More than 400,000 in NC Keep Obamacare Subsidies

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the tax breaks for those who purchased health insurance through the federally-run exchange. The ruling allows more than 400,000 North Carolina residents to keep subsidies that help pay for their health insurance premiums.

The question at hand in King v. Burwell was whether a small line of text in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) prohibited the federal government from providing subsidies for health insurance to people in states without their own exchanges. North Carolina is among 34 such states. Duke University professor Don Taylor says more than half-a-million North Carolina residents purchased insurance through the ACA, and most of them are receiving the federal subsidies that were in question.

“Ninety-one percent of the North Carolinians have gotten a subsidy, and the average amount of that subsidy is about $315 a month,” Taylor said.

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to allow the federal subsidies to flow to all states, whether their exchange is state-run or not. Chief Justice Roberts, who ruled with the majority, said the line in question had to be read within the greater context of the ACA, which was to “improve health insurance markets.”

North Carolina Congressman David Price says he is relieved by the Court’s ruling on what he calls a “drafting error” in the ACA.

“It’s a very fortunate decision; it’s a common sense decision,” Price said. “And from what I’ve seen, Chief Justice Roberts’ reasoning in ruling this way reflects that. This is a matter of discerning Congress’ intent, despite this drafting error, and making sure that the nation doesn’t suffer the consequences of an overly literal focus on this one omission in the law.”

The ruling means more than 400,000 North Carolinians will keep their subsidies. It also puts an end to a serious threat to the future of Obamacare. Taylor says ending the federal subsidies would have forced many people to drop coverage and destabilized the entire health insurance exchange.

“If the healthy people flow out because the premiums go up, and you only have sick people left, then that’s called ‘death-spiral,’ and that insurance market is unsustainable,” Taylor said.

Now that the ACA is no longer threatened, Price says it’s important to shift focus to expanding Medicaid in the state. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling on the ACA allowed states to opt out of Medicaid expansion.

“It’s unfortunate that the Supreme Court left that loophole,” Price said. “It’s even more unfortunate, I think, that North Carolina and other states are taking advantage of the loophole to detriment of – in the case of our state – almost half-a-million people.”

Governor Pat McCrory has given no indication that he will call for Medicaid expansion. In a statement his office released Thursday, the Governor said quote “we must build a North Carolina-based reform plan that focuses on healthier patients at a cost taxpayers can afford.”

http://chapelboro.com/news/national/more-than-400000-in-nc-keep-obamacare-subsidies/

SCOTUS Keeps Affordable Care Act Subsidies

***UPDATE: The Supreme Court has issued a 6-3 ruling allowing subsidies to continue to be offered in states that did not establish their own marketplace. You can read the full opinion here.***

The U.S. Supreme Court will release a decision within the next few days that may affect more than half a million North Carolinians who purchased health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

The question before the Court in King v. Burwell is whether the federal government overreached when it allowed subsidies to flow to states, like North Carolina, that did not set up their own health insurance exchanges.

North Carolina is among 34 states that do not have state-run health insurance marketplaces. That means North Carolina residents who want to buy insurance through the Affordable Care Act have to do so through the federally-run exchange. About 550,000 North Carolinians did just that, and most of them, says Duke University public policy professor Don Taylor, received tax breaks to help pay for their premiums.

“Ninety-one percent of the North Carolinians have gotten a subsidy,” Taylor said,  “and the average amount of that subsidy is about $315 a month.”

The plaintiffs in the case argue the Affordable Care Act does not allow the federal government to give those subsidies to people in states that don’t have a state-run exchange.

“So if the Supreme Court had a simple finding for the plaintiffs,” Taylor said, “then the tax credits that are coming to North Carolinians today, they would lose those tax credits, their insurance bills would then go up, and then presumably many of them would them drop their coverage.”

