Wall Street Journal: Insurers Win Big Health-Rate Increases

Insurers Win Big Health-Rate Increases

Some state regulators say new costs justify hefty increases under the Affordable Care Act


Louise Radnofsky and

Stephanie Armour

Aug. 26, 2015 6:40 p.m. ET


At a July town hall in Nashville, Tenn., President Barack Obama played down fears of a spike in health insurance premiums in his signature health law’s third year.

“My expectation is that they’ll come in significantly lower than what’s being requested,” he said, saying Tennesseans had to work to ensure the state’s insurance commissioner “does their job in not just passively reviewing the rates, but really asking, ‘OK, what is it that you are looking for here? Why would you need very high premiums?’”

That commissioner, Julie Mix McPeak, answered on Friday by greenlighting the full 36.3% increase sought by the biggest health plan in the state, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. She said the insurer demonstrated the hefty increase for 2016 was needed to cover higher-than-expected claims from sick people who signed up for individual policies in the first two years of the Affordable Care Act.

Several regulators around the country agree with her, and have approved all or most of the big premium increases sought by the largest health plans in their states for the new sign-up season that begins Nov. 1.

Not all states have made their rate decisions, and some have approved relatively modest increases. A number of the states with lower average increases this year had higher rates to begin with. Some also fared better with enrollment under the law. Insurance premiums vary from state to state, for a number of reasons including regional disparities in the costs of care.

Still, the upsurge is likely to be a big talking point not only during the three-month enrollment season, but through the 2016 campaigns, where GOP opponents of the law are expected to use it as a defining issue against their Democratic rivals.

The law provides for government subsidies in the form of tax credits for some consumers who buy insurance on their own because they don’t have coverage through a job or government program such as Medicare. Those subsidies will blunt the impact of price increases for individuals who get them, but the tab is picked up by the federal government.

Earlier Coverage

White House spokeswoman Katie Hill said rate review processes, which were beefed up under the law, had helped lower proposed premiums “in a number of states.” She also said that under the health law, it was easier for customers to switch to a new insurer.

“Last year, more than half of re-enrolling customers on HealthCare.gov actively shopped and selected a new plan, something that wasn’t possible for many consumers prior to the ACA due to the risk of being charged a higher premium or denied coverage entirely due to a pre-existing condition,” she said.

Tennessee’s Ms. McPeak said she’s required to protect state residents by blocking unjustified increases but also guaranteeing that health plans stay financially sound. “Politics, and any opposition to the ACA, doesn’t have anything to do with it,” she said. “Do I wish they were lower? Absolutely, because I know what it means to consumers.”

Kentucky Insurance Commissioner Sharon Clark approved the 25.1% increase requested by the Kentucky Health Cooperative, the largest insurer on the state’s insurance exchange. Kentucky has taken a more supportive stance toward the health law, including operating its own insurance exchange rather than using the federal government’s HealthCare.gov.

“We’re lucky” by comparison to Tennessee, Ms. Clark said.

Oregon’s Laura Cali allowed an average 25.6% increase for Moda Health Plan Inc., the biggest plan on that state’s exchange. In Ohio, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor approved a 14.5% increase from Medical Mutual. In Michigan, BlueCross BlueShield won approval for the average 11.4% increase from insurance director Patrick McPharlin.

In Idaho, insurance director Dean Cameron said that an average 23% increase by Blue Cross of Idaho Health Service Inc., was disappointing but “not unreasonable” and that he didn’t have the power to stop it.

The 2010 federal health law overhauled the way insurance is priced and sold, requiring companies to allow anyone to buy policies, regardless of their medical history and with only limited variation in premiums based on their age.

Many of the most popular plans in the country offered low rates for the first and second year of the law’s rollout, unsure what to expect but eager to snap up the new business. That was especially true in Tennessee, which had some of the lowest premiums in the U.S. initially.

Now, insurers have found that business has been more costly than expected. They’ve incurred steep losses, the American Academy of Actuaries said in a recent paper, and some programs designed to cushion them against high-risk enrollees are ending.

