Author Archives: James A. Bacon

A Spending Boost We Won’t Object to: Medicaid Fraud Prevention

Participants in the REAL LIFE program.

by James A. Bacon

As legislators ponder the next two-year budget, which incorporates a $2.2 billion-per-year increase in spending (14%) in FY 2022 compared to the current fiscal year, they would do well to take into account a new Medicaid scam.

Medicaid covers expenses categorized as “mental health skill building.” These mental-health services are particularly valuable to the homeless, drug and alcohol addicts, and people coming out of incarceration. Since the enactment of Medicaid expansion, the number of agencies providing such services has increased significantly. And so have the fraudsters who have learned how to game the system.

‘We have seen mental health skill builders drive their clients to our Community Center, sit in the waiting room sometimes for two to three hours while waiting for us to deliver services; meanwhile they are billing Medicaid,” says Sarah Scarbrough, director of REAL LIFE, a nonprofit that serves marginalized populations. Continue reading

Richmond During the Rally: The Safest City in Virginia

Wait? What? Where were all the white supremacists?

by James A. Bacon

Twenty-two thousand armed citizens packed the streets of downtown Richmond yesterday, and not one shot was fired. No one was killed. No one was injured. There was only one arrest — of a 21-year-old woman who refused, in violation of a prohibition against masks, to remove a bandana from her face. And she, most likely, was of the leftist persuasion. As the Virginia Mercury quotes her male companion, “Way to keep our city safe, guys, while there’s fuckin’ Nazis and terrorists around here.”

After hyping fears that far-right extremists might create mayhem, the mainstream media heaved a collective sigh of relief. Some headlines:

Richmond Times-Dispatch: “Gun-Rights Rally Draws 22,000 to Capitol; No Violence.”

Richmond Times-Dispatch: “No Violence as Thousands with Firearms Gathered

Washington Post: Weapons, Flags, No Violence: Massive Pro-Gun Rally in Virginia Capitol.”

Associated Press: “Pro-Gun Rally by Thousands in Richmond Ends Peacefully.”

Urban journalists and other progressives never cease to be amazed when law-abiding rural rustics with guns are, well… law-abiding. The media — especially the Washington Post — had fanned fears that the event would be disrupted by armed militias, Neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Continue reading

Answer Basic Questions, Please, Before Demanding Mo’ Money

The Heights, a $100 million school in Arlington County, co-locates a “democratic alternative magnet” program and a program for students with severe intellectual disabilities, according to School Construction News. It comes equipped with a lobby/gathering space, a theater, a gymnasium, rooftop terraces, and smart panel screens. Wildly extravagant, yes. But, in all fairness, no one else in Virginia is building schools like this.

by James A. Bacon

Some public schools in Virginia, especially in inner cities and rural areas, are in disgraceful condition. Rainwater leaks into classrooms, ceiling tiles are falling, mold is growing, and rats are scurrying. We can all agree that something needs to be done. But what? How widespread are these problems? Are they so ubiquitous that the state should step in?

Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, thinks so. “We have a constitutional obligation to provide high-quality education to every child, regardless of their ZIP code or financial situation in life,” he says. Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond seems to agree. “We ought to be able to figure out a way to do better for our children and teachers.” So reports the Roanoke Times.

To lawmakers, finding a better way almost always translates into providing mo’ money. Schools crumbling? Give localities more money to pay for repairs, renovations and new construction. And maybe mo ‘money is what’s needed. But maybe not. Given legislators’ Pavlovian response to any problem — spend more money — citizens should insist that legislators examine the possibility that maybe, just maybe, there are other ways to deal with the phenomenon of crumbling schools. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: In Non Gun-Related News…

In the Virginia political world, everyone’s attention is riveted today upon the gun-rights rally in Richmond. We are all hoping that everyone behaves himself and the event remains peaceful. But other things of interest are happening around the Commonwealth.

