Education, News, Trump Administration

Trump administration, Betsy DeVos, slash for-profit college regulations

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration have made no secret of their support of for-profit colleges.

Today, they’re taking the next step to cut regulations for such controversial programs, Politico reports.

According to the report, DeVos will do away with an Obama administration rule.

From Politico:

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos moved Thursday to eliminate Obama-era regulations that were meant to cut off federal funding to low-performing programs at for-profit schools and other career colleges.

The Education Department unveiled a proposal to rescind the “gainful employment” regulation, which was a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s crackdown on for-profit education companies.

The goal of the rule, which took effect in 2015, was to make sure that students who graduate from for-profit schools or other career-oriented programs make enough money to repay their student loans. But the schools, and congressional Republicans, have long criticized the regulation as unfair and overly burdensome.

DeVos’ proposal to kill the regulation goes further than other draft plans circulated by the Trump administration. Previous proposals would have gutted the penalties associated with the rule, but they would have kept mandatory consumer disclosures by colleges to prospective students.

The Trump administration said it plans to update the Education Department’s College Scorecard website with expanded data about the outcomes of students who attend all colleges and universities receiving federal aid. The department plans to calculate and publish the earnings and debt levels of graduates broken down by individual academic programs.

The Scorecard website is not required by any law or regulation, so the Trump administration’s promise to expand the data published on it isn’t binding on the department.

Consumer groups and Democrats have already sharply criticized the Trump administration’s plan to repeal the rule as a giveaway to the for-profit college industry. They say they’re worried DeVos’ plan will open up billions of taxpayer dollars to low-performing colleges.

Democratic attorneys general from 17 states and the District of Columbia are suingDeVos over her previous delays in enforcing the “gainful employment” rule.

The Education Department said it would accept public comments on the proposed elimination of the regulation for 30 days.

The department must publish a final regulation by Nov. 1 for it to take effect in July 2019.

Commentary, Trump Administration

Skimpy health insurance plans & pre-existing conditions are back under new Trump rule

Today the Trump administration issued a final rule allowing insurers to sell “short-term, limited-duration” health insurance policies that can last up to three years instead of the maximum allowable three months under current rules.

In the  rule, administration officials contort their words to explain what otherwise looks like an alternative fact:

“This final rule recognizes the role that short-term, limited-duration insurance can fulfill, while at the same time distinguishing it from individual health insurance coverage by interpreting ‘short-term’ to mean an initial contract term of less than 12 months and implementing the ‘limited-duration’ requirement by precluding renewals or extensions that extend a policy beyond a total of 36 months.”

But behind these somewhat comical linguistic gymnastics lie some very real dangers for patients, especially those with chronic health conditions. Short-term, limited-duration health plans are not considered “health insurance” under federal law, and as a result, they do not have to comply with the Affordable Care Act. In fact, these plans look a lot like the often all-but-useless private health plans that littered the individual market before the ACA reined in predatory and discriminatory insurance industry practices.

These plans can vary premiums based on age, gender, health status, and medical history. They can also deny coverage outright based on pre-existing conditions, refuse to cover any treatment for a pre-existing condition, or find ways to rescind your policy after you’ve incurred a claim.

The other ways they keep their premiums down is by offering bare-bones coverage in the first place. They usually exclude coverage for critical health services that consumers have come to expect their policies to cover. A recent study looked at short-term health plans sold in the Charlotte region and found that most of them didn’t cover benefits for prescription drugs, mental health services, or substance use disorder treatment. Not a single short-term health plan studied covered maternity care whatsoever.

A return to the pre-ACA days of health insurance is a return to the days of lifetime and annual limits on coverage. UnitedHealthcare’s Golden Rule Company, which offers short-term plans in North Carolina, imposes a per-person lifetime limit on covered benefits of $250,000 for many of its three-month plans. Asa result, any enrollee who develops a terminal or chronic condition or who has a premature child is left unprotected from catastrophic costs.

