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

Starting in 2017, 94 percent of North Carolina counties will have just one insurance carrier selling individual health plans through Obamacare’s health insurance marketplace – commonly known as the “Exchange”.  In those 94 counties, people renewing their Exchange plans or enrolling for the first time will have no choice but to pay their premiums to Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Although Cigna has decided to enter into North Carolina’s Exchange, the company plans to establish a market presence in just six counties within the Research Triangle Region. Since Blue Cross will continue offering non-group policies in all 100 counties across the state, residents in this area will at least have two options.

The pickings aren’t slim in just North Carolina. For anyone who is following the unraveling of Obamacare, its a national issue.

When the federal health law’s Exchange provisions went live in January 2014, North Carolina started with three 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 be subject 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 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 North Carolina’s non-group insurance market. The Exchange infrastructure is unsustainable. Not long ago, United HealthGroup announced its departure from the state’s Exchange. It was offering plans in 77 counties. Last week, Aetna officially announced its exodus, citing losses of $400 million nationwide on Obamacare customers within the first two quarters of 2016. Aetna was operating in 39 counties.

The big question is, “Now what?” Obamacare supporters think insurers should be bailed out with more corporate welfare. Opponents who are mindful of political feasibility think that perhaps uniform universal refundable tax credits will give Americans more health insurance options – whether they opt into a public or private program.  John Goodman, one of the foremost health policy experts, says:

 Those on the left seem to think that government insurance is better insurance. In fact, study after study has shown just the opposite, even though about two thirds of Medicaid enrollees are in plans run by the private sector.

So while the left thinks that public sector competition would improve the performance of private insurance, in reality competition is likely to improve Medicaid. If it doesn’t, Medicaid will wither on the vine, so to speak, as enrollees migrate to better options.  This is a result, by the way, that should be welcomed by everyone – right and left. 

“Whatever Happened to Adam Smith?”

That’s the title of a recent blog post by Matt Ridley in which he discusses the distressing rise of protectionism. Here’s an excerpt:

Last week both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump set out their economic policies in set-piece speeches. Mr Trump’s … involves a trade policy designed to punish consumers and protect producers, a recipe for recession. But Mrs Clinton’s … was even worse. She too wants to pursue the old mercantilist fallacy of restricting imports and helping exports, but while spending more money, unleashing a blizzard of new regulations and doubling the minimum wage.

Never have the American people been faced with such paternalist, protectionist and authoritarian pair of options. The United States, long a beacon of economic libertarianism, is now being offered a choice between two forms of growth-killing, deficit-boosting, zero-sum, big-government economic nationalism. Long gone are the days when both Republicans and Democrats subscribed to some form of free-market economic philosophy while differing mainly over how to fight the cold war and the culture wars….

It is the same around the world. Economic liberty is out of fashion. There is almost no country trying the sort of free-market reforms – tax cuts, deregulation, privatisation – that so many countries achieved in the 1980s and 1990s. China and Russia, liberalised briefly in the late twentieth century, seem to be heading back to Big Brother. Brazil has seen its market reforms congeal into crony-corporatism. India and Japan are hardly paragons of small-government economic liberalism. Even here in Britain, I doubt Theresa May took Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom” to Switzerland as holiday reading.

Is Adam Smith’s influence fading? This is what the sage of Kirkcaldy said: “Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice; all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things. All governments which thwart this natural course, which force things into another channel, or which endeavour to arrest the progress of society at a particular point, are unnatural, and to support themselves are obliged to be oppressive and tyrannical.” …

There is a long list of countries that were transformed by free-market reforms: post-war Germany under Ludwig Erhard, China under Deng Xiaoping, New Zealand under Roger Douglas, America under Ronald Reagan, Britain under Margaret Thatcher, Estonia under Mart Laar, India under Manmohan Singh. South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Peru… Or Peel and Gladstone’s Britain, seventeenth century Holland, the city states of Renaissance Italy, Song dynasty China, ancient Athens, Tyre and Sidon under the Phoenicians. In every case, trade did that.

Hongkong is probably the most successful economy of the last half century, going from abject poverty to opulence without a natural resource of any kind. It did so largely because one man, Sir John Cowperthwaite, the financial secretary of the colony in the 1960s, insisted on minimal government interference in commerce, on low taxes and little regulation….

