Happy Saturday! Here’s another edition of my weekend column – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to firstname.lastname@example.org. For quick hits all week long, follow @tednesi.
1. The numbers are in: about 33,000 people signed up for insurance coverage through HealthSource RI during the notably functional marketplace’s first three months of operation, two-thirds of them for Medicaid and the rest for a commercial plan. That’s on track with enrollment goals set by the state and federal governments, though the number of sign-ups for commercial plans has a ways to go to meet Avalere Health’s forecast. More information is coming next week, which is good because lots of questions still remain. How many of those who enrolled were uninsured before? What’s the mix of healthy (cheap) versus sick (expensive) enrollees? How many signed up for Blue Cross plans versus Neighborhood ones? And then there’s the biggest question of all: is the architecture of the Affordable Care Act going to work or not? For the pessimistic take, read Ezra Klein’s interview with Robert Laszewski, an industry consultant. “The problem with Obamacare is it’s product driven and not market driven,” Laszewski argues. “They didn’t ask the customer what they wanted. And I think that’s the fundamental problem with Obamacare. It meets the needs of very poor people because you’re giving them health insurance for free. But it doesn’t really meet the needs of healthy people and middle-class people.” Yet the situation may be different in Rhode Island because the state’s insurance market was already heavily regulated before Obamacare, and is dominated by one carrier (Blue Cross) that’s heavily invested in making HealthSource a success.
2. WPRI 12 is making a big announcement in a commercial airing during tonight’s Patriots playoff game, which starts at 8:15 p.m. on our station. The spot will come on during halftime – don’t miss it!
3. This has been a busy, consequential week for U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, who surprised Washington on Tuesday when he found exactly enough votes – 60 – to end a Republican filibuster of his bill extending emergency jobless benefits; less than 24 hours before the vote The New York Times had said Democrats “conceded early that the 60 votes they needed were unlikely to materialize.” The bill’s prospects remain uncertain, with GOP senators furious at Harry Reid, and House Republicans cool to the whole idea; moreover, Slate’s Dave Weigel argues there may have been some political jujitsu behind the GOP’s decision to let it move forward. Still, the vote was a noteworthy win for Reed that captured Capitol Hill’s attention: it led Roll Call’s David Hawkings to profile the senator in a piece titled “The Other Reed Begins to See His Senate Spotlight Brighten,” which highlighted the “unusual breadth of his topflight committee assignments and his increasing seniority.” (The same publication splashed a picture of Reed jumping a barrier on its front page this week.) Reed is apparently making progress on another front, too: he and his fellow senior appropriators from both chambers are said to be closing in on a trillion-dollar spending deal to fund the federal government going forward. No wonder Reed didn’t want to become President Obama’s defense secretary.
5. Nick Mattiello isn’t hiding his ambition to be the next House speaker. The 50-year-old Cranston Democrat, a lawyer first elected in 2006, has been Gordon Fox’s busy No. 2 since Fox ascended to the speakership in February 2010. The buzz on Smith Hill these days gives Mattiello the best shot at succeeding Fox when the speaker – who maintains he’s going to seek another term in 2015 – finally steps down. “I support Gordon Fox. I think he’s done a good job,” Mattiello said this week on WPRI 12′s Newsmakers, pointing to the pension law, the K-12 funding formula, and tax and regulatory changes. “I will continue to support Speaker Fox as long as he wants to be speaker,” he said. “When he decides to retire from the position, I am in fact interested, and I’m honored that my name comes up every now and then.” Mattiello’s forthright statement of interest may be a sign he wants to line up support early to ensure that possible rivals – Chris Blazejewksi and Stephen Ucci come to mind – don’t steal the crown.
