- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2005

Gambling on the environment

In the brief “New lottery game for environment eyed” (American Scene, Tuesday), you reported that environmental officials in New Jersey are considering creating a new lottery game to fund protection of the environment. While on the one hand I applaud their creativity, it is a sad sign of the times that they have to consider such desperate measures to pay for protection of something so fundamental to our existence and quality of life.

Although many state and local governments are doing their share and then some to protect open space and the environment, the federal government is not holding up its end of the bargain.

For example, the Land & Water Conservation Fund is authorized to be funded at $900 million annually, a mere drop in the federal budget bucket, but typically is funded at less than one-third that level each year. We can’t afford to gamble with our children’s future by neglecting our environment, but given the lack of resources coming from Washington, it is not surprising that officials in New Jersey are considering it.

THOMAS A. GILBERT

Director, Eastern forest conservation

Wilderness Society

Jamison, Pa.

Liberals don’t get it

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton will never be the first female president, just as Al Sharpton will never be the first black president (“Hillary in the middle on values issues,” Page 1, Wednesday).

A female presidential candidate will get elected only if she does not make gender an issue; a black presidential candidate can’t make race an issue.

Liberals have yet to figure out that women and minorities have diversity of thought. This is why the Democratic Party is so incensed with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

With Miss Rice, the Democratic Party’s house of cards implodes because it flies in the face of everything liberals believe. This is why some terrible liberals have compared Miss Rice to a house slave. They can’t comprehend that she is more than just a yes-woman.

BRETT FREEMAN

Chicago

Hospitals competing for patients

The editorial “Bolstering specialty hospitals” (Monday) is riddled with inaccuracies and misleading assertions about a serious problem that threatens to erode what The Washington Times claims to support: competition and true patient choice in health care decisions.

The vast majority of hospitals were founded and built by communities, religious groups and universities, driven by need and mission. Women’s and children’s hospitals also are an established presence in the hospital field, offering a wide range of health care services to their patients. However, a new and different breed has developed: physician-owned specialty hospitals born of self-interest and profit.

Health care science has changed rapidly, and hospitals welcome innovations in medicine, technology and care delivery. These are all ways in which community hospitals already compete — fairly — to better serve patients.

True competition sours when physician-owners of specialty hospitals who also exercise their medical-staff privileges at competing full-service community hospitals refer patients to facilities in which they have an economic stake.

Most patients rely almost completely on the advice of their physicians when deciding where to have a surgical procedure performed. Real choice means not having to worry that the motivation for referring a patient to a specific facility is anything other than what is in the best interest of the patient.

It’s sad that the editorial uses deceptive information to dismiss out of hand the reality of today’s “competition” between specialty and full-service community hospitals. Findings from the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission — of which your editorial cited only one result — show that specialty hospitals siphon off the most profitable (and often less acutely ill) patients at the expense of the full-service hospitals on which communities rely to treat everyone who comes to their doors, regardless of ability to pay.

The General Accounting Office (now known as the Government Accountability Office) found that these specialty hospitals focus on highly profitable services such as cardiac, orthopedic and surgical procedures, to the detriment of community hospitals in their area their mission is also to provide neonatal care, burn care and trauma care — all vital services to a community but also services for which payment seldom covers cost. Is this evidence of an ethical problem with physicians’ self-referring? Of course.

MedPAC made the right recommendation to Congress, sending an important message that physician ownership and self-referral can cause serious conflicts of interest.

Because of the broader impact of these hospitals on patients, full-service hospitals and their communities, we urge Congress to ban self-referral to physician-owned limited-service hospitals.

DICK DAVIDSON

President

American Hospital Association

Washington

Chief Ramsey on traffic cameras

The Washington Times editorial board is certainly entitled to its opinions about the District’s photo-enforcement traffic-safety programs (“When revenue trumps safety in D.C.,” Jan. 15). However, those opinions do not give your paper license to mangle the facts when it comes to public safety in the District:

• D.C.’s photo-enforcement systems — both red-light and speeding-reduction cameras — are putting the brakes on aggressive driving. At the 39 intersections equipped with traffic-safety cameras, the incidence of red-light running is down more than 70 percent. In photo radar enforcement zones, only one out of every 25 drivers is speeding aggressively, compared with almost one out of every three drivers at the beginning of the program.

• Reductions in aggressive driving are translating into fewer traffic deaths. Last year, 45 people were killed on D.C. roadways — a reduction of 35 percent and the lowest annual total in at least 18 years. In the three years that photo radar has been in operation, traffic fatalities in which speeding was the primary cause have been reduced by half.

• Photo enforcement is contributing to improvements, not only in traffic safety, but in neighborhood safety as well. With these systems in place, our police officers are able to concentrate on other traffic-safety priorities (such as drunken driving) as well as other neighborhood-safety priorities (such as violent and property crime).

Despite the statistics cited in your editorial, homicides in the District were down 20 percent last year, to their lowest level since 1986. Overall crime declined by more than 11 percent last year, following a 9 percent drop in 2003. Last year saw reductions in every major crime category and in every police district.

So, contrary to the editorial, the facts are that the District’s streets — and neighborhoods — are safer, in part because of our strategic use of photo enforcement. These systems are enabling us to enforce traffic laws fairly and consistently while at the same time freeing up our police officers to combat crime and disorder in our neighborhoods.

For those people who continue to oppose our use of these lifesaving systems, my advice is simple: If you don’t want a ticket, don’t break the law. If nobody breaks the law, our cameras won’t generate another citation… and that would be just fine with me.

CHARLES H. RAMSEY

Chief

Metropolitan Police Department

Washington

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