Taylor says not only would such a ruling affect those who dropped their coverage because they couldn’t afford the premium, it could topple the entire federally-run exchange:

“The problem is the people who wouldn’t drop coverage, the people who are desperate to keep their insurance, are probably people who are sick. And any type of insurance market—whether it’s car insurance, homeowner’s or health insurance—if the healthy people flow out because the premiums go up, and you only have sick people left, then that’s called ‘death-spiral,’ and that insurance market is unsustainable.”

If the Court does rule for the plaintiff, Taylor says depending on the details of the ruling, there could be some legislative fixes at the national and the state levels to keep the tax breaks coming.

“Maybe North Carolina could pass a simple law that says we desire for the subsidies to still flow in North Carolina. But then it’s back to a political question again.”

The Supreme Court is expected to release a decision by Monday, June 29.

http://chapelboro.com/news/national/half-million-in-nc-await-scotus-obamacare-decision/

PPP Poll: Hagan Leads Tillis 39-34

Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan has regained the largest lead for U.S. Senate re-election since September, according to a statewide telephone poll conducted by Public Policy Polling over the weekend.

Hagan leads Republican challenger Thom Tillis 39 to 34, with Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh receiving 11 percent.

Public Policy Polling director Tom Jensen attributes Hagan’s recent jump in the polls to the General Assembly being in session. With only 18 percent of voting North Carolinians showing support to the Republican campaign and their recent budget reform, House Speaker Tillis’ numbers are beginning to dwindle.

Issues at the forefront of the legislature, including the Senate’s proposal to cut teacher assistants to increase teacher pay and the recent bill passed to permit fracking, are all disapproved by the majority of voters.

“Whenever Thom Tillis is in the news as one of the leaders of the legislature, that drives down his poll numbers,” Jensen told WCHL. “We find that right now only 23 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of him, while 45 percent see him unfavorably.”

While Hagan has regained the lead, she still faces problems with a 42 percent favorability approval rating to 46 percent disapproval. Jensen says a 53 percent state-wide disapproval of President Obama and ObamaCare may pull Hagan further back at the end of the summer and the legislative session.

“We have found that some of the national issues that have gone on have proven to be difficult for Kay Hagan,” Jensen said. “One thing that has been particularly problematic for her over the last six months is ObamaCare, because that remains unpopular in the state and of course she is someone that supported that law and voted for it. Tillis is having difficulty answering for things that are going on at the state level, while Hagan is having trouble answering for some of the unpopular things that have gone on at the national level.”

The race for North Carolina Senate still continues to remain close as it has done so in the past year with fluctuating poll leads for both Hagan and Tillis.

For more updated polls on key political races, visit http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/

http://chapelboro.com/news/election/ppp-poll-hagan-leads-tillis-39-34/

Health, Safety, Schools, Libraries, And Hillsborough

If you still haven’t signed up for health insurance, the Chapel Hill Public Library is holding an all-day Affordable Care Act enrollment session on Monday, March 24, from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

The library is holding the session in partnership with UNC Healthcare, the League of Women Voters, Planned Parenthood, and UNC’s Student Health Action Coalition.

The deadline to sign up for health insurance in 2014 is March 31.

For more information or to reserve a time, call the Chapel Hill Public Library at 919-968-2780.

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Are you a veteran or connected to the military? Orange County’s Department of Social Services is inviting you to a new event called “Military Monday,” geared especially toward veterans to make sure they have access to benefits and other federal, state, and local resources.

The first Military Monday event will take place on March 24, from 9:00 a.m. to noon at Hillsborough Commons on Mayo Street. It will be a Career/Resource Fair, with benefit assistance, career assessments, education resources, the Mobile Vet Center and more.

For more information, contact Betsy Corbett at 919-245-2890.

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Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens will deliver his annual State of the Town address on Monday, March 24, at 7:00 p.m. in the Orange County Public Library.

Among other things, the address will include an update on the town’s Riverwalk project as well as a discussion of Hillsborough’s future population boom. The town is expected to grow by 31 percent in the next four years.

