- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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Feb. 18

Augusta Chronicle on overhauling Georgia’s system of voting:

At 40 pages, it’s bigger than a lot of legislative bills.



But House Bill 316, introduced in the Georgia General Assembly, has a big goal - overhauling Georgia’s system of voting.

Knowing the bill’s chief sponsor is state Rep. Barry Fleming is enough to instill confidence. The Harlem Republican chairs the Georgia House Judiciary Committee, and co-chaired the Secure, Accessible and Fair Elections Commission that now-Gov. Brian Kemp established last April while secretary of state. The SAFE Commission has spent months studying all the options and angles of what now is being presented in this bill - better solutions to some of the state’s voting problems.

Among other changes, the bill would give Georgia an electronic voting system with touchscreens that print ballots before they’re counted. That provides the strongly sought paper trail to assure election results are accurate. Georgia is one of just five U.S. states without such a paper backup.

The other option under consideration would have been a nightmare - hand-marked paper ballots read by an optical scanner.

Sarah Riggs Amico, last year’s Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, supported the idea in a speech before members of the Cobb County Democratic Party earlier this month. “Everybody takes the SATs,” she said. “Bubbling in a dot isn’t that hard.”

Except when a box is lightly filled in. Or circled. Or smudged when you erase your vote after changing your mind. And would that process be just as “easy” as punching holes in ballots, like Palm Beach County, Florida, voters tried to do in the 2000 presidential election?

Remember the election that stamped the phrase “hanging chad” into America’s pop-culture lexicon? Imagine the similar pettiness that nitpickers would exhibit during a recount, in trying to prove what does or doesn’t constitute a properly hand-marked ballot.

Fleming has rightly pointed out that most voting problems stem from the combination of paper, a pencil and a human being. Combining electronic accuracy with a verifiable paper trail clearly is the superior option.

The bill also seeks to soothe a sore spot aggravated during last year’s election: purged voters.

Current Georgia law states that if citizens don’t vote for three years, or don’t respond to mailed notices about their stagnant voter registrations, the state can render those voters inactive.

House Bill 316 would stretch the allowed period of inactivity from three years to five years, and then registrations could be canceled after two general elections - so about eight or nine years.

The bill also proposes that absentee ballots not be rejected solely because signatures appeared mismatched. Also, poll officials could allow as many volunteers as they want to help voters who need assistance casting ballots. Some folks are disabled. Others might not speak English. …

Will H.B. 316 solve every tiny problem Georgia voters face? Of course not. But it’s not supposed to.

The bill instead marks a solid, commonsense start toward safer voting, and it absolutely needs to be passed.

Online: http://chronicle.augusta.com/

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Feb. 18

The Savannah Morning News on healthcare:

State Sen. Ben Watson (R-District 1) is a doctor by profession and has honed his bedside manner over the years. Whether acting as a politician or a physician, he delivers every diagnosis gently, yet directly.

Ask him about healthcare coverage for Georgia’s uninsured, and he does everything short of don his white coat and stethoscope before giving you the news.

Healthcare is a right, not a privilege, and 400,000-plus uninsured Georgians is unacceptable.

Watson shared that simple, straightforward message in opening his remarks to the local contingent in attendance at Savannah-Chatham Day last month. He addressed the group late in the day, with steaming oysters and chilled beverages beckoning from the reception across the street from the Georgia Capitol, but few missed the promise in his words.

The chair of the Senate Health and Human Service Committee was pledging that the Georgia General Assembly would be tackling healthcare coverage this session.

Gov. Brian Kemp outlined his Patients First Act this month. The legislation is intentionally nebulous and would grant the governor room to explore multiple options beyond Medicaid expansion, a solution Kemp and most Republican leaders, including Watson, loath due to concerns over quality of care.

The end goals, though, are clear: the state intends to provide coverage for those with incomes below the poverty level, and the state will offer assistance to those who buy insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchange.

These measures are popularly categorized as Medicaid waivers. Like Medicaid expansion, waiver programs do qualify for federal matching funds. The state’s costs for the waiver programs are projected to be comparable to that of Medicaid expansion, which state analysts have pegged at approximately $200 million a year.

The state operates on a $26 billion annual budget.

