Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

August 14th, 2013:

Interview with Rogene Gee Calvert

Rogene Gee Calvert

Rogene Gee Calvert

Next up for At Large #3 is Rogene Gee Calvert, who has worked for non-profits such as the United Way of the Texas Gulf Coast and for the city, as a City Director under Mayor Bill White, and Chief of Staff for former CM Gordon Quan. She has also served as President of the Asian Chamber of Commerce. My interview with her is below, but before I get to that I want to say that I have had contact with the campaigns of Michael Kubosh and Roy Morales, but have not completed interviews with them. I have Kubosh scheduled for Monday, and am still waiting to hear back from Morales. I will run them when I get them done. People are busy, these things happen every interview cycle, it’s no big deal. As promised, here’s my interview with Rogene Gee Calvert:

Rogene Gee Calvert interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.

The people want Wendy to run for Governor

The Democratic people certainly do.

Though speculation is still rampant on state Sen. Wendy Davis’ possible run for governor, some Democratic groups aren’t waiting for her call before pledging their support.

Annie’s List, a political group that supports Democratic female candidates, announced the launch of WeWantWendyDavis.com Tuesday after reserving the domain name earlier this week.

“Besides wanting to show Wendy Davis that she has a broad network of people who want her to run, we wanted to also ask people what they wanted to do to help her,” said executive director Grace Ann Garcia. “We consider this an online recruiting effort on our part.”

The website allows supporters to fill out a form indicating opportunities to support a possible gubernatorial bid, including hosting house parties, volunteering and donating money.

[…]

Battleground Texas, a Democratic campaign to make the heavily Republican state politically competitive, is also ramping up for a possible run, emailing supporters Tuesday with a petition to encourage Davis to run for governor.

“It’s clear that if Texas Democrats want any chance of beating Attorney General Greg Abbott and his multi-million dollar war chest next November, we need somebody strong to take on the challenge. I think Wendy’s just the right woman for the job,” executive director Jenn Brown wrote in the email. “But before she makes a decision, Wendy needs to know that you’re behind her.”

The petition also offers a free “I want Wendy” sticker to signees.

They’re hardly alone – the Lone Star Project, the TDP, BOR – those are just the ones I’ve heard of so far. My Facebook post about her reportedly making up her mind about running has already been shared 15 times, which is a record for me. Is it just me, or does there seem to be a lot more excitement about Wendy Davis’ possible candidacy than there has been about Greg Abbott‘s actual candidacy? I get that that and $1.25 gets you a ride on a Metro bus, and I get that there’s a novelty factor at play here, but still. When was the last time any Democrat got this much buzz for a statewide race? Maybe Ann Richards, but remember, when she ran for Governor in 1990, she was already a statewide officeholder (she was State Treasurer, an office that no longer exists) and she had to survive a nasty primary against then-AG Jim Mattox. Bill White got some decent fanfare in 2010, but he had been campaigning for a Senate special election that never happened, and he was going up against the Perry-KBH primary fight. I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like this before. Again, it doesn’t mean anything yet, and who knows what things will be like in another six or twelve months, but you could do a lot worse for a campaign launch than this.

UPDATE: Stace is on board, too.

When is it OK for the feds to intervene in Texas?

When the Affordable Care Act is involved.

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Though Texas will join 26 other states in defaulting to a federal marketplace for purchasing health insurance — a major component of the Affordable Care Act — it is one of only six that will not enforce new health insurance reforms prescribed by the law. It’s a decision some say could lead to confusion over who’s responsible for protecting Texas insurance consumers.

Because Texas did not create its own state-based marketplace, known as a health insurance exchange, under the Affordable Care Act, it must use a federally facilitated one instead. By federal law, the state must enforce provisions and regulations related to the insurance exchange and market reforms unless it notifies the federal government that it cannot or will not. If a state does not enforce those reforms, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will step in to do it.

Texas, Arizona, Alabama, Missouri, Oklahoma and Wyoming have all notified the federal government that they will not be policing the health law. John Greeley, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Insurance, said his agency cannot enforce regulations tied to the federal insurance exchange or market reforms because it is not authorized to do so.

“We can’t act on anything that doesn’t exist in state law,” he said.

