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Idaho Democrats: Medicaid decisions

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

From a statement on March 28 by Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Larry Kenck.

How does half a billion dollars in savings to counties and homeowners sound? How about, at the same time, we get health care to 110,000 Idahoans who don’t have it?

That is exactly what Idaho’s Democratic lawmakers have tried to do in the Capitol this year. That is exactly what our state’s GOP leaders refuse to consider. The issue is Medicaid Expansion and the GOP fears blowback from their “return to the gold standard” faction.

But, what do GOP leaders tell the public as to why they won’t make this wise policy choice? Why will they allow Idaho families to suffer the indignity and despair of poor health care when a far more humane (not mention fiscally responsible) option exists?

“We are going to be done by Friday, and I don’t think we can give that issue the thorough public vetting that it needs between now and then,” House Speaker Scott Bedke told the press. “They have my full attention, because it seems to offer very, very significant property tax relief.”

Good news!

GOP senators are just dysfunctional enough to smack down the $1.3 billion education budget at the 11th hour, giving most lawmakers nothing to do for another whole week. Now, they have plenty of time to take recommendations from months of study by a governor’s work group and take Health and Welfare Director Dick Armstrong’s word that he has the tools to make it all happen right away.

It’s not as if the GOP-controlled Legislature can’t make things happen fast if they care about something. Just last year they handed Idaho’s richest 17 percent of citizens a $35 million gift in the final days of the session.

Idaho Democratic lawmakers have pressed hard on this issue and repeatedly have been foiled by a GOP united against Idaho’s best interests.

It’s time for the GOP to stop playing the politics of appeasement to the radical-wing of their base. Businesses want this policy. Our state’s economy will benefit from this policy. Our federal taxes will remain the same even as we pay for other state’s that are wise enough to take advantage of this policy. Idaho’s children, who don’t have dental care or access to basic health services, absolutely need this policy.

My fellow Idahoans, it is up to us. Contact your legislators over the weekend. Tell them to do their jobs! Tell them to stop squandering opportunities and to stop making us pay for partisan political bickering. Tell them to expand Medicaid coverage—and then, after doing something good, tell them to go home.

On Obamacare bashing

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

This opinion is by Duff McKee, a former Idaho district judge. He originally posted it on Facebook.

The continued diatribe from the extreme right wing, the incessant drumbeat that Obamacare must be repealed in its entirety, and the more recent attempts to emasculate or nullify the act by withholding state participation, defy reason and common sense to the point of becoming ridiculous.

The plain fact is that under any fair evaluation the Affordable Health Care Act, or Obamacare, when taken in its entirety, is a moderate compromise of policies embracing traditional values and views of both the right and the left. Obamacare is not a federal take-over of health care, it is an overhaul of health insurance. It is not an irresponsible give-away to benefit one segment of society at the expense of another, it is a compendium of moderate policies and methods to benefit all of society, methods that have long been recognized and used by both left and right. To call it Socialism or Marxism is uneducated – showing a lack of understanding of either the fundamentals of Socialism or the teachings of Karl Marx. To make these arguments pejoratively, as though the Act is an evil encroachment upon our freedom, demonstrates a blatant ignorance of how our government and economy actually work.

The plain fact is that every president beginning with Truman – both Republican and Democrat alike – has tried to secure passage of some form of universal healthcare. The parties have and do differ of aspects of policy, but both parties have long considered healthcare to be a matter of legitimate concern to the government.

Over the years we have seen the arrival of expansive programs extending government involvement into the delivery of health care, some after significant debate and others with broad bipartisan sponsorship -- Social Security’s SSI, Medicare, Medicaid, Prescription Drug Benefits, and Children Health Insurance Programs identify the main programs, but there are many more. These programs have been fully assimilated into our society and are now endorsed by both parties. There are differences, certainly, and both sides continue to propose adjustments and modifications, but with the exception of a very few extremists, nobody argues that any of these programs should be abandoned. Government participation in healthcare is here to stay as an essential ingredient of government service.

