Monday, January 31, 2011

NCGA: What's up for the week

Here we go with the budget. There will be a joint budget overview starting Tuesday at 8:30AM and again on Wednesday at 8:30AM.

This is when staff gets to present to the House and the Senate the budget details so that everyone starts their debates on a level playing field of knowledge.

And speaking of the budget, SB 13 has been filed by Senators Stevens, Brunstetter and Hunt which will give the governor more budget cutting powers in order to reach an additional $400 million in savings in the current budget (FY 2010). Quick reminder that the Senate sponsors for this bill are all the full appropriation chairs for the Senate.

In the House we are expecting to see the the Voter ID bill introduced soon. This bill will be sponsored by Representative Rick Killian and Representative Tim Moore. We will have more on this tomorrow.

NCGA: Press Conference on HB 2 Protect Health Care Freedom

Today Representative Verla Insko held a press conference at the General Assembly to give the Democratic response to HB 2: Protect Health Care Freedom. This bill if signed into law would add North Carolina to the 28 state law suit against the health care reform act. It would exempt North Carolina from participating in the individual mandate coverage as required by the Affordable Care Act.

The reality of health insurance is the larger the insurance pool the more access there is to affordable health care for people with disabilities, pre-existing conditions and long term care needs. By mandating that all Americans have health insurance you create a large insurance pool. This is why the Affordable Care Act was able to remove pre-existing condition exemption, the cap on long term health expenditures, the ability to keep your child on your health insurance to age 26 and specifically for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities off a habilitation option in all base insurance plans.

The Arc of the US and its partner organizations worked tirelessly for the passage of this historic health care reform. People with developmental disabilities in 2014 will be able to secure their own affordable health insurance and in doing so quiet possibly lessen the need for full state assistance in long term care.

Then there is the reality of the health care crisis in North Carolina. Dr. Charles Van Der Horst stated that 1/3 of patients in hospitals in North Carolina today do not have health insurance. The cost of their care then transfers to those patients who do have insurance. The end result is an annual increase in health care costs of 9%.

Another speaker at today’s press conference, Libby Huff, told the story of her daughter who in 2009 was diagnosed with a genetic cardiac condition. The Huff family, for the most part, have always been self –insured. On average this family of four has paid out 18 thousand a year to be able to protect their family from catastrophic illness. In 2009 their daughter, while in the high school bathroom, suffered a heart attack. Thanks to an on site defibrillator this young woman was successfully transported to a hospital and after significant cardiac surgery survived this episode only to be diagnosed with a genetic heart condition. Under current health insurance it would be virtually impossible for her to secure affordable and accessible health insurance. However, with the passage of the Affordable Care Act she will be able to remain on her parents health insurance until the age of 26 and in 2014 she will be able to purchase health insurance for herself due to the removal of the pre-existing clause in current health insurance policies.

House Bill 2 would mean that for 4 million North Carolinians they would continue to be locked our of affordable health insurance because of their pre-existing conditions.

House Bill 2 will continue to move through the House over the next few days. We expect to see it hit the House floor sometime this week. We will continue to montior its progress and we will continue to cover this issue.

Monday Quick Hits: Hot Policy Topics for This Week

This week kicks off the first full schedule of meetings at the NC General Assembly. So far not much in announced committee meetings but there will be a press conference today at 3:00 PM.

Here is the scoop on the press conference. As we reported earlier, House Republicans held a Judiciary meeting on Thursday to pass HB 2. This bill will require Attorney General Roy Cooper to put North Carolina into the lawsuit against the federal government and their requirement that all people must have health insurance, better known as the individual mandate.

There are a couple of reasons why this press conference and the bill are being tracked by The Arc of NC. First the bill, during a time when we are looking at a $3.7 billion deficit in the state budget, is the cost of litigating the federal Affordable Care Act advisable? Second, the individual mandate gives people with disabilities more access to affordable health care insurance. It does this by removing the pre-existing condition clauses, permits kids up to age 26 to remain on their parents insurance and it also stops insurance companies by ending benefits in the case of serious illness.

The press conference today will be lead by Representative Joe Hackney (D-Orange) minority leader of the House.

Here is the bill: HB 2 Protect Health Care Freedom.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

NCGA: 2011 Session Opens and First Bills Are Filed.

The contrast between yesterday and today could not have been clearer. If yesterday was all about pomp and pageantry then today was all about politics and policy.

Yesterday was indeed historic. For the first time in over 100 years the North Carolina House and Senate are now being lead by the Republicans. The day was full of events welcoming the new leaders and new members of the General Assembly to Raleigh. The first business of the session was the election of the chamber leadership, specifically the Speaker of the House and the Senate Pro Tempore. These decisions were made prior to the holiday break when both Republican caucuses met to nominate their leaders. The new Speaker of the House is Representative Thom Tillis from Mecklenburg and the new Senate Pro Tempore is Senator Phil Berger from Guilford and Rockingham.

As the evening festivities wrapped up the work of governing the state through a $3.7 billion deficit, the largest gap in revenue and spending since the depression dawned.

Today the newly sworn in Republican-controlled legislature got right to work debating their first bill.
House Judiciary 1 met 15 minutes after the completion of the House session. On the calendar was House Bill 2 Protect Health Care Freedom:
This bill would block the implementation in our state of the independent mandate for health insurance that is part of the Affordable Care Act (federal health care reform).

