Morning Memo: DHHS goes under the microscope again

Posted by John Frank on January 14, 2014 

Despite more troubles in North Carolina’s health agency, legislative Republicans aren’t ready to join Democrats in asking that Gov. Pat McCrory replace its chief, the Associated Press reports. It comes as legislators prepare to meet Tuesday to seek answers on a privacy breach and renewed food stamp delays.

A legislative oversight committee scheduled several hours to hear from leaders of the Department of Health and Human Services on several topics, as is common with their monthly gathering. But this meeting comes after vocal criticism of the department for mistakenly mailing 49,000 Medicaid cards for children to the wrong addresses late last month and the time it took to make the error public.

Now a backlog in food stamp applications or renewals resurfaced after DHHS leaders told the same committee in October an earlier logjam had been all but eliminated. A December letter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture disclosed late last week threatens to cut off federal funds to run the state’s food stamps program unless families are served more quickly.

Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly and co-chairman of the DHHS oversight committee, said he’s bothered that he heard about the new bottleneck in applications last week through the media. While the card and food stamp matters aren’t listed on Tuesday’s agenda, Burr said it will get attention.

“We hope to get some answers about what’s going wrong and why we are just now hearing about” food stamp delays, Burr said Monday, adding legislators “need to be kept up to speed.” Read more here.

*** President Barack Obama visits Raleigh on Wednesday. Got a question for him? Send it to Dome here and we’ll try to get you an answers. More political news below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory will attend the 46th annual Tobacco Workers’ Conference at 10 a.m. in Pinehurst.

The Revenue Laws Study Committee meets at 9:30 a.m. in room 544 of the legislative office building to look at state collections other tweaks to the state’s tax laws. As noted above, a crowd is expected at the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services meets at 10 a.m. in room 643

The N.C. Mining and Energy Commission meets at 8 a.m. in Raleigh, as does the Economic Investment Committee for the state’s JDIG incentive program, at 11 a.m. in the N.C. Department of Commerce board room.

THE BIG STORY -- NORTH CAROLINA RANKS NO. 5 IN HEALTHCARE ENROLLMENTS: From AP -- Health insurance enrollment during the first few months of the federal overhaul law was stronger in North Carolina than in all but four other states, a new report released Monday said.

Almost 108,000 North Carolina residents signed up for health insurance in the first three months since the Oct. 1 launch of new marketplaces for private policies.

Only California, Florida, New York and Texas signed up more people than North Carolina. All of those states have larger populations than North Carolina. California and New York run their own health insurance marketplaces, while North Carolina was among about three dozen states that opted to leave that task to the federal government. Read more here.

MORE ON THE NUMBERS: The federal data also show that 23 percent of North Carolina’s enrollments have been by people ages 18 to 34, the age group essential to the program’s success. Younger people tend to have less health problems and are needed to subsidize older, sicker insurance customers in a balanced insurance pool. The national average is 24 percent for enrollment in that age category, known in insurance industry parlance as “young invincibles.”

In North Carolina, 89 percent of applicants have qualified for subsidies, among the highest subsidization rates in the nation. Only Oregon has a higher rate of subsidized insurance enrollments, at 100 percent. Read more here.

McCRORY GETS A FALSE RATING ON LATEST CLAIM: WRAL fact checked Gov. Pat McCrory’s statement that people were moving to North Carolina to get unemployment benefits. It looks like another instance of overreach on the governor’s part. See the ruling here.

USA TODAY HEADLINE -- Obama’s jobless benefits push looms over NC Senate race: With his visit to Raleigh on Wednesday to talk about the economy, President Obama is expected to repeat his call on Republicans to extend emergency unemployment insurance benefits that expired for 1.3 million long-term unemployed Americans more than two weeks ago in a state where the issue has significant resonance. Read more here.

VIRGINIA FOXX ANNOUNCES RE-ELECTION BID: “Congress needs people who have a backbone, who will stand up for what’s right and who know how to solve problems without expanding government and without creating more debt,” Foxx said in a statement. “I will continue to work hard to stop the Washington big-government-perpetual-spending machine and will stand up for the values of hard-working North Carolina families."

DISPATCH FROM WASHINGTON: AP -- The sales job is on for a bipartisan $1.1 trillion spending bill that would pay for the operations of government through October and finally put to rest the bitter budget battles of last year.

The massive measure contains a dozens of trade-offs between Democrats and Republicans as it fleshes out the details of the budget deal that Congress passed last month. That pact gave relatively modest but much-sought relief to the Pentagon and domestic agencies after deep budget cuts last year.

The GOP-led House is slated to pass the 1,582-page bill Wednesday, though many tea party conservatives are sure to oppose it. Read more here.

MORE ON CHARTER SCHOOLS: More than 60 new charter schools are still in the running to open in 2015 – 50 percent more than were considered for this coming fall – under a new board that’s more friendly to the nontraditional public schools.

The new Charter School Advisory Board – appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and the General Assembly – agreed Monday that only nine of 71 schools that want to open in 2015 have incomplete applications that would bar them from further review. Read more here.

BARRY SAUNDERS ON MARCO RUBIO: Now, it’s personal. When U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida attacks President Barack Obama – or even votes against his own bill – that’s typical political posturing. No big deal.

When, however, this same Marco Rubio ignorantly assails one of the greatest programs his parents’ adopted country has ever produced, it becomes a big deal. Really big.

The Republican Rubio, who has as legitimate a chance of becoming president as my big toe, is calling Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty program a bust, a failure, a waste of trillions of dollars.

I respectfully disagree. Scratch that: I disrespectfully disagree. Who can have respect for some kowtowing, know-nothing politician whose every utterance drips with contempt for the people who are in the same position his family and he once were? Read more here.

QUICK HITS --

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan among co-sponsors on Iran sanctions bill. Read more here.

Paul Krugman on the Raleigh experiment. Read more here.

And ICYMI, a lengthy look at how North Carolina and other states got its political monopoly. Read more here.

PERSONNEL FILE: House Speaker Thom Tillis has hired a new communications director in his legislative office. Anna Roberts started earlier this month, replacing Jordan Shaw who left to join Tillis’ U.S. Senate campaign.

Roberts, 39, lives in Raleigh. She grew up in Chowan County and attended Converse College in Spartanburg. Her communications experience includes working for Capstrat, a leading area public affairs firm, and served as a member of Gov. Pat McCrory’s transition team for the Department of Transportation in 2012. She is also a fellow of the N.C. Institute of Political Leadership.

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