By Diane Morris, Senior Editor
HEALTH NEWS: Commissioners, coverage, and dollars for docs
Last week, the nation’s state insurance commissioners met in Florida and rejected attempts to weaken the federal health-reform requirement that insurers spend 80% to 85% of the premium dollars they collect on providing medical care. Good for them and good for NC’s Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin for supporting consumer advocates like the Justice Center and beating back industry efforts to weaken these standards.
An Associated Press article yesterday features Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen arguing that employers will drop health coverage because of the new health reform law. Here's why he's wrong.
Employers get substantial tax benefits for offering health coverage to their employees. Plus, under the reform law, employers will pay a penalty if they don't offer coverage. The independent nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that very few employers nationwide would drop coverage because of those two factors.
The attacks on health reform continue, and members of Congress need to hear from their constituents in support of the new law.
One of the factors that contribute to increased health-care costs is the payments drug companies make to doctors. Those payments drive up prescription costs and increase the likelihood doctors will prescribe more expensive and sometimes unnecessary drugs.
Now you can find out how much, if any, money your doctor has received from seven drug companies that have begun posting doctors' names and compensation on the Web, some as the result of legal settlements. ProPublica compiled these disclosures, totaling $258 million, into a single database that allows patients to search for their doctor.
Doctors and medical centers should use health reform as an opportunity to reexamine their relationships with pharmaceutical companies. New Physician Payment Sunshine provisions will require more disclosure and transparency about drug company and medical-device maker relationships. Physicians and hospitals can avoid any potential embarrassment by severing drug company ties.
JOB CREATION: Strategies for getting North Carolinians back to work
North Carolina needs to create at last 13,000 jobs per month if it’s going get its entire labor force working by 2015.
We’ll see after next month’s election whether there will be the political will in Washington to extend assistance to the unemployed and tax breaks for working families. If there isn’t and Congress allows those measures to expire, the nation’s economic recovery could come to a screeching halt.
North Carolina legislators also need to start looking at ways to create good-paying jobs. Forget business incentives—research shows they are a waste of money. Instead, the state needs to subsidize job creation. For example, a Small Business Job Growth grant program could provide a direct subsidy of, say, $10 per hour to the wages and benefits for newly created jobs. It’s a program that could spur economic activity and job growth and help keep North Carolina on the road to recovery.
ELECTIONS: Check your candidates' economic interest statements
Speaking of economics, NC Policy Watch has compiled all the "statements of economic interest" that NC legislative candidates are required to file when running for office. The forms came into being as a result of the major ethics reform passed in 2006, but they haven’t been easily accessible online, until now. So go ahead and check out the candidates in your district.
EDUCATION: Reconsidering the value of EOGs in middle school
The NC State Board of Education recently recommended a policy change that would make middle school End-of-Grade (EOG) exams account for 25% of each student's final grade in specified subjects. Former middle-school teacher and Justice Center Education Policy Fellow Tyler Whittenberg explains why this is such a bad idea.
"Most middle school students, especially 6th and 7th graders from 11 to 14 years old, are simply not prepared to handle the pressure associated with grade-affecting, high-stakes exams. I have personally experienced children so nervous they can't adequately 'bubble' in the answers on tests because their hands are shaking; students so disheartened after receiving their first round test scores that they begin crying and refuse further testing; and even students who fight, cuss, or act out for the sole purpose of not taking the EOGs...
English Language Learning (ELL) and special-education students—who have historically struggled with standardized tests—will also be negatively affected by this policy. Last year, most of my ELL and learning-disabled students worked diligently throughout the school year to maintain adequate grades, some finishing the year with an 'A' average. Nonetheless, after the first round of EOG exams, none of these students were 'language arts proficient.' What they did learn, however, was that hard work and perseverance pay off. While they may not have achieved a mastery of the English language, they did master the skills needed to learn. If 25% of these students' final English grades would have been dependent on their EOG scores, the lesson learned would have been far less encouraging."
Apparently, North Carolina education officials have forgotten the effects of creating a system that promotes "teaching to the test" – more mindless drills, narrower curricula, and unengaged students. Fortunately, officials can still reconsider this policy and perhaps come up with a system that encourages and engages teachers and students.
CORPORATE TAXES: How NC loses out twice
News reports last week exposed how Google avoids paying billions of dollars in taxes to the United States and other countries. It funnels profits from its headquarters in Ireland to a shell company in the Netherlands and then to Bermuda, which has no corporate income tax.
Of course, Google isn’t the only tech giant using legal yet immoral measures to avoid paying taxes. And that means the rest of us pay more in taxes. Consider this—publicly funded research and a publicly funded college scholarship for its founder helped lead to the creation of Google. But the company is avoiding its responsibility to support public investments. That money could go to programs and institutions in North Carolina and pay for research that could create green energy or the next technology breakthrough.
Sadly, North Carolina loses out on state corporate taxes as well. State law allows multi-state corporations to shift their profits to other states with lower or no corporate income tax. So they use North Carolina's infrastructure to move products built by workers educated in NC’s public schools, but they avoid contributing to the public investments from which they benefit.
Closing this loophole by implementing "combined reporting" is one of eight measures the state legislature can take to help ease the budget crisis. Before they gut NC’s treasured public institutions in the coming fiscal year, we hope legislators give these ideas another look.
COMMUNITY COLLEGES: Students identify the help they need
From the White House to the National Governor’s Association, it seems everyone is looking for ways to help students continue their educations beyond high school. The Justice Center, with the national public policy organization Dēmos, released a report in September that laid out the significant financial barriers that can impede a student’s completion of his education program.
This weekend, community college students from across North Carolina gathered in Charlotte to share their unique perspectives on the challenges and strategies to post-secondary completion. Not surprisingly, key among the barriers they identified were the costs of attendance and the need for financial support to meet educational expenses as well as transportation and child-care costs associated with going to school. Students also said they need a support system that fosters achievement, connects students to opportunities in their communities and counsels them on career opportunities. Many students cited the important role that the Male Minority Mentoring Program played in their successes.
Community college students presented their solutions to the challenges they face, and five of them will be funded through grant dollars from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. These programs will be supported by the network of organizations in North Carolina working on post-secondary success, including the NC Community College System and the Justice Center.
UNFINISHED WORK: UNC Center for Civil Rights conference
In honor of Julius Chambers' commitment to justice, the UNC Center for Civil Rights and its partners proudly present "The Unfinished Work: Advancing New Strategies in the Struggle for Civil Rights" on November 1 and 2.
Today it appears that the civil rights victories of the 1950s and 60s are in peril. Some people may believe that there are few options for pursuing social change that can transform the nation and make opportunity and prosperity a reality for all people. At this conference, a diverse array of the nation's most talented attorneys, advocates and scholars will discuss the critical issues of today's civil rights movement. Participants will learn about the most promising strategies for pursuing equity and eliminating discrimination in public education, housing, democratic representation, employment and criminal justice.
RALEIGH TO RESTORE FOR SANITY: Join us on October 30
As you’ve no doubt heard, Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart is hosting the Rally to Restore Sanity on October 30 in Washington DC. His event and Stephen Colbert’s simultaneous March to Keep Fear Alive are expected to bring more than 100,000 to the National Mall.
If you can’t make it to DC but you want to show your support for the value of civil discourse, join NC Policy Watch for "Raleigh to Restore Sanity" at the Tir Na Nog pub in downtown Raleigh on Saturday. It will be a fun, hate-free gathering with beer and good food. Plus, we’ll have the DC rally on television.