- Associated Press - Friday, March 17, 2017

Excerpts of recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New England newspapers:

The (New London) Day (Conn.), March 14, 2017

It turns out that the American Health Care Act is far more repeal than replace. Republicans are supplanting a health care law with a budget and tax cutting measure. Millions will lose access to insurance in the process.

In terms of people having access to health insurance coverage, and so health care, the Republican plan would essentially return the nation to pre-Affordable Care Act days, a Congressional Budget Office evaluation has concluded.

Before the passage of ACA, 57 million Americans, about 18.5 percent of the population, did not have access to health insurance. That number has dropped to 28 million, about 8.5 percent of Americans. By 2026, if the AHCA becomes law, 52 million Americans will not have health insurance, the CBO estimates, 15 percent of the projected population.

The damage will be quick. If the law wins approval this spring, by next year 14 million fewer people will have health insurance.

The reasons are no surprise.

Gone would be the mandate that individuals must buy health insurance or face penalties at tax time. This measure encourages younger, healthier people to buy insurance rather than wait until they face a health crisis. With more people contributing, insurance companies can hold down premiums.

In the short term, at least, premiums would increase under the GOP proposal, the CBO concluded, further driving up the ranks of the uninsured. In time, as older and sicker folk go without health insurance, premiums would go down for those lucky enough to have it.

The expansion of Medicaid under the ACA to provide health insurance to the near poor would end and be reversed, leaving yet more people without access to health care, except for perhaps your occasional free clinic.

On the other hand, the AHCA would cut taxes $900 billion and spending $1.2 trillion over the next decade, per the CBO analysis. Over that same period the legislation would reduce federal deficits by $337 billion.

Those calculations do not factor in the damage done to the economy when millions, without access to health care, see their credit and buying power destroyed by medical bills they cannot pay. There is also no number attached to human suffering, physical and emotional, by not having access to health care.

Yet the bill lines up with the long-held priorities of House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, who has a slavish belief in free markets and found abhorrent the policy that the federal government could mandate the purchase of a product. Ryan has a made a political career of fighting against deficit spending.

On the other hand, President Trump’s endorsement of the bill exposes him as a liar and a fraud.

In an interview with The Washington Post just a few days before his inauguration, Trump repeated a claim he had made throughout the campaign.

“We’re going to have insurance for everybody. There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us,” said Trump, adding that insurance would be “much less expensive and much better.”

This bill is in complete contradiction to that statement. By reducing access to Medicaid and eliminating the subsidies that have helped individuals buy health insurance through the exchanges, millions won’t be able to pay for it and they won’t get it.

Instead, this law would strip access to health care from the same struggling working-class Americans who supported Trump because he said he would fight to make their lives better. It would benefit the well-off by cutting taxes now used to provide health insurance subsidies.

Another presidential candidate who ran on a populist agenda, summed it up well.

“Throwing 24 million Americans off of health insurance, raising premiums for older, low-income Americans, while giving $285 billion in tax breaks to the top 2 percent is a disgusting and immoral proposal. Thousands of Americans will die if this legislation is passed,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Democrat.

Unlike Trump, Sanders had a plan — extend the Medicare program to cover all Americans.

All Trump had was hollow promises and sound bites. He never had a plan to “take care of everybody,” as he promised in a “60 Minutes” interview. Instead Trump left the bill drafting to fiscal conservatives such as Ryan. They placed a higher priority on budget and tax cutting than on making sure Americans have someplace to turn when they get sick.




The Portland Press Herald (Maine), March 13, 2017

A woman who wants to have two children will spend about three years of her life pregnant, trying to get pregnant or postpartum. She will also spend three decades of her life trying to avoid an unintended pregnancy - and that’s true whether she votes Democratic, Republican, none of the above or not at all.

Since family planning services are a pillar of any serious public health program, it’s strange to see Republicans in Washington insist that making them harder to get is essential to their idea of health care reform.

