The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 22, 2013

Getting to 'yes' in health care

The Mankato Free Press

---- — Getting to ‘yes’ in health care

House Republicans voted for the 41st time to repeal or dismantle parts of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. And no, the 42nd time is not going to be the charm.

What exactly is the Republican endgame? Initially, it may have been about what House Speaker John Boehner calls the “optics”: allowing newly elected members to cast a symbolic vote on the law. Now they just look like spoilers.

Republicans do have a plan, even though you may not have heard about it. Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., has introduced H.R. 2300, the Empowering Patients First Act. Under Price’s plan, Americans would own their coverage, taking it with them when they change jobs. It would level the playing field by offering individuals a tax deduction, in addition to a refundable tax credit, for purchasing insurance. It would save billions of dollars by addressing lawsuit abuse, freeing doctors from practicing defensive medicine. And yes, it would repeal Obamacare. The American public needs to hear more about the alternatives, about “replace” rather than “repeal.”

With less than two weeks to go before the insurance exchanges kick in and the federal government’s spending authority runs out, the study committee has just unveiled its own alternative to Obamacare. It’s a bit late, but maybe the “Party of No” is starting to focus on “Getting to Yes”?

Caroline Baum, Bloomberg News

Serious war on child obesity

This month — National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month — has brought more evidence that obesity in youngsters leads to health problems throughout life. A study overseen by Sara Watson of Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University, which has tracked more than 1,000 adolescents from Indianapolis since 1986, found that 26 percent of those who were obese when they were young had high blood pressure in adulthood. Yet only 6 percent of normal-weight children wound up with high blood pressure when they grew up.

Obesity remains far too prevalent in the United States. The next stage of progress may be harder to reach, but at least there are new strategies to try.

The Breakfast Initiative aims to get schools to provide healthy breakfasts, including by experimenting with meals in the classroom. The Active Schools Acceleration Project is holding a competition to promote greater physical activity. The Healthy Kids Out of School effort encourages other groups to provide a consistent message: “drink right,” “move more” and “snack smart.” And the Restaurant Initiative looks to boost the demand for and the supply of healthy options when kids eat out.

The federal government itself spends far too much money on efforts not backed by evidence of effectiveness. As Congress turns its attention to the debt limit and next year’s spending levels, it would do well to follow more practical approaches.

Peter Orszag, former director of OMB

No shelter for a killer

Tobacco sickens and, eventually, can kill if consumed as intended. Every country, the United States included, should be taking every effective step to prevent smoking.

And then there’s the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade agreement that would link the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Australia, South Korea, Vietnam and five other countries as never before — spurring global growth and bolstering the United States geopolitically.

Initially, the Obama administration favored a TPP provision exempting individual nations’ tobacco regulations — such as those banning advertising or requiring warning labels. A new proposal, however, simply specifies that tobacco is included in an existing exemption for policies necessary to protect human life or health, and requires governments to consult before challenging each other’s tobacco rules.

The office of U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman explained the new stance reflected “consultations with Congress and with a wide range of American stakeholders” — a polite reference to pushback from farm-state legislators, farm lobbies and other interest groups that feared a tobacco exception would expand to a health-related excuse for protectionism against many other products.

All concerned should strive for a TPP that addresses legitimate concerns of U.S. business — but reflects the unique dangers of smoking both here and abroad.

Washington Post

Better things than cursive

Like 32-volume encyclopedias or cassette tapes, cursive writing has become a casualty of technology. Why learn how to draw that funny-looking crooked triple loop when you can just tap the shift key and the letter Z on your mobile phone? Better yet, why bother with uppercase letters at all? They’re not necessary for understanding.

Yet misgivings over the eclipse of cursive-writing instruction are provoking a backlash, with some state legislators overriding decisions to drop the lessons. Most American adults were taught that print writing was a step to cursive, the mark of true literacy. So it’s fair to ask: Will students deprived of this skill be lacking something essential?

In a word: no. Literacy, it’s worth remembering, is an evolving concept. For three centuries — until pocket calculators became common in the mid-1970s — students had to master the slide rule to quickly solve complex math problems, such as determining a number’s square root. Today, most kids probably couldn’t click on a slide rule even if it were right on the screen in front of them.

The issue is how students spend their limited time in school. In districts where cursive has been dropped, its former teachers have been among the most enthusiastic, because the change liberates them to teach more valuable subjects.

Washington Post