- Associated Press
Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

Aug. 10


The Fayetteville Observer on a health care proposal from the state treasurer that drew resistance from North Carolina hospitals:

Sometimes giving up is the right thing to do.

After meeting stiff resistance from more than 100 of the state’s hospitals, state Treasurer Dale Folwell on Friday (Aug. 9) dropped his plan to change how the state reimburses hospitals for medical coverage of state employees.

The drama between the Republican official, state legislators and hospitals had put schoolteachers in middle. For several tense months, they were at the center of a larger political battle playing out in state government. It was a sadly familiar position for the women and men we trust with our most valuable resource, children. They were potentially facing, at the top of next year, steeply higher prices for medical coverage under the State Health Plan.

Folwell had proposed price changes under his Clear Pricing Plan that would empower the state to set rates based on Medicare. Currently the Health Plan reimburses Blue Cross Blue Shield, which administers the plan, for the employees’ medical expenses.

Folwell contended the current model contains lots of hidden prices for consumers and taxpayers, and that ultimately, the current Health Plan is not sustainable in the long run.

Hospitals resisted his Clear Pricing Plan, which they said would leave them short and having to cut services for patients. Only five of the state’s 120-some hospitals signed on, and no major hospitals, though several said they were willing to continue to talk with Folwell.

They did more than talk, however. The situation came to a head when the hospitals missed a second deadline last Monday to sign up to provide in-network coverage for employees in the Health Plan.

If the standoff had continued, it would have meant that as many as 97 percent of teachers, including here in Cumberland County, would be forced to pay out-of-network health care medical expenses. For anyone on an insurance plan, the mere words “out-of-network” conjures up images of big bucks fleeing family wallets.

After a few days, Folwell blinked. He announced State Health Plan coverage would carry on like it has been, and employees would have in-network coverage. Employees with coverage from the hospitals that signed up for Clear Pricing would also have a choice of benefits under that plan. Folwell called the hospitals that backed him “courageous.”

Teachers were spared a new worry. … It was not just them concerned, either. Among the 727,000 covered by the Health Plan are retirees, current and former lawmakers and university and community college employees.

Although Folwell was foiled this time, he does raise legitimate issues of transparency and excessive health care plan costs, which are borne by taxpayers. A year or so from now, we hope all parties are ready to sit down and chart a course toward a sustainable plan for the future.

We would also like to see this happen without the go-for-broke tactics that too often define negotiations in our state’s politics. Specifically, we weary of seeing schoolteachers continue to be used as a handy political football in the General Assembly’s Republicans vs. Democrats grudge match. You’ll recall they are also part of the current budget impasse between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and the Republican-controlled legislature, where the two sides disagree over teacher pay raises.

Our teachers got a break this time. Let’s make that the rule, not the exception.

Online: https://www.fayobserver.com/

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Aug. 8

The Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer of Raleigh on the interim University of North Carolina system president who did not disclose on ethics forms his position on multiple corporate boards:

A pro tip for public officials - including university presidents - who may someday face the pesky task of filling out ethics forms: They are not hard. In fact, there are really just two approaches to take. You can answer each question candidly and thoroughly. Or you can do what interim University of North Carolina system president William Roper did.

As reported by WBTV this week, Roper did not disclose his position on multiple corporate boards between 2011-2019 while those corporations did business with the state. At least one of those companies, DaVita Inc., has ties to the UNC Health Care System, with UNC web pages listing referrals to DaVita clinics and touting research being conducted by doctors with support from DaVita.

Roper was CEO of the UNC Health Care System from 2004 to 2019. DaVita, Inc., paid Roper more than $3.6 million in compensation between 2010 and 2018, WBTV reported.

To be clear, there’s no law forbidding state government employees from serving on corporate boards. Those employees, however, have to disclose those relationships when they fill out “statement of economic interest” forms. Roper didn’t, at least initially. When he was asked by WBTV about the omission, he quickly did what he should have done all along - answered the questions fully.

More troubling, perhaps, is the shrug that Roper’s problems got from one of his bosses. When asked about Roper’s missteps this week, UNC Board of Governors chair Harry Smith told the News & Observer’s Kate Murphy that he’s not concerned about it. Roper wasn’t intentionally trying to hide anything, Smith said. He also added: “Forms can be complicated.”