Members of the public are invited to attend. Before the speech, from 5:30-6:30, planning staff will host a public information meeting on the status of downtown access improvements.

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If you’re a parent in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and you’d like more information on the district’s dual language program, the district is offering four information sessions this spring, beginning later this month and running through May.

The Dual Language program gives students the chance to become proficient in two languages, English and either Spanish or Mandarin Chinese. The district says Dual Language students, on average, outperform their peers on standardized tests and other student growth measures.

The first information session will be for the Spanish program on Thursday, March 20, at Frank Porter Graham Elementary School. The session will be offered in Spanish from 6-7 p.m. and in English from 7-8 p.m. Two more sessions on the Spanish program will take place—at the same times of day—on Thursday, April 24 at Carrboro Elementary and on Thursday, May 22, again at FPG.

There will also be an info session on the Mandarin Chinese program on Tuesday, March 25, from 6-7 p.m. at Glenwood Elementary.

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Are you excited about the proposed new Southern Branch Library in Carrboro? What do you want to see there? What do you NOT want to see there?

If you have thoughts and ideas about the library, come out to a Community Engagement Meeting hosted by Orange County. The county is actually holding two meetings: the first is Tuesday, March 25, at 6:00 at Hickory Tavern; the second is on Saturday, April 12, at noon in Carrboro Town Hall. The first 50 participants at the March 25 meeting will receive gift certificates to Hickory Tavern.

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The Hillsborough Arts Council has announced a partnership with a new charter school coming to Hillsborough this August.

The Expedition School will be taking part in the Art Council’s ArtCycle program, a program that collects new and used art supplies to be used in local schools.

The Expedition School is scheduled to open its doors in August. It’s a STEM-focused school for grades K-8.

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Driving around this month, you might see some new signs on the road – all part of a local campaign to remind people to pull over if they see emergency vehicles coming their way.

The campaign is called “See the Light, Pull to the Right.” The idea came from a town employee, Fire Equipment Operator Luis Rodrigues. Six new signs are being installed near major intersections in Chapel Hill.

If an emergency vehicle is approaching you from behind, take your foot off the accelerator, merge to the outside lane if possible, and pull off the side of the road to allow the vehicle to pass.

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http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-time/health-safety-schools-libraries-hillsborough/

March 31st Deadline For Health Insurance Is Coming

As the March 31 deadline to get coverage is fast approaching, about 391,000 North Carolinians have signed up for an Obamacare health insurance plan through the government-run online market place, according to federal officials.

Dr. Renard Murray is the Regional Administrator for the Centers for Medicare And Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency running the Health Insurance Marketplace at HealthCare.gov.

Murray says more than 5 million people across the country have signed up for health insurance through the marketplace, though he did not say how many were previously insured.

Through HealthCare.gov, people can find out what health care coverage plans are available, and they can also select a plan and fill out the application form online.  Applicants will have to pay a premium to begin coverage.

Open enrollment ends on Monday, March 31, 2014. Americans have until then to decide what plan they feel is best for themselves and their families.

“We don’t want people who are uninsured or those who know individuals who are uninsured to miss that deadline because once it closes on March 31st, it is not going to open again until November of this year, and coverage will not start until January of 2015,” Murray says.

All people, with a few exceptions, will be required to have health insurance. If you already have health insurance through a private provider, you are not required to change your coverage.

Citizens who can afford health insurance, but do not purchase it by the deadline, will be charged a fine.

“The actual penalty is $95 or it is one percent of your adjusted gross income. That is paid in 2015 when you file your 2014 tax returns. You are required to have coverage in 2014,” Murray says.

People can also reach the HealthCare.gov Call Center at 1-800-318-2596, a line which is open 24/7. A representative will be available to walk consumers through the enrollment process.

“If you call the Call Center, you can find local help,” Murray says. “There are local representatives within the communities of North Carolina that are able to help people get enrolled in the marketplace. You can actually find local help by going to the website or calling the Call Center.”