Some people will be able to switch plans and pay a modest increase from 2015, according to an analysis of proposed rates earlier this year by the consulting firm Avalere Health LLC.

For the Obama administration, that means a stepped-up campaign this fall to persuade people to return to HealthCare.gov and shop around in the coming open enrollment season.

The administration said late Tuesday it would automatically renew the coverage of people who signed up through the site last year and don’t come back to it by Dec. 15 this year.

The administration said that for the current year, about half of the site’s users returned. Of those, about half switched insurance providers and half opted to stay with the one they had.

States that were able to keep rate increases down breathed a sigh of relief this week. In Indiana, Anthem Inc.had asked for, and was granted, a 3.8% average increase. In Virginia, Anthem reduced an initial request of 13.2% to 8.6%. In Arkansas, BlueCross and BlueShield was approved for an average increase of 7.15%.

Write to Louise Radnofsky at louise.radnofsky and Stephanie Armour at stephanie.armour

DC Health Link Launches Universal Doctor Directory 1.0

DC Health Link Launches Universal Doctor Directory 1.0

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Spanish-language Doctor Directory enters beta testing.

Important tool helps customers easily find doctors and participating plans

Today, the DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority (HBX) announced the launch of the DC Health Link Universal Doctor Directory 1.0, and the introduction of a Spanish Language Beta version on DCHealthLink.com. DC Health Link’s Universal Doctor Directory makes it possible for customers to easily search for doctors – in English and Spanish

Bridj, a New Ride-Sharing Service, Takes on Buses in D.C.

Bridj, a New Ride-Sharing Service, Takes on Buses in D.C.

By Trey Sherman

Some D.C. commuters are ditching Metro for a new ride-sharing option. Bridj is a pop-up van service that is hailed with a smartphone app. News4 Transporation Reporter Adam Tuss took a ride and reports on how it works. (Published Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015)

Another new ride-sharing service has launched in D.C. to combat crowded streets and public transit — and this time, it’s taking on buses.

Bridj is an on-demand van service. It uses location-based technology to transport up to 14 people to and from downtown Washington D.C. during morning and evening commute hours. The ride costs between $2-$5 and comes with free Wi-Fi service.

Various transportation alternatives have caused a decline in Metro ridership over the past two years, while D.C’s population has been on the rise.

“I think it will be a better commute for folks,” Bridj’s marketing director Ryan Kelly said in an interview. “It’s a very different experience from Uber and Lyft because we aggregate people going in the same direction, which is how we are able to offer a lower price.”

Similar to existing transportation services, commuters drop a pin at their origin and destination. Bridj will then provide a list of ticket options that you can book for a single trip, or an entire week.

You enter your credit card information, reserve a seat and catch Bridj at the designated pickup spot along with other passengers traveling to a nearby area. You can track the vehicle’s arrival on a real-time map until it arrives. The van then takes all passengers to a central drop off location.

Bridj currently picks up and drops off in areas surrounding Cathedral Heights, Glover Park, Dupont Circle and downtown D.C. It added the Petworth, 16th Street Heights and Brightwood neighborhoods this week.

“D.C. offers even greater opportunities than Boston,” where the company is based, Kelly said. Boston and D.C. are currently the only cities Bridj serves.

Kelly praised D.C. for its density, mixture of business and residential districts, and percentage of residents without cars — 38 percent, the second highest in the U.S. only behind New York City.

Kelly said Bridj will focus on expanding within the District before venturing into Maryland and Virginia, “but there are neighborhoods where the value of Bridj would be extremely popular.”

Kelly mentioned Alexandria, Tysons Corner, and Falls Church as possible places for expansion, but made no promises.

Others in the D.C. area are encouraged to visit the website and add their commute to their system so Bridj knows where to expand next. There, you can also see an interactive map of commutes people have already put in the system.

And the company is sweetening its deal for its D.C. expansion: it’s offering new users the first 10 rides free with the code “nextstop."