Washington Metro ridership back up. The years-long downward slide in Washington Metro ridership reversed itself in 2019, increasing 4% over the previous year — about 20,000 trips per weekday on average, according to the Washington Post. One possible explanation for the turn-around: People now can use their cell phones as fare cards. Also, Metro now offers a money-back guarantee that credits riders whenever a rush-hour trip is delayed more than 10 minutes. The greatest growth occurred in Saturdays and Sundays. Metrobus ridership continues its steep fall, down 2.5% last year. But it’s encouraging to see that the Metro, after years of effort to improve safety and on-time performance, may be pulling out of its slump.

Cherokees will have skin in the game. With the surge in proposals by Indian tribes to build casinos in Virginia, a central question I have been asking is what value the tribes are providing. Do they contribute anything beyond bartering their privileged status as a federally designated tribe? Are outside investors doing all the work and taking all the risk? Or do the tribes actually have skin in the game? Well, in the case of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which is proposing a resort and hotel in Bristol, it appears that the tribe is willing to invest $200 million of its own money. The Bristol Herald-Courier quotes tribe chief Richard Sneed: “Looking at the potential customer base and what the market would support, we’re estimating about a $200 million investment. The Eastern Band could come in covering the full cost of the investment as an owner operator.”

Well, there’s always home school. The culture wars in Loudoun County public schools are roiling around the appropriateness of LGBTQ literature in elementary school libraries and classrooms. Should public schools being legitimizing gay relationships and trans-sexual identity as early as elementary school (or at all)? Many parents, especially those of a fundamentalist Christian persuasion, object to books they consider “leftist propaganda” and “moral corruption”? Said one parent, according to the Washington Post: “They’ve removed everything with a Christian influence … and replaced it with smut and porn.” In a nation with irreconcilable value systems, this kind of conflict seems inevitable in public schools. Perhaps the best way to deal with the conflict is to let the majority’s values prevail (in this case, those who promote the LGBTQ agenda) while making it easier for those with minority views to opt out of the system, either through private school or home schooling.

— JAB

Runaway Costs and Hospital Monopolies

Employee contributions to medical insurance premiums (family coverage, 2018 by state — Virginia is the highest. By a longshot.

by James C. Sherlock

Healthcare costs are crowding out other spending by citizens and governments. All Virginians know this. Few understand, though, that their elected leaders in Richmond, who are recipients of huge campaign contributions from hospital interests, bear a significant share of the blame and some are actively working to increase costs further.

Virginia had the highest priced commercial health insurance in the country in 2018. (See chart above.) At $6,597, the 2018 average annual employee premium contribution for family health insurance coverage was the highest in the nation. The premium for single coverage in Virginia was the third highest.

The Affordable Care Act exchange is no better. The Centers of Medicare/ Medicaid database lists 16,900 lines of Silver plans and locations nationally in 2018. Virginia had 22 of the 55 highest priced, including 14 of the top 16. In the worst case in the nation, a 40-year-old couple with two children in the Charlottesville area paid almost $39,000 in premiums in 2018 for the less expensive of the only two family Silver policies available on the ACA exchange. Both were offered by Sentara’s Optima Health. With that policy, their out-of-pocket costs were capped at $14,700. Both policies were HMOs with no coverage for out-of-network providers. It was a Sentara network.

Hospital systems in Virginia’s five largest metro areas, either own their own health plans and insurers or have joined exclusive partnerships with one. Sentara, the largest, controls 63 corporations, 43 of which are for profit. Its non-profit subordinates include Optima Health and Sentara providers except its ambulatory surgery centers, which are for-profit partnerships. Continue reading

Tensions Build as Gun-Rights Rally Nears

Sen. Amanda Chase

by James A. Bacon

The gears are moving for the Second Amendment rally at the state Capitol scheduled for tomorrow. Buses are loading up with protesters. Law enforcement authorities are planning their crowd-control measures. Despite professions of everyone in charge that they want the event to take place peacefully, there are many disquieting signs. The most disturbing indicator, of course, was the arrest of three far-right extremists Thursday on allegations that they were planning to instigate violence.

