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Recent Missouri editorials

July 24, 2018

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 22

Anthem denies coverage, then reverses itself after bad publicity. There’s a lesson here.

The health insurance company Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield knows fully well the crucial role it plays in the lives of health care-strapped Missourians. The company, America’s second-largest health insurer, appears to be exploring every possible option to milk its advantage and maximize profits on the backs of patients.

The only thing that appears to put the brakes on Anthem’s exploitative practices is the bad publicity it receives when those practices are exposed, such as when customers report being denied coverage for emergency room visits clearly necessary for the patient’s survival.

An inquiry led by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., determined that the numbers on denied coverage were far more than a handful. In the last half of 2017, Anthem denied the emergency-room claims of 12,200 patients in Missouri, Kentucky and Georgia, McCaskill’s inquiry found. During the final quarter of 2017, Anthem’s profits jumped 234 percent, to $1.2 billion, over the same period in 2016.

To be fair, Anthem and other insurance companies face a difficult burden sifting essential emergency room visits from those that easily could be avoided. Not every cut finger or flu symptom requires an emergency room visit.

But Anthem knows it went way overboard in its pursuit of profits — so much so that the company reversed itself on 62 percent of those 12,200 coverage denials. The reversals no doubt came as a big relief for the patients, but imagine the enormous hassle and anxiety they endured during the company’s claims-appeal process.

Earlier this year, criticism of Anthem swirled after details emerged about a boy, Ben Millheim, who suffered a fractured skull on a camping trip in 2016 and was airlifted 83 miles to a St. Louis hospital. Anthem denied full coverage because the helicopter company was deemed “out of network.” Ben’s parents were socked with a $32,000 bill.

Missouri, Kentucky and Georgia were the first three states where Anthem rolled out more stringent policies in a bid to make patients think twice about whether their emergency was really an emergency. Sometimes, as in Ben Millheim’s case, desperate parents don’t have time to question whether a service is in-network or out. They just want to save their child’s life.

The denials by Anthem appear to have been “an example of an insurance company looking for ways to save a buck at the expense of their patients, only to then reverse course to try and save face once folks noticed and called them out,” McCaskill said in a statement.

We don’t want to deny any company its right to make a fair profit, but there comes a point when exploitation needs to be called by its name. And since Anthem seems to respond when immersed in negative publicity, it remains important for patients to speak out when they feel they’ve been unfairly treated.

July 18, Joplin Globe

Seeing Red

It’s rare for Missouri’s Sen. Roy Blunt to publicly contradict or criticize a member of his own party. Especially when that person is the president of the United States.

It’s a barometer, in our view, of the real concern over some of President Donald Trump’s statements on Monday when he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump during a Monday news conference in Helsinki with Putin said he didn’t see “any reason” why Russia would have meddled in the 2016 elections. Trump said Putin was “extremely strong and powerful” in denying Russian involvement.

Blunt was among a large group of GOP leaders to push back.

Blunt in the past has defended the president’s methods as effective, even if they are unorthodox. But on Monday, the Republican senator quickly made it clear that he was not with Trump.

“Vladimir Putin is not an ally of the United States,” Blunt said in a statement. “He is a calculating adversary who is trying to exert all the influence he can anywhere he can. There is no doubt Russia attempted to interfere in our elections, as they have done in other countries for years. We must make clear that we will not tolerate Russian aggression against the United States or our allies.”

Trump suggested that he believes Putin’s denial of interfering in the 2016 elections, and he also cast blame on both countries for the strained relations.

While you might expect criticism from Democrats, it was conservative leaders who spoke the loudest:

“One of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”

— Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

It was a “bad day for the U.S.”

— Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

“I never would have thought that the U.S. president would become one of the ones getting played by old KGB hands.”

— Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas

And, the one that surprised many:

“The most serious mistake of Trump’s presidency — and one that must be corrected — immediately.”

— Newt Gingrich, a politician who consulted with Trump during his 2016 campaign

Despite attempting to walk it back on Tuesday, the president cannot “correct” his undermining of U.S. intelligence agencies and his dismissal of interference into America’s democratic process of voting.

President Trump, how will you make America great by compromising the integrity of the our elections? That’s the question you need to answer for all of us.

Kansas City Star, July 21

After Branson disaster that left 17 dead, duck boats should be docked

Here’s the bottom line on those cute-until-they’re-not duck boats of the kind that 17 people just died in on Table Rock Lake near Branson: They should all stay on dry land until we’re sure they’re safe, and that may never happen.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about this tragedy, including why the boat was out on such choppy water and why the owners and operators of Ride the Ducks Branson had equipped it with the same kind of canopy that was cited as a factor in the all-too-similar 1999 deaths of 13 people in a duck boat on Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Others deaths involving duck boats, on both land and water, have occurred in Seattle, Boston and Philadelphia, where Ride the Ducks closed operations two years ago.

Were the boats properly inspected? Were safety rules followed? Was the driver sufficiently trained? Are there ways to make duck boats safer?

Regulators will answer these questions and others, but lawmakers will play a role, too. In Washington, Missouri’s representatives in the House and Senate should ask for hearings on the safety of these boats, which date back to World War II.

The Coast Guard, which has primary oversight responsibility, should testify. So should the National Weather Service, which issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the Table Rock Lake area about 45 minutes before the boat sank. Kelsey Angle, a meteorologist with the weather service, told The Star that “within that thunderstorm warning was the possibility of winds in excess of 60 mph. Table Rock Lake was specifically mentioned.”

Missouri lawmakers must pursue their own review. As was the case in Kansas after the Schiltterbahn disaster, there should be a rewrite of safety laws and inspection protocols. If, that is, duck boat operators and their regulators can prove that they are fit for their purpose.

“Why are these boats still being used?” asks Jim Hall, who was National Transportation Safety Board chairman at the time of the Arkansas disaster, which the NTSB investigated. “These boats were not designed for recreational use, especially with large numbers of people and weather like this. The operator and the regulators know the danger. So to see these repeat occurrences, it’s just infuriating.”

Yes, it is. A 1-year-old was among the dead.

We know already that the NTSB said duck boat canopies pose a drowning risk to passengers in the event that a vessel goes down. The NTSB, which is investigating this latest incident, concluded that in Hot Springs, “contributing to the high loss of life was a continuous canopy roof that entrapped passengers within the sinking vehicle.”

Seven of those who died in Hot Springs were still inside the boat when it was recovered, and four of them had been pinned against the inside of the canopy, unable to get out.

Robert Mongeluzzi, a Philadelphia attorney who has brought lawsuits against duck boat operators explained in horrifying detail that if a boat like that sinks, you can drown with or without a life jacket.

“The problem with canopies,” he said, “is that if you are wearing your life preserver and there is a canopy and the boat capsizes then, the floatation device will take you up in the canopy, pinning you inside the vessel. If you don’t wear your life preserver, then you don’t have the floatation to get to the surface if the boat sinks.”

A notice on Ride the Ducks Branson’s website on Friday said, “We are deeply saddened by the tragic accident that occurred at Ride The Ducks Branson. This incident has deeply affected all of us. Words cannot convey how profoundly our hearts are breaking.”

No, they can’t. Action is what’s needed now.

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