Colorado Editorial Roundup
Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, Feb. 27, on runaway health care premiums:
Rural and mountain communities have been looking to a single insurance rating area as a key to slowing down runaway health care premiums.
But that’s a risky strategy on two fronts. The first has to do with pure politics. It’s simply unlikely that Front Range lawmakers will agree that their constituents should pay more for insurance so the rest of the state can pay less.
If, by some miracle, legislation passed turning the state’s nine geographic rating areas into a single area, it could be disastrous for rural communities, according to Michael Conway, the Colorado Division of Insurance interim director.
Insurance carriers currently set one rate for the state and then apply rating factors that reflect the variable costs of specific areas of the state. If there’s only one rating area, insurance companies still have to contend with the fact that rural hospitals can be much more expensive than Denver-area hospitals. Rather than compete with statewide plans, insurance carriers would simply drop out of rural markets to focus on the Denver-Boulder-Colorado Springs corridor.
So why not just write legislation that would force insurers to serve the entire state? “Because they won’t,” Conway told the Sentinel’s editorial board last week. They’ll leave the state and the individual market entirely. If one or two of the current seven insurance providers in the individual market decided to stay, it could lead to monopolistic tendencies that hurt rural communities.
That’s why Conway is pushing for legislation to authorize a reinsurance program “designed to accomplish the same thing as a single geographic rating area, but will benefit everybody in the state.” It’s job No. 1 as far as the division is concerned.
Five to 8 percent of folks in the individual market drive 50-60 percent of the costs, Conway said. “If you can figure out a way to help pay those claims or pay those claims, you can really reduce premiums for everyone else.”
Of particular concern is the 8 percent of people in the individual market, or roughly 200,000 Coloradans, who don’t qualify for tax credits. They are being priced out of any coverage at all.
Alaska reduced an projected 42-percent rate increase to 7 percent the first year it implemented a reinsurance program and then followed it up with a 42-percent reduction in rates. The state did that by getting the federal government to kick in money.
Because premiums are being reduced in the marketplace as a whole, the tax credits that the federal government would pay are reduced as well. Rather than pocketing the savings, the feds will allow states that qualify for a waiver to use the money to cover the cost of the most expensive to insure, giving a break to the entire market.
An actuarial firm hired by the division has determined that the reinsurance program will cost $360 million, but roughly half will come from the feds.
It’s unlikely that the Legislature will tap the General Fund for the state’s share. Where the remaining money would come from is yet to be determined, but Conway said some of it would likely come from companies who pay for insurance via “assessments” of 1 or 2 percentage points. In other words, the privately insured would pay a little more to facilitate a targeted 20-percent rate reduction, stabilize the market and diminish the prospects of the “death spiral” where insurance companies exit the marketplace altogether.
Addressing costs for those who don’t qualify for tax credits has to be the first domino to fall, Conway said. “If we don’t figure out a way to help those folks, I don’t think we can actually move on to addressing some of the more fundamental issues of the health care system, which are really the costs.”
Aurora Sentinel, Feb. 26, on Parkland shooting survivors targeting the NRA’s finances:
Maybe an eloquent and emotional plea from survivors of the nation’s most recent mass shooting will turn the political tide by capitalizing on the one thing that could finally bring America reasonable gun control: money.
After a whirlwind national catharsis over the country’s horrific plague of gun violence and mass shootings, a handful of high-school teenagers who survived the Douglas high school massacre in Parkland, Florida, have created a groundswell of public interest in government action.
The interest so far has been in putting the National Rifle Association, its congressional loyalists and even President Donald Trump on the defensive — all good moves.
In the short time since the Feb. 14 mass shooting, the Florida Legislature has at least entertained the idea of gun control. That assembly has previously shut out any hope of it, just like so many other states.
These savvy and articulate teens, however, have captured the nation’s attention with their persistent demands for effective government measures to halt mass shootings at schools and elsewhere.
