- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Star Tribune, Oct. 12

Dayton pledges to double down on efforts to address income inequality

Last month’s U.S. Census account of rising poverty rates among Minnesota’s African-Americans sounds an alarm about a serious economic threat to this state, not to mention a moral embarrassment. It cries out for a high-level response.

That’s what it’s been receiving from Gov. Mark Dayton. His announcement Sunday that he will create an Office of Career and Business Opportunity within the state’s economic development agency was the latest word from a governor who, to his credit, says he’s doubling down on efforts to reverse the African-American income trend line. African-Americans experienced a 13 percent drop in median household income between 2013 and 2014, the census report said, reaching a level that’s just 43 percent of median household income for white Minnesotans.

The office Dayton envisions would serve as a prod for inclusive job training, hiring and contracting, both within state government and in the private sector. Its leadership has not yet been selected, and its mission, as Dayton described it, is broad enough to raise questions about its overlap with existing state operations and its likely effectiveness. Still, such an office has the potential to bring some needed coordination and accountability to what have been disparate and sporadic state efforts to improve the economic lot of disadvantaged Minnesotans.

Dayton also used last week’s annual Minnesota Business Partnership dinner to summon the state’s private sector leaders to a cause he appears to be taking personally. “I fault myself for not starting this initiative sooner,” Dayton, now serving his second term, confessed to the assembled business leaders. “I guarantee it will be a top priority from now on. I ask you to make it one of your top priorities as well.”

Our guess is that Dayton isn’t the only Minnesota CEO who could make that confession. Racial equity has long been on the civic agenda of the Minnesota corporate community. But seldom has it been a top concern - not since racial disturbances on Minneapolis’ North Side in 1966 and 1967 led to the formation of the business-dominated Urban Coalition. For a number of years thereafter, that organization brought corporate leaders together to improve job training, hiring, contracting and lending policies for Twin Cities African-Americans. But corporate backing dwindled over time, and the Urban Coalition disbanded in 2004.

Thankfully, local racial violence isn’t spurring action now. But demographic reality should. Minnesota’s prosperity relies on a well-educated, productive workforce - a workforce whose growth is forecast to slow dramatically over the next two decades. Staying prosperous will require making the most of all of this state’s human capital, plus attracting more from other places.

It’s notable that a major driver of the reported downward trend in African-American incomes in Minnesota between 2013 and 2014 was a fresh influx of African immigrants, some of whom who first lived in other U.S. states. They came with low incomes but with determination to find a better life. Minnesota will do well to help them find it here. It’s good to see a governor make that cause his own. Other CEOs should follow his lead.


St. Cloud Times, Oct. 13

Paying Division I college players makes sense

There was a time when college sports programs were a way to boost school spirit and cover the costs of scholarships, travel and other expenses.

Today, major colleges have sports programs with multi-million dollar budgets, coaches with seven-figure contracts and lucrative television contracts or conference TV networks.

The universities get a cut of the money from selling gear with the school colors and logos.

The only ones not getting a chunk of this revenue are the players at Division I (major colleges) programs.

Facing threats of college athletes forming unions, athletic department officials and the NCAA have allowed “cost of attendance” money to be distributed to athletes. The money is in addition to the usual scholarships athletes receive. The cost of attendance is designed to cover the additional expenses student-athletes have to pay.

We aren’t seeing those fees go much higher than $7,000 a year. Many are about half that amount. Expect those totals to go much higher as schools will use them as yet another recruiting tool to get top performers to enroll.

St. Cloud State University is looking at paying cost of attendance fees to their men’s and women’s hockey players. Those are the only Division I sports at SCSU. This makes sense because revenue from the hockey program is the engine that drives the other programs in the athletic department.

Is it fair to pay the added fees to major college scholarship athletes? After all, they are getting a free ride to college. We say it is fair because of the hundreds of millions of dollars the colleges and universities make off these players.

Don’t kid yourself, athletics are the “front porch” for many prospective students, as a way to boost contributions from alums and corporate sponsors. All those are additional revenue streams for the universities, not just the athletic departments.

The schools also collect money from the merchandise sold with the school, name, logo and colors. And some athletic gear companies pay the universities large fees to have make the team uniforms and have their logos on the gear.

At the bottom of the food chain are the men and women who actually play the games. Almost all won’t get a pro contract. Yet, they will have suffered several severe injuries and have spent an incredible amount of time training and at practice for the games.

The “cost of attendance” along with the traditional scholarship are a small price to pay for those athletes. At least it is a start to a more fair system.


The Free Press of Mankato, Oct. 8

Drop in unpaid care benefits everyone

The cost of unpaid care at hospitals has grown alarmingly for decades.

In Mankato, Mayo Clinic Health System has seen all uncompensated care go from $31.5 million in 2006 to more than $70 million in recent years.

Finally, the costs of unpaid care at Minnesota hospitals, and those across the country, are falling.

The Minnesota Department of Health reported that unpaid care fell 6 percent last year as medical centers in the state reported a significant decline in charity care costs. The decline represents $20 million. (Unpaid care includes charity care, which is either free or provided at a discount to eligible patients, and bad debt, where patients neither pay their bills nor qualify for charity programs.)

The drop in unpaid care comes as the federal Affordable Care Act - Obamacare - has allowed millions more Americans to have health insurance.

The Census Bureau reports that Minnesota’s uninsured rate fell from 8.2 percent to 5.9 percent last year.

The drop in unpaid care is heartening. Allowing more people to have health insurance not only gives them better access to health care but helps ensure they get more routine care and physical exams, both of which can head off very expensive services by catching medical issues earlier.

Those who think hospitals being unpaid for services only affects hospitals’ bottom lines and don’t effect the rest of us are wrong. That unpaid care means hospital prices rise and those with health insurance end up paying more in insurance premiums.

While the report is good news, there are still concerns.

While charity care has declined significantly, the amount of bad debt from those who don’t quality for charity care but don’t pay their bills has grown. Officials attribute that to the fact that many people are carrying ever higher deductibles on the health plans and can’t handle the costs of all those deductibles when they do require health care.

To address that problem, hospitals are considering changes to charity care policies to make discounts available to people with very high deductibles compared to their income.

And while more Americans are now insured and unpaid hospital care is falling, the overall cost of health care continues to grow. That threatens access to care, and steps to hold down costs must be a focus.

Still, the drop in unpaid hospital care and having millions more Americans on insurance are testaments to the benefit of the Affordable Care Act.

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