Published at 4:47 PM EDT on Aug 4, 2015

As cloud of corruption passes in D.C., regular dysfunction back in spotlight

As cloud of corruption passes in D.C., regular dysfunction back in spotlight

The Washington Post

By Aaron C. Davis August 2 at 7:32 PM

Outside the mayor’s conference room, the line of D.C. cabinet secretaries and agency directors stretched down the hall. Each studied notes and prepared excuses, like schoolchildren awaiting a turn before the principal.

Inside, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) had begun the two-hour inquisition. At issue, however, was something more serious than a schoolyard dispute: more than $1.3 billion in mishandled taxpayer contracts.

“If there’s a problem like this,” Bowser told one of her new agency heads, “it’s your fault from here on out.”

After corruption charges in recent years brought down three council members and left a cloud of suspicion hanging over former mayor Vincent C. Gray, the District and its new mayor are trying to get back to the less salacious work of rooting out everyday dysfunction in D.C. government.

Early targets for Bowser are the late, botched and sloppy contracts that have led to cost overruns, rotten school lunches, deadly failures at the fire department and scores of chances squandered annually for better deals for taxpayers.

Bowser entered office as many of her predecessors had, promising to do better at watchdogging the District’s dealings with its many private contractors.

Whether her approach will succeed remains to be seen. Her effort began in earnest in June with the creation of a contracting review board, chaired by Bowser herself.

The plan took a step forward last week when Bowser’s administration delivered a report to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) detailing how in her first months in office — but mostly during the final years under Gray — the District repeatedly failed to execute contracts competently. The report spells out candidly that poor planning and coordination and shoddy work by executive agency staffers were most frequently to blame.

Two contracts that have come under public scrutiny this year involved food service at D.C. schools and the procurement of tablets to be used in dispatching emergency fire and medical responders.

Chartwells, the food-service vendor, has settled a lawsuit alleging that it provided rotten food to students. D.C. officials are now working to prevent the company from walking away from the final option year of its contract.

In the case of the tablets, a glitch in the new 911 fire dispatch system was blamed in part for a delay in sending paramedics to the home of a choking toddler who later died near American University.

Bowser’s effort to improve the city’s contracting process is aimed at avoiding such fiascos in the future.

In many cases, the failure to draft, vet and execute contracts on time has reduced the council’s ability to scrutinize agreements with vendors. Lawmakers end up being asked to approve contracts after the fact, often after services have begun, and the District could be held liable if the council does not give the green light.

Such retroactive approvals have happened more than 40 times already this year, with new contracts for city bike-share equipment, road salt for winter storms and management of more than $1 billion in health-care services.

Mendelson has strongly criticized Gray and, more recently, Bowser for truncating the council’s oversight role by thrusting contract decisions onto lawmakers after the fact.

“The intent behind it is excellent,” Mendelson said of Bowser’s plan for more internal scrutiny of her administration. “Particularly the way they will be looking at what went wrong with getting these contracts done in a timely fashion.”

The report, however, also touched a nerve between Bowser and Mendelson.

To “improve efficiency,” the report by Bowser’s new chief of procurement, George Schutter, recommended eliminating council review of many contracts.

“Some of the recommendations are self-serving in that they would expand the mayor’s authority” to sign contracts, said Mendelson, who, along with the city’s first elected attorney general, Karl A. Racine, has already chafed at numerous other proposals by Bowser to consolidate power in her office.

In the first meeting of Bowser’s Procurement Accountability Review Board, in June, the logjam of getting contracts to the council was a repeated theme. So was taking responsibility — sort of.

The Washington Post was given access to the review process, on condition that the information would not be made public until shared with the council.

A half-dozen agency heads, including Bowser’s chiefs of transportation, housing, general services and technology, each acknowledged that their departments had not effectively completed contracts that had been launched under the Gray administration.

It was an excuse that will get harder to make the longer Bowser’s team is in office.

Looking over the list of dozens of late contracts as the meeting ended, Bowser looked up at her staff and said the challenge was clear:

“We have got to do better.”

Aaron Davis covers D.C. government and politics for The Post and wants to hear your story about how D.C. works — or how it doesn’t.