The movement has prompted a growing list of powerful businesses to publicly shun the NRA as part of a trending #BoycottNRA movement. Some have outright demanded the strident gun-industry lobbyists give up their unyielding mantras, that any effective gun control is bad gun control. Airlines, banks, rental car companies, hotel chains and more are for the first time willing to take on the NRA’s thunderous role in Congress.
This growing movement has quickly exposed solutions offered by gun-rights activists as the lunacy they are; Arming teachers in schools, making it even easier for even more people to carry concealed weapons, encouraging people to openly carry guns anywhere and everywhere, rescinding what few gun controls there are on the books and other dubious proposals are being called out as nonsense.
It doesn’t mean gun control is the only answer. Local Florida police, state social service agencies and FBI officials must explain what appears to be catastrophic failure on their part in the massacre. A number of state officials probably could have prevented this attack after so many people identified the shooter as a potential threat.
Identifying and apprehending potential mass murderers before they strike is imperative, but it is no substitute for gun control.
For the first time in decades, this could be the watershed moment moderate gun-control proponents have long hoped for.
The stunning rift exposes the NRA for what it really is, an intolerant propaganda machine that represents the interests of the massive firearms industry at the expense of endless thousands of gun-violence victims.
Marshalling their passion, their youth and their social media savvy, the surviving students have at least, temporarily, made Americans look critically at the mythology the NRA and others have spun around the Second Amendment.
Legal and historical scholars have long concluded that the amendment is by no means absolute and was never intended to give individual Americans unfettered access to deadly arsenals.
Reasonable Americans have no desire to outlaw all guns or repeal the Second Amendment, but they do understand the wisdom behind mandatory licensing, registration, insurance and the ability prove mental competence. This new and growing #neveragain movement could finally get traction on a ban of military weapons. The ban must be not just on the sale of these military weapons, but an all-out ban like in Australia. Americans, too, would probably see dramatic results like they did in that country. Australia banned assault weapons in 1994, bought them back from citizens and nearly ended mass shooting violence there. What an enormous victory it would be if the United States could just cut in half the 350 or so Americans shot to death in mass shootings each year.
Real change will come if state and congressional lawmakers move in the same direction against the NRA as are national corporations and American sentiment. It won’t be easy or fast. When pressed last week about whether he would consider refusing campaign contributions from the NRA should public opinion become a groundswell, Aurora GOP Congressman Mike Coffman dismissed the idea that it might come to that. He said pushing the country against the NRA and those who take campaign money from it is a nothing but a partisan move.
We disagree. Preventing children from being gunned down at school isn’t a partisan matter, and it’s indisputable that the NRA wages all-out war on gun control measures that have provably worked in the United States and elsewhere.
For the first time in decades, Americans are about to drive this issue instead of paid gun-industry lobbyists.
The Denver Post, Feb. 26, on leniency for police facing addiction making sense:
Giving police officers suffering from alcohol or substance abuse a second chance to get sober and prove they are deserving of the uniform and worthy of public trust strikes us as a compassionate approach to a tough issue.
The Denver Post’s Noelle Phillips reported over the weekend that a number of area law enforcement agencies are grappling with the question of how to handle officers or deputies who admit to having a problem with alcohol and drugs and agree to seek treatment.
For the Denver Police Department, the approach of treatment and leniency is being put to the test by Officer Jayson Spitzer, who received a 16-day suspension for pleading guilty to driving while ability impaired following a 2016 single-vehicle crash in Lakewood.
More than a year later, Spitzer was struggling to comply with the terms of his probation for that conviction, particularly failing or missing scheduled urine alcohol screenings. The officer again received disciplinary action for the probation violations and received a 20-day unpaid suspension and was ordered to abstain from alcohol for two years, undergo random urine screens, and seek treatment for alcoholism.
The harshest punishment the officer could have faced under the department’s discipline matrix is 60 days.
While we would have much preferred for the first alcohol-related incident to have included stipulations for sobriety and treatment that could have resulted in the officer being terminated for violating terms of the agreement, we agree with Jess Vigil, public safety deputy director, that a simple 60-day suspension now wouldn’t solve the problem.
