- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Billings Gazette, July 8, on Medicaid expansion:

Few topics in Montana - or America for that matter - have drawn more criticism or passion than Medicaid expansion.

For conservatives, it’s the worry of government-rationed medicine, a lack of cost controls and no free market to push innovation.

For liberals, it’s an important social safety net that means covering those who simply cannot afford to pay yet contribute to health care’s inefficiency by using emergency care when problems become catastrophic.

For 60 days beginning Tuesday, Montanans will get the opportunity to review and comment on the unique Montana approach to Medicaid expansion. This program had enough bipartisan support to clear the Republican-controlled Legislature and appease Democrat Gov. Steve Bullock.

Montana’s approach has two unique twists that will certainly draw the scrutiny of federal officials. The first provision requires all participants to pay something - even if a nominal fee - toward coverage. The second provision would require a private entity, not the state to run the program.

The idea behind both of those concessions is understandably conservative and probably not without justification. Conservatives who supported the program pointed out that some buy-in or investment, even if nominal, will ensure ownership and responsible use of the program.

The other provision is that by turning Medicaid expansion to a third-party vendor, it doesn’t create another layer of government (read: bureaucracy) that’s unaccountable to the voters and unconcerned about costs.

Undeniably, The Affordable Care Act has been successful because it’s meant more coverage. It’s a good thing to make sure folks are covered, rather than winding up needing extraordinary care without coverage, meaning insurers and health care must pass along the cost to those who do pay.

Before the federal comment period, Montanans will have their chance to weigh in. In other words, it’s time to review the Montana plans and comment. How can the system be improved? What’s good? What worries you? This is your chance at comment and participation. Don’t just gripe to your buddies, gripe to the government. They’re asking for it.

These comments will become part of the record as state officials and federal officials work through the program. We hope Montana’s approach - unique unto itself - will gain approval. State officials say that the provisions in Medicaid expansion in Montana are already working in other states; however, this is the first time they’ve been used in this particular combination.

We also hope Montana is ready.

We mean that sincerely. What may also be a uniquely Montana approach is the speed at which we want to join. There’s a 60-day comment period for the state, followed by another 30-day period for the federal government. The state is advertising for a third-party benefit administrator to start running the program on Jan. 1, but the actual start date isn’t certain.

For its part there’s a lot of rush on the state. It has just put out the bid proposals for a third-party vendor, which must work with the state to come up with software and programming, and be ready for implementation by November. Even state officials characterize the timeline as aggressive.

We hope that Montana really does serve as a model; that it demonstrates Montana can quickly, efficiently and capably move through these mandated steps while also preparing those who will need to sign up with adequate support.

It’s not only a new approach, but it’s a very tight timeline.

For months as this legislation was being debated, the slogan “70,000 Montanans can’t wait” became the battle cry. Hopefully, the timing works out so that 70,000 Montanans won’t have to wait any longer than Jan. 1.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1J0cv6y


The Livingston Enterprise, July 10, on a mine exploration project on Emigrant Peak:

Federal officials must be diligent in their review of a Canadian company’s proposed mine exploration project on the flanks of Emigrant Peak in Paradise Valley.

The project, proposed by Lucky Minerals, would include drilling 45 bore holes on the doorstep of Yellowstone National Park.

Pending the outcome of the exploratory process, the project could eventually evolve into a full-scale mining operation. That not only raises many concerns about impacts to watersheds and the environment, but is also out of character for Paradise Valley.

Park County residents are already taking a stand against the proposal, first reported in June in The Livingston Enterprise, and are hoping to slow down the process with the goal of a thorough review by the U.S. Forest Service.

More than 100 people turned out Thursday for a public meeting on the matter at the Elks Lodge in Livingston. A reporter from this newspaper couldn’t find a single person in the audience to interview who supported the project.

Even in a community where many residents earn their paychecks from the Stillwater Mine, the proposal from Lucky Minerals isn’t a good fit for Park County.

Aside from the possible environmental concerns, Lucky Minerals and the Forest Service must consider the potential impacts on the community and businesses such as Chico Hot Springs Resort.