CEOs at Aetna, Anthem Help to Reshape Health-Insurance Industry

CEOs at Aetna, Anthem Help to Reshape Health-Insurance Industry

The unprecedented tandem deals could reshape industry into one topped by three giants

By Anna Wilde Mathews, Wall Street Journal

July 29, 2015 6:55 p.m. ET


The leaders of the top five health insurers periodically get together to discuss policy issues, Aetna Inc.Chief Executive Mark T. Bertolini told investors in a private meeting earlier this month. The group had a nickname, he joked: the G5.

Soon, that could be down to the G3.

The change would come thanks to Mr. Bertolini, who has struck a $34 billion deal for Humana Inc.,and Anthem Inc.CEO Joseph Swedish, whose company is seeking to acquire Cigna Corp.for $48 billion. The unprecedented tandem deals could reshape the industry into one topped by three giants, each with more than $100 billion in annual revenue. UnitedHealth Group Inc.would be the third major player and still the largest by revenue.

First, though, Mr. Bertolini and Mr. Swedish will have to run a gantlet of regulatory, political and operational challenges, sharing a joint spotlight that could make each of their jobs harder as they make a case for their combinations.

The Justice Department has signaled that it would look at large concurrent transactions in the managed-care industry together, a dynamic that experts said could complicate both deals’ path to approval. Hospital and doctor groups have already weighed in against the acquisitions, while two congressional committees have scheduled hearings for the fall.


The two men come from very different backgrounds. Mr. Bertolini, 59 years old, is a high-profile, often blunt-spoken insurance-industry veteran, known partly for his public recounting of how his own experience of recovering from a devastating ski injury shaped his approach to health care.

Mr. Swedish, 64, spent nearly his entire career running hospital companies, before arriving at Anthem in 2013 and quickly making a mark, partly by jettisoning its former corporate name of WellPoint Inc.

Both CEOs say their past experience shepherding major deals is shaping their approach to their current tasks, and they have embarked on outreach campaigns.

“You’re going to see some real similarities in terms of their leadership styles,” said Anthony R. Tersigni, chief executive of Ascension, one of the largest hospital operators in the U.S. Mr. Tersigni knows both men.

Mr. Bertolini had long had his sights set on Humana. “I’ve had a playbook on my desk since I became CEO, and Humana’s always been at the top of that list.”

The Aetna deal would create by far the biggest player in the private-insurer version of Medicare, so concern over market concentration will focus on the companies’ footprint in that business, known as Medicare Advantage. Mr. Bertolini said that the vast majority of Medicare Advantage consumers have at least five options currently, so “we don’t see a reduction in competition for consumers” from the Humana deal.

He argues that the merged company will be better positioned to work closely with health-care providers and the federal government to bring down costs and improve quality. “We have an opportunity to change the trajectory of health-care costs,” he said.

Mr. Bertolini says he knew Humana CEO Bruce D. Broussard partly from the regular CEO gatherings, though he says they didn’t focus on corporate matters during those meetings, which included antitrust attorneys.

In late March, he and Mr. Broussard sat down for a one-on-one breakfast. The two men met on a rainy day near Newport, R.I., where one of Mr. Broussard’s children was competing in a sailing event.

Mr. Broussard’s wife was in the hospital after some flulike symptoms had worsened, and Mr. Broussard kept glancing at his phone for updates. The situation “built some camaraderie,” said Mr. Broussard, as they talked over the possibility of a deal. Both men said they found common ground during the conversation. “I kept saying, yeah, I agree, yeah, I agree,” Mr. Bertolini said. Mr. Broussard said his wife’s health is now fine.

Messrs. Bertolini and Broussard declined to comment on details of deal negotiations, including approaches from other companies. Cigna was interested in Humana as well, people with knowledge of the matter have said, while UnitedHealth approached Aetna.

Mr. Broussard said Humana’s leaders were reassured that Mr. Bertolini had maintained elements of Coventry Health Care Inc.’s operations after acquiring it.

Mr. Bertolini, for his part, said he learned from the aftermath of Aetna’s mid-1990s acquisition of U.S. Healthcare. That integration “blew up,” he said, when the managers of the acquired company took over much of the merged operation and didn’t respect Aetna’s traditional culture.