But gun-rights sympathizers are arguing that Governor Ralph Northam is going to excessive lengths to maintain security. Not only has he prohibited protesters from carrying weapons on the Capitol grounds, they say security forces have erected heavy fencing around the Capitol and plan to limit admission to the area through a single entrance.

The gun-rights crowd is not responding well. State Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, has suggested on her Facebook page that protesters are “being set up.” With the assistance of the media, she said, Northam has laid the groundwork “to make the entire movement look like insurrection.” Continue reading

Early-Release-For-Murderers Bill Advances

A Virginia Senate committee voted Friday 9-to-5 (largely along party lines) to make many murderers eligible for release when they reach age 50. SB 624 effectively reinstates parole for many long-time inmates, even though the Virginia legislature abolished parole in 1995. The bill also guts Virginia’s three-strikes law, which required life without parole for offenders convicted of three separate murders, rapes, or robberies, or any combination of the three.

SB 624 would let inmates seek release at age 50 if they have served 20 years, or age 55 if they’ve served 15. Inmates would not be eligible for geriatric release under the bill if they committed a “Class 1 felony,” but such felonies are reserved for only the most heinous of crimes. First-degree murder, classified as a Class 2 felony, would be affected by the bill.

Supporters of the bill cited low recidivism rates by offenders previously given “geriatric release” in their 60s or later ages. But that doesn’t justify granting geriatric release to people in their 50s, who are younger and more capable of committing murder and rape. Moreover, changes to the parole board’s composition may lead to higher rates of geriatric release in the future, resulting in the release of higher-risk offenders. Continue reading

Booming Telework Spurs Job Growth in Rural Virginia

Source: Statchat

by James A. Bacon

The Internet, pundits long predicted, would emancipate people from the necessity of living near where they worked. The connectivity provided by cell phones, laptops and broadband would allow people to plug in at home…. or even while lounging by the pool or on the beach. It was a nice fantasy, but telecommuting never lived up to its potential. Far from freeing people to live in the bucolic countryside, the logic of the Knowledge Economy impelled more people to the city. A new theory emerged: that the clustering of knowledge workers led to such huge gains in productivity and innovation that it outweighed any lifestyle benefits to telecommuting long distances. The bigger the labor market, the greater the pull.

Now Hamilton Lombard, a demographer at the University of Virginia’s Demographics Research Group, has been so bold as to suggest the dynamic might be shifting again. New Census Bureau data, he writes in the StatChat blog, suggest that over the past three years “the places Americans chose to live are becoming less connected to where their employer is based.”

What’s different all of a sudden? Perhaps the tighter labor market. Lombard suggests. As certain sectors of the economy experience labor shortages, employees have more bargaining power. He doesn’t say this, but I’ll throw it out there for consideration: Instead of pushing for higher wages, perhaps more people are using that bargaining power for more control over their work-life balance.

Whatever the reason, the impact of the increasing work-from-home phenomenon is potentially profound. Outside of Virginia’s major metro areas themselves, the regions that seem particularly effected are the Shenandoah Valley and the Chesapeake Bay. Continue reading

Education or Indoctrination?

by James A. Bacon

No question: The Holocaust was one of the defining events of modern history. An estimated six million Jews and five million others (Poles and Roma, mostly) died under the Nazi regime’s genocidal programs. No question: Ignorance of the Holocaust among American youth is startling and dismaying. A 2018 survey of Millennials found that 66% could not identify the Auschwitz death camp. No question: Virginia schools need to incorporate teaching of the Holocaust and other genocides into their history curricula.

But does Virginia really need a Holocaust and Genocide Advisory Committee?

