Akron Beacon Journal, Sept. 24
U.S. Sen. John McCain proved decisive again. On Friday, the Arizona Republican announced that he would oppose the latest attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He cited the flawed process, rushed, lacking bipartisanship and a Congressional Budget Office assessment of its impact.
Over the weekend, the position of the Senate Republican majority further weakened as others joined the opposition or moved closer to where McCain stands. Yet as politically significant as this movement is, another group took a more telling policy stand last week. All 50 state Medicaid directors, from Republican and Democratic administrations, voiced their opposition to the Cassidy-Graham legislation.
They described the measure, sponsored by U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, as “the largest transfer of financial risk from the federal government to the states in our country’s history.” …
… Cassidy-Graham would end the Medicaid expansion and the subsidies to help low- and moderate-income individuals buy insurance on their own through the online exchanges. States would receive smaller block grants instead, leaving them to shrink benefits. Most likely, states would abandon the efforts entirely as the block grants expire in 2027.
Might Congress extend the block grants at that point? Recall that the funding would require offsetting savings, making the task more formidable for lawmakers.
To be sure, states that have not expanded Medicaid would gain in the short term, as federal funds are directed their way from states, such as Ohio, that have adopted the expansion. Eventually, all states would take a financial hit because federal funding for Medicaid would be cut and capped, at levels below projected increases in health care costs.
That translates to states looking to cover shortfalls in funding, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities putting the reduction at $1.1 trillion from 2020 to 2036. Those at risk in Ohio include nearly 1 million children receiving Medicaid, plus three in five nursing home residents and 150,000 Ohioans getting treatment for opioid addictions. …
(Findlay) Courier, Sept. 20
When someone makes a public records request, more times than not they do so in good faith because they want to check to see how their government is working — or not working.
But a recent Associated Press story reported some school districts, municipalities and state agencies are turning lawful requests around and suing the citizens who seek public records because officials fear releasing records might be embarrassing or legally sensitive.
Such lawsuits have been filed in Oregon, Louisiana, Kentucky and elsewhere after requesters sought records about school employees getting paid to stay home, data about student performance, and documents about investigations of employees accused of sexual misconduct.
At least two cases have succeeded in blocking information while many others have only delayed the release.
According to the story, freedom of information advocates worry that suing requesters will become a way for governments to hide information, delay disclosure and intimidate critics.
“This practice essentially says to a records requester, ‘File a request at your peril,’” University of Kansas journalism professor Jonathan Peters said in the story. “These lawsuits are an absurd practice and noxious to open government.”
Certainly, the practice could have a chilling effect on the public’s right to know. Some requesters could think twice about asking for public documents if they felt there was a good chance they would get sued. …
… While freedom of information laws can vary from state to state, they usually allow requesters who believe they are wrongly denied records to file a complaint seeking to force their release.
If they go to court and succeed, government agencies can be ordered to release records and pay the requesters’ legal fees and court costs.
Suing the requesters flips the script: Even if agencies are ultimately required to make the records public, they typically will not have to pay the other side’s legal bills. That means a requester could get the records they wanted, but have to pay legal fees to get them.
That’s not how the process should work. …
The (Toledo) Blade, Sept. 10
It is possible to think of toxic green algae and the dangerous microcystin it produces as abstract and far-away. The water coming out of our Toledo-area taps looks fine.
But, last week, the algae that threatens our health, our economy, and our quality of life in Toledo moved up the river. We can no longer live in a state of detachment or denial.
Look no further than the gape-mouth, algae-covered, dying fish photographed by The Blade’s Andy Morrison for concrete evidence of the seriousness of the problem.
How many wake-up calls do we need?
The microcystin in the lake is once again threatening the city’s only water-system intake. And the toxin levels at Maumee Bay State Park are now more than 10 times higher than the safe threshold for swimming and other direct human contact.
Is it rational, in light of all that, to continue to dither over the impairment designation? …
… The EPA has released the overview of its domestic action plan for addressing the environmental threat to the lake. It reaffirms the goal of a 40-percent reduction in algae-feeding phosphorus flowing into the lake by 2025.
That doesn’t cut it.
Even if voluntary measures by agriculture, other industries, and communities with combined-sewer overflow problems can somehow meet that 40-percent reduction goal, there will still be 7.3 million pounds of phosphorus flowing into Lake Erie each year.
Harmful algae blooms are a direct threat to Toledo’s drinking water supply. With just one intake in the lake, Toledo’s 2014 water crisis should have been the wake-up call to get serious about preventing algae blooms and building a second intake to preserve access to clean water for the city’s 500,000 water customers. But we still seem to be asleep. …
The (Ashtabula) Star-Beacon, Sept. 20
In today’s highly polarized political climate, it is the rare issue that finds bipartisan support. But the payday loan industry and its general practices — many of which could charitably be called “predatory” while we prefer the more blunt term of “scummy” — has found that sweet spot.
The Ohioans for Payday Loan Reform Coalition seeks to close loopholes in the Short-Term Loan Act of 2008 — which should have capped interest rates at 28 percent and set a $500 maximum loan limit and minimum 31-day payback window. Instead, the payday loan industry, which has a powerful lobby with sway and influence among state lawmakers, has continued to operate business as usual. In fact, interest rates on such loans in Ohio are the highest in the country — close to 600 percent, two to three times higher than neighboring states.
Payday loan companies take advantage of the most vulnerable — either the desperate or the financially illiterate, and oftentimes they are one in the same. Even some who understand what they’re getting into might be forced to do it anyway just to keep the lights on or their car from being repossessed.
… The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found last year 70 percent of payday loan borrowers take out a second loan, and 20 percent borrow at least 10 more times.
The way it works is a customer takes out a short-term loan, one the lender knows full well they will not be able to pay back in the tiny repayment window, and is then forced to take out yet another loan to pay off the first, and so on. Customers then become trapped in a cycle of increasing fees and interest, to the point where they could be paying thousands of dollars on a loan of just a few hundred dollars — and never come close to paying off the principal. …
If the reform bill — known as House Bill 123 — passes, Ohioans would save $75 million in “excessive fees,” and Ashtabula residents a little more than $1 million.
This issue should have been dealt with long ago. In the decade the state legislature has allowed this farce to continue, countless lives and financial futures have been ruined. …