- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

The Des Moines Register. Jan. 4, 2015.

Rx re-do: It’s time for a ‘public option’

Not having health insurance means not having access to adequate health care. That has long been the American way. A hospital will help in a medical emergency, but good luck getting chemotherapy, insulin, a routine physical or blood pressure drugs. Uninsured Americans die prematurely because they don’t go to the doctor. Those who do go may be saddled with huge medical bills.

Voters finally got fed up with the immorality of it all. Washington finally listened to voters. In 2009 Congress embarked on crafting health reform legislation with a primary goal of getting Americans insured, and the endeavor was very much a bipartisan effort. In fact, Sen. Chuck Grassley was heavily involved. As one of a “gang of six” senators, he spent months negotiating details of the bill.

Thanks in part to such negotiations, proposals to create a single-payer system or expand Medicare to more people were abandoned. The cornerstone for delivering health coverage to Americans became “exchanges” offering private-sector plans and federal subsidies to help many people pay for them.

Several members of Congress expressed concern about this model. Relying so heavily on private plans in exchanges is risky. A “public option” for insurance operated by the government was needed too, they said. Even a Republican, Sen. Olympia Snowe, advocated a “trigger” that would launch a government health plan if private plans didn’t work out. What if companies don’t participate in the exchange? What if they do and later demand more and more federal money to remain?

Or just imagine if one of these companies gets up and running, attracts more than 100,000 customers, faces financial problems and then is taken over by state regulators.

Well, there’s no need to imagine that scenario anymore. It has happened in Iowa.

CoOportunity Health, an Iowa-based insurance cooperative created in response to Obamacare, was ordered into rehabilitation by the Iowa insurance commissioner in late December. The company insures about 120,000 people in Iowa and Nebraska. It was one of a few companies offering policies on our exchange. Many Iowans who rely on a federal subsidy to pay for coverage now can choose only one insurer, Coventry.

That public option abandoned by Congress in 2009 looks like a pretty good idea right about now.

Congress should once again consider it. Yes, even a Congress soon to be controlled by Republicans.

A government-run option for insurance provides the competition that Republicans have exhaustively argued is necessary in the health insurance industry. A public plan would not spend money on CEO salaries or lobbyists, which would put pressure on private insurers to spend more on actual health care, too. And a government plan may be the only way to keep exchanges viable in the future. These are the same types of exchanges conservatives have long supported to deliver private coverage.

Republicans have offered no better alternative to Obamacare as a way to insure millions of Americans. Why not work to repair and amend the existing law? Because repealing it is not an option. President Barack Obama will be in office for two more years. Polls overwhelmingly show Americans want the law fixed, not nixed. They like the benefits it provides.

Besides, the days of Republicans portraying themselves as blameless critics of the law are coming to an end. They cannot spend another four years simply faulting the president for problems. With control of both houses of Congress, Republicans become responsible for legislative fixes for those problems. They set the agenda now.

We hope it will be an agenda that puts people ahead of politics. And if our elected officials can recognize that a wealthy, civilized country should give its citizens access to something as basic as health care, well, there may be hope for us all.

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Globe Gazette. Jan. 4, 2015.

Ban texting while driving

Two out of three ain’t bad, the old saying goes. But when the talk is about driving in Iowa, it’s anything but acceptable. In fact it’s potentially deadly and it’s hard to believe Iowa hasn’t done something about it already. Maybe this year.

We’re talking about three different factors regarding driving in North Iowa and Iowa, and there is good news about two of them.

One had to do with drinking and driving. For years newspapers advised readers that extra law enforcement would be on duty New Year’s Eve. It looks like the public has gotten the message about the dangers involved.

Mason City Police Capt. Mike McKelvey said the department hasn’t needed extra officers on New Year’s Eve in recent years. Apparently, he said, all the publicity about the dangers of impaired driving, the high costs if you get caught and the potential for injury or worse paid off.

Cerro Gordo County Sheriff Kevin Pals said some bar owners arrange rides home for impaired customers, and that also has helped.

Lt. Dan Schaffer of the Iowa State Patrol said more troopers were on duty New Year’s Eve. However, he did note that over the past 25 to 30 years drunken driving has decreased overall. He credits better enforcement and the fact that the public has taken a stand against drunken drivers because of the horrific stories of deaths and injuries,

Which brings us to our second point: Even though drivers are logging more miles, traffic fatalities in Iowa are holding fairly steady, according to a year-end report from the state.

It credits vehicle safety improvements as well as smarter driving and better enforcement. The traffic fatality rate in Iowa has slipped below 1 per 10,000 registered vehicles, which is significant considering more than 3.5 million are registered in the state today. The record high? Way back in 1933 when there were 8.61 fatal crashes per 10,000 registered vehicles. It’s hard to compare vehicles back then against today’s well-equipped cars and trucks. But that doesn’t diminish the good news about fatality rates.

