RALEIGH — North Carolina legislators took an initial step Tuesday toward expanding Medicaid coverage to more working families in the state after nearly 10 years of Republican opposition when a GOP-designed plan easily passed a committee with bipartisan support.
The legislation approved by the N.C. House Health Committee requires Medicaid participants to work and pay up to 2% of their annual household income for coverage. That, along with an estimated $2 billion from hospitals hoping to cut the volume of poor people who can’t pay, would cover the state’s share without costing taxpayers, said state Rep. Donny Lambeth, a former hospital executive.
“We have a problem with health care in North Carolina” that includes more than 1 million residents without insurance coverage, struggling rural hospitals and small communities unable to attract doctors as an aging population increases demand, said Lambeth, R-Forsyth County. The plan assumes that about 300,000 people would qualify for expanded Medicaid coverage, he said.
North Carolina is one of 14 states that have resisted Medicaid expansion covering roughly 12 million people despite the federal government paying 90% of Medicaid expansion costs under provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act, nicknamed “Obamacare.”
That law faced a legal challenge Tuesday in a federal appeals court in New Orleans from Republican-led states arguing that all facets of the law must be voided because Congress dropped tax penalties for people who don’t buy health insurance coverage. Any decision by three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel will likely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Republican House leaders allowed the North Carolina legislation, building on proposals first advanced in 2017, to get a committee vote amid a budget fight in which Medicaid expansion looms large.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper wants Medicaid expansion without work requirements or premiums and he vetoed the state budget plan adopted by the legislature because Republicans didn’t include it. N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham County, said he won’t negotiate with Cooper over the budget unless the governor drops his Medicaid demand.
Cooper called the Republican decision to begin consideration of Medicaid expansion “a good step forward” but short of his proposal that would expand Medicaid to between 500,000 and 600,000 working North Carolinians.
“Clearly if they’re discussing it, they realize that it’s an important part of this process, but it has to go through two chambers in order to pass,” he told reporters Tuesday.
Berger said Tuesday that the Medicaid expansion bill being considered by the House lacked the votes to pass in the Senate.
The expansion proposal advanced Tuesday was opposed by advocacy groups on the left, which argued work and reporting requirements are expensive and complicated, and the right, which said accepting more federal money for Medicaid would add to the national deficit.
But supporters who spoke legislators included the owner of day care centers who said her poorly paid teachers suffered without affordable health care, and George Little, a former Republican candidate for governor, who said North Carolina businesses couldn’t remain competitive without financially stable hospitals.
Cassandra Brooks, who owns two day care centers near Raleigh, said two of her teachers died prematurely from heart ailments that went untreated because they couldn’t afford medical costs, a problem Medicaid expansion could address.
“They died from something so simple that could have been prevented,” she said.
The walls vibrate as the sounds of splintering plastic and shattering glass compete with the bass of a loudspeaker playing hip-hop music. You might think there’s a fight happening on the other side, but instead ... there’s laughter.
Vonya Adams and Briseida Castro are at Break ‘N Bash, Greensboro’s newest entertainment venue. It’s a place where people pay to smash things. TVs. Computers. You name it.
Adams and Castro emerge from a room. What was a television has been reduced to bits as a smattering of twisted wires and shards of circuit board litter the floor. Tiny pieces of gray glass from the TV screen are mixed among the remains of dinner plates and wine goblets.
“I just figured it was a way to come and let off some steam after a stressful work week,” Castro explained.
Adams, on the other hand, was looking for a way to deal with her mood swings.
“When I was in there I was thinking about all of the things I was angry about this week,” Adams said.
Step aside, axe throwing. Breaking stuff may become the country’s new entertainment trend.
Therapeutic? Maybe. Satisfying? Definitely.
Millia Edwards opened Break ‘N Bash last year. The Greensboro native is a 2018 graduate of Winston-Salem State, where she got a degree in vocational rehabilitation and received training in substance-abuse counseling and crisis intervention.
Of course, counseling doesn’t work for everyone.
“Not everyone wants to talk to somebody, but a lot of people find this relieves stress after a long day at work,” Edwards said.
Break ‘N Bash has three “break rooms.” Adams and Castro seemed a little tense before entering one, but they were all smiles when they came out.
TVs, computers, dinner plates, glassware and even Christmas ornaments are some of the things you can break — items Edwards purchases or gets through donations.
Customers have a choice of a sledgehammer, crowbar or bat to use — or they can try all three.
“People will come in and listen to Christmas carols and smash ornaments in the middle of the summer,” said Edwards with a laugh.
Customers suit up in coveralls, goggles and other protective gear.
Edwards provides heart-thumping music or customers can stream tunes from their own devices.
Break sessions are 20 minutes long at a cost of $45 per person. Get a friend or two and it’s cheaper. The clock starts ticking when Edwards hears the first wham. She uses a closed-circuit monitor to keep an eye on things.
After a break session, Edwards cleans the mess and sets up for the next person.
Customers can even bring their own stuff to smash. There was the woman who came with a lipstick-stained coffee cup — a reminder of her husband’s affair.
There was also the man who suited up and entered a break room. Edwards watched him on the monitor as he stood there for about a minute. Then he took off the coveralls and walked out.
“He scared me a little bit because he was a big guy. And I was, like, ‘Are you all right?,’” Edwards recalled. “He just sat down and he was, like, ‘I don’t think this is for me. I don’t like that side of me to come out.’”
Edwards and the man ended up talking for over an hour.
“He said, ‘That was better for me than going in there and smashing things,’” Edwards said.