The American Health Care Act, which was rolled out last week, targets Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, aiming to deny funding through Medicaid for the non-abortion services it provides, such as sexually transmitted disease tests, birth control and cancer screenings.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has described the bill as a “conservative wish list,” which is a strange thing to call a piece of legislation that would put health care out of reach of millions of families. It’s drawn many critics from all political stripes, but it has the early and enthusiastic support of Maine Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, who said it will provide “health care relief.”

But what “wish” would it fulfill for the woman who spends a third of her life trying to avoid pregnancy? And what “relief” would it provide for her? And who would be served by indulging some social conservatives’ grudge against an agency that serves as a vital link in the nation’s health care system?

About half of all pregnancies are unintended, but that neat statistic does not provide a true picture.

Poor women are five times more likely to find themselves in that situation than women who are more well off, largely because of the way that we ration health care in this country. A woman with private insurance who gets regular checkups is much more likely to have birth control and family planning counseling than one who gets medical care only when she’s sick.

Planned Parenthood works with anyone who walks through their doors, including people with private health insurance, Medicaid or no health insurance at all. It provides abortions - a constitutional right - but it also delivers the kind of care that makes abortions unnecessary.

Poliquin and Republican House leaders appear hell-bent on pushing through this cut to get in the way of people who need these services and make it harder for families to climb out of poverty.

That’s not health care reform, and that’s not what this country needs.




The Greenfield Recorder (Mass.), March 13, 2017

Stories emanating from the Washington press corps recently suggest that Congressman Richard E. Neal may just be centrist enough to have some influence on the Republican budget and tax agenda.

Neal, who represents part of Franklin County and much of western Mass., is the new top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. It’s been reported that he aims to counter conservative priorities of President Donald Trump, while seeking some possible middle ground with Republicans on some other issues.

Neal ascended to his party’s ranking seat on the powerful budget-writing committee after 28 years in the House of Representatives.

He’s considered a Democrat with whom business interests can work and who wants to attract working-class voters who abandoned the party last November.

He has said he’s going to bring a different approach to Ways and Means than his predecessor, the progressive Sander M. Levin of Michigan.

“I was the change,” said Neal, who emphasizes “pro-growth and aspiration” as important themes for the Democrats.

While Neal is fighting GOP efforts to undo the Affordable Care Act health care law, he said he wants to exchange ideas and cut deals on more modest measures.

“I hope that we can stay in the game as long as possible on tax reform,” Neal told the Tribune News Service.

He has called for a package of middle-class tax cuts as a Democratic alternative to a GOP tax overhaul. “Rather than cutting taxes for people at the top, that tax cut ought to be expanded considerably for people in the middle,” Neal said.

He has also signaled support for a number of incentives for businesses and for economic development, things like enterprise zones, tax-exempt municipal bonds and continuing historic preservation tax credits.

Neal has said he will hold regular one-on-one meetings with the Texas Republican who chairs Ways and Means, Kevin Brady, to discuss issues and shared interests.

Brady reportedly said the two were “going to look for common ground.”

“He understands the innovation industry, and he knows America is no longer competitive around the world in the tax area,” Brady said.

It’s hard to say whether a moderate approach like Neal’s will actually produce results, or whether Democrats in the House will be relegated to the children’s table as the majority party dismantles years of public spirited policy.

Neal has been known to buck his more liberal Democratic brethren, which might annoy some of the more left-leaning constituents, especially in Franklin and Hampshire counties, but we would like to think a middle-of-the-road approach might moderate the more right-leaning inclinations of the GOP members of Ways and Means. Seeing Democrats and Republicans working together on at least some things would be a welcome sight and a laudable goal, even if all the pundits keep telling us that compromisers are all but extinct, and that the empowered GOP majority is feeling no need to meet in the middle.




The Providence Journal (R.I.), March 10, 2017

At a meeting with governors last month, President Trump spoke of the challenges of reforming health care. “We have come up with a solution that’s really, really I think very good,” he said. “Now, I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”

Who, other than Mr. Trump (possibly), didn’t know that? Certainly, the roll out last week of a House plan to reform Obamacare emphasized it.

