North Carolina editorial roundup
Posted July 12
Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
The Fayetteville Observer on how hundreds attending a city meeting could signal to state lawmakers that people are upset about river pollution:
When 450 people from one city show up for a meeting, that's a signal that something important is happening. We hope such a meeting in Wilmington last week is a signal to lawmakers and regulators in Raleigh that people are fed up with their allowing our rivers — which are our municipal water supplies — to become industrial sewers.
The Wilmington meeting — sponsored by our sister GateHouse newspaper, the StarNews — was held to address the presence of a chemical called GenX, a possible carcinogen, in the Cape Fear River. The chemical was leaking from the Chemours plant on the Cumberland-Bladen county line and was showing up in tests of the water supply in the Wilmington area. There is no practical way to remove the chemical at treatment plants. The New Hanover County residents who showed up at last week's meeting included city and county officials, utility leaders, scientists, health officials and legal experts. Everyone invited to the forum showed up except for one — a representative from Chemours. That was unfortunate.
The company says, however, that it has diverted the leak of GenX to a holding tank and that the chemical is being trucked away now to a disposal site where it's incinerated.
The question asked by civic leaders — and those of us who drink the water from our taps — is pretty basic: Where is the federal, state and local oversight that's supposed to protect the public from threats like GenX. We wish more officials in Fayetteville were asking the same question about 1, 4-dioxane, a toxic chemical that's apparently been in our water for years. The chemical, used in paint strippers and varnishes, appears to be coming from the Triad. The search for its source, and the enforcement to shut it down, seem too leisurely. We expect and should demand better.
Perhaps getting 450 concerned people to show up at one meeting will get someone's attention in Raleigh.
The Asheville Citizen-Times on how a divorce between providers in North Carolina could disrupt health care for thousands:
We have faith that Mission Health and Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina can work out their differences before a divorce that would disrupt health care for thousands in Western North Carolina.
We also have faith that the problem will recur, however, as long as this nation has millions of people without health insurance.
The number of uninsured, which had been dropping since adoption of the Affordable Care Act, has stabilized at nearly 29 million, or 8 percent of the population. If Republican plans to gut the ACA come to fruition, another 24 million could lose coverage.
In order to treat those without insurance, hospitals - and other providers as well - shift costs to those who do have insurance. At the most basic level, the dispute between Mission and the Blues is over the amount of cost-shifting the Blues are willing to accept.
Mission is the largest health-care provider in Western North Carolina. It operates six hospitals plus outpatient and surgery centers, and other health care providers. The Blues are the state's largest private insurer, and for most of the state the only one participating in the health-insurance exchange under the ACA.
Mission says the Blues want to keep reimbursements essentially at the same level for the next three years. "Even if we earn every dollar of pay for performance incentives offered by BCBSNC, we could at best get back to zero for three straight years," said Charles Ayscue, senior vice president and chief financial officer at Mission.
The Blues suggest Mission is asking more than other providers. "More than 43 other hospitals across the state have agreed to work with us to slow down unsustainable cost increases," said Mark Werner, vice president of provider network for the Blues.
The Blues also say that Mission "is among the most expensive facilities for common inpatient procedures." Dr. Ron Paulus, Mission CEO, says only about 25 percent of its patients are on private insurance, a lower rate than many other health systems.
The deadline is Oct. 5, which gives the two sides time to reach an agreement. We cannot believe they would allow the contract to lapse. The Blues have about 72 percent of the state's private insurance market, which means a lapse would leave a lot of people scrambling to find alternative providers. There must be an acceptable solution.
The real solution, however, cannot be worked out in Asheville. It must come from Washington and Raleigh. But, instead of working to improve the situation, governments in both capitals are making it worse.
The state refuses to expand Medicaid eligibility under the ACA. That alone added more than 300,000 people to the rolls of uninsured. The state also refused to set up its own exchange, which might have lured more insurers into the market.
Meanwhile, Congress seems determined to destroy the ACA in spite of the good it has done for the 20 million people who have gained coverage. The plans on the table would actually result in more people uninsured than before ACA.
The ACA is convoluted. That's because it is built upon a system than already was convoluted. We have every conceivable setup ranging from socialized medicine (the military and VA) to catch-as-catch-can (the 29 million uninsured). In between are those covered, by Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance.
What Congress should be doing is working on ways to make the system simpler and more efficient. Instead, lawmakers are exacerbating a system that sets providers and insurers against each other.
Mission and the Blues can reach an accord. It would be easier, however, if they had help from those with the power to reform the system.
News & Record of Greensboro on the State Board of Elections not sending voters' private information to President Donald Trump's "commission on election integrity:"
If you're a registered voter in North Carolina, some information about you is a public record. Anyone can look up your party affiliation and find out when you voted and when you didn't.
But some information is private, including your date of birth and any part of your Social Security number. The N.C. State Board of Elections won't send that private information to President Donald Trump's "commission on election integrity."
Many other states also take the position that this commission isn't entitled to detailed, private data about millions of Americans.
Trump's response came in the form of a tweet, of course: "Numerous states are refusing to give information to the very distinguished VOTER FRAUD PANEL. What are they trying to hide?"
A better question is what Trump is trying to accomplish.
He formed this commission after claiming that he would have won the popular vote in last year's election if it weren't for 3 million to 5 million illegal votes cast for Hillary Clinton. He had no evidence to back up the assertion, so he set out to find some.
Good luck. States audit their own elections to make sure they're accurate. North Carolina's State Board of Elections conducted an extensive review and found some 500 improper votes were cast, most by felons whose voting rights had not yet been restored. That hardly points to massive voter fraud.
The greater concern was the effort directed by the Russian government to interfere with our presidential election — which Trump barely acknowledges. It's vital to build better protections against hacking and cyber-attacks before the Russians try again, yet the Trump administration is doing nothing on that front — unless it's actually making us more vulnerable.
One of our best defenses is the diffused nature of our election system. Elections are run by state and local governments, making it difficult for computer hackers to tamper with a presidential election. So why does Trump's commission want to collect detailed information about every American voter and deposit it in a centralized data bank? That seems like an invitation to hackers.
Since the president calls his commission a "voter fraud panel," it's obvious it begins its work assuming that Trump's claims are true and that it aims to find all these fraudulent voters. Then it can recommend new restrictions on ballot access. Certainly, that has been the mission of its vice chairman, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has pushed for tighter identification requirements in his state — whether they're justified or not.
North Carolina Republicans have gone that route and been rebuked by the courts. The ballot should be secure, but that means protected from outside attack as much as it means safe from a very few illegal voters. Trump's commission has a trust gap, and demanding personal data on millions of Americans isn't helping.