By contrast, I can point you to a list as long as your arm of countries ruined by too much government. Venezuela, North Korea, Belarus and Zimbabwe are top of the list today, but Hitler, Mao, Stalin and Pol Pot (plus most empires) are egregious reminders that government is a more dangerous toy than markets ever could be.

Why is economic libertarianism out of favour? Unlike welfare-socialism and crony-capitalism, it fails to create vested interests dependent on its subsidies. The whole point of running for president is to be able to hand other people’s money to your favourite causes and generate grateful patronage. Laissez-faire robs you of that treat.

More News about the “Hillary Defense”

Last week I wrote about a sailor who, after pleading guilty to the unauthorized retention of defense information, invoked the “Hillary defence” as part of his request for a non-custoidal sentence. According to a US News report, that defense appears to have failed:

A former Navy machinist mate who admitted taking photos inside a nuclear submarine was sentenced to a year in prison Friday, with a federal judge rebuffing a request for probation in light of authorities deciding not to prosecute Hillary Clinton for mishandling classified information on a private email server as secretary of state.

Kristian Saucier’s attorneys argued in a court filing last week that Clinton had been “engaging in acts similar to Mr. Saucier” with information of much higher classification. It would be “unjust and unfair for Mr. Saucier to receive any sentence other than probation for a crime those more powerful than him will likely avoid,” attorney Derrick Hogan wrote.

U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill sentenced Saucier to one year in prison and a $100 fine, along with six months home confinement, 100 hours of community service and a ban on owning guns, his legal team says. Prosecutors had asked for six years behind bars.

“We’re very pleased,” says Greg Rinckey, another defense attorney for Saucier.

Although relieved, Rinckey does say that “it could be argued here that depending on what your name is, that’s the type of justice you get in the United States.”

Rinckey says he’s not sure if the judge was swayed by significant media attention comparing Saucier’s case with the Clinton email controversy.

“He cryptically made some comments about selective prosecution and how that didn’t play any factor. Do I think it may have? Sure. But I think there was enough mitigation that the judge was able to depart from the sentencing guidelines [on that basis alone],” he says.

Saucier pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of unlawfully retaining national defense information after taking six photos inside the USS Alexandria with his cellphone in 2009. Saucier said he intended to show them to his future children, but prosecutors said they doubted that was true.

What Ails the White Working Class?

At City Journal, Aaron Renn has published a review of J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. It’s interesting throughout, but I found the following excerpt particularly insightful:

For the Left, the unpleasant truth is what Vance makes clear if not explicit: the sexual revolution has been a disaster for the working class. No-fault divorce and the diminishment of the stigmas attached to casual sex and single or divorced motherhood have been a liberating dream—or at least a manageable reality—for educated urbanites. But these changes have been a nightmare for the children growing up in a white working-class world, where broken homes and a string of romantic and sexual partners for Mom is the new normal. “Of all the things that I hated about my childhood,” Vance writes, “nothing compared to the revolving door of father figures.” …

Vance overcame his domestic instability. Many others don’t. Harvard economist Raj Chetty found that when it comes to explaining the variance in upward social mobility across so-called commuting zones, “the strongest and most robust predictor is the fraction of children with single parents.” That observation is likely to prove about as popular among liberals as the Moynihan Report.

By Vance’s own account, the confidence, discipline, and work ethic he acquired in the Marine Corps enabled him to overcome a difficult background. But the Marines don’t instill order into the disordered lives of recruits by inspiration or encouragement; they impose it by force. Historically, de facto legal and social controls limited personally and socially destructive choices in many working-class communities (if not Appalachian ones). These norms were undoubtedly repressive and often cruel, but so are drill sergeants. The elimination of these norms—at the behest of the educated, not working, classes—has corrosively undermined the supports that once sustained functional working class communities, particularly when combined with the rise in college attendance that has sucked out the most talented, like Vance, and routed them to metro or neighborhood enclaves of the similarly successful…. 

The major form of social control that we have retained with full vigor is the criminal justice system. So today, problems previously handled through other means now fall into the lap of police and judges, with predictable challenges. We have continued to use traditional social-control mechanisms for some purposes: promulgating gay rights, reducing the use of the Confederate flag, and so on. Until we’re willing to re-embrace similar means to restore a semblance of family stability in poor and working-class communities—white or otherwise—too many children will never stand a chance.