Courtney Kent, who works at a veterinarian clinic, said dealing with people’s sick and dying pets takes a toll. She managed to save a pet the day she came to Break ‘N Bash.
“I had a good adrenaline rush,” Kent said, “so this was perfect to work that off.”
Drivers (not) wanted: After 80 years, it’s the end of the road for the iconic Volkswagen Beetle. Page B1
Texas billionaire Ross Perot was still basking in the popularity from his 1992 presidential run when he came to High Point in 1993 for one of his signature United We Stand America rallies.
The self-financed, and affable anti-establishment candidate who had gotten a whopping 19 percent of the presidential vote as a third-party candidate drew about 2,000 people to Showplace on the Park that March — many looking for someone who they too thought could still cure their ills.
“All we can do now is work and pay our bills,” said Deborah Kennedy, a furniture worker in the crowd that day who had came from Randleman to hear Perot’s message. “We’ve had Democrats and Republicans, and he’s neither one — he’s the change.”
Perot, who died Tuesday at the age of 89, was hoping to leverage that sentiment into a movement just over two decades ago.
In his visit to High Point, the businessman and philanthropist praised the audience for helping him send a message to the White House through his showing in the election and encouraged individuals to join the grass-roots group he formed during the election.
“We need to build the biggest citizen organization this world has ever seen,” Perot told the gathering. “Right now the people don’t have a voice.”
But “You think anybody would be interested in me without you? I’d be just another weirdo walking around.”
Garland Burton of High Point had voted for Bill Clinton, who was re-elected as president. He attended the 1993 rally, saying he thought Perot could still make a difference.
“I think Perot has some interesting points ... and he speaks in a plain clarity and earnest that most people understand,” Burton said at the time. “I didn’t think he was a viable presidential candidate ... but I think his job is to bring to the attention the problems the government has and to make (elected officials) do what they’re supposed to.”
Perot never reached the presidency, but he remained popular.
Referring to a recent trip to the nation’s capital as “going into never-never land” for the day, Perot told the audience that he grilled Washington on its $2 million retirement plans, a multi-million dollar congressional health club and even the $50,000-a-year maid who reportedly cleans the vice president’s quarters.
“On the health club they say: ‘But Ross, we work so hard.’ And I looked at them and I said, ‘Carpenters and brick layers and plumbers work hard, too.’ Then they say, ‘But we need to stay in good shape,’ and I say, ‘Why don’t you join a health club like ordinary people?’ “
“And then one said, ‘But what will we do with it (since it’s already built)?’ I said, ‘Close it and take tourists through to let them see how government used to be.’”
He got thunderous applause.
RALEIGH — North Carolina lawmakers may now be willing to change the system that’s resulted in every public school getting a single letter grade from the state to evaluate their academic performance.
The state Senate unanimously voted on Tuesday to pass a bill that directs State Superintendent Mark Johnson and the State Board of Education to make recommendations by February on whether the A-F school performance grading system should be revised. Critics of the system say that the current focus on passing rates on state exams has unfairly stigmatized high-poverty schools as being failing.
“We think about F schools and we think about the stigma that it often puts on not only the students but the community,” said Sen. Joyce Waddell, a Mecklenburg County Democrat. “We have to do a better job because many of the Realtors who come and they find out here’s an affluent neighborhood but here’s a school that’s an F school.
“They don’t want to move in this neighborhood. So we must do a better job when it comes to putting grades on schools.”
House Bill 362 also would make permanent the 15-point scale that’s been used to issue grades to schools since the system began. This means an A is 85 to 100.
Some television stations had previously incorrectly reported that lawmakers were looking at changing the way student grades are given.
The bill returns to the House to see if it agrees with changes made by the Senate.
The legislation marks the first time the Senate has shown a willingness to consider changes to the A-F grading system since it was put into law as part of the 2013 state budget. Republican legislative leaders have said the letter grades help parents know how their children’s schools are doing, but critics say schools are being “stigmatized” by the state’s “faulty” A-F school grading system.
Each school’s letter grade is calculated from student testing scores, which account for 80% of the letter grade, and the measured growth of students. The growth component — which tracks improvement of students — makes up 20% of each school’s grade.
Since the beginning of the program, each year’s results have shown a strong correlation between the wealth of student families and school grades.
For instance in the 2017-18 school year, among schools where more than 81 percent of students come from low-income families, 69% of the schools received a D or F. In schools where the poverty rate is less than 20%, only 1.7 percent of schools received a D or F.
For the past few years, the House has passed bills to modify how the grades are determined, such as giving more weight to growth scores. But the legislation has died in the Senate.
But this year the Senate included the study of revising the grading system in the House bill making the 15-point scale permanent. Sen. Rick Horner, a Nash County Republican, said at a legislative committee meeting last month that they want to make sure people “can feel confident that these schools are being graded in a fair manner.”
Waddell tried Tuesday to go a step further with an amendment to revise the grading system to be 51% achievement and 49% growth.
“No one wants to attend a D or F school and I don’t know if we realized it but what we can see is a strong correlation between socioeconomic status and school grades and that shouldn’t be,” she said.
But her amendment was tabled by a 28-21 vote.
“We have a myriad of ideas on how this should be done, and one of my arguments was we shouldn’t be so quick to tell our state how to do this,” Horner said. “We’re going to hear from the state board, and they’re going to come back and make a recommendation about the weightings.
“We’re going to try and take a little of the legislative mandate out and let’s get their recommendations before we make a decision.”