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Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

July 10, 2017

Des Moines Register. July 4, 2017

Blaming sick people does not lower drug prices

Iowa senator’s comments on diabetes miss the mark

A Des Moines Register editorial last week reported on two Washington lawmakers, a Democrat and a Republican, who each have children with Type 1 diabetes. They are calling on the health industry to explain why insulin is so expensive.

The price of insulin has tripled in recent years, even for older forms of the drug. One costing $21 a vial two decades ago has increased to $255. The retail price for many is frequently about $300 per vial, and diabetics commonly use two to six vials per month.

Iowa Sen. Thomas Greene, R-Burlington, used the Register’s Facebook page to comment on the editorial. He wrote that most people can control the onset of diabetes “with proper diet, exercise and weight control. If that fails, then generic medications are next. Personal responsibility is the 1st step.”

It is true that some people can make lifestyle changes to prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes. But sometimes they still need insulin. (Generic forms are not available). And the editorial focused on Type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune disease. Many Type 1 diabetics are diagnosed as children. Their own immune systems mistakenly destroy cells that produce insulin, a hormone needed to convert food to energy.

There is no way to prevent the disease. There is no way to cure it. Injecting insulin, frequently several times a day, is the only way to stay alive. The 20,000 young Americans diagnosed with it each year know this.

Researchers at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, have found a way to protect beta cells from destruction, which could lead to therapies to prevent type 1 diabetes. David Serreze, a professor at JAX Laboratories, said in a press release, “Our approach targets an appropriate population of the B cells among the white blood cells, resulting in inactivation of the cascade of autoimmunity against the insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells, and hence subsequently blocking diabetes development.” Wochit

So did fellow readers who responded to Greene’s online comment. They included one mother who was curious to know whether her 3-year-old could have shown more “personal responsibility” to avoid the disease.

Greene’s subsequent Facebook comment: “I’m a Pharmacist. I know the facts. I practice in retail pharmacy. I see the patients every day.”

An editorial writer called Greene to see if he did, in fact, know the facts. He acknowledged a Type 1 diabetic had “no control” over onset of the disease. But he was more interested in talking about “individual responsibility” in preventing and managing chronic illnesses.

“I get kids who are 10 years old who are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Get these kids out and play baseball,” he said.

What does that have to do with the high price of insulin?

So we asked Greene, who is a licensed pharmacist, about his experience with patients being able to afford it. He said most of them had health insurance and their co-pays were only $10 to $20.

Actually if Greene had Type 1 diabetes, he would know that is typically not the case.

When he was elected to the Iowa Senate last year, he retired from his job as a pharmacist in West Burlington. As a lawmaker, he enrolled in Blue Access health insurance, which costs taxpayers about $1,600 per month. With that plan, the co-pay for one form of insulin is not $10 or $20. It is $60 per vial.

And lawmakers’ health insurance has very generous benefits compared with other Iowans with employer-based coverage. People with high-deductible health plans or no insurance may pay full price for drugs. When seniors on Medicare reach the “donut hole” in prescription coverage, they pay a larger percentage of the cost.

Greene’s comments are most troubling because they reflect an unhelpful philosophy about health care that is commonly expressed: People just need to take better care of themselves.

While that may help stave off disease, genetics and age have a way of catching up with everyone. Gov. Terry Branstad had just finished exercising at the YMCA in 2000 when chest pains took him to the hospital for an angioplasty to open an artery. He was fortunate to have good health insurance.

People who do everything right are still diagnosed with cancer. And epilepsy. And heart disease. And diabetes. The medications they need to stay alive should be affordable. That was the point of the original editorial. That should be the issue elected officials focus on addressing.

Not blaming sick people for being sick.

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Quad City Times. July 7, 2017

After defeat, Rauner should look to pensions

A bad budget is better than nothing. But only a constitutional amendment can fix that which is tanking Illinois. And that’s where Gov. Bruce Rauner should redouble his efforts.

The nearly $5 billion tax increase enacted Thursday by Illinois House — through an override of Rauner’s veto — won’t make for a good budget. The spending plan doesn’t right the deep structural failings that are sinking Illinois. It hikes taxes without meaningful reform. And by and large, Rauner didn’t get much of what he wanted, a significant political defeat after more than two years.

At the end of the day, Illinois couldn’t suffer any more starts and stops. It couldn’t withstand more of this showdown between Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Put simply, even a terrible budget is better than the past two years of layoffs at state universities, shuttered social services clinics and a state teetering on a junk bond status credit rating. Illinois teetered on a fiscal cliff on Thursday, on the cusp of running out of cash. Inaction in the House was simply not an option.

Rauner’s veto earlier this week was a mistake, even more so now that several General Assembly Republicans aided in its override. In one fell swoop, necessity steamrolled Rauner’s political capital and his agenda and reasserted Madigan’s dominance over Illinois. But, the defeat could also liberate the Republican governor, who could abandon his stalled agenda for something exponentially more impactful.

Rauner has been obsessed with relatively small tweaks that could never right Illinois’ fundamental failing: The public pension.

Billions are spent propping it up, money better spent on schools and roads. Courts have tossed all prior attempts at any meaningful overhaul.

No measure of tweaking will mean much until an amendment to the Illinois Constitution drastically rolls back protections for state pensions, underfunded by more than $100 billion and growing every day. This issue, and this alone, should have been Rauner’s sole focus from day one.

