Ellmers declares ObamaCare a “War on Women”

Eastern North Carolina Congresswoman Renee Ellmers (R-2nd District) used her appearance presenting the Weekly GOP Address this Saturday to up the ante of criticism of President Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act.

Congresswoman Ellmers, whose opposition to “ObamaCare” facilitated her victory in 2010 over previous incumbent Bob Etheridge, spoke directly on the impact of the legislation on existing health insurance for North Carolina residents, including women.

Like many of you, I’m frustrated with the president’s health care law, especially where jobs and working families are concerned.   I say this not only as a congresswoman and chair of the Republican Women’s Policy Committee; I say it as a nurse and the mother of a son in college.

After all, it’s often women who make the healthcare decisions for our families.  We put a lot of time and thought into these choices and how they’ll affect our budgets

So by canceling your insurance – despite a promise to let you keep your plan – the Obama administration is essentially saying it knows what’s best for you and your family.   Not only that, they are making you pay more – usually much more – and in many cases, taking away the doctor you’ve been seeing for years.

If you want to talk about a ‘war on women,’ look no further than this health care law.

Congresswoman Ellmers presented specific cases from constituents to prove her point.

Marian from Pittsboro told me that she and her husband received cancellation notices and that the replacement would double their premiums.  When she called to ask for help, the insurance company told Marian that if she doesn’t sign up for a new plan, the law requires that they enroll her in the “suggested policy.”   This increase, she says, will consume their gas and grocery money for the month.  She now sees no choice but to cancel their insurance altogether.

Kent and Ulli from Cary are in their mid-50s and they report that their premiums are about to jump from $248 to $968 per month.  That is nearly four times higher.  Ken and Ulli have always preferred a high deductible policy because, they work hard to stay in good health and when they do need care, they like to shop for the best value. But as we have seen, this administration thinks it knows better than they do.

And then there’s Liz from Sanford.  She’s a small business owner with only two employees: herself and her husband.  Their premiums went up 127 percent on account of the new law. Liz told me that she and her husband are regular, hardworking, healthy Americans. She said “we are not wealthy.  I really don’t know what will happen in the future.”

Seeing so many hardworking people have to spend the holiday season wondering ‘what’s next?’ – it’s heartbreaking.  And it’s wrong.

Watch Congresswoman Ellmer’s remarks below.

Duke Scholar: 129 Million Americans will lose Current Insurance due to Obamacare

Chris Conover

A renowned researcher at Duke University reported last week that full implementation of the Affordable Care Act will force 68% of Americans with private health insurance, or 129 million people, to lose their current coverage.

Chris Conover with Duke’s Center for Health Policy & Inequalities Research and the American Enterprise Institute, shared these findings in a statement released last week in response to comments made by David Axelrod, former Senior Adviser for President Barack Obama.

Responding to a comment Axelrod made that the majority of Americans will keep their existing coverage, Conover stated, “I suppose one could interpret this as a tacit admission that at least for those not in the vast majority, Obamacare violates President Obama’s June 15, 2009 promise that ‘If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.’  But the sad reality is that David Axelrod himself also is dead wrong: it’s more accurate to say that the president’s pledge will be shattered for a solid majority of Americans with private health insurance coverage.”

Conover concluded that 129 million of the 189 million Americans with private health insurance will be forced off their plans as a result of the implementation of regulations and requirements of the Affordable Care Act. His analysis includes the following coverage eliminations:

  • 9.2 to 15.4 million in the non-group market
  • 16.6 million in the small group market
  • 102.7 million in the large group market

“Most of these are individuals involuntarily forced to purchase expensive add-ons to their existing plans,” Conover stated. “But included among these are the many millions now having their non-group policies cancelled along with 9 to 35 million who will lose their existing employer-provided plans entirely. Most admittedly will find other coverage, yet out of this group, 1.5 million will become uninsured, along with 2.3 million from the non-group market who likewise become uninsured because they simply cannot afford the expensive Obamacare upgrades.”

“In short, the ‘vast majority’ are not keeping their health plans. Statements to the contrary are flatly untrue.”

