Under the Dome

October 25, 2013

Morning Memo: SEANC on Health Plan troubles: where are the hearings?

State Treasurer Janet Cowell’s office is facing questions after Hundreds of state workers are having trouble signing up for health insurance.

Hundreds of state workers are having trouble signing up for health insurance, forcing North Carolina officials to extend the enrollment period for the State Health Plan. The situation is drawing comparisons to the problems plaguing the roll out of the federal health care law, as complaints mount about premium increases and glitches with websites and clogged phone lines run by private contractors.

And now the State Employees Association of North Carolina is wondering why there aren’t legislative hearings here – like in Washington. Rep. Jeff Collins, the Republican chairman of the House Insurance Committee, said he hadn’t heard about the problems.

The enrollment period for the plan – which is managed by Democratic State Treasurer Janet Cowell – was scheduled to end Oct. 31. But on Wednesday, state officials extended the deadline to Nov. 15 because more than half of the 660,000 state workers and retirees in the system had not yet selected insurance coverage.

***More on the emerging problems at the treasurer’s office and North Carolina’s new dubious title – all below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

COWELL’S OFFICE DOWNPLAYS TROUBLES: Schorr Johnson, a spokesman for the state treasurer’s office, dismissed the comparison to the federal health insurance program. He said Thursday that the vendor who operates the State Health Plan’s telephone assistance line is experiencing “longer wait times than desired” and is working to remedy the problem. He could not provide details about the changes. “It has been running fairly smoothly,” he said. Read more here.

RELATED: Private contractors working on the troubled federal health insurance marketplace told a congressional committee Thursday that they needed several months, but only had two weeks, before the launch date to fully test what could be the most complex government IT system in U.S. history. Read more here.

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory campaigned with GOP candidate Ken Cuccinelli in Virginia on Wednesday (see AP photo above).

Today, McCrory will honor the late Jesse Helms. The foundation in Helms’ name is hosting a 25th anniversary event in Raleigh at 7 p.m. Earlier in the day, McCrory will attend the U.S. Golf Association’s 2014 U.S. Open Championship meeting in Pinehurst at 11 a.m. Both events are closed to the press.

In Raleigh, an all-day forum will look at the state’s new election law. It features Richard Hasen, a national expert, as the keynote speaker. Kim Strach, the executive director of the N.C. State Board of Elections, will also speak. The event is being hosted by the Bailey & Dixon law firm and N.C. Citizens for Protecting Our Schools. Find more information here.

NORTH CAROLINA’S DUBIOUS TITLE IN DAILY SHOW HISTORY: New York Magazine -- and dozens of national publications -- picked up the story of North Carolina Republican official Don Yelton defending the state’s new election laws on The Daily Show. It dubbed the interview the “most baldly racist Daily Show interview of all time.” Quite a distinction. Yelton told local Asheville newspapers that he stands by what he said. Read the NY mag piece here.

DEMOCRATS PICK NEW HOUSE MEMBER: A Democratic Party executive committee voted unanimously Thursday to appoint Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools administrator Graig Meyer to a vacant House District 50 seat.

Meyer replaces now-state Sen. Valerie Foushee, who was appointed to the District 23 seat formerly held by retired state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird. Foushee was sworn into her new office Sept. 25. Kinnaird resigned in August to devote her time to helping voters prepare for the state’s new strict voter ID rules. The House and Senate terms both expire in December 2014.

The four-member committee – Orange County representatives Dave Gephart and Phyllis Mack-Horton, and Durham County representatives Will Wilson and Ann Hedgspeth – conferred privately before casting their 269 votes – 97 for Durham’s members and 172 for Orange’s members. The committee spread its first vote among several candidates. The second vote, just a few minutes later, was unanimous. Read more here.

LOCKE FOUNDATION BACKS CERTIFICATE OF NEED REPEAL: The John Locke Foundation is calling for the repeal of the certificate of need (CON) requirement for new hospitals, one of the most lobbied topics in Raleigh. "State policymakers should give health care consumers -- including the poor, the elderly, and people with emergencies -- what they really need: more choices, closer access to care, and lower costs," said report author Jon Sanders, JLF Director of Regulatory Studies. "Repeal of the certificate-of-need, or CON, law would accomplish all three goals." Read more here.

COOPER USES RATE APPEAL TO MAKE A (POLITICAL?) POINT: N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper plans to appeal – for a second time – a 7.2 percent rate increase for Duke Energy, a move believed to be the first time the same utility rate increase will be appealed twice to the N.C. Supreme Court.

Cooper, a Democrat who is expected to run for governor in 2016, is underscoring a pronounced economic shift in North Carolina. The state was once known for having some of the nation’s cheapest electric rates but lately has been catching up to the rest of the country as utilities here come in for regular rate hikes. Read more here.

TEACHERS ASSOCIATION DISCOURAGES WALK OUT: North Carolina public educators unhappy with legislators and Gov. Pat McCrory set aside talk of a grassroots teacher walkout early next month, replacing it what they call a more positive job action.

A handful of teachers who promoted a walkout Nov. 4 instead are now endorsing a "walk in" on that day to promote unity and collaboration on improving schools and working conditions. The North Carolina Association of Educators is also behind the event. They want teachers to wear read and walk in together that morning.

The 70,000-member association, the state's largest teacher lobbying group, had not endorsed the walkout. But president Rodney Ellis said he wasn't surprised teachers considered such risky action in light of legislative and gubernatorial decisions to end teacher tenure rules, freeze pay and create a new taxpayer-funded program for some children to attend private schools. Read more here.

RALEIGH WON’T REMOVE ANTI-GUN SIGNS: North Carolina’s most vocal gun rights group is threatening to sue Raleigh if it doesn’t update signs in city parks that tell visitors firearms aren’t allowed.

Grass Roots North Carolina sent a letter to the Raleigh City Council this week, requesting an update to the signs now that state law allows concealed-carry permit holders to bring guns to playgrounds, greenways and college campuses.

In an email, Raleigh parks director Diane Sauer told the group it would be too expensive to replace all signs in the city’s 100-plus parks – especially because state lawmakers might change the rules again. “Due to costs associated with and the potential of this coming up again, we are not going to replace all signs at once,” Sauer wrote to a Grass Roots member. “As signs are replaced (age or damage) or new signs are added, we will include updated information.”

Grass Roots North Carolina president Paul Valone says he doesn’t buy that argument. “I find that disingenuous,” Valone said. “It’s not too expensive – you don’t have to replace them or anything, just take them down.” Read more here.

NO LOVE FOR McCRORY: The American Economic Development Institute released a new report this week suggesting governors would make the best presidential candidates -- but they left Gov. Pat McCrory’s name off the list.

The organization publishes a list of top states in its “pro-business” rankings -- one of many groups that publishes rankings in this area, all done by different standards. And it believes the governor’s in its Top 10 would make great presidential candidates. "A good start might be for voters to consider governors of the Top 10 Pro-Business States," said Dr. Ronald R. Pollina, the groups president, in a statement. "The Top 10 States averaged a 5.6 percent unemployment rate, well below the current national average of 7.8 percent. In terms of budget deficits, the Top 10 states average shortfall as a percent of their general funds is 2.1 percent, well below the national average of 9.5 percent. "

North Carolina doesn’t appear on this list.

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