In a press release, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says, “These plans aren’t for everyone, but they can provide a much more affordable option for millions of the forgotten men and women left out by the current system.” Even if that were true, allowing these policies to last for up to three years at a time creates an alternate market to the ACA in which insurers will market heavily to young and healthy enrollees, dupe them into buying bare-bones coverage with lower premiums, and ultimately make premiums for full-benefits, comprehensive coverage more expensive for the older and sicker enrollees who remain in ACA-compliant market. This isn’t about providing options—it’s about undermining the Affordable Care Act.

Commentary, Trump Administration

Blue Cross’ 2019 premiums would be 18 percent lower if not for ACA sabotage

For the first time in 25 years, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina is seeking to lower its premiums for individual health insurance coverage. Yesterday the company announced that it filed a request with state regulators for an average rate reduction of 4.1 percent across all health insurance plans that it will offer on the individual market in 2019.

While this is surely good news—especially for the small fraction of North Carolina enrollees who pay full price because they do not qualify for premium subsidies—it could have been much better news. Instead of seeking a 4.1 percent decrease, the company could have reduced rates by 22.1 percent if it weren’t for the political attacks on health care that have taken place in the past year.

After Congress failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the summer of 2017, the Trump administration abruptly cut off payments that reimburse insurers for providing Cost-Sharing Reduction subsidies to enrollees with low incomes, causing Blue Cross to raise its 2018 rates on North Carolinians by 14.1 percent to make up for the losses. In today’s announcement, Blue Cross notes that if those payments were still in place, “requested rates would be another 14 percent lower” in 2019. Premiums would have been an additional four percent lower if Congress hadn’t eliminated the individual mandate penalty as part of its massive tax break handout to corporate American and the wealthy in December.

While ACA sabotage has been Trump’s major health care policy approach, opponents of the ACA have long deliberately undermined the law and hurt the millions who benefit from it since before the days of Trump. In the early years of implementation, Congress defunded a program designed to stabilize the markets, leading to premium spikes and an exodus by insurers from the exchanges.

The North Carolina General Assembly has also embodied this “politics over people” health policy agenda, as they have rejected Medicaid expansion since 2013, leaving billions of federal dollars on the table that would help the state cover over 600,000 North Carolinians. Not only does that leave hundreds of thousands of our neighbors uninsured, but it also costs more for people who are insured with private coverage. In states that expanded Medicaid, private insurance premiums are lower by seven percent on average. This ongoing act of health care sabotage hurts all of us.

So, yes, Blue Cross’ rate reduction is good news, but that 4.1 percent decrease could have been a 22.1 percent decrease. Imagine how much more progress we could make if our state and federal lawmakers committed to improving health care for people instead of playing into politics.

Commentary, Trump Administration

Editorial: Trump’s embrace of Putin would offend Jesse Helms

For many Americans, the late Jesse Helms is what they think of when they think of North Carolina. And for progressive North Carolinians, there are many, many good reasons to find an association with the utterly intolerant GOP figure objectionable.

That may be one reason you’re not likely to hear many kind words about the late senator on these pages, but Capitol Broadcasting Company has published an editorial this morning that asks: What would Helms, a staunch anti-communist, think of President Donald Trump’s gushing embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin this week?

Based on Helms’ comments in 2001, the longtime North Carolina Republican likely wouldn’t have had much nice to say about Trump, even as members of the national GOP today grapple with how to respond to the president’s disastrous trip to Helsinki this week.

From the Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial:

There has been much hand-wringing among conservatives on just how to respond to President Donald Trump’s embrace of Russia’s Vladimir Putin even as he distanced himself from his own government’s fundamental institutions.

To those who might be looking for guidance on how to react, they need not look any further than Jesse Helms, the godfather of the nation’s modern conservative political movement.