In a recent interview with The Daily Caller, Conover also discussed the significant impact of coverage mandates and how strict interpretation of “grandfather” clauses mentioned during President Obama’s promotion of health care reform would endanger existing health insurance options.

“Technically, every single health plan in the country already has been subject to at least some new Obamacare requirements. That is, even ‘grandfathered’ plans and self-insured plans were required to eliminate lifetime and annual limits and to cover dependents up to age 26 on their parent’s plan. Each of these “improvements” in coverage costs money, just as every feature you add to your car costs money (anti-lock brakes, all-wheel drive)…

“So strictly speaking, NO ONE who was entirely satisfied with their pre-Obamacare coverage has been able to keep it.”

Congressman across the country have received calls from their constituents who received letters indicating their existing insurance plans, which they were supposed to be allowed to keep under the Affordable Care Act, have to be cancelled due to noncompliance with regulations.

North Carolina Congressman Walter Jones (R-3rd District) has called for Congressional hearings into the issue of cancellations and other cases where citizens are being forced to pay significant premium increases.

Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC 2nd)

“Individuals in Eastern North Carolina and across the country are being forced to pay exorbitant rate increases for new insurance plans that they do not want while being prohibited from visiting the doctors that they need,” said Congressman Jones in a letter to Congressional leadership.  “This runs directly contrary to the president’s promise that ‘if you like your healthcare plan, you’ll be able to keep your healthcare plan’ and is further proof that this law is an unaffordable burden to the average American.”

The latest report from the Associated Press indicates that approximatley 160,000 individuals in North Carolina have so far received cancellation notices for their existing policies. As a comparison, a recent report by WNCN television showed that only 1 person had signed-up for coverage through Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina through the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchange.

So far, at least 3.5 million Americans have received cancellation notices.

As part of ongoing damage control resulting from the rollout of Affordable Care Act provisions, including the establishment of health insurance marketplaces and the impending individual insurance coverage mandate, the Obama Administration is asking insurance companies to provide better explanations to current policy holders who are being told their existing policies are being cancelled.

 

Senator Hagan Joins “Delay” Chorus on Obamacare

Earlier this month, North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan stood firm with her Democratic Party colleagues against efforts by Senate Republicans to delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Now, with the government shutdown over and mounting challenges present with the rollout of the massive expansion of government’s healthcare footprint, Hagan has now somewhat changed her tune on whether or not the program’s “individual mandate” provision should be enforced and delayed.

On Thursday, Senator Hagan asked the Obama Administration to extend the initial enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act by two months. She also asked the Administration to hold off on enforcing fines scheduled for those who chose not to enroll in a health exchange or purchase qualifying health insurance by other means.

“Everyone should be committed to making this work and making health care more affordable, and if that requires fixes, then we need to make those commonsense changes,” Senator Hagan said. “An extension would provide time to assess the extent of the problems and determine whether additional delays in the individual mandate are necessary. But frankly, the Administration had plenty of time to get these websites user-ready, and I would like to keep the pressure on to get these problems fixed sooner rather than later so that North Carolina families can get online and shop for the plan that suits them best.”

On September 27th, Senator Hagan voted for a Senate-led plan that authorized a Continuing Resolution without delaying Affordable Care Act implementation, including enforcement of the individual mandate.

“North Carolinians didn’t elect me to shut down the government, harm our state’s families, and jeopardize our economic recovery,” Senator Hagan said then of her position. “I reject the political games being played in Congress, and I urge the House to pass the Senate’s plan that keeps the government running at currently reduced spending levels and prevents a damaging government shutdown.”

President Obama already announced this week that the deadline for enrollment without penalty will be extended to March 31, 2014. The extension resulted from problems associated with the launch of the Federal Healthcare Exchanges earlier this month, specifically the inability of the healthcare.gov website and other online services to work properly or handle incoming workload.

Not everyone is convinced the proposed extensions will really protect citizens from fines, especially in light of reports that hundreds of thousands of people across the country are having to reconsider health insurance options after learning that their existing, personally-owned insurance coverage has to be cancelled because it does not meet new Federal requirements.