Instead, he got mired in term limits and municipal dissolution. He immediately made enemies with powerful union bosses by flirting with right-to-work-zones. Even now, several of the core aspects of his “turnaround” agenda, such as workers’ compensation reform, were given as justification for his shortsighted veto of the budget. But, in essence, Rauner’s agenda has been little more than a collection of dissimilar, inconsistent conservative planks. On their own, each have merit. But as a collection, they lack a rational unifying theme.

After more than two years of statewide damage, Rauner misread the tea leaves, and it burned him. He failed to appreciate just how motivated lawmakers would be once faced with a junk status bond rating. The tax hike is inelegant, but there simply weren’t any other options.

Thing is, Rauner’s attention should be laser-focused on pension reform. All the other bits, including a property tax freeze, are only helpful if and when state pensions no longer bleed Illinois dry. The city of Rock Island, for instance, spends all of its property tax revenue on police and firefighter pensions. Only sales tax props up Rock Island’s day-to-day operations. That’s not solid government. Same is true at the state level. Spending is out of control, sure. But too much of the available cash isn’t spent the very services that have suffered throughout this senseless two-year standoff.

Illinois finally has a budget. It brings to an end a period of museum-grade partisan gridlock. Illinois’ schools will know their funding levels. Public universities can count on stable grant funding. Social service agencies can actually plan. Even the lottery might remain operational.

In the short term, all of this is to Illinois’ benefit. The rampant insecurity of the years-long budget impasse was bad government and bad business. Thankfully, that’s over now.

But all the stability in the world wouldn’t count for much until Illinois fixes its fundamental structural flaw. After this defeat, Rauner should abandon his defunct turnaround agenda and focus solely on meaningful pension reform. It’s the only way Illinois ever finds solid financial footing.

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Sioux City Journal. July 6, 2017

Local fireworks changes are warranted before next year

With the first Fourth of July holiday since the Legislature legalized fireworks in Iowa and the City Council adopted a fireworks ordinance for Sioux City having passed, it’s time for a review by local leaders.

Based on what we saw and heard ourselves and heard from other city residents, we believe changes are warranted.

Our thoughts?

1) The City Council should significantly shorten the window of days during which residents can shoot off fireworks for the July 4 observance.

Ten days strikes us as far too many days to force residents who like fireworks to tolerate those who don’t. America isn’t celebrating its independence on June 25.

One suggestion: Two days of fireworks — July 3 and 4.

2) Police should beef up enforcement of the local ordinance. By beefed-up enforcement, we mean a no-tolerance policy toward fireworks offenders. In other words, no warnings; you violate the fireworks ordinance, you get a citation and fine.

The police department should publicize its get-tougher approach. Sometimes, the simple act by law enforcement of telling the public it intends to crack down harder on something can have a positive impact.

Finally, the police department should consider providing a hotline to make it easier for residents to report fireworks violations.

3) Individual citizens must exercise greater personal responsibility. That includes communicating with and extending courtesy to neighbors, practicing safety, not discharging fireworks on public property, only discharging fireworks during the time frame allowed by the local ordinance and cleaning up. No one possesses a constitutional right to shoot off fireworks. It’s a privilege city leaders can and should rescind if widespread abuses continue.

As we have said before in this space, our view of legalized fireworks in Iowa is mixed. We understand both sides of this discussion.

We acknowledge majority support for fireworks among Iowans and appreciate the economic benefits of capturing part of a business Iowa loses to border states (including Nebraska and South Dakota) each year, but we sympathize with residents who want their neighborhoods free of them.

As a community, we should strive to strike a better local balance between supporters and opponents of fireworks before our country marks its next birthday.

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Fort Dodge Messenger. July 7, 2017

Let’s keep our farms safe for kids

Here are some tips to help avoid tragedies this summer

According to the federal government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, agriculture is the second most dangerous occupation in the nation with a death rate at 22.7 per 100,000 workers. Given agriculture’s central role in Iowa’s economy, an emphasis on farm safety is of crucial concern in the Hawkeye State. Additionally, there are many young people who work in agriculture or who live on the nation’s farms and ranches. The risks they face are of particular concern.

Anyone who grew up on a farm will tell you that the rural life can have pleasures aplenty. The wonders of nature are close at hand. The clean air and exhausting but exhilarating work in the great outdoors become treasured memories as farm kids grow older — especially so, perhaps, when they depart rural life for a more urban setting.

Farms can also be dangerous places for young folks if safety isn’t given a high priority.

Sadly, each year thousands of young folks are injured and too many die as a result of dangers present in their idyllic but risky surroundings.

Keeping the young ones safe should be a top concern for farm families.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has issued what it characterizes as the “Top 10 Farm Safety Tips for Kids.” Most of them are common sense, but this is a good time to pay special heed these important safety admonitions from the PDA:

. No seat, no rider. Do not allow children to be extra riders on farm equipment, even if they are helping with chores.

. Keep small children from playing on, in or under machinery or equipment. Provide an alternate safe-play area.

. Know where children are before starting machinery and farm vehicles.

. Train and closely supervise youths who will be operating farm machinery and equipment.

. Keep ladders out of reach.

. Keep small children away from large animals, particularly animals that have recently given birth.

. Do not let children under age 12 operate an all-terrain vehicle.

. Keep children from playing on, or in, silos and grain bins or wagons.

. Do not leave children unsupervised around farm ponds or manure pits.

. Hold monthly farm safety review sessions.

The summer can be a wonderful time for forging lasting childhood memories in rural America. The vast majority of tragedies that befall young people on farms can be avoided with a little caution and care.

Common sense measures are also the key to keeping adults who work in agriculture free from injury.

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