Up & Coming Weekly

January 05, 2021

Up and Coming Weekly is a weekly publication in Fayetteville, NC and Fort Bragg, NC area offering local news, views, arts, entertainment and community event and business information.

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8 UCW JANUARY 6-12, 2021 WWW.UPANDCOMINGWEEKLY.COM NEWS NC bar owners challenge Emergency Management Act provision by JOHN TRUMP Lawmakers are fighting to help small businesses afford health insurance, but they're running out of time. As the pandemic and the shutdowns wreck the economy, thousands of North Carolinians continue to lose their insurance. North Carolina has nearly 1.2 million uninsured residents. Gov. Roy Cooper and his allies are pushing Medicaid expansion as the solu- tion. But Republicans are skeptical, and they want other reforms. Medicaid expansion receded into the background during the second meeting of the N.C. Council for Health Care Coverage on Dec. 18. Cooper filled the first meeting with reasons to expand Medicaid to cover low-income, childless adults. But after Repub- licans criticized the first meeting, the council turned its focus to other policies. Lawmakers hoped to find a solution for the unin- sured in Association Health Plans. ese plans allow small businesses to band together when negotiating with insurers. ey aim to deliver lower premiums and more affordable care. e pandemic and the shutdowns have hammered businesses. Small businesses are trying to make ends meet with lower revenue, even as their costs creep upward. But they pay more for health insurance than their larger counterparts — and many can't afford it. Under Obamacare, the regulations are stacked against small businesses, said Jordan Roberts, John Locke Foundation governmental-affairs associate. Unless they have more than 50 employees, busi- nesses must pay to comply with regulations dodged by their larger counterparts. Small businesses found themselves trapped in the individual or small group markets without leverage, paying ever-rising premiums. In North Carolina, some small businesses are pay- ing as much as $25,000 a year for health insurance per employee — a burden in the best of times, but a major stress in the COVID economy, said Andy Ellen, president of N.C. Retail Merchants Association. "at puts intense pressure on them," Ellen said. "ey're trying to make difficult choices of how to pay their rent, maintain their benefits, but they're just trying to stay alive to get to the other side." Ellen looks to Association Health Plans for a solution. "When these mom-and-pop shops and individual retailers can get together to buy health insurance as a large plan, they can get plans at a much more affordable rate," Roberts said. "How can we level the playing field?" But Association Health Plans could be running out of time. e Trump administration unleashed Associa- tion Health Plans with executive orders. e Biden administration could cripple them with the same tactics. What Biden will do remains unknown. But critics warn that these plans could weaken the Obamacare exchanges and drive up premiums on the individual market. Lawmakers hope to roll out the plans before President-elect Joe Biden gets the chance to sink them. e future of the plans now rests with Insur- ance Commissioner Mike Causey. "I'm hoping that we can put some pressure on Commissioner Causey to move those forward," Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, told Carolina Journal. "My fear is that President Biden will change those orders, and we won't be able to execute it. If it's already underway and working, I think we'll have another chance at keeping it." Causey says he supports the legislation. But his support may be immaterial. Causey says it could be illegal to move forward while the plans remain tangled in federal court. "North Carolina is fully prepared to implement AHPs," Causey told CJ. "But we have to get that court case resolved at the federal level before we can implement it." But implementing Association Health Plans won't change the reasons why health insurance is unafford- able for more than a million North Carolinians, said Roberts. Lawmakers must reform regulations that hurt consumers. "e cost of health care drives the cost of insur- ance," Roberts said. "Part of this discussion needs to focus on reforms that loosen health-care regs and bring down the cost of care." JULIE HAVLAK, Carolina Journal News Service. COMMENTS? editor@upandcomin- gweekly.com. 910-484-6200. Clock may run out on Association Health Plans as cost-saving measure by JULIE HAVLAK Bar owners from six counties across North Carolina are going to court to challenge the governor's execu- tive orders shutting down their businesses. eir law- suit seeks to have a key piece of the state Emergency Management Act declared unconstitutional. e suit filed in Carteret County Superior Court ar- rived the day after a similar complaint filed on behalf of a Greenville bar. Plaintiffs in the new suit own and operate bars in Guilford, Forsyth, New Hanover, Bun- combe, and Wake counties, in addition to Carteret. "e Governor has been issuing his Executive Orders since last March with no checks or balances," said Chuck Kitchen, the Raleigh-based attorney rep- resenting more than a dozen individuals and busi- nesses. "e Plaintiffs' argument is that the Governor cannot unilaterally make what has the effect of law without the procedural check of the Council of State. Otherwise, the Legislature should be passing laws relating to the pandemic." One piece of the 14-page complaint calls for a three-judge panel to determine that a portion of the state Emergency Management Act is unconstitution- al. Gov. Roy Cooper has relied on that portion — officially General Statute § 166A-19.30(c) — to bypass the Council of State when exercising his emergency powers during the COVID-19 pandemic. at piece of the Emergency Management Act gives the governor authority to step in and take action normally delegated to local governments. Cooper can step in when he determines "that local control of the emergency is insufficient to assure adequate protec- tion for lives and property." e lawsuit spells out a constitutional problem. "e Governor's actions are in his discretion and not accompanied by adequate guiding standards to govern the exercise of the delegated powers by the chief executive," according to the complaint. "Fur- ther, there are no procedural safeguards to control the Governor's actions in his use of Executive Orders pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 166A-19.30(c)." at provision thus "represents an abdication of the authority of the General Assembly to make laws and is in violation of the Separation of Powers Clause of the North Carolina Constitution." "is statute allows the Governor to exercise the power of cities and counties in issuing his executive orders, including the Executive Orders which have kept bars closed," Kitchen said in a news release. "Without this authority, all the Governor's Executive Orders would have to be approved by the Council of State." e council comprises the 10 statewide elected executive branch officials in North Carolina. Re- publicans now outnumber Cooper and his fellow Democrats 6-4 on the council. is means Cooper's COVID-19 executive orders would require some degree of bipartisan support. e suit also contends another section of the Emer- gency Management Act — N.C. Gen. Stat. § 166A- 19.30(b)(2) — has been applied unconstitutionally against bar owners and operators. at section "provides that municipalities and counties, and in this case Defendant Cooper, have the authority to prohibit the operation of business estab- lishments and therefore to prohibit individuals from earning a living," according to the complaint. "e General Assembly does not possess the authority to prohibit the right of individuals to earn a living," the lawsuit continues. "It therefore cannot give that right to municipalities and counties, and in this case to the Governor." e suit asks a court to declare that piece of the Emergency Management Act unconstitutional as applied to the plaintiffs and their bars. All executive orders keeping bars closed would be struck down. Cooper's executive orders have kept some N.C. bars shut down since March 17. JOHN TRUMP, Carolina Journal News Service. COMMENTS? editor@upandcomin- gweekly.com. 910-484-6200. Bar owners who filed a lawsuit against Gov. Cooper and the state over COVID-19 restrictions say their rights are being violated.

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