From Kaiser Health News:

Florida Blue, for example, is terminating about 300,000 policies, about 80 percent of its individual policies in the state. Kaiser Permanente in California has sent notices to 160,000 people – about half of its individual business in the state.  Insurer Highmark in Pittsburgh is dropping about 20 percent of its individual market customers, while Independence Blue Cross, the major insurer in Philadelphia, is dropping about 45 percent.

Second District Congresswoman Renee Ellmers (R) proposed legislation this week in the House to provide further protections from the proposed fines.

“Since the launch of the Obamacare exchanges on October 1st, Healthcare.gov has been plagued with delays, errors and fundamental flaws in website design,” said Congresswoman Ellmers. “But despite these major malfunctions and structural defects, the administration still has penalties in place for individuals who can’t obtain coverage.”

Senator Hagan will be up for reelection next year.

Government Shutdown knocks out E-Verify

Along with many other “non essential” operations suspended by the Federal Government shutdown, which took effect at Midnight Tuesday after existing budget authorizations expired with the beginning of a new Federal Fiscal Year, employers and staffing agencies found Tuesday morning they could not access the E-Verify system for employee citizenship status verification.

EVerifyShutdown

When employers and other E-Verify account holders visited the site Tuesday morning, they encounter this message:

E-Verify is currently unavailable due to a government shutdown.

While E-Verify is unavailable, you will not be able to access your E-Verify account. As a result, you will be unable to:

  • Enroll any company in E-Verify
  • Verify employment eligibility
  • View or take action on any case
  • Add, delete or edit any User ID
  • Reset passwords
  • Edit your company information
  • Terminate an account
  • Run reports
  • View ‘Essential Resources.’ Please note that all essential resources may be found by visitingwww.dhs.gov/e-verify.

In addition, E-Verify Customer Support and related services are closed. As a result:

  • Employees will be unable to resolve Tentative Nonconfirmations (TNCs).
  • Telephone and e-mail support will be unavailable. You may send e-mails, however, we cannot respond until we reopen.
  • E-Verify webinars and training sessions are cancelled
  • E-Verify Self Check will not be available

We understand that E-Verify’s unavailability may have a significant impact on your company’s operations. To minimize the burden on both employers and employees, the following policies have been implemented:

  • The ‘three-day rule’ for E-Verify cases is suspended for cases affected by the shutdown. We’ll provide additional guidance once we reopen. This does NOT affect the Form I-9 requirement—employers must still complete the Form I-9 no later than the third business day after an employee starts work for pay.
  • The time period during which employees may resolve TNCs will be extended. Days the federal government is closed will not count towards the eight federal government workdays the employee has to go to SSA or contact DHS. We will provide additional time once we reopen.
  • For federal contractors complying with the federal contractor rule, please contact your contracting officer to inquire about extending deadlines.
  • Employers may not take any adverse action against an employee because of an E-Verify interim case status, including while the employee’s case is in an extended interim case status due to a federal government shutdown (consult the E-Verify User Manual for more information on interim case statuses).

We apologize for any inconvenience and look forward to serving you once we resume operations.

 

While E-Verify was suspended as a result of the shutdown, Federally-managed healthcare exchanges, a component of the Affordable Care Act, opened as scheduled Tuesday morning. Unfortunately, they do not appear to be working to well, as evidenced by the following:

HeathCareGovWait

Obamacare Exchange cuts NC Insurance Options

While four years of rhetoric by supporters of the Affordable Care Act stated that the program would broaden choices for citizens and enable those with health insurance to keep their existing plans, the upcoming reality for many in North Carolina may be just the opposite.

On October 1st, the Federal Government will open their managed health exchanges in states across the country, including North Carolina. When it happens, residents in the Tar Heel State will learn that only two health insurance companies will be participating in the program.

For residents of 61 North Carolina counties, the situation will be even more dire, as only one insurance company, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, will be providing coverage.

“We are now four days away from Obamacare’s implementation and each moment, we are receiving new reports as to how devastating this law will be for the men and women of North Carolina,” said NC Congresswoman Renee Ellmers (R-2nd District) in a statement released Thursday. “Yesterday, we discovered that health insurance rates are expected to triple for women and quadruple for men in North Carolina once this law goes into effect. Today, we were informed that virtual monopolies are now being created to sell this poison pill to our people.”

