- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

Oct. 14

The Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, Mississippi, on Palasini and Medicaid problems:

The case of Gina Palasini illustrates several problems with not only the Mississippi Division of Medicaid but also the way state agencies communicate when potential fraud and wrongdoing is at play.

Palasini is the Mississippi woman facing multiple fraud charges for allegedly bilking seniors across the country out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Palasini worked as a Medicaid planner, someone who assists people obtain Medicaid benefits.

In the wake of an investigative report by The Clarion-Ledger, state lawmakers now are looking into possible changes in state law that would provide more oversight of Medicaid planners.

This would be the first obvious step. People who are working as Medicaid planners should have to register with the state, at the least. Licensing might be too restrictive, but an annual reporting of activity should provide enough of a deterrent to stop many future scammers.

But Palasini’s alleged role in the scams is only part of the problem. The more we learn about her story and her former clients who claim she conned them, the more we see systematic breakdowns within the Division of Medicaid and throughout other state agencies who have at least marginal oversight over the work Palasini conducted in Mississippi.

Multiple people within the Division of Medicaid had been warned about Palasini and even warned their superiors, some regional offices going so far as refusing to deal with her. Yet those in a position of authority in the agency never sought a course of action that would have prevented future fraud.

But the Division of Medicaid would have had limited options even if it had discovered Palasini was defrauding her clients. The agency’s only recourse in such a situation is to submit the alleged fraud to the attorney general’s office.

Attorney General Jim Hood said his office received five complaints about Palasini starting in 2012. However, failure to act on them was blamed on a number of reasons, including lack of evidence or jurisdictional constraints.

Even the Mississippi Department of Insurance had trouble with Palasini. The department revoked her insurance license for forging an annuity contract in 2006. However, the Department of Insurance has no authority over benefits planning, so it forwarded any complaints on that topic to Hood’s office.

It’s easy for each of these agencies to highlight the restrictions preventing them from taking action and then pass blame to someone else. However, the real truth here is that at every step of the way fraud was allowed to continue because no one sought a way to do something about it. The lack of inter-agency cooperation clearly allowed fraud to continue.

Lawmakers can start with trying to stop individuals from perpetrating fraud, but we all know crime will never cease. So if those same lawmakers don’t look to strengthen inter-agency cooperation and reporting where fraud exists, then it will be innocent people like the Wrights who continue to pay the price for the failure of the state agencies that are supposed to be serving them.




Oct. 13

The Greenwood (Mississippi) Commonwealth on gas prices:

Something unusual has happened around Mississippi in recent weeks: The price of gasoline has fallen below $3 per gallon for the first time in a while.

Over the last three or four years, unleaded fuel was reliably above $3, and sometimes closer to $4 per gallon.

A basic principle of economics states that when the supply of a product increases, its price goes down. That seems to be happening right now. Oil production in the United States is rising rapidly due to new drilling techniques like hydraulic fracturing.

On the other hand, the price of oil has shown itself to rise during times of global uncertainty. There is no shortage of that:

. The ISIS terrorists have replaced al-Qaida as Public Enemy No. 1 and conceivably could threaten oil production in Iraq.

. Russia has been quiet for a few weeks, but it seems likely Vladimir Putin & Co. are not finished with their meddling in neighboring Ukraine, setting up the potential for a mini-Cold War.

. The deadly Ebola virus has people around the world scared. There are all sorts of theories about the reason for rapidly falling oil prices over the last few weeks. Whatever the reason, gasoline below $3, if it lasts, is good news for drivers. The money people save on fuel could be used to buy other things, giving the economy a nudge upward.




Oct. 14

Sun Herald, Biloxia, Mississippi, on early childhood education:

Early childhood education — both kindergarten and prekindergarten — should be mandatory in Mississippi. Until then, this state will continue to struggle to educate children who are simply not ready to learn when they do have to start school.

State Superintendent of Education Carey Wright has been on the job just 11 months, but she has already seen “compelling evidence” that Mississippi’s unwillingness to embrace universal early childhood education has “frightening” consequences.

Children without the benefit of pre-K and kindergarten instruction are entering the primary grades without the most basic of learning skills and comprehension.

“We have got to have kids in kindergarten. It can’t be an option,” she told the Sun Herald. “To me, if we’re going to improve education in this state — and we are — we have got to get children into high-quality learning as quickly as we can. And then have them prepared.”

Asked if there is resistance in the Legislature to early childhood education that’s not related to finances, Wright said she was surprised to learn that some lawmakers believe expanding public education to include pre-K and kindergarten is a form of governmental intrusion into a matter that should left up to parents or guardians.

“It was just a foregone conclusion (to me) that you went to pre-K. You didn’t even think about that,” she said, referring to Maryland and the District of Columbia, her last two professional stops. “When you have the level of poverty like you do in D.C. and Mississippi, the beautiful way as we all know to get children out of that is to educate them so that they have an opportunity to do something different.”

But for our children to be in a position to do something different, we as a state must do something different about our approach to public education.

Schooling must start sooner so that our children are in a position to take full advantage of every day they are in class.



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