VOICES: The danger of McCrory's Bobby Jindal imitation

By Chris Fitzsimon, NC Policy Watch

Governor Pat McCrory appears to be on a privatization spree that could have serious implications for jobs and health care in North Carolina. And none of it seems very well thought out.

McCrory announced a plan Monday that would turn over the state's economic development efforts to a private non-profit corporation he would chair, essentially abolishing the Department of Commerce.

McCrory claims the plan would "leverage existing state funds," which sounds like political speak for letting private interests manage public resources with little accountability.

Former N.C. Supreme Court Justice and Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Orr certainly seems to think so, questioning how transparent the new private entity will be as it commits millions of public dollars to corporations in massive incentive deals.

The News & Observer's Rob Christensen points out that former Governor Jim Martin, a Republican and in many ways McCrory's role model in the job, once called a similar proposal to privatize Commerce an "incredibly dumb and dangerous idea."

A 2011 report from the national group Good Jobs First finds that several states that have privatized economic development efforts have seen a series of problems including misuse of taxpayer money, excessive executive bonuses, and questionable subsidy deals.

It sounds like exactly what we don't need in North Carolina.

Last week McCrory announced a plan to private the state's Medicaid program by turning its operations over to a handful of for-profit managed care companies.

The anti-government think tanks predictably applauded the idea but the N.C. Medical Society wondered why the administration would bring in "out-of-state corporations so they can profit by limiting North Carolina patients' access to health care and cutting critical medical services to our state's most vulnerable citizens."

And it wasn't just the doctors with questions. Influential Republican state lawmaker Nelson Dollar didn’t seem to be thrilled either, asking why it would make sense to end the state's nationally recognized Medicaid managed care nonprofit Community Care of North Carolina and turn instead to the "failures and traps of commercial managed care."

The same day McCrory was announcing his plan to privatize Medicaid fellow Republican and U.S. Senator Richard Burr was back in the state giving Community Care of North Carolina an award for the organization's "quality and efficiency in serving the state's Medicaid population and particularly the high quality of care it delivers to patients in rural areas."

Privatizing Medicaid is not a new idea either of course. Big managed care companies are always looking for a way to swoop in and make millions of dollars off of cherry-picking from public health care programs, and several Republican governors with their private is always better ideology have been trying to help them.

That list includes Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, another politician McCrory often mentions as a role model and until lately a rising star in the Republican political ranks who is often mentioned as a future presidential candidate.

Jindal's health secretary Bruce Greenstein recently resigned amid a federal investigation of a $185 million state contract and, as the New York Times reports, Greenstein was in charge of transitioning the Louisiana Medicaid program to a privately run managed care model along the lines of what McCrory is proposing.

North Carolina Medicaid Director Carol Steckel was the head of Louisiana's Center for Health Care Innovation and Technology within the state's Department of Health and Hospitals before McCrory hired her to run Medicaid here. She worked directly for Greenstein but told the Insider State Government News Service that she had no involvement the contract that prompted the federal investigation.

Jindal himself made national headlines this week by withdrawing his wildly unpopular plan to abolish the state personal and corporate income taxes and replace the revenue by expanding the sales tax, essentially the plan that many Republicans and the right-wing think tanks are pushing in North Carolina.

Jindal's radical tax plan is not all that is unpopular in Louisiana. His own approval rating fell to 38 percent in a recent poll, down from 60 percent a year ago.

It turns out that most people in Louisiana are not fond of half-baked ideas to turn management of health care services and job recruitment efforts over to Wall Street profiteers. And they'd rather not pay higher taxes at grocery stores and barber shops so millionaires can get a big tax cut.

It's a pretty safe bet that people in North Carolina won't be too thrilled with the McCrory/Jindal privatization spree either once they understand it.

Governor McCrory, don't say we didn't warn you.