Gov. Kemp intends a thorough examination of Georgia’s options.

A consulting group, funded by $1 million from the state and another $1 million from the federal government, will work with Kemp’s aides to define waiver proposals. The legislature would then debate and perhaps refine those proposals during next year’s session ahead of federal approval.

The initiative could therefore be implemented by mid-2020 and ahead of the next Georgia General Assembly election cycle that November.

Watson calls Medicaid waivers “the most important piece of legislation that we will authorize the governor to do this term.”

We agree. Insuring low-income Georgians is the right thing to do, just as is protecting those with pre-existing medical conditions that impair their ability to get coverage. That the state leaders are willing to step up - finally - and devise and implement solutions is encouraging.

Fortunately for Georgia, Watson will have oversight of the process. And Georgians, particularly those of us who reside within his district, should encourage him to lead judiciously.

Medicaid waivers are employed by several states and take on many different forms.

In some locales, the approach involves what is commonly known as re-insurance, which is meant to encourage private insurers to cover more men and women. Elsewhere, waivers help create the equivalent of Health Savings Accounts for low-income earners.

Researchers will look at these options and more in crafting Georgia’s plan, Kemp promises. But in trying to avoid a one-size-fits-all solution, such as Medicaid expansion, it is vital that the proposal not be so full of tailored projects that it becomes difficult - and expensive - to implement and operate.

Medicaid expansion is the antipathy of a complicated approach: it simply changes the qualifications for Medicaid eligibility, once reserved for the aged, disabled and mentally ill, by insuring all citizens whose income levels fall below a certain threshold.

Enter Watson, who is both a healthcare expert and a Republican who believes in limited government. He understands well the strain the uninsured put on the healthcare system, as they avoid preventative care but are entitled to emergency treatment at clinics and hospitals. He also knows blanket coverage impacts quality of care and drives up costs on the privately insured.

Watson’s knowledge and expertise makes him the right lawmaker in the right position at the right time for Georgians. Let’s show our support while at the same time insisting that the Georgia General Assembly deliver on his diagnosis.

Online: https://www.savannahnow.com/

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Feb. 17

The Valdosta Daily Times on hospital pricing:

The Trump administration’s new requirement to place hospital pricing data online is well intentioned.

It is also ineffective.

We encourage all hospitals in our region to go beyond what is required by the government.

The price disclosure requirement by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service went into effect Jan. 1.

Our hospital is in compliance with the law.

In fact, the vast majority of hospitals are in compliance.

The effort toward transparency is commended.

While the intention is great, the execution is something far less.

The pricing data posted online is largely incomprehensible.

To the average consumer, it is gibberish.

Furthermore, the information is hard to find. You have to know what you are looking for, know what it is called and know where to search. Then, when you find it you need an interpreter.

Even more confusing is that while the prices are posted, everyone concedes the prices you will find online are not what either consumers, health insurance companies or the government actually pays.

So, what’s the point?

Is this really transparency?

Or is it something more akin to smoke and mirrors?

We like what Johnny Ball, assistant administrator of communications and public affairs at South Georgia Medical Center, said about the hospital’s willingness to have staff consult with patients about actual costs prior to admission or procedures.

We understand his point that since no two patients are alike, there will be variables that are not reflected in the price list and we appreciate his willingness to explain it to us in easy to understand terminology.

But what Tift Regional CFO Kim Willis said about the online pricing data is striking. She said, “While I commend (the federal government’s) effort to promote price transparency and help patients understand the cost of health care, I do not believe this step will improve the patient’s understanding of health-care costs.”

We agree that hospitals such as SGMC and Tift do disclose information to patients but they have done that for a very long time. It’s nothing new. What is new is this requirement to make the information publicly available all the time.

There is discretion in how the price list is presented to the public.

When the Center for Medicaid and Medicare rolled out the new law, it encouraged hospitals to provide data in a consumer-friendly way that would make it possible for the consumer to compare prices for service between various hospitals, so they could shop for the best value.

That hasn’t happened.

Hospitals have discretion in how they post the price list. The requirement of the federal government is that the data be machine-readable. That means the data must be in a form that can be processed by a computer.

We believe that in addition to being machine-readable, it should be people-readable.

Online: https://www.valdostadailytimes.com/

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