Allegiant Air adds another destination out of Concord

New Orleans, twice a week, year-round, starting November 18th. Allegiant seems to to doing OK in using Concord as a budget alternative to Charlotte Douglas International Airport to connect the Charlotte area to vacation destinations a couple of times a week.

Almost All Of North Carolina Will Have One Obamacare Insurance Option In 2017

In 2017, a majority of North Carolinians who purchase health insurance on their own will have no choice but to pay their premiums to either Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, or Blue Cross and Blue Shield. The pickings aren’t slim in just North Carolina. For anyone remotely following the unraveling of Obamacare, dwindling insurance options has been quite the national issue.

When the federal health law’s Exchanges went live in January 2014, North Carolina started with two carriers brave enough to enter into uncharted territory. For the first time, they were required to accept every applicant in the non-group market, regardless of health status. They also agreed to subject themselves to limitations on pricing premiums based on policyholders’ actual risk. As predicted by many experts in the field, the deadly combination of the federal government having a larger hand in insurance regulations combined with a weak individual mandate has produced all sorts of unintended consequences. Not enough low-risk people are signing up for health plans in the individual market (just 27% of the 600,000 enrollees in North Carolina are between ages 18-34), claims costs are outweighing premium revenues, and temporary funding streams provided to insurers by the government that are set to expire in 2017 haven’t really helped suppress their volatility.

The impacts of these unintended consequences are causing a huge disruption in the non-group insurance market. United is withdrawing from offering plans in 77 of the state’s 100 counties. Last week, Aetna officially announced its exodus, citing losses of $400 million nationwide on Obamacare customers within the first two quarters of 2016. The decision to narrow its Obamacare market presence by 70 percent deals another blow to the state, since this means no more Aetna plans to be offered in 39 counties.

That leaves 80 percent of enrollees, or 480,000 residents across the state, with just one insurance option – Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Cigna has decided to enter into North Carolina’s Exchange, however the company plans to set up shop in just six counties within the Research Triangle Region.

The Exchange infrastructure is failing. Not only are there limited options, but health plans also are really not affordable.

Not so fast, The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will say. Three out of four marketplace enrollees are eligible for subsidized plans for $75 a month. Mainstream media consistently report that 90% of North Carolinians qualify for financial assistance.

Yes, some enrollees certainly do benefit from generously subsidized health plans depending on annual household income. Those paying for others’ plans don’t. Other enrollees, despite receiving subsidies, still struggle to pay their premiums and out of pocket health care costs. And yet they are lost in the financial assistance statistic where it is presumed that, at first glance, an overwhelming majority of North Carolina non-group policyholders have access to affordable health insurance coverage.

That’s what the Obama Administration and Co. wants the public to think. After clicking around on healthcare.gov, a few examples demonstrate that Obamacare’s high-deductible, high premium health plans turn out to be a lose-lose situation for middle-income individuals and families:

Example 1: A 27-year old female living in Wake County who earns $35,000 a year qualifies for a $14 monthly subsidy. Since catastrophic plans are available for people below the age of thirty, healthcare.gov estimates the lowest cost plan available starts at $142 per month (subsidy included) in conjunction with a $6,000 deductible.

Example 2: A married couple living in Vance County with a combined household income of $70,000 doesn’t qualify for a tax credit. Their lowest cost bronze options are estimated at $564 a month for a high deductible health plan that can be paired with a health savings account (HSA). Catastrophic plans aren’t available because both spouses are over the age of 30.

Example 3: Suppose that two self-employed parents ages 36 and 34 with two young children earn a combined $100,000 a year. Family plans start out at $784 a month on top of an $11,560 deductible that applies to in-network out of pocket medical expenses only.

The cost of health insurance will likely increase even more for 2018 not just because Blue Cross and Blue Shield will be dominating the individual insurance market, but also because the company will be absorbing more high-risk policyholders who originally purchased plans from either United or Aetna. As of now, Blue Cross and Blue Shield is waiting approval by the Department of Insurance (DOI) to raise premiums by an average of 18% for 2017 plans.

How should America proceed to fix this mess? Insurance companies and Obamacare advocates want more corporate welfare. Market-minded health experts have different schools of thought on how to make health insurance – more importantly health care – more affordable while still catering to people with pre-existing conditions. Decision-making also weighs heavily on who will take over the Oval Office next year.

