- Associated Press - Thursday, December 7, 2017

Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, Dec. 7

Prescription drug costs hurting Americans

Finally, someone said it - prescription drug costs are crippling the U.S. economy. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has found themselves swimming with the sharks of the health-care industry.

Last week, a national science panel consisting of corporate executives, health-care officials and academics urged the federal government in a 201-page report to rein in what they called out-of-control prescription drug costs. “Simply stated, the current system is not sustainable,” said panel chairman Norman Augustine, the former chief executive of Lockheed Martin Corp.

Among the practices criticized are efforts by drug makers to delay or block the implementation of lower-priced generic drugs and prohibit foreign competition, which seems to undermine the foundation of capitalism.

While it has been politically popular to blame Obamacare for the cost of health insurance, lawmakers have failed to address a key culprit in what has become the most expensive health-care system in the world.

According to IMS Institute for the Healthcare Informatics, pharmaceutical industry sales were $424.8 billion in 2015, representing a 12.2 percent from 2014. In 2011, the industry’s U.S. sales were $328.3 million. The spike in revenue also comes as opioid sales surge, creating new and costly health-care problems nationwide.

As these companies compile record profits, they spend more than any other industry - $240 million in 2015 - to lobby members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, who have treated the drug trade with kindness. For example, legislation passed in 2003 prevents the federal government from negotiating for lower drug prices for Medicare and Medicaid. Drug companies also oppose allowing Americans to purchase less expensive drugs from other countries.

After the Republican majority in the Senate and House recently approved their respective tax-cut packages, much was made of the fact that this will put more money into the pockets of the middle class.

The reality, however, is the rising cost of health care likely will nullify much of these meager gains as insurance rates, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses rise. The skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs has a lot to do with it.

Remember the EpiPen price hike of 2016? The two-pack auto-injector, which can save a child’s life after an allergic reaction to food, cost $90 a decade ago. Now, the same device can cost as much as $600 in the U.S. In Britain, it now costs $70. Daraprim, a drug used by transplant patients, went from $13.50 to $750 per pill in 2015. A 30-day supply of Harvoni, a drug that treats hepatitis C, costs as much as $87,800 for a 30-day supply - an increase of $13,800 from 2016.

If lawmakers are serious about reinvigorating the economy, they must address the cost of health care or it will continue to bleed this nation’s financial resources. Standing up to the pharmaceutical industry is a good place to start. We urge John Thune, the third-ranking member of the U.S. Senate, to truly make a difference in Americans’ lives and fight for affordable health care.

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The Daily Republic, Mitchell, Dec. 6

Shopping online? That’s not what SD’s budget needs

“South Dakota is working,” Gov. Dennis Daugaard likes to remind the state’s residents.

Amid the announcement of another lean budget year due to disappointing sales tax collections, Daugaard on Tuesday explained South Dakota will continue to be fiscally responsible, a feat the Republican governor has taken pride over for years.

“Maybe we’re not able to fulfill all our wishes, but I would say we are still fulfilling our needs,” Daugaard told The Associated Press on Monday.

It’s a good motto many South Dakotans live by - needs before wants and wishes. That mentality has kept South Dakota in good financial standing even during difficult times when projections fall below expectations.

Rather than farmers buying new tractors when income is down, they usually fix what they have. And while we think the agriculture economy - which has a significant influence on the state’s budget - will eventually rebound from its down cycle, we worry more about a less-noticeable trend hampering South Dakota’s economy.

The lure to go online and order merchandise is playing a major influence on why we continue to have lean budgets in South Dakota. More people are spending money online, which takes funds directly away from public schools, state government and municipalities because web sales typically don’t account for sales tax.

Money from the state’s sales tax is 63 percent of South Dakota’s state general fund revenue, but an increase in online spending in recent years has put a strain on the budget. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, national e-commerce retail sales have increased 245 percent over the past 10 years, growing from $113.3 billion in 2006 to $391 billion in 2016.

As the budget address is still fresh in our minds, we recognize this is one of the most important times of the year for retail stores due to holiday shopping. Mitchell Area Development Corporation Executive Director Bryan Hisel said some retailers take in up to 60 percent of their revenue between Thanksgiving and Dec. 31.

“Our local school system, our local county and our local cities depend on you, each of us, making a commitment to try and purchase our merchandise in South Dakota and in your local community,” he said Wednesday.

So, as you consider all the gifts you want to purchase this holiday season, think of what South Dakota needs during this lean budget time.

We need to support local businesses by avoiding online sales. Doing that supports South Dakota.

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Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, Yankton, Dec. 5

Dive in Yankton on the right path

For the citizens group Dive In Yankton (DIY), the hard work has just begun - but the task ahead already has a solid foundation.

The group was created earlier this year to carry the ball on the idea of building an aquatic center for Yankton to replace the city’s aging outdoor swimming pool. The group’s organizers saw not only a need for a new swimming facility but also an opportunity to create something that can serve as a valuable attraction for Yankton.

Late last week, the group released a concept of what the proposed aquatic center would look like. It features a lot of enticing ideas that would make the facility a popular attraction.

The aforementioned hard work is raising the money to fund at least part of the project, the cost of which has yet to be determined. Dreaming a dream is easy, but paying for it can be a more contentious matter. The members of DIY know they have a long road ahead of them to make the dream a reality.

But that work - that is, putting in the hours and doing what has to be done to reach the objective - actually began months ago. The state of the current pool - which is not very good - was explained in detail. At the same time, the group collected ideas and gathered feedback on potential concepts for the pool replacement. There have been public meetings and discussions, with adjustments to the vision made along the way. The unveiling of a conceptual rendition last week was the culmination of that part of the journey.

Yankton’s current pool is not only aging, but it’s also functionally obsolete. Many communities are constructing aquatic centers or water parks, and they have become popular draws. Vermillion opened the Prentis Plunge aquatic center this year and saw a considerable attendance spike in comparison to the old pool. Frankly, a lot of people from Yankton took their kids there to partake in the facility. There are also centers in Norfolk and other area locations. Yankton has fallen behind these neighboring communities in regards to this amenity.

Dive In Yankton organizers also point to the aquatic center as a “quality of life” issue. That term is thrown around a lot, but it means more than just bells and whistles. Items like an aquatic center become attractive offerings for young families looking for a place to live, or for visitors looking for recreational adventures. So the issue does have a considerable economic component to it.

DIY has done a great job getting the concept this far. Pulling the ideas together and coming up with something in which the public can already feel a certain level of buy-in was important, and that goal has been achieved.

Drumming up the money to make the project a reality will be a steep hill to climb. The project will also likely need public funding at some point, which will also be a hurdle.

But Dive In Yankton has a well-crafted game plan that has served it well so far. That gives the group an encouraging momentum as this project moves forward.

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