Much has changed since that pre-9-11 time. Most folks (except for our president) are 18 years to the wiser. They know that Putin’s government ordered and financed the meddling and attempted sabotage of the 2016 elections. All aimed to at least build distrust in our electoral process.

In 2001 then-President George W. Bush traveled to Europe for a series of meeting with allies and other international leaders, including Putin. Bush’s embrace of Putin wasn’t quite the gushing idolization that Trump expressed this week. But for the time, it was effusive. Helms, the longtime Republican senator from North Carolina and diehard anti-Communist, was alarmed by Bush’s initial chummy assessment of the Kremlin’s leader who’d been an ex-KGB operative.

“He’s an honest, straightforward man who loves his country. He loves his family. We share a lot of values,” Bush said at a June 16, 2001 news conference with Putin.

“I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.”

Helms wouldn’t have any of it. Just a few days later, when then Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Helms didn’t mince his words of concern and caution. See and hear what Helms said.

Helms’ said:
“I would be misleading you if I did not admit to raising my eyebrows at the assertion that Mr. Putin is ‘trustworthy.’ A ‘remarkable leader,’ he was called. And a man with whom we ‘share common values.’ Now, I criticized officials from the previous administration for using nearly those precise words to describe Mr. Putin. And I was dumbfounded to hear them from mine.

“For we must not forget that under Mr. Putin’s leadership the press has once again felt the jackboot of repression. Arms control treaties obligations remain unfilled and violated. Dangerous weapons technologies have been transferred to rogue states and Georgia’s and Ukraine’s security has been threatened in brutal, indiscriminate military trampling in Chechnya remains unabated.

“For these reasons Mr. Putin is far, in my judgment, far from deserving the powerful political prestige and influence that comes from an excessively personal endorsement by the president of the United States.”

Helms’ stern warning about Putin proved right. Apparently those who seek to portray themselves as inheritors of his political legacy, like Trump, want more to benefit from Helms image than heed his warnings.

Bush eventually came around to Helms’ perspective. Earlier this year, in the wake of the revelations of the Russian meddling, he told Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo that Putin “is a very aggressive person who wants to reinstate Soviet influence even though the Soviet no longer exists.”

Jesse Helm’s prescient words 18 years ago may still echo in the Capitol.

On this, at least, his would-be heirs in Congress should perk up their ears.

Legislature, News, Trump Administration

“Don’t come back,” N.C. lawmaker tells Trump after Putin summit

Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake

“Don’t come back,” a North Carolina legislator told President Donald Trump after his widely-criticized summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday.

Rep. Grier Martin, a Raleigh Democrat and Afghanistan veteran in the U.S. Army Reserve, hammered the president in a much-shared Tweet Tuesday.


The tweet prompted a reaction from those on both the right and the left.

WRAL has more:

As of noon Tuesday, the viral post had more than 1,800 retweets and 4,500 likes.

“I guess it struck a nerve and resonated with folks,” Martin said.

He explained that he is not currently on active duty and is therefore not precluded by the Uniform Code from making disparaging comments about the Commander in Chief.

“This tweet was not at all in my capacity as a member of the U.S. Army,” he said.

Martin said Trump’s comments were particularly disturbing to “folks of my generation.”

“I came of age at the very end of the Cold War,” he explained. “As a cadet, I was learning Soviet tactics and Soviet weapons.”

He also noted that the vast majority of replies to his tweet expressed agreement, and many also urged Martin to take legislative action. As a state lawmaker, not a member of Congress, there’s little action he can take.

“That says to me that there’s a frustration in the public with both Democrats and Republicans who have condemned the president’s conduct in Finland,” he said, “but have not in the public’s view taken action they believe would be appropriate.”

Reached for comment on the tweet, North Carolina Republican Party Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse was uncharacteristically low-key.

“It’s over the top, as much of the commentary from the left about the president often is,” Woodhouse responded. “One can disagree with the president without calling for his exile.”

On Twitter, the disagreements, though few, were more vehement.