Earlier this week, an article at Forbes detailed research findings from the Manhattan Institute showing that health care premiums for 27-year-old individuals in North Carolina will increase an average of 151% for women and 267% for men. These are among the most significant increases to be experienced as a result of the setup of the Affordable Care Act exchanges.

ACA Insurance Impact

“We were promised lower costs and more competition. Yet Obamacare is doing the exact opposite,” Congresswoman Ellmers said. “The whole point of an online marketplace was to provide options, so North Carolinians could go online, compare prices, and choose plans from different companies. That is how competition is supposed to work! Although seven insurance companies currently operate in North Carolina, under the new Obamacare exchanges, those options will dwindle down to one in the majority of counties.”

Congresswoman Ellmers joined the rest of the State’s Republican Delegation in the House of Representatives to support a bill last week that defunded the Affordable Care Act while providing a continuing resolution for other Federal spending.

The defunding provision will likely be taken out as the Senate considers the bill toward the end of this week, despite efforts by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and a handfull of others to point out the Affordable Care Act’s failures to live up to promised expectations.

Coventry Health Care, which is owned now by Aetna, will provide insurance coverage for residents in 39 counties. Locally, their map indicates coverage will be available to residents in Wake, Franklin, Nash, Edgecombe and Pitt Counties, but not Wilson, Northampton or Martin Counties.

Federal subsidies will be available to individuals making less than $46,000 a year and families of four earning less than $94,000 a year. According to reports, approximately 870,000 residents will be eligible for these subsidies, though levels of assistance will vary based on case-by-case characteristics.

NC’s Washington Delegation Splits on Syria

Prominent members of North Carolina’s Congressional Delegation are expressing opposing views on President Obama’s intention to use military force as a response to the recent deployment of chemical weapons in Syria.

Republican Senator Richard Burr, who also drew criticism from conservatives for opposing efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act, expressed support for military action in a statement issued August 28th.

Senator Richard Burr

Civilized people should be outraged by the deaths of thousands of Syrian civilians and the many more who have been maimed in this horrible civil war. The Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians is morally repugnant and violates long held standards of conduct.  Short of putting troops on the ground, it is time for the United States and our NATO allies to take necessary, punitive military action against the Syrian regime and send a clear signal to its leadership, and others in the region who may be contemplating using weapons of this nature, that there are consequences for these actions.

Last Tuesday, Republican Congresswoman Renee Ellmers (2nd District) came out in opposition to the use of US military force.

Congresswoman Renee Ellmers (R-2nd District)

For more than two years we have witnessed the inner turmoil taking place in Syria and the horrendous atrocities executed by the Assad regime. Recently, reports have come out showing that chemical weapons have been used in cowardly attacks that have shocked the world in their brutality. These constitute a threat to our allies in Israel and Jordan and therefore warrant additional debate and preparedness.

But as President Obama and his administration begin to beat the drums of war in an area of the world which has witnessed significant bloodshed and turmoil for decades, we must take caution and ask serious questions regarding our interests and the price to be paid with intervention. We have learned so much from our history of involvement in this part of the world and the fog of war which clouds our judgment between friend and foe, perceived goals and collateral damage.

At this time, I see nothing but hardship, danger, and unprovoked sacrifice on the shoulders of our military, our troops, and their families. For these and many other reasons which have been echoed by my constituents, I cannot support military action against Syria at this time. Our focus must be on rebuilding our economy here at home after struggling for nearly five years under the President Obama’s economy.  Unless further evidence shows a clear threat to our national interests and a clearly defined vision of victory, this will remain my position moving forward.

First District Congressman, Walter Jones, also opposes action in Syria.

Congressman Water Jones (R-1st District)

I will vote against  any  proposal to authorize U.S. military intervention in Syria,” said Congressman Jones.  “The reality of America’s dismal fiscal situation is that any money spent to bomb Syria will be borrowed from overseas or will be taken from the Defense Department’s already-shrinking budget – resulting in even fewer resources for Eastern North Carolina military installations.  Neither of these options is acceptable.”

Furthermore, there are serious questions about the credibility of the Obama administration’s claims regarding the use of sarin gas in Syria.  The president has failed to explain how our national security depends on engaging in yet another Middle Eastern civil war on the side of radical Islamist rebels who have been documented as possessing sarin gas and beheading Christians, among other atrocities.