Obamacare is an exemplar of a middle-of-the-road compromise, embracing principles dear to the heart of both sides. While the overall objective of universal healthcare is a long-held liberal tenet, the framework of Obamacare may have been inspired by the national insurance plan suggested by Nixon in the 1970s. Parts of Obamacare mirror research in the late 1980s by the Heritage Foundation, a deep red conservative think tank. The concepts were fashioned into the program adopted and successfully implemented in Massachusetts in 2006, which has been operating without any of the dire consequences suggested by the right wing ever since.

Obamacare caters to the right in that it is based upon private insurance, issued by private companies, through private premiums, and with plenty of room for individual selection. The foundation of the plan continues to be employer sponsored health insurance for as many as possible. It answers the goals of the left by providing machinery to make coverage available to all through premium subsidies and expanded Medicaid. And it provides a network of regulation over the insurance industry to prevent abuse and assure availability by including such provisions as a baseline of minimum coverage, elimination of lifetime ceilings, elimination of preexisting condition exclusions, inclusion of appeal processes and other means of dispute resolution, making coverage non-cancelable, and regulating the percentage of premium dollars that can be absorbed by administration and profit.

The act does mandate compliance and impose sanctions, but this is not contrary to our society or our freedom or our theory of government. We have long had mandatory automobile liability insurance, mandatory workers compensation insurance, and the extraordinarily popular mandatory retirement insurance. We require that our young be schooled, that our minorities be treated fairly, that our workplaces be free of avoidable hazards, and that we be paid a minimum wage for our efforts. We insist on quality and safety in the milk we drink, the meat we eat, the cars we drive, the planes we fly, the new houses we buy, and the bridges we cross. Sanctions are imposed for infractions in all of these. Obamacare presents nothing new. (more…)

The cost of a lands shift

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

From a March 21 letter written by Boise attorney (and former legislative candidate, and former U.S. attorney) Betty Richardson to the Idaho Legislature, on two measures intended to move some lands from federal to state control.

I write with regard to HCR 21 and HCR 22, both of which pertain to transferring much of Idaho’s federally owned land to the state. HCR 21 proposes that “the legislative council appoint a committee to undertake and complete a study of the process of the state acquiring title to and control of public lands controlled by the federal government in the state of Idaho.” HCR 22 sets out findings and demands the federal government “extinguish title to Idaho’s public lands and transfer title to those lands to the state of Idaho.”

Prior to making the demand referenced in HCR 22, it would seem wise to complete the study proposed in HCR 21. Further, it would seem crucial to expand the scope of that study to include a cost analysis, calculating the likely financial return to the state, as well as the cost to the state, of assuming the many obligations for which the federal government is now responsible. The important thing in any legislative change is to be thorough and honest. If the study committee takes a careful look at the fiscal issues, the legislature may find it prudent to proceed more slowly, if at all.

My concerns arise from my seven years of experience as the United States Attorney for the District of Idaho (1993-2001). A thorough cost analysis, I believe, will find the costs of a land transfer to far exceed the financial benefits. For instance, the transfer would require a huge additional state work force – not only to manage the lands but to carry out a great many attendant responsibilities. Below I offer just a few examples.

Presently, the federal government has the primary responsibility for investigating and prosecuting criminal activity on federal land and for defending its agencies when they are sued in civil actions. If the proposed land transfer were to take place, the state would be responsible not only for managing those lands, but also for investigating and prosecuting crimes that occur there and defending the many civil suits that will continue to be filed by landowners and environmental interests alike.

Moreover, federal law enforcement plays a critical role in eradicating illegal marijuana growing operations. Last year, federal, county and local law enforcement officers took down marijuana growing operations near Galena Summit in the Sawtooth National Forest, and in Caribou and Jerome counties. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management brought substantial resources to bear in these eradication efforts, resources that would need to be replaced by the state were a land transfer to take place. (more…)

Equal health pay?

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

The whole question in health care of who gets the money - which relates directly to how much money is in the system - hasn't yet gotten near enough attention. But all it would take is the asking of a few pertinent questions.

Here's a press release (in e-mail, from the Oregon House majority) about an Oregon bill that poses some of those questions. If it now passes the state Senate and is signed into law, it could turn into one of the more consequential measures of the session in its reverberative impact.

