- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

Sept. 24, 2014

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Xerox billing rollout has hurt Alaska patients, doctors

Gov. Sean Parnell announced Monday that the state has filed a claim against Xerox for its mishandling of Medicaid billing in the past year. The governor’s move is the right one, though it could have been made sooner. Over the course of the year that Xerox has been in charge of processing the billing for Medicaid claims across the state, patients and doctors have experienced months-long delays that have burdened medical providers and even caused some to close up shop.

Alaska isn’t alone in experiencing issues with Xerox as a provider for Medicaid billing services. A dozen states and the District of Columbia have contracted with the corporation to process payments for the need-based government health care plan, though some have had problems or reversed that decision. Montana claimed Xerox was in breach of their contract earlier this year before reaching resolution with the company, while Texas has not only canceled their contract but is suing.

In fairness, Medicaid is a vast and complex system, and the billing process wasn’t without its hiccups even before Xerox took over. But according to the accounts of the state and health care providers, those problems have worsened considerably since the company’s contract started. “Despite repeated promises by Xerox to fix the problem, we still have hundreds of dedicated providers not getting timely or accurate payments,” Gov. Parnell said in a release detailing the state’s decision to file a claim against the company. “Xerox has had more than enough time, and the issues have yet to be resolved.”

“More than enough time” is a good way to describe the situation. Doctors and patients alike have been frustrated with both Xerox’s tardiness in processing payments and the state’s slow march toward action against the company. After months of complaints, the state announced it was seeking mediation with Xerox in July. The state announced it would make a claim with the Office of Administrative Hearings when that process didn’t prove fruitful.

For its part, Xerox has characterized the problems as having decreased significantly as the company works kinks out of its system, and they point to the fact that the company and the state made a joint agreement to roll out the system when they did.

But the state is right - the problems with billing have been too widespread and too long-lasting to consider Xerox to be fulfilling its end of the bargain. Alaska’s patients and doctors deserve better, as soon as possible.


Sept. 23, 2014

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Broadcaster’s dramatic departure eroded faith in objective reporting

If you have a pulse and an Internet connection - or live within shouting distance of someone who does - the odds are very good that within the last 36 hours you became acquainted with former KTVA news reporter Charlo Greene and her departure from the station’s employment. But while social and conventional media were abuzz about Ms. Greene’s abrupt departure and what she said to punctuate it, what got lost in many conversations was the profound lapse in ethics that Ms. Greene displayed by handling the intersection of her two jobs the way she did.

A little background: until midway through the 10 p.m. news broadcast on Sunday, Ms. Greene was a reporter for Anchorage CBS affiliate KTVA. Unbeknownst to station management or her coworkers there, she also maintained a second business interest - as the sole proprietor of the Alaska Cannabis Club, a business that connects Alaska medical marijuana cardholders in need of the drug with other cardholders who have it.

At the end of a report on the club - one of several stories she had done on the issue of marijuana legalizations - Ms. Greene outed herself as its owner, uttered an expletive and told her coworkers she quit, walking off set.

It’s the nature of Ms. Greene’s departure that drove her story viral online, as people around the world debated whether she had been right to use profanity or to quit her job so abruptly.

The story also drove discussion of marijuana legalization into the forefront of the public debate. Those opposed to legalization said Ms. Greene’s behavior was typical of what they see as rash impulses of pot users and enthusiasts. Those who support Ms. Greene’s cause said her departure to champion a fight she believes in was noble.

There’s a significant harm, though, in what Ms. Greene did: by reporting on a subject in which she had a substantial personal and financial interest, she undermined one of the basic tenets upon which the public’s faith in journalism is built.

Conflict of interest is a topic in journalism that’s never far from the front burner, especially in communities like Fairbanks where reporters’ lives inevitably intersect with the topics on which they report. Education reporters have children in the public school system. Crime reporters have friends who get arrested. Politics reporters inevitably get to know the people who run for and occupy public office, and sometimes acquaintances or colleagues we know from being active in the community will themselves choose to run.

When these conflicts arise, we turn to one another for advice on how to proceed. Sometimes a situation is clear cut: a reporter who has a close personal friendship with a political candidate shouldn’t cover stories about that candidate.

Other times it’s a bit more difficult: the education reporters whose children attend local schools aren’t ethically compromised by reporting on education in general, but when reporting on their children’s schools or teachers, they’re better served to hand the story off to someone else. We check ourselves and each other in an effort to stamp out any real or perceived bias before the stories become public.

That’s why Ms. Greene’s actions are so harmful. Not only did she not disclose her massive conflict of interest on the topic of marijuana legalization, she actively hid it from her employers so that she could continue reporting on the topic in a way that would be beneficial to her business. Her actions show a tremendous lack of character, and they damage the reputation of the causes she supports. Imagine if a reporter who had done several stories on the oil tax issue was revealed to be on the payroll of ConocoPhillips.

Ms. Greene’s actions played into the worst fears of those already skeptical of the media’s impartiality. The damage she has inflicted there is done. What we promise is that those of us here at the News-Miner believe in accurate, objective reporting and its value to our community and state. We know journalists at like-minded media outlets around Alaska feel the same way. It’s part of a set of values that form the foundation for the work we do every day - a set of values Ms. Greene didn’t share.

And we’ll be back tomorrow, because we don’t have any plans to quit.

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