7. Our weekly Saturday Morning Post dispatch from WPRI.com reporter Dan McGowan: “If a Rhode Island education official took a 17-year nap and woke up Thursday to read Education Week’s latest Quality Counts report, she might be surprised to find the state’s schools are facing similar problems to the ones they faced back when the first version of the annual report card was released in 1997. Here’s what that report found: ‘Planning and ideas galore but not a lot of action. Spends a lot for too little. Turf wars, political jockeying, and tradition of local control have slowed progress. Equity problems persist.’ Sound familiar? Education Week – which critics argue is too friendly to those deeply invested in the education reform movement – has since scaled back on offering straight opinions in its report, but the results were similar this year. Rhode Island still gets high marks on school spending, but K-12 achievement reveals major challenges when it comes to poverty-based achievement gaps. (The state ranked #48 in the country in math and reading achievement gaps.) Education Commissioner Deborah Gist said it’s going to take hard work from all stakeholders to help right the ship, but she stressed that the state can’t afford to simply write off its poorest students. ‘We need to change our perception about those groups of students,’ Gist told WPRI.com this week. On the bright side, Gist said she’s proud of the state’s vast improvement in math and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress assessment, an exam even staunch testing critics like Diane Ravitch treat as the gospel of education results.”
8. The Mass. DOT’s new five-year capital plan could reverberate in Southern New England: among other things, it includes a down payment on the extension of MBTA commuter rail to Fall River and New Bedford.
9. Turns out Democratic Congressmen David Cicilline and Jim Langevin don’t always side with Nancy Pelosi. Cicilline, Langevin and 65 other House Democrats broke ranks with Pelosi on Friday to back a bill from John Boehner’s Republican caucus that would require HealthCare.gov to inform consumers promptly if it experiences security breaches. Neither man issued a statement highlighting his vote. “That is the largest number of Democrats so far to have supported legislation to modify the Affordable Care Act, underscoring that some in the party, especially those facing competitive races in 2014, are eager to offer fixes and improvements to the law,” The New York Times’ Ashley Parkernoted. (Unlike Cicilline and Langevin, Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy III voted against the bill.)
10. Mark your calendars: Governor Chafee is set to deliver his final State of the State speech – and introduce his last proposed budget, for the 2014-15 fiscal year – this Wednesday at 7 p.m. WPRI 12 will carry the governor’s address live on TV and online.
11. Very cool news on the media and religion beats this week, as The Boston Globe announced its hiring of John L. Allen Jr., the highly regarded veteran Vatican reporter at The National Catholic Reporter. It’s another example of a mainstream media organization hiring the best journalist available, worrying more about reportorial chops than adherence to traditional career paths. It will be interesting to see how Allen and The Globe develop the Catholic beat. And if you want Allen’s thoughts on Bishop Thomas Tobin, check them out right here in the Dec. 21 Saturday Morning Post.
12. Citizens Bank watch: new CEO Bruce Van Saun isn’t being coy about whether RBS would sell the local lender for the right amount. “If somebody came in with a blow-away price they’d certainly respond to that,” Van Saun told Bloomberg News this week. “But there’s a paucity of buyers today.”
13. The most disturbing thing I read this week was Amanda Hess’s Pacific Standard essay about the “intensely personal missives of hyper-sexualized hate” (in Conor Friedersdorf’s words) that are constantly directed at women writers online by anonymous harassers. Hess’s piece was particularly striking since it coincided with the aforementioned National Catholic Reporter’s decision to suspend comments on its site following a flood of “malicious,” “abusive” and “vile” statements. I don’t have any insights to offer about the problem. But I find it deeply troubling that basic standards of decency and civility are so often absent on the Web, and I think the discussion Hess and NCR have begun is an important one.
15. Set your DVRs: This week on Newsmakers – House Majority Leader Nick Mattiello and House Minority Leader Brian Newberry preview the 2014 General Assembly session. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. This week on Executive Suite – FarSounder CEO Cheryl Zimmerman, plus Bob Bischoff and Jim Morris from Rhode Runner in Providence. Watch Saturday at 10:30 p.m. or Sunday at 6 p.m. on myRITV (or Sunday at 6 a.m. on Fox). See you back here next Saturday morning.