During the Senate’s first official session, the members found out their official committee assignment. The first bill of interest from the Senate will be to eliminate the cap on charter schools in our state. Senate Bill 8 No Cap on Charter Schools:

This bill would remove the current statutory cap on the number of charter schools in the state.

Monday, January 24, 2011

NCGA: Session About to Start Here is What to Expect

We are just a few days away from the beginning of the 2011 North Carolina legislative session. This session will begin with a historic transition of power. During the 2010 election, the Republicans gained control of both the House and Senate. This will be the first time in over 100 years that Republicans will be our states leadership and with that control comes the responsibility to balance the state budget.

The reality of this session is that regardless of which party was in leadership, our state is facing a $3.7 billion deficit. The budget deficit is over 15% of the state’s total fund expenditure.

So how did we get to a $3.7 billion deficit?
Several factors have caused this significant deficit. Let’s start with the “great recession”. Although multiple economists believe we have hit the bottom and are slowly coming out of it, our state revenue collections have been slow to respond. This is not just happening in our state but also across the nation.

Then there are policy factors that are adding to the deficit. This is the break down of those factors:

1. Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 funds will expire with the 2010 budget. Total amount not recurring is $1.6 billion
2. The state sales tax and additional taxes that were passed during the 2009-2010 legislative sessions will expire on June 30, 2011. Totally amount not recurring is $1.3 billion.
3. Lastly, there are $300 million in one-time reductions and transfer of fund balances in the current 2010 budget. These one time reductions return to the continuation budget on June 30,2011.
The total of just these three policy factors had our state at a deficit of $3.2 billion.

In addition to these there are several other factors that have brought our state to the $3.7 billion deficit figure. These are the additional preliminary estimates on needed revenue:

$75 million for public schools-K-12 enrollment growth.
$190 million for Medicaid enrollment growth.
$89 million for higher education enrollment growth.

$181.6 million to maintain the current benefit levels and anticipated growth in the North Carolina State Health plan for state employees.

$304.9 million from the General Fund and $13.6 million from the Highway Trust Fund to the State Retirement System to increase the employer contribution to the national standards.

And finally unspecified appropriations will need to be directed at the Savings Reserve Account (Rainy Day Fund), Capital and Repair and Renovations Reserve Account, and Economic Development.

What are leaders saying about how to close the deficit?

Both Governor Perdue and the new Republican leadership are stating that there will be no new taxes offered to help close this gap and no extension of the current tax package.

Governor Perdue had requested all of the state divisions and departments to prepare budgets that reflected a 5%, 10% and 15% cut to their current budgets. In addition the governor has presented a plan to consolidate, eliminate and privatize specific sections of our state government.

The Republican leadership, in multiple news interviews, has pointed to the reduction of budgets through cuts, consolidation of government agencies, and “zero-based” budgeting (defending programs based on their effectiveness and fiscal responsibility.)

As the clock ticks down to the start of a new session, the cuts are most likely to be at least 15% -18% of the current budget.

What is the impact of cutting a budget by 15% to 18% for developmental disability services?

This budget year is critical with both long and short-term implications for people with developmental disabilities and their families. Reductions of 15% to 18% of our developmental disability budget would devastate supports and services. The cuts would be even deeper since a majority of our services are provided through Medicaid funding which receives a 66 % match from federal funds. For example if the state were to cut 50 million from Medicaid funded Developmental Disability services the actual cut would be close to 150 million.

In addition we are likely to see significant cuts in education specifically around teaching assistant positions. With the multiple plans to consolidate and cut services in public health and other social services, we will see a crisis compounded by multiple cuts that will affect the developmental disability community.

What can you do to help legislators understand the personal impact of the upcoming budget crisis?

Here is what we suggest.

1. Get to know your legislator. Make contact with him or her now, before session begins. If you receive services in this state, tell them your personal story.
2. Sign up for e-alerts from The Arc of North Carolina and for our upcoming bi-weekly publication, “Policy Partners” designed to provide more analysis and review of actions taken in Raleigh.
3. Keep up with The Arc of North Carolina Policy blog as we update daily the happening at the North Carolina General Assembly.
4. Follow us on Twitter at thearcnc. We will be using Twitter to get breaking policy news out to you directly from the General Assembly.
5. Participate in lobbying days at the General Assembly. Find out more about our lobbying efforts during the session by visiting The Arc of North Carolina web site.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

NCGA: Joint Legislative Oversight Committee Meeting MH/DD/SAS Agenda

Tomorrow will be, most likely, the last of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee meetings for this interim. Here is the new agenda. (Please note the early start time.)

Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on
Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, & Substance Abuse Services

January 19, 2011 9:30A.M.; Room 643, Legislative Office Building
Representative Verla Insko, Co-Chair, Presiding

Welcome and Opening Remarks Senator Martin Nesbitt, Co-Chair
Representative Verla Insko, Co-Chair

CABHA Update Beth Melcher, Ph.D., Assistant Secretary for Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities & Substance Abuse Services Development, DHHS

LME Medicaid Utilization Management Staff, Eastpointe Ellen S. Holliman, Area Director, The Durham Center

Residential Services for Children Ages 0-6 with Developmental Disabilities Deborah Carroll, Ph.D., Head of Early Intervention Branch, Women & Children's Health Section, Division of Public Health Rose Burnett, DD Project Manager, Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities & Substance Abuse Services

Draft Report& Committee Discussion

Final Remarks & Adjournment