Some may be, but not these. If you do run into difficulty, the NC Ethics Commission helpfully offers an email address and phone number for questions. The commission even provides a list of tips, such as “make certain you answer each question.”

In a statement, Brown also said the UNC Health Care System provided documents that show Roper was “careful to avoid any conflicts.” Roper similarly told WBTV that he “comprehensively and intentionally recused myself from any matters related to these companies,” but neither Brown nor Roper provided documents showing such recusals.

The public should see such evidence on or before Sept. 19, when Smith says the Board of Governors will further discuss any conflict of interest Roper might have had. We hope and expect that Roper will be called to answer questions about why he was less than forthcoming on his ethics form, and he also should detail how and precisely when he sought to untangle himself from UNC Health System business involving the corporations that paid him to sit on their boards.

Doing so would send a signal to other UNC system employees about conflicts of interest, and it also would send an important message to the public about an alarming culture of defensiveness and dismissiveness at UNC. That arrogance manifested itself in the flagship university’s recent unwillingness to fully disclose problems with fake courses that helped keep athletes academically eligible, and it reappeared this year when UNC tried to seal itself from public scrutiny regarding troubles with pediatric heart surgeries at North Carolina Children’s Hospital.

That culture starts at the top, with the Board of Governors. Now is a good time to begin changing it.

Online: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/ and https://www.newsobserver.com/

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Aug. 7

The News & Record of Greensboro on a company that had a federal contract to house immigrant children:

How in the world did a company with a history of shady business practices, a company whose Robeson County group home for children was shut down by the state of North Carolina, win nearly $4 million in federal money to house as many as 72 migrant children in a shelter it didn’t yet have in Laurinburg?

That’s a mighty good question, one that gives rise to a lot of other questions.

Unfortunately, there are many more questions than answers surrounding the $3.9 million awarded to New Horizon Group Home LLC by the federal Administration for Children and Families. That’s the agency over the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) and its Unaccompanied Alien Children Program, which is responsible for temporary care of the thousands of immigrant children who wind up in this country without a parent, at the mercy of the Trump administration.

Reporters at WRAL-TV in Raleigh started raising questions when they noticed the unusual grant award to New Horizons. That grant is the only one to a North Carolina program in the last 10 years.

The more the reporters investigated, the stranger things seemed. They teamed with Reveal, the news outlet for the Center for Investigative Reporting, to look more closely. This is responsible journalism, not some sort of “fake news.”

New Horizon, far from being an outstanding outfit that would be a natural choice to care for immigrant children, is struggling. In April 2018, the state of North Carolina shut down its Robeson County group home for boys with mental health problems after an extensive audit found multiple violations. State officials said conditions at the home were so bad they were “an imminent danger to the health, safety and welfare” of the boys.

New Horizons is still contesting the state regulators’ allegations against it, as well as their revocation of its license for that facility, in state administrative court. There’s a good chance the company won’t even be allowed to house children for the next four years.

Yet, a year after the Robeson home was closed, the federal government gave New Horizon the $3.9 million grant to house children for three years.

Funny thing - it turns out New Horizon has never had the proper license to run the sort of residential child care facility the grant is for. When the reporters started asking questions, the company applied for one.

In fact, New Horizon has never run the type of shelter for immigrant children that the grant is supposed to pay for. Most of the reporters’ questions have been met with silence, or incomplete or inaccurate answers, both from New Horizon and from the federal agencies involved.

This all makes you wonder how well the Trump administration is caring for the thousands of unaccompanied immigrant children in its custody. The administration’s policies have been driving those numbers up amid reports of harsh treatment of the children. The ORR estimated that it had about 10,000 children in its custody in July. Maybe it’s desperate for places to put them.

Awarding the grant to an unlicensed North Carolina company with a woeful track record suggests that the administration is unable or unwilling to deal with the crisis it has helped to create.

There are a lot more questions than answers. For the immigrant children, they may be questions of survival.

Online: https://www.greensboro.com/

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