- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Feb. 19

The Greensboro News and Record on the Affordable Care Act dilemma:

Many North Carolina residents are unhealthy.



The facts have been documented extensively: Diabetes, stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and many other diseases take a heavy toll. Obesity and smoking are leading contributors. Poverty and lack of regular medical care for many let chronic ailments develop into disabling conditions.

No wonder so many North Carolinians have signed up for Affordable Care Act programs since coverage became available in 2011. They had no alternative. Many more would enroll in Medicaid if the state had accepted the expansion offered by the federal government.

North Carolina’s 2017 ACA enrollment is 549,158, fourth-highest in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Yet, there’s just one insurer in the market: Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, and it expects to lose money despite hiking premiums by 24 percent.

The reason for the losses is directly related to the poor general health of the North Carolina population. People who have high incidences of severe diseases or even chronic conditions consume a lot of costly medical care. Meanwhile, healthier younger people without other coverage still tend to avoid enrolling in ACA plans. Without their premiums coming in to help pay for their sicker elders, the insurance company can’t make a profit. Worse, if the same healthy younger people come down with unexpected illnesses or experience catastrophic accidents, they’ll be unable to pay medical providers - leaving others to pick up the bills.

The final burden is that so many ACA enrollees in North Carolina - about 90 percent - qualify for federal subsidies, according to a study by Wake Forest University researcher Mark Hall. Most of them pay less than $75 a month out of their own pockets. Taxpayers cover the rest.

This adds up to an unsustainable system but also poses a difficult problem for policymakers in Washington who promise to “repeal and replace Obamacare.”

They can repeal it, but President Donald Trump has set a high bar for a replacement. He says it should cover everyone, provide better care and cost less.

No one should believe that will be the end result. And, despite Trump’s vow to produce his plan immediately, it is yet to materialize and probably doesn’t exist.

Nevertheless, his administration is taking steps that could both help and hurt the ACA in the short run. It’s moving to restrict open enrollment periods that have allowed consumers to sign up when they’re sick and drop coverage when they’re better. If the effort is successful, it could plug some losses. At the same time, it’s relaxing enforcement of the individual mandate requiring people to purchase insurance. That will rob the system of revenue.

In the meantime, Republican representatives and senators around the country are hearing from constituents who demand health care coverage - so many of them that the politicians are starting to worry about the political cost of casting millions of Americans off the insurance rolls.

Some are avoiding town hall meetings and other forums where they might have to face angry voters. U.S. Rep. Ted Budd of North Carolina’s 13th District has set up “telephone town halls” with constituents, which lets him address them in a tightly controlled environment.

Years of promises to repeal Obamacare have yielded to a complex reality: Replacing it will be terribly difficult and potentially unpopular. People don’t want to be excluded from coverage if they have pre-existing conditions. They don’t want low ceilings on annual or lifetime benefits. They don’t want to be forced to enroll in insurance if they don’t think they need it. Employers don’t want to be required to insure their employees. And, most vexing of all, no one wants to pay what good medical care really costs.

The smartest way to address the root problem would be to provide preventive care and health maintenance for everyone. If Americans were healthier in the first place, insurance might be affordable. Getting there won’t be accomplished simply by repealing Obamacare.

Online: https://www.greensboro.com/

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Feb. 21

The Raleigh News and Observer on how state leaders are combating voter suppression:

Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein have made a bold move to cure the ailment of voter suppression in North Carolina.

The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made the clearly correct ruling last year on North Carolina’s suppressive 2013 overhaul of elections law. The court said that the overhaul sought to reduce the impact of African-American voters in elections “with almost surgical precision.”

Basically, the Fourth Circuit panel agreed with those who said the voter ID requirements, along with a cut in the number of early voting days, were aimed at reducing the voting strength of African-Americans, who tend to favor Democrats.

Now, Cooper and Stein, both Democrats, have moved to end the legal defense of the voter ID shenanigans engineered by Republicans. The governor and Stein have discharged the private attorneys who had been representing the state in an ongoing maneuver to get the Supreme Court to review that Fourth Circuit ruling. Once Cooper declined, as attorney general, to represent the state, former Gov. Pat McCrory hired private lawyers to do so at public expense.

This may not be the end of the controversy. The State Board of Elections, its members and its director would also have to withdraw from the case. And, the high court could decide to hear the arguments anyway, but that seems unlikely.

Legislative leaders, all Republicans, weren’t named in the lawsuit, so they’d have to petition the courts to intervene themselves. Given the reckless disregard with which GOP leaders have spent money on private lawyers to try to uphold their voter ID crusade, it won’t be surprising if they do just that.

Republicans have long tried to defend a law clearly designed to reduce the strength, by infringing on the rights, of people not inclined to vote for them. But arguments, for example, that people have to show ID to cash a check or use a credit card are weak. Voting is a right, not a privilege. It must not be impeded, particularly by politicians trying to game the system in their favor.

This was another case of Republicans in the General Assembly trying to ensure victory in elections by making voting harder for those who might oppose them - the elderly, the young and minorities, groups more likely not to have conventional identification. The voter ID law fits neatly into the same file as embarrassing redistricting lines skewing districts in favor of Republicans - something else that has been under expensive legal challenge.

Cooper and Stein have done the right thing in trying to maintain access for all voters in making that most important statement in our democracy.

Online: https://www.newsobserver.com/

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Feb. 21

The Fayetteville Observer on Gov. Roy Cooper’s teacher pay plan:

Gov. Roy Cooper wants to give North Carolina’s teachers a big raise. And then he wants to do it again. Good, for several reasons.

For one, they deserve it. Teachers have suffered in the lean and difficult years since the Great Recession. They went years without raises and saw their salaries drop from the national average to nearly the bottom of the barrel. Even with some recent raises, teacher pay in North Carolina is still in the nation’s bottom fifth.

And that leads us to the other reason why we need to boost teacher pay: We’re bleeding our best and brightest to neighboring states, all of which pay better than we do. Low salaries make it difficult, if not impossible, to recruit the top teachers that our school systems need.

So we welcome Cooper’s budget proposal, which will give public-school teachers a 5 percent raise in the next school year (which is essentially the next fiscal year as well), and then bumps them up another 5 percent in 2018-2019.

The governor doesn’t plan to stop there. He says he envisions continuing the pay hikes until the early 2020s, bringing teacher salaries here back to the national average. And within three years, teacher salaries here will rise to the highest in the Southeast. That may be the biggest help of all in combating the teacher brain drain.

It’s difficult to overstate just how important these raises are. North Carolina’s economy is growing fast, and this state is on most lists of the best places to do business. But we won’t stay there for long if we prove incapable of providing a workforce that is well trained and educated. We need to give them the best possible educations, from pre-K all the way through graduate school at our public universities. There is no more important element in sustainable economic development.

Yes, it will be expensive. Cooper says his plan will cost $813 million in the first two years alone. But he won’t have to raise taxes to do it - the money’s already in the till. So far this year, state revenues are dramatically outpacing spending. Budget analysts project a surplus of around $600 million this year alone, and there are no signs that the cash flow from taxes and fees will ebb.

Oh, and one more thing: Cooper also proposes giving teachers a $150-a-year stipend to help with their out-of-pocket expenses for classroom supplies. It’s about time government recognizes the shameful truth that most teachers do this, primarily because their schools no longer have the money to pay for basic supplies.

We hope this plan can win broad support and not be shot down by small-minded partisan squabbling. There’s nothing more important than our kids’ education.

Online: https://www.fayobserver.com/

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