Proposals such as capping the tax exclusion on employer-sponsored insurance, distributing age-based universal refundable tax credits to people without access to job-based health coverage, expanding tax-preferential health savings account contributions (HSAs), funding federally-administered high-risk pools, and relaxing regulations that prohibit insurance companies from effectively pricing their risk pools would have to be executed at the federal level. In the meantime, there are few policy changes states can take on themselves to help mitigate today’s health care access issues. Eliminating Certificate of Need Laws, repealing state health coverage mandates, and expanding the scope of direct primary care are just a few examples.

Performance pay produces gains

A new study published by the U.S. Department of Education suggests that there is a relationship between performance pay and student test score gains.

In “Evaluation of the Teacher Incentive Fund: Implementation and Impacts of Pay-for-Performance After Three Years,” researchers from Mathematica Policy Research examined the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF), a federal program that supported performance-pay compensation in high-need schools.  The concluded,

Pay-for-performance had small, positive impacts on students’ reading and math achievement. After three years of TIF implementation, average student achievement was 1 to 2 percentile points higher in schools that offered pay-for-performance bonuses than in schools that did not. This difference was equivalent to a gain of about four additional weeks of learning.

This is good news, but I still think that the recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers are more compelling reasons to support differentiated pay.

The most recent state budget included a number of performance- and incentive-based pilot programs for educators.

Media who actively support a double standard

Eddie Scarry of the Washington Examiner highlights members of the mainstream media who admit they want to hold Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to a different standard than Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Several media figures are actively lobbying their peers to challenge Donald Trump more aggressively when interviewing him or his surrogates, or even block Trump’s campaign from gaining access to the press in some cases.

Trump’s campaign has benefited from billions of dollars worth of earned media, and has put him in a position where he doesn’t have to run campaign ads as much, and yet still competes. However, more and more media figures are mounting an effort to end Trump’s free ride.

On Sunday, Jorge Ramos, anchor for the Spanish-language Univision, became the latest news figure to urge other journalists to take a more active approach on covering the Republican nominee. Ramos indicated that more reporters need to act the way he did last year, by challenging Trump loudly and aggressively.

“And I think in this case, neutrality is really not an option,” Ramos said on CNN. “I think we have to take a stand, and in this case, Donald Trump is a unique figure in American politics. We haven’t seen this in decades, since probability Senator Joe McCarthy.” …

… But Ramos isn’t alone. Last week, liberal New York Times columnist Charles Blow argued on CNN that a Trump supporter who had joined him for the segment should not have been booked to appear at all.

After Paris Dennard, a GOP former White House staffer, said Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is attempting to suppress white voter turnout by accusing of Trump of racism, Blow said that his appearance on the show “is why people have a problem with us in the media.”

“To let somebody like this come on and say what Hillary Clinton is doing is suppressing the white vote by pointing out what Donald Trump has said in his life, that’s just patently false, ridiculous. … I’m not letting that slide,” he said. “This guy should not be allowed to come on television and say something like that.”

Because the U.S. Navy doesn’t have anything important to do

The U.S. Navy could be spending its time and resources preparing to protect the nation against possible naval threats. Morgan Chalfant of the Washington Free Beacon documents that, as an alternative, the Navy is focusing on a renewable energy boondoggle.

The U.S. Navy handed out a $334 million contract for solar power without having a good way to determine whether the project would be cost effective.

The Pentagon’s inspector general recently audited three of the Navy’s large-scale renewable energy projects at installations supervised by the U.S. Pacific Command, finding that federal employees tasked with carrying out cost-effectiveness assessments of these projects did not have the documentation to back up their calculations or conclusions.

The Navy has not provided “comprehensive guidance” for evaluating the cost effectiveness of the six large-scale renewable energy projects in the region, according to the inspector general report issued last week. The Pentagon and the Navy also do not have a “formal written definition” of cost effectiveness for large-scale renewable energy projects.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus made alternative energy a priority in 2009, directing the service to generate half of its total energy from alternative sources by 2020. In 2014, Mabus established an office to identify cost-effective projects for Navy installations to help achieve the service’s energy goals.