[…]

In the states that will not enforce the exchange and market reforms, the federal government will have to review insurance forms and respond to consumer complaints about health insurance, said Kevin Lucia, an assistant research professor with the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms. Those duties, he added, are “typically reserved for state insurance departments.”

[Stacey Pogue, a health policy analyst with the liberal Center for Public Policy Priorities] said the state’s decision could create an “administrative burden” for insurance plans and could result in confusion for Texans who purchase health insurance under the federal exchange. For instance, she said, if people worry their insurance providers are discriminating against them based on their gender — a practice banned by the federal reforms — they may not know whether to report a complaint to CMS or to TDI.

“There’s all this opportunity to be bounced back and forth, which is a burden for consumers,” she said. If consumers have to report insurance violations to the federal government, that could prevent TDI from having a complete picture of consumers’ experience with insurance providers, she added.

“Consumers can be experiencing a lot of problems on the market that the state regulator doesn’t know about,” Pogue said.

That would be a feature, not a bug, as far as the state leadership is concerned. They care far more about scoring a political win by making the Obamacare implementation look bad than they have ever cared about actually solving the problem of people not having health insurance. How much effect this will have I can’t say – the Texas Department of Insurance claims they’ll still be there for Texans that have problems, for whatever that’s worth – but the bottom line remains that the state is determined to do everything in its power to keep as many people off health insurance as possible. After all that chest-thumping about being severely “pro-life”, you just have to wonder how some of these people sleep at night. But at least now we don’t have to wonder about when the federal government is evil and intrusive and anathema, and when it is not. Think Progress has more.

What to do with that extra money?

Some unexpected good financial news for the city, but what to do about it is the tricky part.

Just months after hiking health premiums, shifting costs to employees and plugging a projected multimillion-dollar deficit in its health benefits fund, the city of Houston has found itself with a sizable surplus in that account instead.

The city had used $14 million to fill the projected deficit in its health fund in January, after predictions about claims and premiums proved inaccurate. In a memo issued this week, Human Resources Director Omar Reid said the city’s calculations were indeed off – but in the other direction, with claims coming in lower than expected.

That, combined with the January payment, leaves the health fund with an $18 million surplus, he wrote.

Fresh off benefit cuts and premium hikes in May, the municipal employees’ union is livid. It is demanding that Mayor Annise Parker rescind jumps in co-pays, deductibles, co-insurance and out-of-pocket maximums, and cut the increase in employee premiums from 14.9 percent to 8.7 percent.

The city’s share of premiums, which covers three-quarters of plan costs, with the rest coming from workers, also rose 14.9 percent in May.

City Councilmen Stephen Costello, Dave Martin and James Rodriguez said they are concerned city staff have shown an inability to project health costs and said the public should be wary, too. Health costs make up almost 10 percent of the city’s general fund operating budget.

“To have a change as drastic as this means somebody really didn’t do a very good job of diligence in their financial analysis of the program, and I’m trying to find out why is that happening,” Martin said. “More importantly, what can we do about it in the future, and how reliable is the data today?”

Rodriguez added, “My faith is somewhat shaken in their ability to calculate these numbers.”

I wouldn’t be too hard on the city’s financial analysts. Clearly, they made overly cautious projections, but I find it difficult to crime them for it given the steady drumbeat of pension-related financial doomsaying we’ve been subjected to lately. How could they be anything but overly cautious in an environment like that? I’m quite certain they’d have been taken to the woodshed for being too exuberantly optimistic if their initial projection had been much lower. The story doesn’t detail how this projection was made, but my guess is that the analysts relied heavily on historical data, most likely without sufficiently taking into account the fact that health care costs have grown a lot more slowly in the past five years than at any time in the past fifty years. Of course, they may have accounted for that but also considered that no one really knows why cost growth has slowed, and no one really knows how long that slowdown trend will last. If they erred towards excessive caution, I can understand their thinking.

Still, that caution had a profound impact on the city’s employees, who paid a lot more for their health care than they actually needed to. The union is right to demand that the employees get their money back. I’m sensitive to the concerns that this could be a blip on the graph, but that gets back to my earlier point about how these projections were done. Now that we have some empirical data, how about we revisit what our assumptions were and see where we might make some adjustments? That should inform how we proceed and how we make it right for the city’s employees, who have given up a lot to balance the city’s budget. They deserve a fair shake.