Since he unveiled the Humana acquisition, Mr. Bertolini has been calling and meeting with state and federal officials, as well as Aetna and Humana employees, answering questions and laying out the rationale for the deal.

On the Monday following the Friday, July 3, deal announcement, he visited officials in Humana’s base of Louisville, Ky., where it has long been a major employer. By then, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, had already released a skeptical statement about the Aetna deal. After his visit, Mr. Bertolini tweeted a thank-you to the state’s governor and Louisville’s mayor, then retweeted both officials’ own comments about the meetings.

A few weeks later, Mr. Swedish announced that Anthem would acquire Cigna. The announcement came after drawn-out talks that, Anthem has said, date back to last summer. In June, Anthem went public with its bid, which Cigna soon publicly rebuffed.

In the end, Mr. Swedish’s tough tactics won out. Now, he faces similar challenges to those faced by Mr. Bertolini. Scrutiny of the Anthem deal is likely to focus on the powerful position the combined company would have in coverage sold to employers. Together, they would have the largest overall enrollment of any U.S. insurer.

The Cigna acquisition would remove one of the quartet of major health insurers that serve national companies. Going from four to three “is a big drop-off,” said Brian Marcotte, chief executive of the National Business Group on Health.

Mr. Swedish also will contend with an added wrinkle. As a licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, Anthem must adhere to the group’s rules, which cap the share of revenue that can come from insurance business that isn’t under the Blue brand.

Mr. Swedish said he believes both challenges are manageable, and that the Cigna acquisition will benefit consumers, employers and health-care providers. Like Mr. Bertolini, he has been reaching out to state and federal officials.

In a meeting, he told Anthem employees that the deal assured their company would endure as one of the big three insurers, parallel to the three big American car makers. “I did not want our company to be the American Motors of the health-care industry,” he said, referring to the defunct manufacturer. Anthem would be “a survivor, a competitor,” he said.

On the same day he announced the Cigna acquisition, he had a conference call with the Blue association and the leaders of the other Blue insurers, who serve on its board. He emphasized Anthem’s commitment to its Blue affiliation, he said, and he felt “confident they recognized the value of this combination.”

The association said that it routinely reviews acquisitions involving its members “to ensure compliance with the standards that the Blue Cross and Blue Shield brands have established over generations.”

Though Mr. Swedish is new to the insurance industry, associates point out that he has a record of deal-making from his hospital days. Before arriving at Anthem, Mr. Swedish engineered the merger of his large Catholic hospital system, Trinity Health, with a rival, Catholic Health East.

In addition to boards of directors and Catholic Health East’s leaders, Mr. Swedish had to secure the blessing of the Catholic church, and he jetted around the country meeting with local bishops, eventually winning their backing, according to former Trinity executives. “He was the primary communicator and leader of the message as to why this would work,” said Kedrick D. Adkins Jr., a former Trinity official who is now chief financial officer of Mayo Clinic.

Wednesday, Anthem reported earnings in line with a preannouncement it made when it unveiled the Cigna deal. Humana, which had also previewed its earnings and downgraded its projections for 2015, did slightly better than the reduced guidance.

—Liz Hoffman contributed to this article.

D.C.-area motorists lose their ‘gunslinger’


D.C.-area motorists lose their ‘gunslinger’

By Katherine Shaver July 25

For 21 years, Lon Anderson has considered himself a “gunslinger” against traffic jams, a “gladiator” against drunken driving and the “staunch defender” of nearly 4 million beleaguered motorists.

As director of public and governmental relations for AAA Mid-Atlantic, Anderson has been the Washington region’s most visible and influential motorist advocate, verbally flogging area governments to crack down on unsafe drivers, fix dangerous roads and ease some of the worst gridlock in the nation. His weapon: catchy, go-for-the-throat sound bites that the media — and lawmakers — simply can’t ignore.

