- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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July 7

The Orlando Sentinel on commitment to the space program:

In a speech at Kennedy Space Center this past week, Vice President Mike Pence promised a return to the glory days of the U.S. space program. Quoting President Trump, the veep vowed that America would lead in exploration and discovery “like we’ve never led before.”

Considering the program’s storied history, those are extravagant expectations. But as President John F. Kennedy proved in 1961 when he challenged the U.S. to send a man to the moon before the end of the decade, ambitious goals can spur extraordinary accomplishments.

Making the space program great again, however, will take more than high hopes. It will take committed leadership from the Trump administration, a clear mission and sustained funding to achieve it. And while a revitalized program is in the national interest for many reasons, no state has more to gain than Florida.

Trump got off to a good start last month when he signed an order reviving the National Space Council. The council - an interagency group to coordinate civil, military and commercial space programs - was created under President Dwight Eisenhower. It oversaw the successful effort to send U.S. astronauts to the moon. It was disbanded under President Richard Nixon, revived under President George H.W. Bush, and eliminated a second time under President Bill Clinton.

The heavyweights who will make up the Space Council under Trump are a positive sign that space will be a priority in his administration. Pence will chair the group, and members will include five Cabinet secretaries, the national security adviser, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and the director of national intelligence, among others. Ideally, the group will keep multiple agencies in sync, and not turn into a new layer of bureaucracy on space policy.

The administrator of NASA also will be a member of the council, but Trump has yet to name a new leader for the space agency. We’re hopeful the delay is because the White House is taking its time to find a top-flight administrator, and not because it considers the post an afterthought.

Pence’s promise that the council would strengthen the partnership between government agencies and the commercial space industry is encouraging. Private rocketeers, including SpaceX and Boeing, already are taking the lead on resuming launches of astronauts from the Space Coast. Those companies will make the U.S. space program more flexible, more innovative and more cost-effective.

But even a program with a larger role for more-efficient private players will still need enough federal resources to succeed. Stingy funding for NASA from Congress in recent years has delayed the timetable for launching U.S. astronauts on private rockets.

Trump’s first budget proposal actually calls for a 2 percent cut next year in NASA’s $19.5 billion budget. If the space program is to tackle more-ambitious goals, it will need more dollars. NASA’s current slice of the federal budget, less than half a percent, is a fraction of its 4.4 percent peak during the 1960s. A return to those funding levels is neither responsible nor realistic, but the agency will have a harder time fulfilling any long-term plans if it runs the risk of cuts year after year.

In another contrast to the Apollo era, America’s leadership in space this century has been hampered by mission drift. President George W. Bush decided in 2004 to retire space shuttles by the end of the decade so NASA could begin focusing on a return to the moon. President Barack Obama canceled the moon program and set the space agency on a new course for a rendezvous with an asteroid in the 2020s and flights to Mars in the 2030s. President Trump dropped the asteroid plan but maintained funding to continue developing a NASA rocket and capsule designed to carry astronauts into deep space.

America’s space program needs a mission that lasts beyond a single president’s term. There’s not enough time and money for a reboot every four or eight years.

Last week at KSC Pence declared, “Here from this bridge to space, our nation will return to the moon and we will put American boots on the face of Mars.” The vice president did not offer a timeline or other details. Here’s hoping the Space Council will begin filling in those blanks soon.

Online: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/

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July 7

Ocala StarBanner on what questions the voter data request raises for Florida:

Motives matter. And if the purpose of a letter sent to state elections officials by President Donald Trump’s new-minted advisory commission on election integrity was meant to sow discord and unease among voters, mission accomplished.

Forty-four states have already responded to the request by the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity with a partial or complete refusal to hand over the data, including the memorable invitation by Mississippi’s Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a Republican, to “jump in the Gulf of Mexico.” To varying degrees, states expressed consternation or anger over the scope of the request - which also includes political party, whether voters have felony convictions and the military status for every voter registered in that state - and unease at submitting so much data through a “secure FTP site” operated by the U.S. Army.

Florida is one of the holdouts. Gov. Rick Scott should respond to the commission with the more temperate language adopted by many state officials, to wit: The commission is welcome to request voter-roll data that is public record, through regular channels - information the state already provides routinely to several other organizations, including at least one group that regularly puts the entire voter file online for anyone to search or download. But it will not provide information that is exempt by law (which includes Social Security numbers) or data that the state doesn’t currently compile.

And Florida officials should publicly reassure voters who are worried about identity theft or political harassment. One of the many requests for information is for voters’ voting history, which elections officials say has voters worried how they voted will be made public, although officials say that is impossible.

