- Associated Press - Monday, May 25, 2015

The Des Moines Register. May 23, 2015.

If exchanges don’t work, why are more health insurers joining?

Less than six months ago, the Iowa Insurance Division announced it was taking over CoOportunity Health. The Iowa-based cooperative sold health insurance plans in a new online marketplace created by Obamacare. It accepted customers with pre-existing medical problems and those who rely on federal subsidies to pay for coverage.

The company’s eventual failure was a blow to thousands of Iowans. Many were left with only one company’s health plans to choose from. The future for Iowa’s exchange looked bleak.

Yet opponents of Obamacare were practically dancing in the streets. They immediately issued press releases claiming CoOportunity’s problems were another example of how the health reform law had failed and a direct result of its “inherent flaws.”

Interestingly, those supposed flaws aren’t frightening other insurers. Seven companies have now applied to offer marketplace plans to individual Iowans and small businesses in this state. Iowa Insurance Commissioner Nick Gerhart noted last week it was “great to see” Iowans will have more choices when selecting coverage for 2016. Among the companies are United Healthcare, the country’s largest insurer.

So where are the press releases from Obamacare opponents now? How do they explain these companies seeking to enter the market? If the law is to blame for CoOportunity’s demise, why are these other companies lining up to take its place?

Rather than the law itself, the problem was more likely a lack of funding from Congress or a federal mismanagement of funds specifically intended to help cooperatives. These nonprofit entities do not have the cash reserves to compete with large, established insurers.

But that doesn’t mean the law is without flaws. In fact, it’s most troubling aspect is the very fact that it relies on private insurers to deliver public-funded coverage to millions of Americans. While it’s encouraging to see more companies entering Iowa’s exchange next year, it is unknown if they’ll be there the year after that.

Unlike the government, profit-seeking companies will only participate in the exchange as long as it’s lucrative. That may not bode well for patients or taxpayers in the long run.

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Quad-City Times. May 19, 2015.

Let GOP straw poll expire

Iowa Republicans made major changes for this year’s straw poll, eliminating the pay-to-play practices of auctioning space for exorbitant fees. But the reforms may be too little, too late.

Caucus candidates and prospects gathering in Des Moines for the GOP Lincoln Day Dinner Saturday talked about everything but the straw poll. You’d think straw poll organizing would have been critical at the biggest gathering of Iowa Republicans yet this year. But none of the 11 presidential prospects who spoke referenced the Aug. 8 event.

According to the National Journal, only one, Dr. Ben Carson, has indicated he’ll participate. Presidential prospect Jeb Bush told Iowa City supporters Saturday he will purposely avoid the straw poll.

“I just don’t do straw polls. It has nothing to do with the caucuses that will ultimately determine how people are going to be successful.”

For many Iowans, the straw poll can be a fun day with lively speeches and festivities. But the outcome always has been determined largely by outside donors. Well-funded campaigns bused, housed and fed attendees, essentially paying for their straw poll turnout.

Inside Iowa, most astute voters were in on the ruse. Outside the state, the straw poll results offered a brief, inaccurate glimpse of the campaign. Since 1980, the straw poll has picked the ultimate caucus winner half of the time. “For all the hullabaloo that surrounds it, the Republican straw poll is actually a pretty unreliable predictor of the ultimate Iowa caucus winner,” the Des Moines Register reported in June.

Bush intends to be at a South Carolina issues forum on straw poll day.

“All the resources ought to go to the thing that matters, which is the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1. What’s relevant is running a campaign, creating a strategy, building a good team toward success, which is in the primaries, and doing it in a way that makes it possible to actually win the general election, which is the whole objective.”

Seems a sound strategy.

But Iowa GOP chairman Jeff Kaufmann kept the pressure on.

“We hope Gov. Bush rethinks his decision and realizes that grassroots will only grow in Iowa if he waters them,” Kaufmann tweeted about Bush’s decision. “We don’t buy this excuse and neither will Iowans.”

