- Associated Press - Thursday, April 9, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, April 8, 2015

Public employee insurance needs to be resolved

Health insurance continues to be a game-changer for many Americans. It plays a role when considering a new job - how do the benefits compare? It also can help determine when a couple decides to start a family. And when retirement nears, one of the key considerations becomes insurance.

So it should be no surprise that when the board of the North Dakota Public Employees Retirement System voted to switch from Blue Cross Blue Shield to the Sanford Health Plan, a lot of questions were raised. The agreement covers around 66,000 people, including public employees, retirees and their families. Legislators are provided coverage under the plan.

The agreement was reached after seven months of work by the board, staff and consultants. The six-year deal with an estimated value of $610 million to $640 million over the first two years ends 37 years of working with Blue Cross Blue Shield. The contract is up for renewal every two years.

Legislators quickly made their wishes known in a bipartisan way - no changes in coverage. Legislation to enforce these wishes is making its way through the Legislature and it’s sparked talk of legal action. Sanford says it has an agreement and has warned the Legislature about violating it. Legislators say the agreement states it’s subject to state law.

Most North Dakotans are used to changes in their insurance policies. Premiums go up, what’s covered and by all much changes. Policyholders can either accept the changes or look for a new policy. Public employees have an advantage with the Legislature able to dictate some terms.

Public employees work hard and the benefits package make the jobs more attractive. The decision to switch to Sanford Health, as noted, was done after a lot of research. NDPERS board chairman Jon Strinden said Sanford proposed a 15 percent overall increase in premiums for 2015-17 to maintain the NDPERS plan as fully insured, compared to roughly a 20 percent increase in the Blue Cross bid.

It’s good the agreement is getting a close review, everyone should know what it provides. Sanford made a good faith agreement and the state needs to take that into consideration. The worst thing that could happen would be a lawsuit that would mean more expenses for all involved. This needs to be resolved and unfortunately the reality is insurance tends to cost more and cover less these days. At the same time public employees deserve to get the best plan possible. It’s time to reach an agreement.

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Minot Daily News, Minot, April 8, 2015

Don’t water down elite combat units

Try as we may, Americans cannot overcome biological realities. Ignoring them in the name of political correctness - of unscrupulous politicians seeking votes by pandering to certain groups of people - can have disastrous consequences in some situations.

One of them involves elite military units such as the Navy’s SEALS and the Army’s Delta Force. Members of those groups are selected and trained carefully to provide the best possible chance of success on critical missions.

Every branch of the military places women in demanding, important jobs, including combat. In certain tasks, they can perform better than their male counterparts.

But the Pentagon is studying whether women should be placed into the ranks of units such as Delta Force and the SEALs. That has drawn criticism from many in the elite units, and even from some women in the 68,800-person U.S. Special Operations Command.

Members of the SOC understand better than most people the demands placed on special forces - and the critical nature of their missions. They recognize that both mentally and physically, only the very best people should be in such units.

Only highly capable men even volunteer for groups such as the SEALs and Delta Force. Fewer than 20 percent of them can complete training.

What worries some veterans of special service is that the Pentagon will water down physical demands placed on elite force trainees, in order to get women into the units. Obviously, that would make the forces less capable. It would subject their members to more danger in combat - and give them less chance of completing missions.

And remember, people like the SEALs and Delta Force are used only in absolutely critical operations. Politicians should not be permitted to risk lives - and national security - by wrecking the elite units.

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The Daily News, Wahpeton, April 6, 2015

The race for president is becoming interesting

Last year was a huge year politically in the United States. The race for power changed the entire atmosphere in America’s top legislative branch.

Although it is early yet in the run for the presidency, a number of candidates have declared that they might run, or not run, depending upon the day and who benefits most by their answer.

At the forefront of “probably running” is Hillary Rodham Clinton, former Secretary of State. She is taking a “serious” look at running for office, but has not made a decision yet. As the Democratic forerunner, it seems a foregone conclusion that Clinton will run for office. Her private email scandal aside, Clinton is a serious contender for the office of president of the United States. Voters tend to forgive Hillary for many things, it has happened in the past and she is counting on this forgiveness in the future.

Our current vice president, Joe Biden, has said he will make up his mind this summer about whether he will run or not. He will probably test the waters first and see if he has a chance. Former U.S. Sen. Jim Webb was the first candidate from any party to announce a presidential exploratory committee, but he, too, has not officially decided to run.

One of the more interesting opponents that could face Clinton, if she ever officially runs for higher office, would probably be Jeb Bush. He announced in December that he is exploring a Republican presidential run. Both Clinton and Bush have ties to the White House that many other potential candidates do not. Clinton helped her husband through two terms of office and Bush’s father and brother served as president. To many voters, name recognition alone may help them in the polls.

According to the New York Times, there is only one Republican candidate who has officially announced he is running for the office of president and that is U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. This Republican race has a number of candidates who may or may not run, but the road to the White House is filled with a difficult, uphill climb.

Although the 2016 presidential race is barely getting started, some of the press on potential candidates will make this an unforgettable ride.

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