Does Virginia really need to develop, as called for in HB 916, a “robust model curriculum and teacher training module” to provide instruction on the Holocaust and other historical genocides for the purpose of providing “anti-bias education for public school students in the Commonwealth?”

Under the bill introduced by Del. Mark Sickles, D-Alexandria, the Advisory Committee would go beyond just teaching about the Holocaust. He envisions a broader initiative in which case studies and instructional lessons in public schools would explore the Holocaust and other genocides “in the context of how lower levels of hate, ridicule, and dehumanization” led to wider acts of violence. Anti-bias education also would provide “tools for responding to different forms of racism, bigotry and discrimination,” and explore “slavery and other forms of historical dehumanizing injustice.”

Wow. I guess Virginia’s public schools aren’t politically correct enough. Now we need a formal program of indoctrination in which legislators not only dictate which subjects to teach but how to teach them. Continue reading

Will Middle-Aged Killers Get Early Release?

John Reginald Christie, an English serial killer and necrophiliac who killed into his 50s.

by Hans Bader

A Virginia bill, SB 624, would make middle-aged murderers and rapists eligible for “geriatric release.” It would do so even though “geriatric” is precisely about being old. It is defined in the dictionary as “old, elderly,” or “relating to, or appropriate for elderly people.”

Under SB 624, a prison inmate would be eligible for geriatric release if he is 50 years old, or 55 years old, depending on how long he has been in prison. Such inmates are not old, but middle-aged. As the Merriam Webster dictionary notes, “middle-aged people” are “people between the age of about 40 and the age of about 60.” Wikipedia describes middle age as extending to 65 — far above age 50.  I am 50 years old, and have never been treated as old for any purpose.

The bill would let inmates seek release at age 50 if they have served 20 years, or age 55 if they’ve served 15. That’s lower than the age at which famous serial killers were still active. These inmates are younger than serial murderer Albert Fish, who killed starting at age 54, and Dorothea Puente, who killed from age 53 to 59. Many other serial killers continued killing into their 50s, such as Peter Tobin (up to age 60), John Reginald Christie (up to age 53), and Ted Kaczynski (into his 50s). The murder rate is much lower for people in their 60s than in their 50s, but there are people who commit murder even in their 70s. Continue reading

And One More Thing…

Can this thing be weaponized?

Since posting my previous post, I’ve been thinking about Governor Ralph Northam’s decision to declare a state of emergency to keep a lid on the upcoming gun-rights rally. I’m sure it was not a decision lightly taken. The Governor is in a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t situation — criticized by one side for clamping down on the rights of law-abiding citizens, but subject to even worse criticism, if gun violence breaks out, had he failed to act. I get it.

Here’s the thing. There’s a lot of hysteria surrounding this issue. The media has played up crazy, unsubstantiated rumors and worrisome threats circulating in extreme right-wing social media. But deranged right-wingers are not the only people who are capable of over-reacting. What, exactly, is the menace that Northam sees? Were the worrisome words trash talk designed to impress other right-wing nut jobs, or is there legitimate reason to think the people intend to act upon them? Obviously, it is better to err on the side of caution on such things. But do the threats rise to the level of a state of emergency?

Northam could help himself if he held a press conference featuring a Virginia law enforcement officer in charge of evaluating the threats. Who, specifically, are we worried about? Name organizations! What are we afraid people might do? And perhaps most importantly, how are the measures associated with the state of emergency tailored to deal with those threats? For example, Northam has mentioned worries about an attack by drone. How does squatting on gun rights protect people from drone attacks? Continue reading

Cool Your Jets, Dudes

by James A. Bacon

So, Governor Ralph Northam yesterday declared a state of emergency that bans the bearing of firearms on stat property from Jan. 17 through Jan. 21. In justification, he cited plans by tens of thousands of gun-rights advocates to gather in Richmond in protest of gun-control legislation under consideration by the General Assembly.

