- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

Aug. 18

The Ashville (North Carolina) Citizen-Times, on health insurance in state:

The percentage of people without health insurance nationally has dropped into single digits, in large part due to the Affordable Care Act. The same cannot be said for North Carolina, where leaders stubbornly refuse to help implement the act.

The number of uninsured fell to 29 million, or 9.2 percent of the population, in the first three months of 2015, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. That represents a decrease of 7 million people from the previous year.

Among working-age people (ages 18 to 64), the number uninsured decreased by about one-third, to 25.5 million, from 39.6 million in 2013. Among those under 18, the number fell to 3.4 million, from 4.8 million in 2013.

The new report is not broken down by states, but there’s no reason to believe North Carolina does not continue to have one of the nation’s highest percentages of uninsured. In 2014, more than 17 percent of North Carolinians under age 65 were uninsured. Only six states had higher percentages.

Part of the national improvement undoubtedly is due to economic conditions, with people being hired by firms that already were providing health insurance. But it would be absurd to think the ACA did not play a role. The number of uninsured has dropped by nearly 16 million since the law’s major provisions went into effect.

The improvement spans all age, income and ethnic classifications. The most significant gains were made by those with incomes under or just above the poverty level. There also was significant improvement among Hispanics, historically the group with the highest uninsured rate.

In North Carolina, however, the improvement has been marginal. The percentage of uninsured fell only 2.6 percentage points, from 19.9 to 17.3, between 2013 and 2014. The health center considers this to be “no significant change.”

That’s no surprise. Since Republicans gained complete control of state government in 2012, the state has turned its back on the ACA. First, North Carolina refused to set up a state insurance exchange, forcing the federal government to take over that role.

Even so, more than half a million people have obtained coverage through the federal exchange. Could that figure have been higher had the state devised its own exchange and marketed it aggressively? We’ll never know for sure, but we suspect the answer is “Yes”.

And then there’s Medicaid. Under the ACA, states were urged to increase the income limit for Medicaid from 100 percent to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $32,915 for a family of four. The federal government pays all the additional cost at first, with the federal share eventually dropping to 90 percent.

North Carolina refused to go along. As a result, another half million people are without health insurance. The cost of caring for them is absorbed by health providers who recoup their costs by charging more to their other patients. In other words, if you’re insured you will wind up paying costs that should be paid by the federal government.

State leaders insist they cannot expand Medicaid until the state Medicaid system is fixed. Never mind that the system now is financially stable, or that healthinsurance.org says “the state already had an excellent Medicaid managed care program, Community Care of North Carolina.” Legislators continue to insist the system is not working.

The state Senate would turn management over in part to commercial managed-care companies. The House doesn’t like that idea. Neither house shows any interest in expansion.

That’s too bad. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay, and it is working. North Carolina should do its part, so its people will benefit.




Aug. 17

The News & Observer, Raleigh, North Carolina on remembering students slain in Chapel Hill shooting:

Nothing will bring them back. But many people and projects are preserving the memories of Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, among friends and family.

The three were slain in February, allegedly by a neighbor of Barakat and his wife in a Chapel Hill condominium complex. The shootings might have been the result of a neighbor’s obsession with parking, although there has been speculation about prejudice against Muslims. Barakat was studying dentistry, and his wife was about to enter UNC-Chapel Hill to do so as well. Her sister was a design student at N.C. State University.

In the months since the deaths, friends and family have in an inspiring way made good on the determination these young people showed to do good in the world.

The universities with which they were affiliated have established scholarships in their honor, six at NCSU, where Barakat and his wife received their undergraduate degrees, and one at UNC-CH.

But the volunteer work that has been done and will be done is a most fitting legacy.

Consider that Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and her husband had planned to go on an overseas mission trip and hold dental clinics for Syrian refugees in Turkey. Mission accomplished: Volunteers went to Turkey earlier this month and treated more than 800 patients.

The starting of classes at N.C. State and UNC-CH will enrich the legacy of these young people even more by helping other young people, seven of them, go to school.

One must believe that these three would be heartened by the story and the words of one of those who’ll be getting scholarship money. Olivia Kehoe of Charlotte is an NCSU student who though just 19 already has volunteered at a hospital to work with autistic children. “I sort of hope to keep the memory (of Barakat and the Abu-Salha sisters) alive through my volunteer work,” Kehoe said.

Before the year ends, a nonprofit organization that plans to offer services to young people, to reach out to the Muslim community and to help others with their own service groups will open in an East Raleigh home once owned by Deah Barakat.

And one spearheading the nonprofit efforts is Farris Barakat, who will never get over the loss of his brother but is determined to preserve a legacy of which that brother would be proud.

“Life is a test,” he said. “Now we’re given an opportunity to do something good. We have to take it.”




Aug. 17

Winston-Salem (North Carolina) Journal on state’s budget delay:

Got an extra $1.13 million lying around? The state legislature must think so.

That’s what its delay in passing a two-year budget has cost taxpayers as of Thursday, The Associated Press reported last week.

The state budget was supposed to have taken effect on July 1. Instead, lawmakers have approved two temporary spending extensions, the latest until the end of August. Each additional month the legislature meets costs, on average, an extra $840,000, compared to the cost of running operations when the annual session is adjourned. That’s about $42,000 per weekday, according to the General Assembly’s financial services office. The money goes for part-time workers, utility bills, janitorial supplies - and the $104 per diem collected by each of the 170 legislators. (The amount doesn’t include the week after July 4, during which, with an incomplete budget, the legislature took a break.)

And it’s not just a matter of money - the delay also creates a great inconvenience for state agencies and organizations, especially public schools, which begin without knowing whether they’ll be able to pay all their teaching assistants - many of whom also drive school buses - through the year, another in a long line of degradations practiced on our teaching professionals.

Going through Aug. 31 would result in $504,000 in additional expenses. If the final budget isn’t approved until then, it would mark the latest a two-year spending plan has been finalized since 2001.

In the vast scheme of things, the $1.13 million is chicken feed to the state - it has to reconcile the House’s $22.1 billion budget and the Senate’s $21.5 billion. But it’s still a waste of money that could be better spent elsewhere.

The GOP defense has been that the Democrats passed budgets in late July and August when they were in charge. But on average, two-year spending budgets created under Democratic domain were enacted around July 26, according to the AP - except for the five times since 1995 the Democrats finished the process on time.

And saying “they did it, too” is cold comfort coming from a party that claimed it would do better.

“It’s better that we get a good product even if it takes a little longer, than to do a rush job on something that we can’t be proud of,” House Speaker Tim Moore told The Associated Press.

But even with the extra deliberation, we’re not so sure the legislature is going to come up with something they should be proud of. The hallmark of the Senate’s tax-reform ideology has been to reduce resources for public schools and economic development.

There must be a better way. Instead of pushing a questionable referendum on the state constitution that could seriously curtail the state’s ability to do business in the future, legislative leaders should set a mandatory ending date for its sessions. That would mandate flexibility at the bargaining table.



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