“Sobriety for two years is more strenuous and arduous,” Vigil told The Denver Post. “I can see where some would see this as being lenient, but I can assure you, based on my experience, this is harsher than if he had done the straight 60 days.”
Driving drunk is seriously dangerous behavior that claims far too many innocent lives every year. We would hope that in cases where others are injured by such an errant officer, termination would be the result. Our law enforcement officials must be held to a higher standard than the general public, most of whom would not face termination from their jobs for receiving a drunken-driving conviction.
That said, law enforcement officers are under a tremendous amount of stress, which can sometimes trigger dependence on drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. Shouldn’t society seek to aid those who abuse but ask for help?
We’re glad law enforcement agencies are getting ahead of the problem, trying to encourage their employees to seek treatment with the knowledge they won’t be disciplined for reporting addiction.
Since Denver Police Chief Robert White created a resiliency program for officers having a hard time coping with the job, about 80 people per year have asked for counseling, of which about seven are officers seeking help for substance abuse.
Much better that trouble with addiction present itself voluntarily than that it be discovered through a related criminal charge later.
Our officers must be held to a high standard, but we’re glad to see there’s compassion on the force to help law enforcement obtain that gold standard of behavior whether they are on duty or off duty.
Coloradoan, Feb. 23, on American needing to research gun violence as a public health issue:
America is stuck at a crossroads in its long, contentious relationship with firearms.
We have reached the point where we can continue down the same path of how guns are viewed and regulated at the national and at state levels — a path that includes occasional and incomprehensible mass shootings — or take another direction toward change.
The problem is we’re not sure what changes to make. As much as we talk about gun violence in this country, we don’t have enough information on how to prevent it.
Yes, we need to talk about it more. And yes, this is the time to talk about it.
The gun debate has roared back into the national consciousness in the wake of 17 murders at a high school in Parkland, Florida, by one deeply troubled young man. Teenagers who witnessed the tragedy are leading the call for immediate action to strengthen gun control.
At the same time, legislative efforts are underway in Colorado and elsewhere to loosen restrictions on carrying concealed weapons. There are renewed calls to stop designating schools as “gun-free zones.”
Before any of this happens, comprehensive scientific research into how to prevent injuries and death from guns must be conducted. Real studies are needed into the effectiveness of measures intended to reduce violence, such as waiting periods for gun purchases, mandatory weapon registration and allowing concealed carry without permits.
Such evidence and data are lacking. In 1996, Congress passed the so-called Dickey amendment that effectively shut down research into gun violence by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, the Dickey amendment does not ban research on gun violence: It bans lobbying by the CDC and in turn other federal agencies for gun-control legislation. It was followed up by deep budget cuts in funding for research, no doubt fueled by concerns about what such research might find.
That needs to change at the national level. We can’t solve a problem if we don’t know its causes and study possible solutions.
There is a lot to study and talk about, including what roles mental health, the pervasiveness of violence in mass entertainment and the availability of guns and ammunition play into the frequency of mass shootings.
Gun violence needs to be treated like a public health issue. Horrific mass shootings are not the only symptom of this nexus of firearms and mental health crises such as suicide attempts and societal issues including domestic violence.
At the state level, we would support the establishment of a task force made up of experts in a variety of fields to look these issues and make recommendations to the Legislature and governor on how to reduce gun violence in Colorado.
The usual arguments from opposite sides of the gun debate sound empty after so many years of back-and-forth bickering.
Adding more guns to the mix — the idea that armed “good guys” can protect us from “bad guys” — falls apart when one envisions police arriving at the scene of a shootout and having to sort out who among the gun-bearers is “good” and who is “bad.”
Banning a particular weapon or a specific type of weapon — assault rifles, for example — immediately gets sticky over the definition of such weapons. At this point, with an estimated 300 million guns in the United States, it’s too late to make a difference in the number of firearms that are readily available to people in crisis by banning one type of gun.
Big problems require big discussions. It’s time to stop fighting and get talking. From there, we can find direction and take meaningful action.