President Obama has requested Congressional authorization for the use of force in Syria. The President provided a summary of his justification for the request in his September 7th weekly radio address:

President Barack Obama

Almost three weeks ago in Syria, more than 1,000 innocent people – including hundreds of children – were murdered in the worst chemical weapons attack of the 21st century.  And the United States has presented a powerful case to the world that the Syrian government was responsible for this horrific attack on its own people.

This was not only a direct attack on human dignity; it is a serious threat to our national security.  There’s a reason governments representing 98 percent of the world’s people have agreed to ban the use of chemical weapons.  Not only because they cause death and destruction in the most indiscriminate and inhumane way possible – but because they can also fall into the hands of terrorist groups who wish to do us harm.

That’s why, last weekend, I announced that, as Commander in Chief, I decided that the United States should take military action against the Syrian regime.  This is not a decision I made lightly.  Deciding to use military force is the most solemn decision we can make as a nation.

As the leader of the world’s oldest Constitutional democracy, I also know that our country will be stronger if we act together, and our actions will be more effective.  That’s why I asked Members of Congress to debate this issue and vote on authorizing the use of force.

What we’re talking about is not an open-ended intervention.  This would not be another Iraq or Afghanistan.  There would be no American boots on the ground.  Any action we take would be limited, both in time and scope – designed to deter the Syrian government from gassing its own people again and degrade its ability to do so.

I know that the American people are weary after a decade of war, even as the war in Iraq has ended, and the war in Afghanistan is winding down.  That’s why we’re not putting our troops in the middle of somebody else’s war.

But we are the United States of America.  We cannot turn a blind eye to images like the ones we’ve seen out of Syria.  Failing to respond to this outrageous attack would increase the risk that chemical weapons could be used again; that they would fall into the hands of terrorists who might use them against us, and it would send a horrible signal to other nations that there would be no consequences for their use of these weapons.  All of which would pose a serious threat to our national security.

That’s why we can’t ignore chemical weapons attacks like this one – even if they happen halfway around the world.  And that’s why I call on Members of Congress, from both parties, to come together and stand up for the kind of world we want to live in; the kind of world we want to leave our children and future generations.

One of the President’s strongest supporters in North Carolina, Democrat Congressman G.K. Butterfield (1st District), expressed an open mind on the issue:

Congressman G.K. Butterfield (D-1st District)

I’m deeply troubled by the Assad Regime’s use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians in Syria.  As a Member of Congress, authorizing the use of military force is one of our most important responsibilities and it should not be taken lightly.  This situation deserves careful consideration and I look forward to a thorough debate in the Congress

For Republican Congressman George Holding (13th District), further information from the White House on the situation in Syria provides more reason to oppose military action:

Congressman George Holding (13th District)

After classified briefings and hearing directly from Secretaries Kerry and Hagel yesterday in the Foreign Affairs Committee, I am more skeptical than ever about President Obama’s plan to bomb Syria. For Secretary Kerry to say an attack on Syria – which when you get right down to it amounts to an act of war – is a limited strike, and then add we ‘are not fighting to win,’ doesn’t make a bit of sense.

What we heard today from the administration was purely and simply an exercise in minimizing and understating risks – and nothing I heard convinced me it is necessary to send one American soldier into battle.

The President will speak on the situation and his justifications for use of US force in Syria during a televised address on Tuesday evening, September 10th.

VA Claims Change takes effect August 6th, enables retroactive benefits

Senator Richard Burr

Veterans who choose to submit “fully developed” claims with the Veterans Administration will become eligible for a year of retroactive benefits on and after August 6th, the result of legislation passed by Congress and signed into law last year.

The provision was part of a bill authored by Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) as part of his ongoing efforts to help Veterans deal with a VA claims administration process that most agree is seriously flawed.

“When veterans file a fully-developed claim VA is able to move past a number of time-consuming steps in the claims process and directly begin ordering any necessary medical examinations and federal records,” said Senator Burr in a release. “According to the VA this allows them to issue a decision in half the time of a traditional claim, without sacrificing quality.”

