State regulators are reviewing the proposed acquisition of Louisiana’s largest health insurer – the nonprofit Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana (BCBSLA) – by Elevance Health. While the takeover has support from many business leaders, others (including insurance brokers and the Louisiana Budget Project) are raising concerns about how the sale will affect healthcare costs and access to physicians. The Advocate’s Stephanie Riegel reports: 

[Michael Johnson] pointed to a 2019 study in the American Economic Journal by a Harvard University Business School professor, who studied 11 nonprofit Blue Cross insurers that were converted to for-profit insurers over a 10-year period in the mid-2000s, including several that were purchased by Anthem. The study found that prices were 13% higher on average than they would have otherwise been in markets where Blue Cross had converted from being a nonprofit to a for-profit. Not only did the Blues in those markets raise rates after converting, but their competitors did, too, the authors said. 

As part of the acquisition, the BCBSLA assets will be used to form a new charitable foundation, which will be organized in Delaware under 501c4 of the federal tax code. LBP’s Jan Moller, in public comments submitted to the Department of Insurance, questioned the structure of that foundation.  

By organizing under the relaxed rules that govern social welfare organizations, there would be little to stop Accelerate Louisiana from functioning as a powerful lobbying arm of the for-profit health insurance industry, endorsing and promoting political candidates who favor the industry’s positions (which may not reflect the public interest). … At a minimum, the Commissioner should demand that BCBSLA organize Accelerate Louisiana in Louisiana as a 501c3 public charity, with written safeguards that guarantee it will serve a true public purpose, and promote policies and programs that enhance public health for all Louisianans.

Violence in Louisiana
Louisiana has long been one of America’s most violent states, and the consequences are felt by people in every community. A new survey from the Newcomb Institute at Tulane University aimed to get a more complete picture of how violence affects people in our state. Anita Raj, executive director of the Newcomb Institute, explains the findings in a guest column for The Advocate

Our findings suggest that addressing violence in Louisiana will require a combination of public health and economic security responses. Public health efforts for violence prevention are needed, with a focus on schools and work with adolescents, given that adolescence and young adulthood is the stage where violence escalates. Youth programming and support for those affected by violence need to include mental health services, such as formal counseling but also in the form of lower-cost emotional support services. Finally, given the disproportionate risk for violence faced by those in situations of immediate economic distress, economic programs to help ensure basic needs are likely to help reduce violence.

A ‘gold rush’ for carbon capture projects
Carbon capture, the process of capturing carbon emissions and injecting them deep underground, has been described as an integral part of America’s transition to renewable energy. But environmental justice advocates and other opponents of carbon capture see it as a risky, unproven technology that could have disastrous effects on local communities. They also say the sudden interest from the oil and gas sector and other industrial polluters stems from the windfall of money that can be made from these projects, and the ability to prolong the nation’s use of fossil fuels. Floodlight’s Pam Radtke explains.

The Inflation Reduction Act increased tax credits, called 45Q, to permanently store carbon from $50 per ton to $85 per ton. Directly capturing the carbon from ambient air, like the projects announced this week, earns developers $180 a ton. The law also allows the credit to be paid in cash to developers, which include companies or subsidiaries of Shell, ExxonMobil and Koch. … “What we aren’t seeing is announcements to retrofit refineries or existing ammonia facilities, or other petrochemical facilities. That automatically means we are only seeing net new emissions,” said Logan Atkinson Burke, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, an energy consumer advocacy group.

Teachers deserve permanent raises
Another school year is underway in Louisiana, and teachers remain underpaid compared to their Southern peers. An Advocate editorial notes that average teacher pay in Louisiana ranks 12th among the 16 states in the Southeast region, and that legislators failed to grant a permanent pay raise this session, opting instead for one-time stipends of $2,000 for teachers and $1,000 for support workers. 

The Legislature wrestled this year with a two-step process for teacher pay raises. Gov. John Bel Edwards said the money was available in the general fund, as it was in a year of significantly better state finances. But approval of a formula for school funding was also necessary, and there were significant debates that derailed the usually smoother process. 

In East Baton Rouge, the abysmal pay provided to school bus drivers has spawned a transportation crisis, as there aren’t enough drivers – or buses in working order – to accomplish the basic task of bringing students to and from school each day. 

Programming note: Registration is open for the Invest in Louisiana Policy Conference on Thursday, Sept. 21. Be sure to take advantage of early bird pricing, which ends on August 31. Click here to register. 

Number of the Day
1 – Louisiana’s national ranking for the number of adults who have been displaced by natural disasters over the last year. Despite a major hurricane not hitting the state in nearly two years, approximately  223,000 Louisiana adults – 8.3% of the state’s population, have been forced out of their homes. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau via The Advocate)