Stated Northam in a prepared statement: “Available information suggests that a substantial number of these demonstrators are expected to come from outside the Commonwealth, may be armed, and have as their purpose not peaceful assembly but violence, rioting, and insurrection.”

Rioting and insurrection? Really. Them’s strong words. The Washington Post has written of out-of-state groups coming to Virginia to form posses and militias, as well as reckless and unsubstantiated rumors spreading on social media. The newspaper also referred vaguely to “threats” made against Northam. According to Virginia Public Media, Northam has said officials have heard reports of “out-of-state militia groups and hate groups planning to travel from across the country to disrupt our democratic process with acts of violence.” He said they “are coming to intimidate and cause harm.”

Question: If specific hate groups have been identified, why aren’t they being targeted by law enforcement? Also, wouldn’t it be helpful to notify the public who they are? Why the need to deprive everyone, including law-abiding citizens, of the right to carry arms onto state property?

Update: According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Northam claimed that “armed militia groups” plan on “storming our Capitol” and “weaponizing drones.” That’s a lot more specific — and alarming — than the intelligence I cited in other media reports.

Meanwhile, Jerry Falwell Jr. president of Liberty University, needs to dial down his rhetoric. Speaking on a Lynchburg radio show, he predicted a backlash of local law enforcement authorities against gun-control legislation from the General Assembly, reports the News & Advance. Presumably referring to legislators, he said, “I think they’re going to be faced with civil disobedience, not just by citizens but by police officers. And I think it’s what they deserve.” Continue reading

How the General Assembly Works

To hear podcast click here.

Peter Galuszka, Virginia journalist and contributor to Bacon’s Rebellion, appears in this WTJU podcast on how the General Assembly works. Peter talks about the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in submitting boilerplate conservative legislation to the legislature. His remarks begin around the 8:00 mark.

How Medicaid Expansion Underwrites Hospital Expansion

Roanoke Memorial Hospital: $300 million expansion thanks to Medicaid

by James A. Bacon

A year after Virginia enacted Medicaid expansion, it’s still too early to tell what impact the initiative will have on public health, medical economists tell Virginia Business magazine. But one thing seems clear enough. The program is injecting enough money into the healthcare sector that major health systems say they have the confidence to embark upon major expansion projects.

Roanoke-based Carilion Clinic is moving ahead with a $300 million expansion to Roanoke Memorial Hospital. Fairfax-based Inova Health System is spending a similar amount, $300 million, to upgrade its Loudoun County hospital. Bon Secours Virginia Health System has announced plans for $119 million in improvements to its Chesterfield County medical center. And community health centers are either opening or expanding in Southern and Southwest Virginia.

One big question I had about Medicaid expansion is the impact it would have on hospital profitability — and what the hospitals would do with the money. The Virginia Business article provides some clues. Continue reading

Yet Another Tax Increase Proposal

Del. Delores McQuinn. Photo credit: Richmond.com.

Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, has submitted a bill, HB 1541, that would raise taxes in Central Virginia by 2.1% on wholesale fuels (about 7.6 cents per gallon of gasoline) and 0.7% on the sales and use tax to fund regional transportation projects.

The taxes would raise an estimated $168 million a year. Fifty percent would be returned to the localities for projects that would “improve local mobility,” including roads, sidewalks, trails, mobility services, or transit; 35% would go to a Central Virginia Transportation Authority; and 15% would be dedicated to mass transit in Planning District 15.

McQuinn said the dedicated funding is critical to improving access to public transportation, especially for low-income residents who have no other way to get to jobs or amenities in the region, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Said she in a meeting with leaders from four localities in the region: “Transportation has become to me almost a civil rights issue.”

A civil rights issue? Wow! I always thought of “civil rights” as ensuring that all Americans enjoyed the same constitutional and legal protections. Now, it seems, the concept of civil rights has expanded to the idea of redistributing income from motorists and consumers, many of them low-income themselves, to trendy priorities favored by urban white elites under the guise of helping minorities and the poor. Continue reading