

News coverage of the Supreme Court’s move, coming just before open enrollment is set to start, is sure to cause confusion. In the short term it is critical to remember that the subsidies are still in place and everyone should proceed to shop for insurance without worrying about the political winds.

In the long term it is difficult to know what this case will mean for the law. The challenge is absurd, but that doesn’t give us any hint at how the Supreme Court Justices will vote. Read More