Retroactive benefits are scheduled to be in effect from August 6, 2013, through August 5, 2015.

“VA strongly encourages Veterans to work with Veterans Service Organizations to file Fully Developed Claims (FDCs) and participate in this initiative, since it means more money in eligible Veterans’ pockets simply by providing VA the information it needs up front,” said Allison A. Hickey, Under Secretary for Benefits. “At the same time, it helps reduce the inventory of pending claims by speeding the process.”

Retroactive disability benefits are only eligible to those Veterans who are submitting their very first compensation claim as an FDC.

Those who choose to file FDCs can do so online through the DoD-VA portal, eBenefits (www.ebenfits.va.gov).  Those who cannot file online are encouraged to work with an accredited Veterans Service Organization (VSO) who will file a claim through the portal on their behalf.

FDCs are supposed to reduce the lengthy backlog of VA claims by improving claims decision rates and reducing waiting times.  The VA also assigns FDCs a higher priority, giving Veterans an incentive to choose this option in order to receive faster decisions than by traditional methods.

Other categories for prioritization of claims utilized by the VA include those seriously wounded, terminally ill, Medal of Honor recipients, former Prisoners of War, the homeless and those experiencing extreme financial hardship.  The VA also gives apriority to claims more than a year old in an effort to eliminate its current backlogs by 2015.

“While this provision offers some expediency to new cases,” Senator Burr stated, “I am still dedicated to making sure VA realizes the damage done to our nation’s veterans when the process is broken.  If you have any questions about filing a claim, please contact any of my offices and my staff will be happy to help you.”

Senator Burr’s Rocky Mount office is located on the second floor of the Rocky Mount Train Station and can be contacted by calling (252) 977-9522.

Congressman Holding seeks Small Business Regulation Transparency

GeorgeHolding81

Congressman George Holding (R-13th District)

During his campaign for Congress last year, former Federal Prosecutor George Holding emphasized his desire to not push forth too many pieces of legislation, in an effort to uphold the principle of limited government.

Given that it took until late July to bring forth his first bill, it looks like the Raleigh Congressman, whose 13th District includes part of Nash County, is holding true to his word.

This past Wednesday, Congressman Holding introduced his first bill, the “All Economic Regulations are Transparent (ALERT) Act.” The legislation seeks to aide small businesses better grasp the burdens of current and pending Federal regulation.

“Small businesses greatly contribute to our economic well-being, not just in my home state of North Carolina, but the entire country.” Congressman Holding said in a statement. “When faced with new regulations, small business owners must consider how it will affect every aspect of their business, such as workers’ wages and hours, hours of operation, and daily costs and processes.”

Current law requires the release of proposed Federal agency regulations (also known as a Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Regulatory Actions). Unfortunately, the Obama administration has failed to meet this requirement and release agenda on time.

“In order for our economy to grow and businesses to prosper,” Holding added, “we should take steps to ensure that they are given sufficient notice of regulations, and have time to adjust their business practices in anticipation of regulatory changes. This bill increases government transparency by requiring the administration to fully detail the effects of regulations, and make things easier on small business owners.”

Unified Agenda and Regulatory Plans help businesses anticipate forthcoming regulations and their impact on current and proposed operations. Currently, no enforcement mechanism ensuring that regulatory agenda are released in a timely, transparent fashion.

The ALERT Act also requires Federal agencies to release detailed information each month on proposed regulations.  The bill also establishes consequences for failing to release the Unified Agenda on time, “by preventing new rules from becoming effective if an agency fails to provide proper notice that a rule is impending,” according to a release from Congressman Holding’s office.

Information on Federal agency regulations would be required to be published on the internet, along with cost-benefit studies. Congressman Holding believes these steps will provide business owners with the time they need to comply and evaluate the effects of new regulations on their businesses.

Country Legend George Jones passes away at 81

George JonesGeorge Jones, widely considered the greatest male voice in country music, and equally known for living the life of pain, heartache, sin and redemption featured so often in his famous songs, passed away Friday morning in a Nashville, TN, hospital due to illness. He was 81 year old.

Jones was in the midst of a farewell tour when he was admitted to a Nashville hospital earlier this month following a routine examination. The tour was supposed to end with a tribute show this November at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, which had already sold out.