National review tackles N.C. voter ID law

The latest print edition of National Review devotes the following blurb to North Carolina’s 2013 election law:

In 2013, North Carolina passed a law requiring voters to show a government-issued photo ID, ending same-day registration, and shortening the length of early voting from 17 days to ten. The Left rent its garments — Hillary Clinton called it an “assault on voting rights” — and foretold mass disenfranchisement. It never happened. In 2010, before North Carolina’s law, 38.5 percent of blacks in North Carolina voted in the year’s midterms; in 2014, with the law in effect, it was 41.1 percent. Nonetheless, the Fourth Circuit has swatted down the law, going out of its way to ignore evidence, impugn the motives of North Carolina’s legislature, and concoct specious legal rationales to reach its verdict. The Left’s ultimate quarry is Shelby County v. Holder, the 2013 Supreme Court decision that made North Carolina’s law possible by striking down part of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. That section required jurisdictions that had a history of voter suppression as of the early 1970s to receive federal permission for any changes to election procedures. Given the strong provisions that remain in place to protect voting rights, pretending that the decision began a downhill march back to literacy tests and poll taxes is sheer demagoguery. Voter-ID laws have longstanding legal precedent, broad popular support, and ample justification. That is why the Left is turning to the courts, the self-appointed legislatures of last resort, to quash them.

NC’s ACT scores unchanged

While the national ACT scores dropped slightly, the percentage of North Carolina students who met college readiness benchmarks in English, math, reading, and science remained at 18 percent.  The percentage of students who met college readiness benchmarks in each of the four subjects also did not change from 2015.

(Click on the graphic to enlarge.)

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Say Yes hiccups

Surprise—-the Say Yes Guilford program is experiencing a few hiccups— much to the angst of parents sending their kids off to college:

Haven’t seen your Say Yes money yet? The program’s local director has three words for you:

Please be patient.

That’s because Say Yes Guilford — the new scholarship program for graduates of Guilford County’s public schools — won’t be sending money to colleges until after the schools’ payment deadlines.

Normally, students who miss the deadline for paying their college bills find themselves no longer enrolled in the classes they picked. But Say Yes has worked out a payment arrangement with the four-year universities and the community colleges that local students will attend this fall.

“We have done our best to make sure students aren’t dropped from classes because of nonpayment of tuition,” Mary Vigue, the executive director of Say Yes Guilford, said in a telephone interview Monday.

Interesting that Say Yes was hailed as the greatest thing to happen to Guilford County in a long time but now suddenly is in hurry and wait mode.

Why the concerted fight against voter ID? Here’s one possibility

Joe Schoffstall reports for the Washington Free Beacon on one factor that appears to be driving the nationwide fight against sensible voter ID requirements.

A top priority of liberal billionaire George Soros is to enlarge the U.S. electorate by 10 million voters by 2018, according to leaked documents.

The plan to grow the electorate by millions of voters was discussed during a May 2014 board meeting of the Open Society Foundations, a liberal grant-making group founded by Soros. A 220-page guide detailing the plan was among more than 2,500 hacked Soros documents released by DC Leaks, which publishes documents from influential officials around the world.

The guide covers strategies and tactics the group will employ in the United States from 2015 to 2018. The top goals listed by the guide are to “advance electoral reform” and “combat suppression.”

“The following four goals form the scaffolding of U.S. Programs’ work,” the guide states. “1. An American democracy strengthened through increased meaningful participation, inclusive practice, and accountability.” The third strategic goal expands upon this, calling for “Full political, economic, and civic participation of immigrants and communities of color by dismantling the barriers and strengthening the conduits to opportunity.”

Later, the guide discusses expanding the electorate by “at least 10 million voters” in the United States. This would be accomplished “by lowering barriers to voter registration through the various forms of modernization and increased ballot access while sustaining and expanding the franchise by establishing strong protections against vote suppression, denial and dilution.”

An Open Society Foundations spokesperson affirmed the group’s interest in voter turnout.

“The Open Society Foundations supports efforts to encourage wider participation in U.S. elections, and opposes measures used to try to suppress voter participation,” the spokesperson said via email.

The leaked documents help explain why Soros has quietly funded efforts to battle voter identification laws and target Democratic-trending voters for registration.

Soros began supporting challenges to voter ID laws in 2014.