Access to the company’s proposed drill sites passes directly through Chico en route to Emigrant Creek.

Chico’s new owner, Colin Davis, said in a Thursday Enterprise article that the proposal isn’t in the best interest of the Emigrant area.

Davis added that mine traffic would pass within 12 feet of the front doors of his world-class resort, among the top employers in Park County.

Already, people are drawing comparisons between the Berkeley Pit in Butte and the long-term potential for the Emigrant Peak project to become an open-pit mine.

The proposal from Lucky Minerals could lead to a future mining operation stretching across more than 2,560 acres of Emigrant Peak, according to the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

As we have learned from a long, sordid history of mining in Montana, we must be selective and critical in determining where companies are given the green light for resource extraction.

A Canadian company might have the legal right to pursue this project in Paradise Valley, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for Chico Hot Springs, Paradise Valley and Park County.

Emigrant Peak is the ideal location for many activities, but a mine exploration project isn’t one of them.

The July 15 deadline to submit public comments on the Lucky Minerals proposal is fast approaching, and Park County residents are encouraged to weigh in now.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1TCvSFP


The Missoulian, July 14, on the University of Montana’s handling of sexual assault cases:

When it comes to fully implementing federal agreements to improve the local handling of sexual assault cases, Missoula has passed the halfway mark and the finish line is now in sight.

However, efforts to improve rape response in Missoula should never truly end. As much progress as the Missoula Police Department, University of Montana Police Department and Missoula County Sheriff’s Office have made, the entire community of Missoula must continue striving to do all we can to prevent rape, support survivors and punish perpetrators.

That said, it’s important to acknowledge just how much work has been done on this issue, and to recognize that these efforts have resulted in better interagency cooperation and communication, and a stronger justice system overall.

Last Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that Missoula has reached another milestone in these efforts now that the University of Montana Police Department has fully implemented the terms of its agreement, set out in May 2013. An independent review found that the UM Police Department, like the city of Missoula Police Department two months ago, has met every requirement listed in its agreement with the Justice Department.

In doing so, university police, like city police, are now the models other officials can look to for best practices on which to base their own policies. The University of Montana is the campus all other universities can look to as the leader in sexual assault response and prevention.

The Justice Department began its investigations three years ago, examining the period between 2010 and 2012, and spanning the UM Police Department, city of Missoula Police Department, and Missoula County Attorney’s Office. The County Attorney’s Office continues to work toward fully implementing its agreement, which was not arrived at until just last year. Having gotten a later start, MACO nevertheless is making impressive progress, according to Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, whose office played a key role in the agreement between MACO and the DOJ.

The requirements set out in the university agreement are unique to campus and focused, unsurprisingly, on education. According to UM President Royce Engstrom, the university’s emphasis on education consisted of three main goals: supporting sexual assault survivors, removing proven offenders from campus and preventing further sexual assaults.

Toward those goals, the university police and civilian personnel have attended hundreds of hours of training on sexual assault, according to UM Police Chief Marty Ludemann, and sought partnerships with other organizations in the community that aid victims of sexual assault.

Sexual assault remains a vastly under-reported violent crime, with only 13 percent of college students in the United States reporting their sexual assault to a law enforcement agency. For those who are incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, the number drops even lower - to only 2 percent of students.

But Missoula has been taking strides against these troubling numbers. In 2014, the number of rapes reported to city police was 91, a 54 percent increase in just three years.

UM is working toward a future in which 100 percent of sexual assaults are reported - but also far fewer rapes to report.

Last week, UM President Royce Engstrom and Missoula Mayor John Engen both pointed out a noticeable shift in the local culture and attitudes about rape. Let’s hope that’s the case, because changes in official policy can only accomplish so much.

So, even as we welcome these efforts - and applaud well-deserved accomplishments - of the UM Police Department and the Missoula Police Department before it, it’s important to keep in mind that Missoula as a community has more work to do. We must ensure that our officials continue to make improvements, and continue to hold them accountable for their response to reports of sexual assault.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1dYTtAo

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