- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

July 7

News and Observer, Raleigh, North Carolina, on state’s Medicaid:

One overall lesson from The News & Observer’s recent two-part report on the Medicaid health care system is that the system in North Carolina is in many ways working well.

Costs per person have gone down at a time when spending nationally has gone up. More providers in the state, compared with the national rate, are willing to participate in services, percentage-wise. And there is better preventive care under N.C. Medicaid than in other states.

Certainly the program has problems, and those problems didn’t originate under Republicans and the administration of Gov. Pat McCrory. But there is a threat that Republicans, having cut taxes excessively and seeming confused by the challenge of putting together a budget, will look to cut Medicaid services as an “easy” savings. It will be easy in the sense that recipients of Medicaid help can’t match the clout in the General Assembly that insurers, pharmaceutical companies and hospitals have.

It is always important, therefore, to remember who pays the price for cuts in those services and what type of pain changes in Medicaid inflict on vulnerable people.

A story from The News & Observer’s Joseph Neff illustrated just that.

Mason Leonard, 14, of Cary is severely disabled. He was brain-damaged at birth and cannot care for himself. He can’t be left alone, can’t feed himself or look after any of his needs.

But thanks to a few Medicaid services, he receives therapy, gets out a little, gets trained in things like making his bed, which, when he accomplishes it, is considered a big step.

His mother, Colleen Leonard, values the services. And she would like to have an opportunity to make the case for how important the services are to Mason and other Medicaid recipients. That’s why she wanted to respond to a request for public input from the state Department of Health and Human Services on the subject of reforming Medicaid.

But Leonard, who’s savvy about how these things work, was distressed by the six-page form she got from DHHS. It had lots of jargon and was aimed primarily at providers, not recipients of services.

Those providers and lobbyists for others with interests in Medicaid, by the way, also happen to be generous with contributions to politicians. Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican and House budget-writer, reported in his most recent campaign report, for the second half of last year, which he got $164,000 from doctors, dentists, speech pathologists and others with a stake in Medicaid.

Dollar says all views have been heard.

It would be just as valuable, perhaps more so, for lawmakers and policymakers from DHHS to meet people such as Mason Leonard.

A Medicaid policy change last year, for example, eliminated weekend hours for teaching Mason how to function with basic skills. His mother understandably fears what new hardships further “reform” will produce.

Here is what the public needs to understand about the budget cutting and reform conducted under the banner of “efficiency.” For each cut, for each decision to eliminate some benefit, a disabled person such as Mason Leonard or a poor person with no alternative for care except what Medicaid provides and their caregivers and family members suffer discomfort or pain.

The Medicaid program has problems with computer services and with organization. But the N&O;’s examination found that much of it is working and that the state’s services under Medicaid are better than those in many other places, a point of which to be proud.

Let us hope that as Republicans continue to work on their budget changes, they will see more than numbers. For in the end, it’s not about numbers. It’s about people.




July 5

News & Record, Greensboro, North Carolina, on a ‘peace fallout’:

The term “peace dividend” dates back to the end of the Cold War and suggests that nations will get an economic boost if they decrease spending on guns and other weapons of war. What’s poised to happen at Fort Bragg is the opposite of that.

The U.S. Army last week projected that under a worst-case scenario, Fort Bragg could lose as many as 16,000 soldiers and civilian employees by 2020. The Army further estimates that the Fayetteville region could lose more than 21,000 jobs, more than 40,000 residents and $11.3 million in annual sales tax receipts.

N.C. State economist Mike Walden calls the possible effects devastating, a billion-dollar hit to the regional economy that will look and feel like a recession. “There’s no way,” Walden said last week, “to paint this as good.”

For eastern North Carolina, that’s no peace dividend. It’s a peace fallout.

That Fort Bragg will lose some jobs should come as no surprise to anyone. As the Fayetteville Observer reports, Fort Bragg is home to about 10 percent of the U.S. Army. It’s the nation’s largest Army base and home to the Army’s airborne and special operations forces and the Army’s active duty and reserve commands. Units based there include the legendary 82nd Airborne Division and the Golden Knights parachute team.