A bill that will provide equal pay for Nurse Practitioners and Physicians Assistants who perform the same services as physicians passed the House today.

HB 2902A would help build the skilled and workforce that Oregon needs in order to meet the diverse healthcare demands throughout the state.

"Oregon is shifting toward a healthcare system that focuses on preventative and community-based care," House Majority Leader Val Hoyle (D – Eugene) said. "Providing equal pay for equal work will help us grow Oregon's healthcare workforce and improve access to care for more Oregonians."

HB2902A would require insurers to pay health practitioners the same rate for the same services and reimburse based on an unbiased coding system.

"If two people are trained to perform the same procedure and it's within their scope of work, they should receive equal payment," Representative Mitch Greenlick (D – Portland), Chair of the Health Care Committee said. "This bill solves one problem within our healthcare system by following the fundamental principles behind equal pay for equal work."

House Bill 2902A passed the House 39 – 20 and now heads to the Senate.

A red light study

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

Those red light cameras popping up around the Northwest have aroused a lot of discussion and even at least one initiative attempt (another Tim Eyman special in Washington).

Here's an extensive report on the subject, posted on the Insurance Quotes site, with what looks like plenty of useful background in considering the issue.

Among the notable tidbits, chew on this: "Although red light cameras can be effective in some cities, when asked, citizens tend not to vote for red light cameras. When put up to vote, residents of Houston, Cincinnati, Anaheim, and Albuquerque all expressed their displeasure against red light cameras and voted to either stop initiatives or shut down projects entirely. But, there is national support for the cameras: a 2009 survey of voters found that 69% of Americans support the use of red light cameras at dangerous intersections."

Sequester impacts, by state

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

From the White House, state breakdowns were released Sunday on local impacts of the prospective federal budget sequester.

Reports for all the states were released; these are the links for Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Interesting reading, and they do tend to bring the airy national numbers down to more specific results.

Security options

From an opinion piece submitted here last week; the source is a security firm.

In the wake of the recent tragedies in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary, gun control has resurfaced in the public eye as a controversial issue.

Should everyone have the right to bear arms, as mandated by the second amendment?

Or should the government step in and regulate the sale of firearms?

When it comes to self-defense, many states have extensive laws that allow a person to use deadly force for self-defense. The law, sometimes referred to as the “Castle Doctrine,” stipulates that deadly force is legitimized if a person reasonably feels they are in grave danger, in their home or anywhere else they feel they have the right to be.

There is also another element to self-defense law that involves the “duty to retreat.” In jurisdictions where this component exists, the defense must prove that a criminal defendant took reasonable steps to avoid conflict before ultimately using force. Essentially, it requires that a person is only permitted to use deadly force in self-defense only when retreat is not possible, or when retreat poses an imminent danger to the victim.

Regardless, it’s imperative that you are familiar with the laws in your particular state if you own a firearm for self-defense purposes. Several states have a “stand-your-ground” law, which means there is no duty to retreat, regardless of where the attack occurs. Meanwhile, a number of other states legislate that there is no duty to retreat only if the attack occurs in the victim’s home. Furthermore, a few states may rely on case law instead of specific legislation to determine the validity of a self-defense claim.

Currently, Idaho relies on case law to interpret justifiable homicide. The state doesn’t have a stand-your-ground statute or duty-to-retreat statute, but allows a person to use justifiable homicide as a defense. Idaho’s case law, under State v. McGreevey, decrees that “One may stand one's ground and defend ... oneself ... by the use of all force and means which would appear to be necessary to a reasonable person in a similar situation and with similar knowledge.”

(more…)

What to do with $30 million?

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

From a report in the IdahoEdNews site.

It’s the big chunk of new money in 2013-14’s K-12 budget proposal.
It’s also an open-ended line item. No one knows exactly where the money might go — which is the whole idea.

Gov. Butch Otter and state schools superintendent Tom Luna want to earmark $33.9 million for the governor’s education task force. This money would give the 31-member group working capital to enact education reform – that is, if elected legislators agree to cede the money to a board made up predominately of unelected education and business leaders.

On Thursday, Luna made clear that the stakes are high.