He’s accused “money-grubbing” District officials of turning one particularly profitable speed camera into “an old-fashioned, money-making, motorist rip-off speed trap right out of ‘The Dukes of Hazzard.’ ” Public officials in “Rip Van Maryland,” he says, have snoozed while Virginia has added express toll lanes to the Capital Beltway and built the Silver Line Metrorail extension.

His table-smacking interjections of “Outrageous!” have drawn gavel-pounding from legislative committee chairmen and earned him the nickname “the reverend.” Friends describe him as passionate — and laughingly agree with one veteran transportation journalist’s description of Anderson years ago as “the Billy Graham of the roadgangers.”

“He’s been a real mainstay in the region and one of the main voices for better transportation,” said former Montgomery county executive Doug Duncan (D). “A lot of people complain about it, but very few people advocate for solutions. He’s been that voice for a long, long time.”

Anderson, 66, is set to retire from AAA at the end of this month, but not before he lets a few more zingers fly at the government agencies he blames for the Washington area’s teeth-gnashing traffic.

“You don’t get to have the worst congestion in the United States without decades of bad decisions,” he said recently at AAA Mid-Atlantic’s offices in downtown D.C. “If they make a bad decision, I’m going to pounce on it and throw a punch.”

Yes, cycling has surged in the District, and suburbs are seeing millennials and empty-nester baby boomers gravitate to more walkable, transit-oriented communities so they can drive less — or not own a car at all.

But 72 percent of Washington-area residents still commute by car, and another 12 percent who use carpools or buses also rely on the roads. While many people think of AAA as a roadside assistance service, it also is one of the most influential advocacy groups in transportation politics. Anderson reminds politicians that his group represents 3.7 million motorists in the District, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

“On the power index, he was at the higher end,” said Jim Dinegar, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. “He represented a very powerful group, and he gave voice to it. . . . If, by God, Lon opposed your legislation, he’d come at you with everything AAA had — and that was quite a bit. And if he supported you, he’d throw the full weight of the organization behind you.”

Anderson has his detractors, mostly among transit and cycling advocates who clashed with him over street space for bike lanes and his calls for another Potomac River crossing beyond the chronically congested American Legion Bridge.

Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition For Smarter Growth, said Anderson is “very good with a quip” but “out of date” on transportation policy. Schwartz said the “outer Beltway” bridge Anderson wants would suck up billions of dollars needed for mass transit and lead to more sprawl development and, in turn, more traffic.

“Almost more than anyone else,” Schwartz said, “he’s never met a highway he didn’t like.”

Moreover, Schwartz said, Anderson has had an “inherent conflict of interest” because AAA relies on dues-paying motorists.

“That means he’ll support policies that result in more people driving more,” Schwartz said. “That could color your comments on transportation policy.”

But others say they have seen Anderson, along with AAA Mid-Atlantic, evolve from no-holds-barred road advocates to supporters of a more balanced approach that includes the need for better transit and pedestrian and bike safety. AAA Mid-Atlantic supported construction of the Silver Line and has embraced plans for a light-rail Purple Line in Maryland.

“I think there was an evolution in his thinking,” said David Snyder, vice mayor of Falls Church and a longtime member of the region’s Transportation Planning Board. “The reality is you can’t simply put down more asphalt.”

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), another longtime transportation board member, said Anderson and his group became “less strident” over the years.

“I think they realized that if you want to drive your car,” Mendelson said, “the whole system has to work.”

The way Anderson sees it: More people riding mass transit means fewer clogging the roads for those who have to drive. In turn, more free-flowing roads provide better transit service for bus passengers. He notes that he’s an avid walker — he works to get in his 10,000 steps daily — and that AAA Mid-Atlantic recently extended its roadside assistance program to bicyclists.

“But will walking and cycling replace the need for roads to offer mobility to cars and buses?” Anderson said. “No. . . . And transit can’t replace the need for automobiles.”

Anderson has had much of his influence as a vocal critic. One of his biggest beefs: His belief that the District government has declared “war on motorists” by placing some speed cameras to make money for the city rather than improve safety. The number of parking tickets the city writes also gets him riled up.

