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West Virginia editorial roundup

June 13, 2018

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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June 11

The Charleston Gazette on a Medicare for all plan in West Virginia:

When the West Virginia Legislature froze price increases for the Public Employees Insurance Agency this year to help end the teacher strike, money to cover the bills had to come from somewhere. A source was one-time money that had been set aside for another use.

Of course, one-time money does not cover costs that recur every year. So what is the plan for Year 2? That’s one of the things the governor’s “Fix PEIA” task force has to work out. Oh, and PEIA costs go up about $50 million a year.

Here is an old idea that West Virginia has always been too timid to try:

“Then and now, the time has come for an ‘Improved Medicare Plan for All’ in West Virginia that would provide economical single-payer health care for everyone,” Gazette contributing columnist John David suggested a week ago.

Back in 1992, when West Virginia had a legislatively mandated study group to figure out how to provide health coverage to all West Virginians, the state hired the prestigious national consultant The Lewin Group.

The consultant estimated that a single-payer system would cut admin costs by $164 million a year. Of course, that was a couple of decades ago.

The thinking was “Medicare for all.” How about PEIA for all?

What if private employers, large and small, who buy health insurance from private companies now, had the option to buy it instead through PEIA?

If you doubt that people would want it, ask around among friends and colleagues. How many lawyers and other professionals rely on a spouse with a government job to provide health insurance for the family, so the “private sector” company doesn’t have to?

What if PEIA could attract an even larger risk pool of younger, employed and employable people? Rather than premiums from those workers going to stockholders and CEOs of companies in other states, what if that money went into PEIA to take care of West Virginians?

Would it really harm private insurance companies and employment? How many of them are headquartered here? Those who are could probably figure out a relevant role to play.

A Washington Post editorial recently pointed out that the Congressional Budget Office released another round of projections of cost and coverage problems with health care nationally.

Republicans in Washington aren’t interested in fixing this. Everything they do is about taking apart the Affordable Care Act.

West Virginia cannot count on the current federal government to get this right, just like it couldn’t count on Congress back around 1990, when it created the group that studied these options.

Back then, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said a one-payer system would save the nation $1.3 trillion by 2001, recalled David, a retired economics professor and founder of the Southern Appalachian Labor School. West Virginia should get its share of whatever savings could be realized these days.

Anyone who hires an employee or starts or runs a business knows the drag that health care costs put on an organization. First, you have to make enough to even afford it. Then, you struggle every year to keep it. The cost and uncertainty of health care costs has had a dampening effect on hiring enthusiasm in West Virginia for decades.

“One can only hope that the PEIA Task Force will turn to the shelf and take a look at the big picture,” David wrote. “It is time to make the people of West Virginia healthy again — and help make it possible for everyone to get back to work.”

That sounds like a great goal.

Online: https://www.wvgazettemail.com/

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June 10

The Herald-Dispatch on why a black lung fund needs assistance, not further pressure:

Two factors related to black lung disease are trending in opposite directions, and that’s not good. In fact, in terms of the welfare of miners, both are moving into negative territory.

One factor is the incidence of the disease itself. Black lung is a chronic disease caused by breathing in coal mine dust, and to combat the deadly and debilitating toll it took on miners, the 1969 Coal Act was enacted nearly five decades ago, establishing dust limits in coal mine and a health monitoring program for miners.

That helped greatly, and sharp drops in disease rates occurred for nearly three decades. But black lung rates started to increase again in 2000, particularly an advanced form of the disease. Recent research focused on miners in Virginia identified the largest cluster of advanced black lung cases ever officially recorded. It’s clear the threat to miners is not going away and is instead growing.

But that alarming increase is juxtaposed with the possibility that a funding source that pays benefits to coal miners with black lung disease and their dependents is likely to become more depleted than it already is. That’s because a coal tax that helps fund the Black Lung Trust Fund is set to decrease by more than half in 2019, according to a report by the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

During the federal government’s 2017 fiscal year, the trust fund paid about $450 million to about 25,700 afflicted coal miners or their dependents.

The fund has been struggling to meet the commitments to miners and their families for years, and has borrowed from the Department of the Treasury’s general fund since 1979, the newspaper reported. But a 55 percent reduction starting next year in the coal tax that supports the trust fund will make matters far worse. The U.S. Government Accountability Office, which recently analyzed the fund and its future, projects that the fund’s deficit is likely to grow to $15 billion by 2050 based on current trends and the coming cut in the coal tax rate.

That puts the benefits to affected miners and their families in jeopardy, and at a time when the threat of more black lung among miners is evident. Federal lawmakers advocating for the miners and their families say that allowing the reduction in the coal tax to occur as scheduled could cause the fund’s debt to spiral out of control, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill. That’s not where the responsibility lies; it rests mostly with the coal industry, which owes the minors for their work and the risks they took.

Maintaining the coal tax at its current level alone won’t solve the overall problem. Other options, such as adjusting benefits that the coal industry says have become more liberal over the years, also could help balance the trust fund’s financial status. But Congress shouldn’t allow the coal tax reduction to happen, considering what that would do to the trust fund that thousands of miners and their families rely on.

Online: http://www.herald-dispatch.com

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June 8

The Register-Herald calls for West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry to resign:

If West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Allen Loughry has an ounce of honor and humility left in his being, he will spare us all the spectacle of the regurgitation of the purported sins of yet another public official drunk on his own power, offer up his resignation from the court and head back to a private life.

At one time the state’s chief justice, Loughry has been accused of a laundry list of ethical lapses, bald-faced lying and the lifting of office furniture and equipment for his home. (Nothing quite like living large on the taxpayer’s dime.)

In a state known for its colorful if not shady characters and political corruption, the justice has already written an inglorious chapter in this ignominious tome. Now, he should allow the state’s highest court to start its healing from the damage he has brought to its integrity and independence.

Justice Loughry, please resign. Now.

(...)

The justice faces a 32-count complaint filed by the state Judicial Investigation Commission, which stated - in perhaps the understatement of the year - that there is probable cause to believe Loughry violated judicial codes of conduct.

According to the complaint, and as reported by the state’s media earlier this year, here are the highlights of Loughry’s alleged transgressions and ethical lapses:

? He had an expensive desk moved from his law clerk’s office at the Capitol to his home without permission or knowledge of the other justices in 2012.

? In a show either of atonement or embarrassment from having been caught red-handed, he returned the desk last November, but he also moved a leather couch from his state office to his home.

(...)

? Loughry improperly used a state vehicle for personal reasons and failing to list - as required - all destinations.

As reported by The Associated Press, on one of the trips in December 2013, Loughry’s personal calendar had him attending a West Virginia University basketball game in Morgantown.

When the court’s director of security was asked to round up information on court car usage, he said the “only person we can recall that failed to provide a destination when asked was Justice Loughry.”

? He did not tell other justices about a federal subpoena served on the Supreme Court in December, even though it may have sought items specific to one or more of the court’s members.

The complaint seeks Loughry’s immediate suspension without pay. He has 30 days to respond. We would prefer that he take the immediate exit.

Resign now, Justice Loughry. Our citizens deserve honorable and honest public servants. You, sir, are neither.

Online: http://www.register-herald.com/

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