Measures to determine the cost savings of these projects have been unreliable due to shortcomings in the Navy’s guidance for evaluating the projects, according to the audit.

“Navy personnel could not support the assumptions and calculations made in their assessments because Navy guidance does not include specific steps for evaluating the cost-effectiveness of renewable energy projects and does not require that supporting documentation be maintained,” the Pentagon inspector general wrote. “As a result, the Navy lacks assurance that cost-effectiveness assessments for its large-scale renewable energy projects are accurate, and that appropriate investments decisions are made.”

A real threat of voter disenfranchisement

Kathryn Watson of the Daily Caller consults experts about the prospects for using technology to rig this fall’s presidential election results.

Hacking November’s presidential voting machines to ensure a win for either Republican nominee Donald Trump or Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would be “easy,” cybersecurity experts claimed in a report released Monday.

America’s outdated voting systems are about as secure as a home computer, and are run by election officials and poll workers with little digital technology expertise, creating the perfect environment for hackers to rig the election, according to the report, “Hacking The Elections Is Easy!” from cybersecurity think tank Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology (ICIT).

“The United States e-voting system is so vulnerable that a small group of one or a few dedicated individuals could target a lynchpin district of a swing state, and sway the entire presidential election,” the ICIT report said.

The vulnerability of the country’s 9,000 voting jurisdictions is “an epidemic in our democracy,” James Scott, ICIT senior fellow and co-author of the paper with ICIT researcher Drew Spaniel, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “They say your vote matters, but looking at this, how do you know?”

National Review editor tallies Obamacare’s woes

Rich Lowry‘s latest column at National Review Online sets out a disappointing progress report for the Affordable Care Act.

For years, Obamacare supporters have been telling critics of the law to shut up and fall in line. Now, they are urging them to come to its rescue.

A key part of President Barack Obama’s domestic legacy is sputtering so badly that even the law’s boosters are admitting that the federal government needs to do more to prop it up. The Obamacare exchanges were supposed to enhance choices and hold down costs — and are doing neither. Abandoned by more and more insurers, the exchanges — once billed as robust “marketplaces” — are becoming pitiful shadows of themselves.

In most or all of states like Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Missouri, Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Tennessee, probably only one insurer will offer insurance through the exchanges next year, reports the Wall Street Journal. One large county in Arizona may have no exchange insurer at all. An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that 31 percent of counties in the U.S. will have one insurer, and another 31 percent will have just two.

It isn’t Republicans who are hobbling the law. It isn’t the greedy insurance companies, which were over-optimistic about the exchanges at the outset and are now paying the price. It is fundamental economic forces that the law’s architects blithely ignored. But economic incentives will not be mocked.

Trump and 270

Tim Alberta of National Review Online assesses the likelihood that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump can secure the 270 electoral votes he would need to win the election.

The question this Labor Day, then, isn’t who has the pole position heading into the home stretch, but whether Donald Trump has any realistic path to defeating Hillary Clinton on November 8.

The answer, barring unforeseen and politically transcendent developments, is no.

To be sure, there are still major opportunities for Trump to score points at Clinton’s expense, none more significant than the three presidential debates, the first of which is scheduled for September 26 at Hofstra University in New York. But even if he turned in a series of virtuoso performances that changed some voters’ minds, Trump would still be hampered by the one thing he cannot change: the Electoral College.

Democrats entered 2016 with a decided advantage in the race to accumulate the 270 electoral votes (EVs) needed to win the White House. A bloc of 18 states, plus the District of Columbia, has voted Democratic in each of the past six presidential elections. Together, what political scientists call the ” blue wall” comprises 242 EVs, meaning that Clinton needs to win only another 28 from any combination of competitive battleground states in order to secure the presidency.

Making the map (and math) even friendlier to Democrats is the fact that several long-time Republican strongholds — Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado — have drifted leftward over the past decade. All three were carried by Barack Obama in 2008, and only North Carolina was taken back (barely) by Mitt Romney in 2012. Virginia and Colorado together account for 22 electoral votes; Clinton is leading Trump in both states by vast margins. Those two victories would bring her within six electoral votes of the White House.

In other words, Trump has virtually no margin for error.