In his presentation to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, Luna said his proposed 2013-14 budget is flat, save for the task force money. And that’s essentially true: While the Luna budget earmarks dollars for everything from classroom technology to added math and science teachers to increased starting pay for teachers, its 3 percent general fund increase totals $38 million — not much more than the $33.9 million in question.

In a news conference after his JFAC presentation, Luna was blunt about the budgeting prospects. If legislators take that task force money out of the K-12 budget, “It’s not coming back any time soon.” (more…)

Judiciary tech, and more

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

From the annual state of the judiciary address (to the legislature) in Idaho delivered today, by Chief Justice Roger Burdick. Quite a few revealing items scatter through the address.

Our vision includes real-time data from every court in the state immediately available to every other court and to all individuals who require access to court information. This real-time data transfer allows enforcement of court orders for the protection of victims and communities. This capability will extend to every courthouse in Idaho. We are now working diligently on getting that infrastructure in place.

We also envision an expanded statewide telepresence for litigants, attorneys, judges and the public. Our magistrate and district judges travelled over 309,000 miles last year to preside over hearings in courthouses across the state. By the use of advanced technology, mileage costs and travel time will be significantly reduced and attendant cost savings to law enforcement will be realized. Just as private enterprise relies on telepresence to conduct business in the new economy, we will embrace this new technology and look for the efficiencies it will provide. As part of our technology analysis, we are examining how better to collect those fines, fees and other obligations on a coordinated statewide basis. We know there will be significant efficiencies achieved if that can be done.

Our technology plans were started by an in-depth analysis and assessment of our existing systems by three of the nation’s foremost experts on court technology. That assessment is available on our website for all of you to examine and read. Following that assessment, a committee was formed to chart dynamic and broad policy decisions for the coming years concerning our use of technology for Idaho’s citizens. When I use the word “dynamic,” it is
actually an understatement. In the thirty-one years that I have been a judge in the Idaho court system, I can’t remember a time when the Idaho courts have been as responsive to our citizens’ needs and accountable for our performance. Efforts are underway which will affect Idaho’s judiciary for decades. We anticipate coming to you next session with a more complete analysis of revenue options as our plans evolve for the electronic filing of all court papers. As we move to “paperless courthouses,” we anticipate some of these improvements can be funded by court users, and significant savings realized by counties and courts.

As I reported last year, we have continued with our recruitment efforts to make sure that we are attracting the most qualified judges available. We now hold open discussion groups in those counties where district judges are being replaced concerning the benefits of starting a career in the judiciary and to answer any and all questions concerning that career and application process. During judicial council interviews, we have heard numerous times from applicants who were encouraged by this opportunity to step forward and consider applying for a district judge position. (more…)

Surplus, in some places

From a release out today from Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kriedler:

With two of the state’s largest health insurers sitting on surpluses totaling $2.2 billion, Washington’s top insurance regulator wants to use some of that money to lower costs for consumers.
According to the companies’ most recent financial statements, Regence BlueShield’s surplus has grown to $1.05 billion. Premera Blue Cross’ surplus is $1.15 billion.
“These are non-profit companies,” said Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. “It’s hard to square their billion-dollar surpluses with the fact that families are struggling to afford health insurance.”
Kreidler is proposing legislation that would allow his office to consider surpluses when reviewing nonprofit health insurers’ proposed rates. As things stand now, his staff must ignore them.
“As I’ve said before, it’s like trying to ignore an elephant in the room,” Kreidler said. “And the elephant’s getting bigger.”
The surpluses of both Regence and Premera have more than doubled in a decade. In the first nine months of 2012, Regence’s grew by $60 million. Premera’s grew by nearly $182 million.
“It’s important to remember that these are not reserves, which are set aside to pay future claims,” Kreidler said. “These billion-dollar surpluses are in addition to their reserves.”

What next for Idaho public schools?

carlson
NW Reading

When Idaho voters in November decisively killed the 2011 "Luna laws" on changing Idaho public schools, what did they intend - to kill all of the changes in them, or just some of them, and if some of them, which? Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter, one of the prime advocates of the laws, detailed his views on that question in a just-posted piece.

After voters on November 6 rejected the process, pace and policies for improving Idaho’s education system enacted in 2011, it became the task of everyone who cares about the quality of Idaho public schools to constructively continue that conversation.