Country music starts expressed the sadness and sympathies towards Jones and his family today upon learning the news.

Another country music superstar, Garth Brooks, offered this tribute by email to the Associated Press:

“The greatest voice to ever grace country music will never die. Jones has a place in every heart that ever loved any kind of music.”

Some, like Keith Urban, chose to express their tributes in song.

Jones was born September 12, 1931, in Saratoga, TX. He grew up singing in church and eventually working the streets of Beaumont in his early teens, singing for tips. He first worked in radio in the late-1940’s, then recorded his first single in 1954, following three years of service with the United States Marine Corps.

His first hit, the 1955 single “Why Baby Why,” also became the first of many that not only served as signature classics of Jones, but also all of country music.

Fans and critics often hail his 1980 hit, “He Stopped Loving Her Today” as the greatest country music song of all time. The song, which took a year to record, not only resurrected Jones’ career, but also forced him to deal with the wreckage of decades of drug and alcohol abuse.

“Pretty simple, eh?” Jones wrote in his memoir (regarding recording the song). “I couldn’t get it. I had been able to sing while drunk all of my life. I’d fooled millions of people. But I could never speak without slurring when drunk. What we needed to complete that song was the narration, but Billy could never catch me sober enough to record four simple spoken lines.”

Jones’ life embodied the spirit and conflict always prevalent in the delivery of his vocals. No one could ever imitate or misidentify a George Jones recording because nobody could replicate the life he lived.

Jones witnessed many of the behaviors he carried on through his career firsthand as a child through his hardscrabble upbringing and alcoholic father. He was married four times, including his famous loving and volatile marriage to fellow Country superstar Tammy Wynette. His alcohol and drug-fueled lifestyle led to a string of arrests and missed performance, garnering him the dubios nickname “No Show Jones” by the end of the 1970’s.

Jones’ recovery still reflected the human challenges every addict faces. He almost died and suffered severe injuries from a 1999 car accident. Jones claimed the accident was caused in part by talking on a handheld cellular telephone, but it is also believed that alcohol played a part as well.

Somehow, despite his weaknesses and personal failures, Jones remained a beloved singer and entertainer. His ascension as a elder statesman of country music since the 1980’s, not to mention releasing more than 150 albums over a career that spans all or part of 7 decades, reflects both on the immense regarding fans and musicians had for his talent, as well as the genuine sense of forgiveness and humility of the country music faithful.

Jones was inducted into the membership of the Grand Ole Opry in 1956. He is  survived by his fourth wife, Nancy Sepulvado.

Hobby Lobby continues Fight against Contraception Mandate

Hobby Lobby, a family-owned chain of arts and craft supply’s superstores, including a Rocky Mount location that opened last year, continues to defy a Federal mandate requiring the company provide full contraception coverage, including abortion-inducing drugs (i.e., the “morning after” pill) to its employees.

In late December, Hobby Lobby and religious bookseller Mardel, Inc., both owned by the same evangelical Christian family were denied an injunction against provisions of the Affordable Care Act (i.e., Obamacare) requiring full contraception coverage as part of employer health plans. The owners belief the mandate violates their religious beliefs

As a result, the companies face fines of up to $1.3 million per day for defying the Federal mandate since January 1st of this year. Nevertheless, their owners remain defiant.

“The company will continue to provide health insurance to all qualified employees,” said Kyle Duncan, the attorney representing Hobby Lobby and Mardel. “To remain true to their faith, it is not their intention, as a company, to pay for abortion-inducing drugs.

Former Arkansas Governor and commentator Mike Huckabee is attempting to draw support for Hobby Lobby, encouraging people to visit and buy from Hobby Lobby today, January 5th.

Hobby Lobby is a respected and very successful business that is privately owned by a family who have sought to honor God in their personal lives and in their business,” Huckabee said in a statement “Their generosity to missions, to the relief of poverty around the world, to Christian education, and to their employees is legendary and exemplifies the kind of business principle that should be applauded and appreciated.”

Hobby Lobby’s Rocky Mount location is at the corner of Sutters Creek Parkway and Jeffries Road, across the street from Target.