- Associated Press - Friday, April 18, 2014

Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, April 12, 2014

S.D. needs help in computer dispute

The computer upgrade designed to make South Dakota’s Medicaid billing system more useful and efficient is mired in legal disputes, entangled with a federal bureaucracy and stalled by a recalcitrant vendor.

Not what state officials had in mind in 2008 when they let the bid to replace the more than 30-year-old-computer system.

Six years and almost $62 million later, the upgrade is not even close to installation.

Someone, somewhere should be able to change this situation.

It sounds like an exaggeration, but state officials and lawmakers outline a maddening tangle of problems since the bid to build a new computer system was awarded to Client Network Services (CNSI) of Maryland in 2008. The modernized system would help officials better analyze spending data in order to find efficiencies in the Medicaid payment program.

The process is complicated by the involvement of the federal government through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that manages the federal health programs. The agency is supposed to provide 90 percent of the funding for states to upgrade their Medicaid computer systems.

State officials say the federal government has amended its payment promise and changed its Medicaid billing requirements since the contract was awarded.

CNSI sued the state, and South Dakota has counter-sued in the dispute. The state has tried to fire the vendor, but the federal officials persuaded them to mediate with the firm instead.

Many states apparently have had similar experiences trying to modernize their Medicaid systems. Part of the issue is that each state pays and records data in different ways to reflect state policies.

Clearly, this is a complex problem. But it’s time we push harder to get our congressional delegation involved. The scope of the problem is bigger than South Dakota.

Medicaid costs are among the highest of all programs funded by state government. With the new health care law and the push to increase the number of people covered by Medicaid, there is renewed need for reporting, billing and analysis tools provided by an upgraded computer system.

Sens. Tim Johnson and John Thune and Rep. Kristi Noem should step into this fray and work to bring about a resolution.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard should make the request for their help and seek guidance from other states that have worked through this process.

Taxpayers are right to expect a resolution and to lean on their elected leaders to come up with one.

It might take all levels of government working together to make headway in this 6-year dispute. But we simply cannot wait for the company to come around, or for the federal bureaucracy to ultimately facilitate a change.

The need - and the ongoing cost - here is great.


Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, April 8, 2014

Binge drinking a growing problem

Binge drinking by teenagers is a growing problem in the country, and in South Dakota, it has reached epidemic levels. Our state is second in the nation in the rate of underage binge drinking.

Binge drinking is defined as having five or more alcoholic drinks within a short period of time, usually a few hours. According to the annual Youth Risk Behavior Survey compiled by the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, 25.5 percent of 11th-graders admit to binge drinking and 43.5 percent of 12th-graders say they recently have engaged in binge drinking.

That’s a disturbing trend that deserves greater attention in South Dakota.

Lifeways, a Rapid City nonprofit, is trying to focus teens’ attention on the dangers of binge drinking. The group seeks to augment alcohol and drug prevention education in schools with counselors at all Rapid City high schools and middle schools and at high schools in Custer and Hill City.

Lifeways counselors try to educate teenagers about the dangers of alcohol abuse and help them to avoid destructive decisions.

We applaud and support the efforts of school counselors and groups like Lifeways to try to curb underage drinking in South Dakota.

The first line of defense in many moral and lifestyle decisions are parents. Unfortunately, too many parents condone underage drinking or simply accept the fact that teens are going to drink no matter what they say or do.

Some parents go so far as to allow their teenage children and their friends to consume alcohol at their homes or properties. State lawmakers thought it was enough of a problem they passed Senate Bill 163 that makes it illegal for adults to host parties where underage drinking is allowed and requires them to actively stop underage drinking if they know about it.

It’s appalling that such a law was needed in South Dakota.

Yes, it’s likely that most teenagers will try alcohol. The problem is when they engage in destructive behaviors like binge drinking.

Preventing underage binge drinking starts at home, in schools and through ant-drug and alcohol programs. We need to recognize that underage binge drinking is a big problem in South Dakota and take steps to stop it.


Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan, Yankton, April 15, 2014

Soccer: a good fit for school district

A marriage between the Yankton School District and soccer is still being weighed at this point, but it would seem like an ideal union for this community.

It won’t be easy, of course, given the financial issues that this school district faces. (Other districts face those issues, too, but are finding ways to make this work.) With a little work and public support, this union could and should happen.

The school board was originally set to consider the matter of adding soccer as a sanctioned activity Monday night, just ahead of a deadline imposed by the South Dakota High School Activities Association (SDHSAA) to make such a decision. (In 2015, the state soccer association will no longer sponsor a non-sanctioned tournament for high schools.) However, the SDHSAA decided Monday to extend that deadline another month, thus giving Yankton until May 12, the local school board’s next scheduled meeting, to make the determination.

The meeting this past Monday was packed with numerous supporters of the sport. And make no mistake, there is a lot of support for soccer in this community.

Indeed, Yankton has long been one of the leaders in the state in regards to the sport. Since the 1980s, the sport has enjoyed high participation numbers, which per capita probably rank as high as any community in South Dakota. The popularity of the sport here - it averages about 700 participants annually - is such that it is currently tied to a major economic issue in regards to the development of the former Human Services Center property (where several soccer fields have been created) that has been purchased by the city.

In that sense, this looks like a good hook-up with the school district.

But of course, this will come literally at a price - an estimated $29,000 annually. To that end, representatives from the Yankton Youth Soccer Association were on hand Monday to offer three options to help fund the sport’s transition with the school district.

A good guess would be that more help may be sought through fundraisers and other activities to help defray the new costs. Given the base of support that soccer already enjoys here, such a prospect does look promising.

Some people will oppose the addition of soccer as a sanctioned sport on the grounds that it IS a sport and thus shouldn’t be a priority for the school, which should instead be all about education, not activities. But studies have proven repeatedly that kids participating in activities make better students: They’re more focused and are more involved in school structure. As such, this encourages the investment.

Soccer’s enormous base of popularity here makes a very strong case for its inclusion in the school district at the varsity and junior varsity levels. Every effort should be made to make it happen.

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