The proposed American Health Care Act, warmly endorsed by the president, ran into a buzz-saw of criticism from both the right, which considers it Obamacare Lite, and the left, which rates it an attempt to strip subsidized health insurance from people. It is noteworthy that the estimated cost of this massive new government program was not even calculated before the Republicans rolled it out.

Obamacare, of course, has also been unpopular, certainly one of the major reasons Republicans dramatically increased their power in Washington over the last three elections. The act unveiled by House Speaker Paul Ryan targets some of its more controversial policies.

For example, mandatory fines would be removed for Americans who didn’t follow through on obtaining some type of health coverage. Government subsidies would be eliminated in favor of refundable tax credits to give people more choice in health-care options. Finally, Medicaid expansion would be frozen in 2020, and phased out over an extended period of time. States would be given block grants and make their own decisions about how to control costs.

The reform appears to be a hard sell, though, even to Republicans.

“As I look through it … it is Obamacare in a different form,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. Conservatives argued that the proposed tax credits are new entitlements, and that the act fails to quickly reverse President Obama’s massive expansion of Medicaid, something they consider unsustainable.

To be sure, U.S. health care desperately needs an infusion of market forces and patient choice. Under the current system, it is all but impossible to make choices based on quality of care and cost. The cost of life-saving drugs and short-term or long-term stays in hospital beds has exploded beyond many people’s means, while insurance premiums have continued to climb.

On the other hand, too much choice would leave health providers cutting corners, while patients would tend to make decisions on the basis of short-term costs rather than long-term health. It is much more costly to treat patients who are either uninsured or put off their required health-care needs for long periods of time, versus those who wisely engage in regular treatment, care and visits to their doctors and/or walk-in clinics.

It appears, too, that the proposal would leave many young, healthy Americans simply opting against purchasing health insurance, while sick and elderly patients would go on consuming most of the nation’s health care. Premiums would explode. Taxpayers would be left bearing the burden.

We have long wished that Republicans and Democrats could find a way to work together on a plan to trim costs through market forces while expanding care. That way both parties would be invested in making health reform work, rather than simply using this crucial issue as a political football at election time.

But continued political squabbling and maneuvering seem far more likely, while this proposal is picked over by armies of well-funded lobbyists in Washington. Citizens should carefully follow what is going on with this important issue, and let their wishes be known to the White House and their representative and senators in Congress.




Lebanon Valley News (N.H.), March 10, 2017

Some local media critics might wonder if we will ever come to the defense of President Donald Trump on any issue. Well, here it is: Trump’s diet is his own business. If he enjoys steak with ketchup, we will not wag a finger at him. And have seconds if you please, Mr. President.

Recently critics, from food pages and elsewhere, have heaped full servings of scorn on reports that Trump indulged in steak and ketchup at a recent dinner at his Washington hotel. Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema mocked the leader of the free world, saying he had ordered steak in his usual manner, “well done and with ketchup, as if the entree would be accompanied by a sippy cup.” Sietsema called for “a moment of silence for the cow, the condiment and what most chefs would call a forced marriage.” But New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, a former food critic himself, defended Trump’s steak-ketchup entente. “When did we turn into such food snobs in America?” he asked.

Indeed. Is it right, in a free society, for foodies to monitor the president’s plate like a disapproving waiter? No, we say, let him eat steak, along with the meatloaf that he famously praised to Gov. Chris Christie, then bullied him, according to Trump’s harshest critics, into ordering some.

Trump isn’t the first president to have his gastronomic sophistication examined in the court of public opinion, although Twitter and other forms of social media have brought the inquisition to a boil. President George W. Bush was said to favor nachos and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. President Bill Clinton’s tastes ran to Big Macs - it should be acknowledged that he later developed heart trouble and has since become a vegan. Trump might do well to take notice.