My staff and I spent the next several weeks reaching out to educators, business leaders and Idaho citizens about staying engaged. Now that I’m optimistic we have a critical mass of interest, I’ve asked the State Board of Education to shepherd a statewide discussion about school improvement.

I’m asking the Board to guide the work of a broadly representative group of concerned Idahoans in studying best practices in school districts around the state and using data and experience to drive sound decision making. The group is likely to be large, but only large enough to include the diversity of opinion needed to properly study such a complex issue.

I’m not going to direct the discussion or the issues covered in any way. There must be no “third rail” in this conversation. But I am asking participants to come to the table ready to speak openly and candidly, and to bring ideas. I will not be prescriptive other than to say I remain committed to equal access to opportunity for our children and to increasing support for our educators.

The goal is to move education in Idaho forward for our students, our educators, and the businesses, colleges and universities that receive the product of our K-12 system. I do not expect this to be entirely about producing a legislative product. If participants find that best practices can be shared and schools improved without statutory changes, so be it. (more…)

Legal troubles? Go work for a big bank

carlson
NW Reading

"Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen," sang Woody Guthrie - but you're a lot less likely to serve time in the Crossbar Hotel if you use the latter.

That was the angry point of Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley's letter today to Attorney General Eric Holder about the Department of Justice's ongoing refusal to go after even the most brazen bad guys in the financial section. And leading to the sad but logical conclusion that "jail time is served by over 96% of persons that plead or are found guilty of drug trafficking, 80% of those that plead or are found guilty of money laundering, and 63% of those caught in possession of drugs. As the deferred prosecution agreement appears now to be the corporate equivalent of acknowledging guilt, the best way for a guilty party to avoid jail time may be to ensure that the party is or is employed by a globally significant bank."

How that can be called justice is hard to imagine.

From his letter:

On Tuesday, the Justice Department entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with HSBC related to more than $800 million in illicit narcotics proceeds that drug traffickers laundered through the bank’s Mexican and American affiliates, as well as over $600 million in transactions that violated U.S. sanctions against Cuba, Iran, Libya, Sudan, and Burma. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer highlighted just how brazen the violations were, with traffickers depositing “hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, in a single day, into a single account, using boxes designed to fit the precise dimensions of the teller window.” Sanctions violations were equally deliberate, with the bank intentionally stripping information from transactions to avoid detection. Yet despite these clear and blatant violations, the Department of Justice refused to bring criminal charges against the bank, relevant employees, or senior management.

Indeed, Mr. Breuer stated yesterday that in deciding not to prosecute, the Department considered the “collateral consequences” of its decision on the financial system. Mr. Breuer stated “If you prosecute one of the largest banks in the world, do you risk that people will lose jobs, other financial institutions and other parties will leave the bank, and there will be some kind of event in the world economy?” The HSBC decision comes on the back of deferred prosecution agreements with Standard Charter Bank and ING Group related to similar charges.

I do not take a position on the merits of this or any other individual case, but I am deeply concerned that four years after the financial crisis, the Department appears to have firmly set the precedent that no bank, bank employee, or bank executive can be prosecuted even for serious criminal actions if that bank is a large, systemically important financial institution. This “too big to jail” approach to law enforcement, which deeply offends the public’s sense of justice, effectively vitiates the law as written by Congress. Had Congress wished to declare that violations of money laundering, terrorist financing, fraud, and a number of other illicit financial actions would only constitute civil violations, it could have done so. It did not.

Instead, Congress placed these financial crimes squarely in the federal criminal code precisely because the consequences are so severe. Drug trafficking between the U.S. and Mexico continues to wreak extraordinary violence across North America, leading to 15,000 deaths in Mexico in 2010 alone and continued gang violence and deaths in the U.S. Drug cartels are also increasingly connected to terrorism. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, 39 percent of State Department-designated foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) have “confirmed links” to the drug trade, as of November 2011. The consequences to U.S. national security for violations involving terrorism financing and Iran sanctions violations are obvious and severe. Congress deemed criminal law the appropriate tool for punishing and deterring actions that have such serious and damaging public consequences. (more…)