“People come to Washington to see the cherry blossoms,” he said in a booming voice, “but they have a better chance of seeing pink [citations] under their windshield wiper.”

He is unapologetic about seeking media coverage to promote his group’s agenda. He said he knows from his early years as a journalist — he was a reporter for the Frederick News-Post and once owned a weekly newspaper in Damascus — what reporters are looking for: accurate, quick information and frank quotes.

He made himself so available to reporters that his wife, Claudia Tidwell, said she is most excited at the prospect of soon dining out without her husband leaving the table for a restaurant parking lot interview.

“This is a town where everyone wants to be in the media and be quoted,” Anderson said. “If you want to rise above the chatter, you’ve got to be good.”

His biggest disappointment: leaving the job without persuading Virginia lawmakers to make driving without a seat belt a primary offense. Under current law, police can only cite motorists for failure to wear a seat belt if they stop them for another violation first.

Among his proudest accomplishments: persuading Maryland lawmakers to strengthen the state’s vehicular homicide law and leading a successful campaign in the 1990s for safety barriers on the George Washington Parkway after a string of fatal head-on collisions.

Addressing his team of 16 AAA employees at his recent retirement party, Anderson grew teary and barely choked out, “We’ve saved a lot of lives.”

Anderson said he and his wife will move soon from Silver Spring to West Virginia, where they plan to spend more time hiking in the mountains than stewing in traffic. He might even try his hand at blogging.

“I think,” he said, “I still have a few things to say.”

Robert Thomson contributed to this report.

Katherine Shaver is a transportation and development reporter. She joined The Washington Post in 1997 and has covered crime, courts, education and local government but most prefers writing about how people get — or don’t get — around the Washington region.

In nation’s capital, $15-hour minimum wage is headed toward 2016 ballot

D.C. Politics

In nation’s capital, $15-hour minimum wage is headed toward 2016 ballot

By Aaron C. Davis July 22

A historic measure to raise the District’s hourly minimum wage to $15 is headed toward next year’s ballot after city officials released a ruling Wednesday approving a voter initiative that places the nation’s capital at the center of a wage fight taking place in cities across the country.

If approved, the initiative would lift Washington’s minimum wage above every other city’s on the East Coast. It would push the District into a burgeoning, urban liberal vanguard on higher wages that includes Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The ballot measure will go to voters in November 2016 only if supporters collect enough signatures, but even opponents say that is likely. It is one of several efforts moving ahead across the nation; also Wednesday, a state panel in New York approved raising the hourly rate to $15 for fast-food workers.

The day’s developments show that organized labor groups continue to gain ground rapidly on the issue, roiling pro-business groups and prompting a heated debate among both Republican and Democratic candidates for president.

In D.C., the minimum wage is $10.50 and is scheduled to rise to $11.50 next year. If the initiative passes, the new $15 hourly rate would raise a full-time worker’s annual pay to more than $31,000, up from the current minimum of about $22,000.

In one of the most expensive cities in the nation, where the median monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $2,000 and where studies show that wage disparities are among the largest in the nation, the boost is not an unaffordable luxury but a necessity of survival, advocates say.

“People should not work a full-time job and live in poverty,” said Delvone Michael, director of the D.C. chapter of the Working Families Party, part of a group of labor unions and other progressive groups backing the measure.

Business groups warned that such measures would jeopardize jobs and cause businesses to close. The National Restaurant Association, which formed a group called Save NY Restaurants to try, unsuccessfully, to push off Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s plan to raise wages, warned of layoffs, automation and worse.

“Fifteen dollars is going to change the way restaurants do business,” said restaurant association spokeswoman Christin Fernandez. “They are going to be forced to cut labor, to automate, and for some, possibly, they may need to close.”

Fernandez warned of more kiosks, tablets and other uses of technology to take orders and check out customers in an industry that often operates on single-digit profits.

“There is a very low barrier to entry in restaurant work,” she said. “We hire young workers and people who might not have an entry to the workforce otherwise. Many of our members say they will not be able to continue to hire unskilled workers at $15 an hour.”