Murray explains that people with pre-existing conditions can sign up through HealthCare.gov.

“It doesn’t matter whether you had an illness five, six, seven years ago. And also through the Marketplace, there are tax credits that can defray the cost of insurance. We are finding people who are finding plans possibly for less than $10 a month.”

A revised estimate by the Obama Administration predicts that 6 million Americans will enroll in health plans sold on the exchanges by the March 31st deadline.

http://chapelboro.com/news/national/march-31st-deadline-health-insurance-coming/

Gender May Be Key To ACA Impact On Small Biz

How is the Affordable Care Act affecting small business owners in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area?

The answer may depend on the gender of the workers they employ.

That, at least, is the tentative finding of a survey of local business owners conducted by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce.

When asked how the Affordable Care Act was impacting them, 30.5 percent responded “negatively” or “very negatively,” while 23.9 percent responded “positively” or “very positively.” (The rest—not quite half—were either unaffected or unsure.)

But Chamber president Aaron Nelson says a closer look at the responses reveals something interesting.

“Some of that is about the neutralizing of men and women, (who) cost differently in the old world and cost the same now,” he says. “So if you had a predominantly younger female staff, your rates likely go down – (but) with a predominantly male staff…your rates could go up. So gender has had a real impact on cost.”

Nelson says auto body shops, in particular, have reported their health care costs going up—while the Chamber itself, with a mostly-female staff, has seen its costs decline.

Chamber economic briefing ACA slide

Additional results from the survey are available at www.slideshare.net/carolinachamber/2014-economic-outlook-briefing (also the source of this image). As seen here, there’s only a slight lean towards the ACA having a “negative” effect if severity is not taken into account, but that changes if severity is considered: a far greater percentage of respondents reported a “very negative” effect than a “very positive” effect.

Nelson presented the results of the survey at last week’s annual Economic Outlook Briefing at the Sheraton Chapel Hill.

http://chapelboro.com/news/business/gender-may-key-aca-impact-small-biz/

PPP: Obama’s Approval Rating Remains Low

RALEIGH – A poll released Tuesday by Public Policy Polling shows the president’s approval rating stalled at his lowest point.

That’s because his biggest domestic policy achievement continues to hold his numbers down.

The Affordable Care Act remains unpopular with most voters surveyed by PPP, and Democrats everywhere are taking the hit.

Tom Jensen, director of Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling, breaks it down.

“We continue to find Barack Obama with some of the lowest numbers he’s had since taking office,” says Jensen. “Only 41 percent of voters approve of the job he’s doing nationally. Fifty-three percent disapprove.”

That 41 percent mark, for the second month in a row, matches the lowest number for the president in the PPP survey.

The numbers for Democrats, in general, are sinking. Republicans now have a slight lead in a generic congressional ballot, 42-to-40. That’s a seven-point shift from the height of the government shutdown in October.

The Affordable Care Act appears to be the biggest drag on their approval rating. Only 38 percent of voters like the ACA, with 52 percent opposed. Only 32 percent think it’s been implemented successfully, while 62 percent do not.

But Jensen says that two issues may signal a bright side for Democrats.

“We find that a couple of the things that Barack Obama might emphasize this year are really quite popular,” says Jensen. “When it comes to extending unemployment benefits, 63 percent of voters think they should be extended. Only 32 percent think they should be cut off.”

Plus, the Democrats have the upper hand when it comes to raising the minimum wage to $10 per hour.

“Fifty-five percent of voters support that,” says Jensen. “Only 36 percent are opposed.”

With that in mind, Jensen says the president should try to take the focus off Obamacare, if he’d like to see his numbers improve.

“He needs to find some issues where he can get some support across party lines,” says Jensen.

 

http://chapelboro.com/news/national/ppp-obamas-approval-rating-remains-low/

Federal Data Show Health Disparities Among States

JEFFERSON CITY — The slow rollout of a new federal health insurance marketplace may be deepening differences in health coverage among Americans.