But the biggest concern is also the toughest to rebut. Many are convinced that Trump will use the commission to fuel a witch hunt to prove his frequent allegations of “massive” voter fraud during the 2016 elections. That claim is, of course, ridiculous - across the nation, only four cases of attempted fraud have been identified, and none were successful. There are extensive safeguards in place to prevent fraudulent registration and voting. Yet Trump has never walked back his claim - against all logic and reason - that he won the popular vote. The baselessness of that assertion undermines anything the Trump administration does under the name of “elections integrity.”

But a closer look at the letter sent out by his commission suggests a real opportunity. That missive, signed by the commission’s vice chairman, Kris Kobach (who, in his capacity as chief elections official of Kansas, has declined his own request for voters’ Social Security numbers), asks state elections officials some serious questions: What changes would they suggest to improve the integrity of federal elections? How can the federal government provide better support to state and local elections officials? What can elections officials do to combat voter intimidation or disenfranchisement?

Those questions merit thoughtful answers - and that’s what Scott should provide.

Online: http://www.ocala.com/

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July 11

The Florida Times-Union on government’s role in health insurance:

The big debate over health insurance involves government’s role.

The purest government-run health insurance involves the military. The Veterans Affairs is entirely government-run.

Then there is the blend of government and private medical services through Medicare, Medicaid and TriCare.

What about the health insurance we receive through our employers?

Actually, the government has a $250 billion stake in the health insurance we receive from our employers through tax credits.

That’s the federal government’s third largest health expenditure behind Medicare and Medicaid.

Everyone who receives health insurance at work benefits from this, including members of Congress, reports The New York Times.

This tax credit, hidden from most employees, contributes to the high cost of health care.

Cost often is not a factor to either the patient or the physician because it is wrapped into an insurance package. Even if an employee wanted to shop for prices for health care, the system makes it difficult.

So the system provided incentives for employees to use more health care than if the money were coming directly out of their pockets.

The connection between those tax credits and wages is real. In recent years as costs of health care surged, employers traded health benefits for wages.

Yet the value of those tax credits is not included as income for purposes of payroll or income taxes. That’s a subsidy.

The tax exclusion reduced the cost of health insurance by about 30 percent, reports the Kaiser Family Foundation, a huge benefit for people with a job that includes health insurance.

The health care market often works against consumers.

A prime example is the difficulties involving generic prescription drugs.

Once a drug loses its patent protection, it goes into the generic market where prices should drop substantially.

Last year consumers saved $253 billion on generics, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Still sometimes the system is abused - and sometimes it simply doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to.

Once the profit potential has declined, it sometimes takes a while to bring generic versions to market.

When just one generic drug is on the market, consumers save just 6 percent. But when three generics are available, consumers save 56 percent, according to an analysis done by the Food and Drug Administration.

Under President Donald Trump’s administration, the FDA is trying to speed up the generic market. The FDA will expedite the approval process for new generics, a good move for consumers.

The cost of Medicaid has been vilified, especially in Florida. Actually, the program is a low-cost model with reimbursements so low that many physicians decline to accept it.

According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine:

. Medicaid costs about 22 percent less than private insurance when adjusted for risk.

. Per capita spending for Medicaid has grown more slowly than either Medicare or commercial insurance.

In Republican-dominated states like Ohio and Indiana, there are work incentives and patient co-pays.

In Florida, Duval and neighboring counties were the first to have Medicaid turned into a managed care model.

If this were really handled like insurance, consumers would receive government help to create health savings accounts to be used for most routine expenses along with catastrophic insurance for major procedures.

The plan proposed by the Republicans is different but no better than Obamacare.

Better off: The young, people with higher incomes or consumers in low-cost areas.

Worse off: Older people with low incomes or who live in high-cost areas.

Here is one example from a Congressional Budget Office report: A low-income elderly consumer would see premiums rise from $1,700 to $13,600.

In contrast, a 21-year-old would see premiums decrease from $5,100 to $1,250.

In much of the nation, the pursuit of happiness is like a nightmare.

Opioid addiction diagnoses are up nearly 500 percent in the last seven years, reports the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

This is based on an analysis of claims of 30 million people from 2010 to 2016.

The amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. increased fourfold since 1999 even though there has been no change in the amount of pain reported by Americans.

But the number of deaths from opioids increased fourfold as well.

“An epidemic of deaths of despair” is the way the Guardian described it.

Mortality rates have been rising for one group: middle-aged whites without college degrees. In short, Trump voters.

Families that once could have a decent living without a college degree are now forced into several low-wage jobs without health insurance.

The result: suicide, overdoses and substance abuse.

This is a shocking outlier since mortality rates have been falling elsewhere in the U.S. and in other developed nations.

A study by two Princeton economists shows a “gradual collapse” of the white working class. Its health - both mental and physical - has declined along with the disappearance of good jobs.

And the current opioid epidemic is only making things worse.

“For many Americans, America is starting to fail as a country,” said James Smith of the RAND Corp.

This should not be a partisan issue.

Online: http://jacksonville.com/

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