The D.C. measure moved ahead Wednesday after a ruling by the city’s election board, allowing proponents to begin a petition drive that is widely expected to succeed.

Several D.C. business groups opposed to the ballot measure urged the Board of Elections in briefs and testimony to reject it. The D.C. Chamber of Commerce released a poll of business owners in which more than half of the respondents said they would cut jobs if the minimum wage rose to $15.

In its ruling, the board rejected every argument by opponents.

“While the Board recognizes and can appreciate the concerns of small business owners who bemoan the prospects of increased operating costs, the Board is not authorized to reject initiatives due to financial hardships on private business owners,” the ruling stated.

Supporters must now gather about 23,200 signatures, or 5 percent of District voters, to qualify the measure for the ballot. Proponents said they are confident of clearing the signature hurdle and of prevailing at the polls. A public opinion poll commissioned in the spring by advocates showed support in the District for a $15 minimum wage at about 70 percent.

“I think it’s so popular because middle-class folks are feeling squeezed, too. Everyone understands this is an issue,” said Michael, of D.C. Working Families.

Wednesday’s developments were sure to add to the debate over the minimum wage that has already infused the 2016 presidential contest.

On Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a Democratic presidential contender, introduced a bill along with four congressional Democrats to set a national minimum wage of $15 an hour. He then addressed hundreds of striking low-wage workers outside the U.S. Capitol, calling the current federal minimum of $7.25 per hour a “starvation wage.”

Another Democratic presidential primary candidate, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, also recently endorsed a $15 national minimum wage, outdoing the state increase to $10.10 that he supported just last year as governor. (Virginia uses the federal minimum of $7.25.)

The overwhelming leader of the Democratic pack, Hillary Rodham Clinton, has not been precise about what figure she thinks is appropriate, either for local jurisdictions or nationally. She has given arm’s-length support to the $15 idea by dialing into a labor group forum in Detroit last month. But on a recent campaign stop in New Hampshire, she said she supports $15 an hour “in certain localities,” such as New York or Los Angeles — but not necessarily everywhere because of “different economic climates.” Clinton is expected to give a speech on wages later this summer.

On the Republican side, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker garnered headlines in his first weeks on the GOP presidential campaign trail by blasting the existence of any minimum wage as “lame” and serving “no purpose.”

The District’s proposed minimum wage could tee up another showdown between the city’s Democratic majority and its Republican overseers in Congress.

Although some bipartisan support exists on Capitol Hill for raising the minimum wage, a $15-per-hour rate is viewed by many conservatives as an affront to market economics. As they tried this year with the District’s marijuana legalization effort, congressional opponents could use their oversight powers to block the ballot measure from taking effect.

The D.C. measure would mirror Seattle’s by phasing in a flat $15-per-hour minimum wage by 2020. That would be 30 percent higher than the $11.50 rate that the D.C. Council and mayor, as well as adjacent counties in Maryland, agreed to last year.

Almost 43,000 District workers, or 7 percent of the city’s workforce, now earn less than $12 an hour.

As in San Francisco, the measure would also for the first time force D.C. restaurants to pay workers the minimum wage plus tips. Restaurants in the District are required to pay only $2.77 per hour, as long as tips bring servers up to the equivalent of the minimum wage.

Beginning in 2025, D.C. restaurant workers would be due $15 an hour plus tips. The minimum wage would also be indexed to inflation.

Unlike in New York, where Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) has been a forceful proponent for boosting pay, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser has remained noncommittal about supporting the $15 initiative.

As a council member in 2013, Bowser (D) voted for an increase to $11.50 an hour by 2016. At the time, that appeared likely to make the District’s minimum one of the highest in the country. But the District was quickly eclipsed.

The proposal that advanced Wednesday in New York would effectively split the state’s minimum wage into two tiers, one for those working at restaurants and the existing wage of $8.75 for everyone else. Advocates for the poor said they hoped the move would create unbearable pressure on retail and other low-wage industries to also boost pay.

The increase for fast-food workers will occur first in New York City in 2018 and then statewide in 2021.

Lydia DePillis contributed to this report.


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