New federal figures show more people are gaining coverage in states that have fully embraced the federal health care law than in those whose elected officials have rejected involvement.

In the dozen states that expanded Medicaid eligibility and are running their own health insurance exchanges, about half the people who applied for coverage through the exchanges have either picked an insurance plan or been routed to Medicaid.

The percentage of applicants selecting an insurance plan or being directed to Medicaid barely tops 15 percent in the two dozen states that have rejected Medicaid expansion and relied solely on the federal government to run their online insurance marketplace.

http://chapelboro.com/news/health/federal-data-show-health-disparities-among-states/

Sen. Hagan Approval Slipping in Wake of Obamacare Web Launch

Raleigh – The failed launch of the Obamacare website is acting like gravity for the approval ratings of democrats in Washington D.C.

***Listen to the Story***

Senator Kay Hagan’s approval ratings are changing, but Public Policy Polling Analyst Jim Williams says they’re not going the direction the Hagan administration would prefer.

“We had found Kay Hagan with a small, but consistent lead throughout most of this year,” Williams says, “We’re finding now that it’s really kind of crept into a statistical tie at this point.”

The poll shows Hagan in a dead heat with her prospective 2014 opponents; coming in no more than three points ahead of state House Speaker Tom Tillis, Heather Grant, and Rev. Mark Harris. And she’s trailing one point behind Greg Brannon.

So what’s the force behind the trend?

“That stems probably from the botched roll out of the Obamacare website,” says Williams.

The website has been a nightmare for the faces of the Democratic Party since healthcare.gov opened its marketplace for federal health insurance on October 1.

“Obama’s approval rating in September was 48 percent approve, 29 percent disapprove,” Williams says, “Now it’s down to 43 percent approve, 53 percent disapprove.”

Williams says North Carolinians have responded negatively to the health care plan they were already skeptical of in the first place.

“Obamacare has never been particularly popular in North Carolina, but now only 38 percent of voters say they approve of it, compared to 48 percent who disapprove,” Williams says.

“Even worse 69 percent of voters say its rollout has been unsuccessful so far.”

The 2014 senate election is still a year away. Williams says there’s a large group of undecided voters who could come to Hagan’s rescue.

“The race is sort of unformed as far as the senate race,” Williams says, “A lot of the folks who either are running or may run are not well-known to the voters yet; so that’s why you’re seeing high numbers of undecided voters.”

Senator Hagan originally supported the Affordable Care Act. But she announced Tuesday that she is asking for an investigation of the failed website launch.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/sen-hagan-approval-slipping-in-wake-of-obamacare-web-launch/

Understanding “Obamacare”; Halloween Carnival; Blood Drive

CHAPEL HILL – The League of Women Voters of Orange/Durham/Chatham Counties will hold an educational program on Understanding the Affordable Care Act at the Chapel Hill Public Library.

The educational program will provide people with an understanding of the Affordable Care Act and its implementation in North Carolina.  The first session will be held on Monday from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and will be free to the public.

The second session will take place on December 4 from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Chapel Hill Public Library.

For more information call 919-968-2780.

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Carrboro Town Commons will host the Annual Halloween Carnival along with a pumpkin carving contest on October 31.

People wanting to enter the pumpkin carving contest should bring their pre-carved pumpkin to the Carrboro Town Commons between 9:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.  Citizens will be able to vote on the pumpkins during the Annual Halloween Carnival from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. The winner will be announced at 8:15 p.m.

The Carnival will last until 8:30 p.m. and children will be able to make crafts, win prizes, and play carnival games.

For more information click here.

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On October 31, OWASA and the American Red Cross will sponsor the annual Halloween blood drive at OWASA from 11:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

The blood drive will be held in the Community room on the lower floor of OWASA’s administrative building.  People who come to donate blood will be entered into a drawing for a $200 gift card courtesy of Suburban Propane. For more information click here.

http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-time/understanding-obamacare-halloween-carnival-blood-drive/