Now that the United States has withdrawn armed forces from Iraq and is close to doing the same in Afghanistan, there’s no immediate need to keep the American military at its current levels. Because federal lawmakers constantly express concern about federal spending and deficits, it now makes fiscal sense to spend less money on defense. That’s exactly what the Army is proposing. Its latest report suggests that it will cut its active force by nearly half.

The Army report will test the political mettle of Sens. Richard Burr and Kay Hagan as well as the state’s representatives in Congress. All would do well to fight to keep as many soldiers and civilian employees at Fort Bragg as they can.

But there’s probably no total victory to be won in such a budget fight, as other federal lawmakers will engage in the same pitched political battles to protect bases in their home districts. The Army’s reduction-in-force plan isn’t targeting Fort Bragg alone.

A more realistic battle plan is underway, however. The Fayetteville Regional Chamber already had put together a coalition to address the potential loss of an Air Force Reserve unit at the base. Now the group will make the transition to addressing the long-term future of Fort Bragg, as the military makes up about 20 percent of the workforce in Cumberland County. The group pledges to be vocal and visible during a public comment period in August.

The chamber also is working to diversify the region’s economy - a long-overdue step for a part of the state long dependent on the military. The UNC system already is aggressively recruiting active duty troops and veterans. The state’s university and community college systems will have to step up with retraining programs and other educational benefits if thousands of former soldiers and defense workers find themselves out of work.

State lawmakers will have to step up, too, with unemployment and educational benefits for laid-off workers and some kind of economic stimulus for the region. Local schools and governments will feel the pain and need help.

The Fayetteville area has long supported the nation’s military. It soon might be time for the rest of us to help support Fayetteville.




July 6

Charlotte Observer on reinstating preregistration for teen voters:

This is what happens when politics and ideology overrule common sense. In their zeal to “reform” the voting system in North Carolina, Republican lawmakers pushed through a change that has created confusion, more work and wasted money.

That change was to end preregistration of teens so once they reached voting age, they would automatically be registered to vote. And they could do so at state driver’s license offices which would make it a one-stop convenience for newly licensed young drivers.

Not surprisingly, it was an effective voter registration move. More than 150,000 young people preregistered from the time the program went into effect in 2010 to September 2013. By the way, the policy was adopted in 2009 with bipartisan legislative support.

But last year, lawmakers made sweeping changes to N.C. voter laws in the state, and one was the nonsensical idea of ending preregistration of teen voters. Now, officials of the state Department of Motor Vehicles and of the N.C. elections board are saying that the change has created confusion and more work.

That’s because DMV officials had trouble figuring out at what age applicants should be allowed to register to vote. Some 17-year-olds are eligible to vote in primary elections if they will be 18 when the general election is held. Counties and municipalities can have general elections in off years that fall on different dates in each location. DMV officials could not set one formula in the database for determining which 17-year-olds should get a voter registration application.

As a result, state elections officials decided last November that voter registration applications could be given only to individuals 18 and older.

Last week … elections officials had a change of heart. Kim Strach, elections board supervisor, said the state will begin offering voter registration services to all 17-year-olds. If they are not 18 by Nov. 4, the elections board will reject the application and send the teen a certified letter.

“We had hoped to spare counties much of this extra work by exploring ways to screen for eligibility on a systems level at DMV,” Strach said in a June 30 memo. “Municipal elections and other factors rendered that solution unworkable.”

The state legislature could have spared counties the extra work, and expense, by not enacting such a change. The only possible reason for it was an attempt to limit the voting participation of young people - who have voted disproportionately for Democrats in recent election cycles.

But the breakdown of preregistered teens in 2012 is instructive. Of the 55,291 teens who preregistered, 41 percent chose to do so as unaffiliated. Thirty-three percent preregistered as Democrats and 25 percent as Republicans. Given that, either party has a shot at capturing the new young voters’ support at the ballot box.

We hope these and other voting changes will be suspended until challenges are resolved. But lawmakers should reinstate teen voter preregistration regardless.



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