Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Post and Courier of Charleston on the Affordable Care Act:
The Affordable Care Act's title conveys a false promise. Its predictable failure to fulfill that pledge was re-confirmed by Tuesday's news that Aetna, the nation's third largest health insurer, will withdraw from 11 of the 15 states where it has been offering policies through the ACA.
One of those 11 states is South Carolina, where Aetna has been providing ACA policies in 14 counties — including Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester.
And according to The Washington Post, Aetna's retreat puts Arizona's Pinal County "at risk of having no insurers offering exchange plans in 2017, a circumstance that would present a major challenge to the basic mechanics of the ACA."
Among those "basic mechanics" is the constitutionally dubious "individual mandate" for most Americans to obtain health insurance. The law also is based on the rosy-scenario assumption that large numbers of relatively healthy young people will buy policies under the ACA.
That illusion has been shattered. So Aetna, like other companies before it and others leaving the ACA soon, has concluded that this is not an "affordable" endeavor for its bottom line. UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Humana Inc., two other insurance giants, had already announced large reductions in their ACA participation.
From Tuesday's Wall Street Journal: "The withdrawals come as the biggest insurers continue to roll up losses on their ACA business — all five major national companies now expect to be in the red? on that business this year. Aetna said it expected a loss of more than $300 million for the year on its ACA plans amid mounting medical costs among enrollees. The insurer lost about $200 million in the second quarter on the plans."
As for the exchange plans still offered through the ACA: "To remain profitable, insurers say they have no choice but to ask for 'significant' price increases that most reports say will be in the double-digit percentage range on average."
Does that sound affordable?
You need not be a fan of huge insurance companies to know that they will be strongly motivated to abandon ventures that lose hundreds of millions of their dollars in a single quarter.
Perhaps that doesn't sound like much money to the Obama White House. After all, this administration has added nearly $9 trillion to the national debt in less than eight years. And it counts as its top domestic legislative achievement the ACA, which in effect added another massive federal financial obligation even as Medicare and Social Security keep marching toward fiscal oblivion in the absence of long-overdue reforms.
But $300 million would be a daunting sum for any company, and a growing number of insurance companies want out of what for them has been a losing enterprise.
That latest evidence of the ACA's fallacies recalls this infamous pitch from then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi before both chambers of Congress approved it without a single Republican vote:
"We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it."
Six years later, we've found out what was in the bill: It's an unaffordable federal intrusion into the health insurance marketplace.
Now we need to find out what candidates for president, the Senate and the House propose to do about that.
The Times and Democrat of Orangeburg on aviation and aerospace in South Carolina:
South Carolina is celebrating aviation at a time when the business of flight has never been a bigger player in the state.
Orangeburg Mayor Michael Butler has joined in proclaiming Aug 23-29 as General Aviation Appreciation Week.
"Mayor Butler's proclamation helps highlight the economic benefits and valuable service that general aviation provides to the City of Orangeburg and the State of South Carolina," said Selena Shilad, executive director of the Alliance for Aviation Across America.
Estimates are that aviation contributes $417 million annually in economic activity in South Carolina.
University of South Carolina research economist Joseph Von Nessen with the Darla Moore School of Business has studied the economic impact of the state's growing South Carolina aerospace cluster, concluding that it has a $17.4 billion economic impact and supports more than 102,000 workers.
His study, titled "Uncovering the Stealth Cluster: The Economic Impact of Civilian and Military Aerospace on South Carolina," was released by New Carolina-South Carolina's Council on Competitiveness and the university's Ronald E. McNair Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research during the state's first-ever Aerospace Industry Day held in Columbia in August 2014.
An industry "cluster" is a group of complementary businesses that focuses on or serves the same industry. They come together to increase efficiency and innovation within that industry, while boosting the overall economy in a region. Clusters attract more businesses to an area and provide more opportunities for existing businesses to grow.
South Carolina's aerospace cluster includes private-sector firms operating directly within the industry (known as the "aerospace core"), the state's four military aviation facilities and smaller private companies supporting the aviation and aerospace industries.
Boeing's major presence in Charleston is the catalyst for South Carolina as an emerging leader in aerospace.
"Much like BMW accelerated the growth of the state's automotive industry, South Carolina's aerospace industry has grown exponentially since Boeing selected the Charleston region in 2009," Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt has said. "And the 'Boeing boost' continues as we recruit major global suppliers . that serve the aerospace cluster in South Carolina."
As much as Orangeburg's commitment to general aviation through the city's Orangeburg Municipal Airport remains a sound one in the pursuit of economic development, our hope is the "Boeing boost" will add to the enterprises associated with the aerospace industry landing in our locale with its proximity to Charleston.
The (Columbia) State on protecting public health:
For more than two decades, people who fish and swim and boat in the Lower Saluda River have been complaining about the raw sewage that gets spilled into the scenic river too often — about how it keeps happening, about how state regulators don't seem to care that it keeps happening, about how we've had a plan in place for a quarter century to stop dumping even treated sewage into that river.
And then last month, after the major Saluda River polluter yet again released untreated sewage into the river, and the Department of Health and Environmental Control botched its handling of that spill, the state's environmental protection agency finally said enough is enough. The agency told Carolina Water Service it has to stop dumping treated sewage into the river from its plant near Interstate 20.
This is wonderful news.
We've seen too many times how easily a permit to dump treated sewage into the river results in untreated sewage being dumped into the river. That's always a danger, but it's been particularly problematic for Carolina Water, which is part of a corporation that was subject to more state environmental enforcement actions than any other from the early 1990s through late 2013.
The company, which operates three of the six sewage plants on the Saluda, has violated federal discharge limits 31 times in the past five years — 19 of them at the I-20 plant. So getting that one plant closed should go a long way toward making the river a safer and more pleasant place for the fish and the people who use it.
Unfortunately, DHEC's order is not the end of the story.
DHEC put Carolina Water under orders in 1999 to hook into a regional system when it became available. That system has been available for 17 years — the town of Lexington has sewage pipes just a few feet from the I-20 treatment plant — but DHEC never forced a connection.
A year ago, the agency signaled that it would renew Carolina Water's operating permit, and even make it more palatable to the company, apparently out of concern for what would happen to its customers if the permit was denied.
After intense criticism from the public and threats by local legislators to pass a law to deny the permit, the agency reversed course and said its policies required it to deny the permit. But in nearly a year since, all that has happened is that Carolina Water and Lexington have accused each other of being unreasonable as they negotiate over how the town will take over the service.
DHEC's latest announcement gave Carolina Water and the town 60 days to submit a plan explaining how the company will connect with Lexington's sewage pipes. It said both could face fines of up to $10,000 per day if they failed to meet the deadline. Carolina Water promptly promised to appeal, although it said the goal was to get a fair deal from Lexington, not to remain in the river-dumping business.
Frankly, the lawsuit is the least of our concerns. Our biggest concern — based on decades of watching the agency being cowed by its board members, and legislators, and, yes, threats of lawsuits — is that once again the political winds will shift and our public health agency will be forced to back down.
We hope that doesn't happen.
We hope DHEC Director Catherine Heigel will remain as committed to being an independent, apolitical professional as she has appeared to be. We hope DHEC's board will respect the science and the law behind the agency's decision and not intervene to preserve river-dumping. We hope the Republican and Democratic legislators who have been pushing DHEC on this matter will continue to push — and fight back any attempts by the company, or other polluters, to preserve laissez-faire regulation.
South Carolina deserves a health and environmental agency that works to protect the public health and environment. It's hard to think of a more obvious way to do that than to stop untreated sewage from being dumped into our rivers.