Actually, we’re buying it.

So will our region’s independent-minded voters, who make up a plurality of Quad-City registered voters. As of May 1, no-party, or independent registered voters outnumbered Republicans or Democrats in Davenport, Bettendorf and Eldridge. Only LeClaire reports a plurality of registered Republican voters.

History shows this summertime wingding for the party faithful plays little role in picking a caucus winner, and even less of a role in finding a nominee.

Kaufmann should keep in mind what all of the candidates already have figured out. The caucus winner - indeed the ultimate nominee - must be the one who draws new people to the party.

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The Hawk Eye. May 24, 2015.

Everybody’s government: Lawmakers should amend the openmeetings law to make sure if a citizen wants to be there, government must accommodate them.

The Iowa Public Information Board really had no choice. It had to dismiss a complaint it received from a citizen in Comanche who wasn’t allowed into an open meeting of his city council.

The Comanche City Council meets in a room where there are just 35 chairs for the public. Anyone who has ever spent time attending a council meeting knows they hardly ever need 35 chairs.

This must have been a contentious issue, because there was an overflow crowd interested in the outcome of the council’s decision. Wouldn’t we all like it to be that way?

The room was full, and people had to be turned away.

Kenneth Fox filed a complaint with this new state agency charged with enforcing the state’s sunshine laws. He wanted access to his government and thought kicking him out was wrong.

He’s spot on.

The Public Information Board dismissed his complaint. It ruled firecode regulations trump open meeting access.

It was the right call because there’s nothing in the state’s openmeetings rules to address citizen attendance at meetings. But, there’s nothing in the state’s openmeetings rules that addresses the fire code.

The Comanche City Council should have moved the meeting to a bigger venue to accommodate everybody with an interest in the topic on the agenda.

A few years ago, there was a Burlington School Board meeting of interest. The room was packed. And so was the hallway outside the board room. The school board should have relocated to a bigger facility - perhaps the auditorium at James Madison, to accommodate all of its constituents. And then it should have given all those constituents an opportunity to express their opinions.

Those elected to government positions typically don’t like to do that. Many of them don’t like what they’ll hear. And fewer people in the room can expedite a meeting.

What the public information board did last week essentially was give a green light for governmental bodies to shrink the size of the meeting room so as to limit those who pay the salaries of people elected to public office their ability to express their opinions.

If the owners of the business - in this case the city of Comanche - want a say in how it’s being done, they should have that.

Many other states have laws that say government meetings are to be accessible to anyone who wants to attend. Iowa lawmakers need to amend the state’s openmeetings law to make that clear to those elected to do work on our behalf. Fire codes aren’t in charge. It’s everybody’s government, not just the 35 people who got in line first to get in the room.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. May 21, 2015.

EPA actions overstep its authority

Environmental Protection Agency officials are admitting they made some mistakes with their “waters of the United States rule.”

“I want to tell you up front that I wish we had done a better job of rolling out our clean water rule,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told the National Farmers Union earlier this year.

She and other EPA officials seem to view the problem as a public relations challenge. Many U.S. senators, both Democrats and Republicans, see the situation differently. They view the EPA plan as an attempt by the agency to force draconian new rules on Americans.

Take the case of an Alaska company that planned to apply for a water use permit from the EPA. Agency officials began work on rejecting it before it was filed - before they even had a plan to consider.

Or consider Lois Ault, who took the EPA to court after it threatened to drive her out of business with fines because of storm water runoff from her chicken farm. She won.

Then there is the saga of Michael and Chantell Sackett, who wanted to build a new home in Idaho. The EPA told them they had broken the law by placing fill on their lot - and had no right to appeal the agency’s ruling. The Supreme Court disagreed.

Now, bills in both the Senate and House of Representatives would limit the agency’s ability to decide - sometimes without evidence - a water pollution problem exists and must be prevented or rectified.

These bills deserve careful consideration.

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