No modern president, as far as we know, can match the devil-may-care diet of one of the richest men in the world, Warren Buffett, widely admired for his financial acumen and steady demeanor. He enjoys a Coke with breakfast, and downs two more before heading to work. He regularly indulges in potato chips and ice cream. He is 86, defying naysayers and mortality studies.

All Americans, even a president, should be entitled to guilty pleasures - so hold the shaming. Bruni admitted that despite his explorations of fine food, he harbors a supply of microwave popcorn at home, and once slipped into a Domino’s to cure a craving for chicken wings. We have a colleague who has written exquisitely about food who confesses admiration for McDonald’s fries. Everyone deserves a break now and then.

One’s food choices are, or should be, wholly a matter of personal choice. Even if Trump were to wash down his steak with chocolate milk - domestic, not imported - we’d say more power to him. Actually, scratch that; we have no taste for an expansion of executive authority at this moment in history.




The Brattleboro Reformer (Vt.), March 14, 2017

We are just not going to do it, refer to this winter storm by the name the weather experts are calling it.

Names are for hurricanes, not for snow storms and blizzards, which most of us have endured year in and year out. And we are even going to resist the urge to scream out like Marlon Brando in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

With that said, yesterday’s storm was only a small taste of what winter used to be like in New England. Last year was pathetic, we mean, if you like winter time. For those of us who have had enough, last year was almost perfect. But last year was a disaster for the water table, leading to drought warnings across the region. Now, two years ago, that was a heck of winter, with pickups with snowplows attached to the front circling neighborhoods like vultures over a dying animal. Two years ago was the kind of winter we who grew up in New England in the 60s, 70s and 80s remember well.

While storms like these and those two years ago, the anthropomorphic global climate changed deniers come out of the woodwork (remember Sen. James Inhofe and his snowball?). It might be hard for some to admit that global climate change is happening, but yesterday’s storm, this winter in general and the past two winters illustrate what scientists call global weirding, which they describe as “all sorts of crazy things” to include hotter heat spells, colder cold spells, more drought and intense flooding, as well as slow-onset changes such as ocean acidification and sea level rise, according to globalweirding.is.

According to National Centers for Environmental Information, this past February was the second warmest in the 123-year period of record, Between December 2016 and February 2017, the average temperature across the contiguous U.S. was 35.9 degrees, or 3.7 degrees above average, the sixth warmest winter on record.

And while you are waiting for the last of the snowflakes to accumulate on your sidewalk and driveway, you might want to spend a few minutes reading “The ‘Alice in Wonderland’ mechanics of the rejection of (climate) science: simulating coherence by conspiracism,” a study of the arguments wielded by the deniers and the ultimate tool to shoot down their ersatz conclusions.

“People who oppose this scientific body of knowledge because the implications of cutting (greenhouse gas emissions) - such as regulation or increased taxation - threaten their worldview or livelihood cannot provide an alternative view that is coherent by the standards of conventional scientific thinking,” write the authors of the study. “Instead, we suggest that people who reject the fact that the Earth’s climate is changing due to greenhouse gas emissions (or any other body of well-established scientific knowledge) oppose whatever inconvenient finding they are confronting in piece-meal fashion, rather than systematically, and without considering the implications of this rejection to the rest of the relevant scientific theory and findings.”

Despite the voluminous body of scientific literature affirming anthropomorphic global climate change and studies such as that noted above, the denialists continue to spout their half-baked interpretations of the scientific research that includes “present, past, and projections into the future with the use of climate models, mainly general circulation models,” according to skepticalscience.com. “As some have said, we are living the experiment and there is no second chance; Planet Earth is the experiment.”

Humanity might find a solution that purges the atmosphere of excess carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases, but our window of opportunity is rapidly shrinking as ocean levels rise and weird weather takes its toll (Tropical Storm Irene, anyone?). While kids and outdoor recreationists really dig storms like the one that hit yesterday, all of us should consider it more food for thought about how unprepared we are for global climate change.




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