So that’s the two good points out of three - and the third one is begging for some action when the Legislature convenes. It involves texting while driving - something law officers and other observers continually report is a deadly practice. It’s also something we and other newspapers and public groups have continually urged stronger action on but something that, for some reason, the state hasn’t acted on. Again, hopefully this will be the year.

Among bills filed to the runup to the legislative session, one would make any handheld use of mobile phones while driving illegal. That may sound drastic to those who use their phones strictly for calls, but something has to be done about texting and any phone use, except by handheld devices, would be impacted.

Sen. Ted Bowman of Maquoketa and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee wants to hear from the public about the issue and he wants to know if law officers believe a ban could be enforced.

Iowa, of course, already has a law that bans cellphone use while driving by teens with restricted licenses or instructional or school permits. That law also bars all drivers from writing, sending or receiving text messages while driving.

The sticking point is that it limits such violations as secondary offenses, meaning officers can’t pull over drivers for texting without seeing another violation first. So it’s not surprising that the lawn isn’t working. In fact, the Iowa Department of Transportation says cellphone-related crashes have not decreased, and one probe showed Iowa convicted an average of just 2.5 drivers per county for texting in 2013.

Iowa is one of four states that haven’t banned texting while driving (the others are Nebraska, Ohio and Florida). Iowa must get itself off that short list and further restrict use of handheld devices by making it a primary offense.

It’s a simple issue, really: How bad does the state want to reduce the accident rate and along with it the fatality numbers? The answer seems too obvious to dally around with the issue any longer.

Legislators drive a stake through the heart of this problem as soon as possible.

___

The Hawk Eye. Jan. 4, 2015.

Civic duty lagging: Americans must resolve to get more involved.

With an abysmal 6 percent voter turnout, Burlington residents demonstrated last week they are in step with the rest of the United States.

And that’s unfortunate.

An Associated PressGfK poll released the day of the special city election indicated the country has turned its back on President John F. Kennedy’s famous inaugural remark, “Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.”

To no one’s surprise, the organizations found Americans’ commitment to traditional obligations of citizenship - serving on juries, volunteering, reporting crime, voting, etc. - is lagging. A lot.

While 75 percent of the respondents consider voting central to citizenship, only 36 percent of eligible voters bothered to turn out for November’s midterm elections. It was the lowest level of participation since World War II.

Then, with the proliferation of negative campaign advertising, isn’t this the logical end? One wag wondered what would happen to softdrink consumption if Pepsi aggressively advertised Coke was poison, and Coke did the same with Pepsi. When television viewers are told over and over their candidates are liars, crooks and cheats should we be surprised?

And if they are, who’s going to rat them out?

Newspapers, which have done much of the heavy lifting keeping officials in check, have their own challenges with the digital revolution, but aren’t helped by a public that doesn’t care. A clear majority of Americans - 56 percent - believed it was important to stay abreast of the news and public issues. That has dropped to 37 percent, and a full 20 percent didn’t believe they had an obligation to stay fully informed.

Evidently a full grasp of what’s going on hasn’t stopped them from posting on Facebook.

Scott Keeter of the Pew Research Center cautioned people not to get too alarmed, though he acknowledged society has become more self-centered. People’s general sense for the common good has been trumped by an emphasis on individual rights.

Hopefully, Americans will wake up before it becomes too late. A good place to start is in southeast Iowa.

___

Quad-City Times. Jan. 2, 2015.

Onward for online voter registration

Americans rely on their web connections for education, banking, investing, tax preparation, shopping and almost every aspect of daily life.

So Iowa’s initiative to join 21 states - including Illinois - offering online voter registration might draw a yawn from passive observers. We will shout “yay!” when the proposal discussed at Tuesday’s Iowa Voter Registration Commission hearing becomes commonplace.

Online registration, with verifiable identification, is long overdue. Oregon calls it “OreStar.” The state of Washington calls it “MyVote.” We like Louisiana’s: “Geaux Vote.”

This Iowa initiative merely offers the web convenience Iowans are embracing in every other aspect of their lives. Iowans still could register the old-fashioned way with pen and paper at the auditor’s office and through public registration drives. This proposal would also accept registrants who fill out an online form and provide proof of an official state ID.

That last provision - a photo ID - draws concerns from some who believe it will discourage voting by impoverished Iowans, or Hispanic Iowans less likely to be holding a state ID. Requiring a photo ID need not be an insurmountable obstacle to registration. We believe those concerns can be addressed by making state identification cards easier to obtain.

Iowa’s plan got an endorsement from The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, an independent nonpartisan group that studies U.S. voting systems. They suggested minor amendments to make sure data is shared quickly among county auditors and the Secretary of State. But the center’s studies affirm that online registration can increase registration and voting.

We believe thousands of Iowans - including thousands reading this editorial online - are ready, willing and eager to register for voting the same way they pay their mortgage, check their children’s grades and file their tax returns.

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