- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

Oct. 7

The Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, Mississippi, on the amount docs are collecting:

The federal Physician Payment Sunshine Act requires health care companies to disclose the payments they make to doctors who use or help to develop their products. This was a valuable provision in the Affordable Care Act. Patients should know if docs who prescribe a certain drug, order a certain test or implant a certain device have a financial interest that could influence their decisions.

The Obama administration last week launched its Open Payments online database, which is supposed to enable the public to follow the medical money. You’ll find it at cms.gov/openpayments.

It works like a charm - if you’re a software engineer with time on your hands. For anyone else, it’s pretty much an impenetrable maze.

There’s no button, for instance, to “find your doctor.” Before you click on “explore the data,” you had better pack a lunch.

The site lists payments only from the last five months of 2013, and fails to include all the payments made in that period. Many payment records submitted by companies apparently were left out for technical reasons.

Some of the information on the site isn’t accurate or complete.

This debut isn’t a fiasco on the order of last year’s launch of HealthCare.gov, the site for health-insurance coverage under Obamacare. But it’s a huge disappointment. Complaints are piling up. The administration has conceded that the site is not the comprehensive and accessible source of information it needs to be.

Despite its serious flaws, Open Payments provides enough information to show that more disclosure of the financial links between doctors and health care companies is sorely needed.

The potential is still there for Open Payments, if the administration can get it right.




Oct. 7

The Greenwood (Mississippi) Commonwealth on education:

Elected officials in Mississippi have grumbled for years that “unfunded mandates” from the federal government - when Washington orders states to do something expensive without providing extra money to pay for it - create serious problems for budgets.

It turns out the Mississippi Legislature has been pretty good at setting some unfunded education mandates of its own that the state has not been able to afford.

The most prominent one, of course, is the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which is designed to give poorer counties extra school money so that kids in those areas have a better chance at a quality education. Its lack of full funding has become the subject of a lawsuit led by former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove.

But leaders of the state’s community college and university boards say the Legislature also has made financial promises to those schools that it has not kept.

Eric Clark, executive director of the Community College Board, asked a legislative budget committee last week for $79 million more money in 2015 - an increase of 31 percent from current spending on two-year schools. Clark had to know he won’t get all of that, but he pointed out that in 2007, lawmakers approved a bill requiring community college funding to be halfway between the levels of universities and K-12.

To do that next year would cost $140 million, so Clark asked for half that amount, along with another $9 million for a program to help high school dropouts.

Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds asked for 10 percent more money next year, or $76.5 million. He said $7.6 million of the increase is to cover shortfalls in state-mandated financial aid programs, but he added that Mississippi must increase its investment in higher education if it wants its percentage of residents with a college degree to begin catching up with the rest of the country’s.

It is impossible to fault the good intentions of Legislatures that set up MAEP, community college funding benchmarks, university financial aid mandates and anything else education-related that costs money. The bear in the room continues to be the severe recession of 2008. It sharply reduced state tax revenue, a trend that finally has started to improve in the last couple of years.

What seems to be lacking, in both good times and bad, is a comprehensive plan that treats the separate education groups as parts of a single whole. Instead, each goes it alone, a participant in a three-ring wrestling match.




Oct. 7

Northeast Mississippi Journal, Tupelo, Mississippi, on SeaPort:

SeaPort Airlines, after months of review, negotiation and federal agency processing, begins service Oct. 27 between Tupelo and Nashville, and Tupelo and Memphis, with a liberal number of flights set for the airport, which has had passenger service since 1951.

SeaPort, based in Portland, Oregon, has developed a good reputation among commuter airlines serving smaller cities with airplanes like the Cessna Caravan to be used at Tupelo Regional Airport. The Caravan is usually a nine-passenger aircraft with two pilots.

Silver Airways, which has been serving Tupelo and some other Mississippi cities with flights to Atlanta, will cease its Tupelo flights Oct. 26.

An official announcement is expected soon to confirm information about flights available Monday on the Internet and in conversations among airport users.

Widespread realignment and business uncertainty in the airline industry have buffeted Tupelo Regional in recent years, where passenger traffic has declined as fewer flights were offered to connecting hubs like Atlanta and Memphis.

Tupelo usually has had greatest success with Memphis connections, but the Memphis airport was hit with significant flight reductions after Delta Air Lines merged with Northwest, which had used Memphis as a major hub.

Adding Nashville as a connection is expected to offer Tupelo passengers greater flexibility in connections to more cities with more airlines, including a strong Southwest presence.

Tupelo’s airport, established as a general aviation field in 1934, has survived 65 years - a span that’s included big changes in how airlines do business and in who flies.

That commercial airline service has survived in Tupelo and often thrived is a signal achievement in a time when many small cities’ air service is a memory.

Since 1951, the airport has been expanded, improved, technologically updated and its mission reshaped for broader opportunities.

The names of airlines have changed in mergers and other business transitions, the intensity of required passenger scrutiny has increased in the age of terrorism, and business travel is seen in all sizes of airports.

Airline service in Tupelo, even in challenging times, can become stronger again if customers use the opportunity for flights to Memphis and Nashville - taking the step of using a single-engine airliner with a strong, reliable record.



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