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Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

March 19, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

Houston Chronicle. March 18, 2019.

For nearly 40 years, Houstonian Jimmy Dunne has importuned Texas lawmakers to ban corporal punishment in Texas public schools, to no avail.

As a math teacher in 1981, he had a Damascus Road experience while paddling a student that convinced him beating a child was no way to address student misbehavior. He formed an organization that campaigned to end the practice, and over the years he has sent images of deep bruises on student backsides to state lawmakers to show the kind of injuries inflicted by paddling, testified in hearings in Austin and even held a demonstration of paddling on the Capitol grounds. He pushed the Houston Independent School District to end corporal punishment in 2001.

Dunne, 83, is still agitating for change and is optimistic that House Bill 420, authored by state Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, could gain some traction beyond a committee hearing where previous bills have not. The bill would ban “hitting, spanking, paddling or deliberately inflicting physical pain” as a punishment in Texas public schools. Most corporal punishment is delivered using a 2-foot-long wooden paddle.

“School paddling is clearly child abuse, and child abuse should not be tolerated at home or in school,” Dunne told the editorial board.

Texas is one of 19 states where corporal punishment in public schools remains legal. The state ranks just behind Mississippi among states that spank their students the most, according to the Department of Education’s 2013-2014 statistics on corporal punishment in public schools. And 31 states and the District of Columbia have stopped the practice, according to University of Texas at Austin associate professor Elizabeth T. Gershoff, whose research focuses on how corporal punishment impacts student development. The practice, which occurs in mostly rural areas, is not allowed in most Texas school districts, especially those in the major urban areas, she said.

According to a 2018 Education Week review of federal civil rights data released by the U.S. Department of Education, the percentage of K-12 students who are subject to corporal punishment in schools continues to drop. However, nearly 100,000 children were still spanked or paddled in schools in 2015-2016, and black students are still more likely to receive corporal punishment.

Gershoff said some Texas school administrators and state lawmakers defend corporal punishment as the only way to ensure that children behave in school. Studies have shown, however, that spanking improves neither students’ behavior nor their grades.

As Dunne has been saying for decades, if someone inflicted the kind of corporal punishment meted out to students onto a teacher, it would be called assault. That’s why Texas lawmakers need to put an end to spanking in schools and pass HB 420.

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The Dallas Morning News. March 19, 2019.

Imagine being able to shop for a knee-replacement surgery the way most people shop for a flight — by comparing prices on a website like Orbitz or Cheapflights.com, and understanding the full cost of exactly what you’re getting before shelling out your hard-earned money.

It’s hard to imagine because hospitals, doctors and other health care providers guard the prices they negotiate with insurance companies for medical services with, one might say, our lives. Providers and insurers have long regarded prices as proprietary, shrouding them in secrecy through confidentiality agreements.

But last month the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services called for public comment on a rule change that would pull back the veil on the byzantine pricing systems and discounts negotiated between providers and insurers, bringing much-needed transparency to the health care industry.

As Dr. Don Rucker, the HHS’s national coordinator for health information technology, told The Wall Street Journal, “It’s an effort by the president to help put Americans back in control of price data. Our interest is on how can we empower the American public to shop for their care and control it.”

That’s good news for U.S. consumers, who spend more on health care than residents of any other nation in the world. Nationwide, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Americans spent nearly $3.5 trillion on health care in 2017. That’s larger than Germany’s entire GDP — the fourth largest in the world.

The CMS expects U.S. health expenditures to rise on average 5.5 percent annually from 2018 to 2027, reaching nearly $6 trillion in 2027. And as more and more baby boomers reach retirement age, government spending on health care is expected to grow at an even faster pace, 7.4 percent per year.

Given these startling figures, we applaud the Trump administration’s efforts to bring transparency to health care pricing by prying open the ledger books of individual providers and hospital networks that often charge vastly different prices for the same medical procedures even in the same locality.

How much do prices vary? According to the HHS, a recent study by the Minnesota Department of Health found that “Minnesota insurers paid as much as $47,000 for a patient’s total knee replacement and as little as $6,200 — a nearly eightfold price difference.” Total hip replacement costs, the study found, “ranged from $6,700 to $44,000,” a more than sixfold difference. Procedures as common as baby delivery ranged from $2,900 to $12,300, while C-section deliveries ranged from $4,700 to $22,800.”

Not surprisingly, the rule change is facing opposition from the American Hospital Association and other industry representatives. Tom Nickels, an executive vice president of the AHA, recently went so far as to claim that while his organization “supports” transparency, “disclosing negotiated rates between insurers and hospitals could undermine the choices available in the private market.”

Funny. If we remember our high school economics correctly, free markets can’t function efficiently without transparency in pricing. Yes, the CMS requires that all hospitals post their “standard charges” for procedures. But that standard charge has little if anything to do with a patient’s out-of-pocket cost.

Knowing what hospitals charge insurers is the only way to determine what patients’ out-of-pocket expense will be before a procedure. Mandating disclosure of those prices will not only allow consumers — much like picking out a flight — to choose providers where their out of pocket expense is lowest, but it may also lead to insurer demands for lower, more consistent prices.

All of which could help turn the tide of America’s ever-increasing health care costs. As in most things, including politics, transparency and more readily available information are key to accountability and a more efficient health care market.

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Amarillo Globe-News. March 19, 2019.

The World Wide Web turned 30 last week, marking the anniversary with a conference that took a long look at the good and bad wrought by a technological breakthrough that has transformed virtually every aspect of life today. Yet, despite the advances, the creator of the web says it has morphed well beyond its original intent as a place for bright minds to collaborate on meaningful projects.

In too many cases, the web has become an unregulated incubator for hate speech, a safe haven for corporate giants to abuse personal privacy and a malleable platform for state-sanctioned election mischief and government (foreign and domestic) snooping. There is also the matter of web access. Half of the world is online; half is struggling to get there.

In the news in just the past few days are stories about how the dark side of The internet may have influenced the hate-filled world of the alleged shooter in the New Zealand mass shooting tragedy. Entire sections of the web are devoted to hatred, fear-mongering and divisiveness.

No wonder web founder Tim Berners-Lee summed it up like this: “Whoops! The web is not the web we wanted in every respect.”

The problem is the web has grown so rapidly and so unwieldy that attempts to rein it in will either compromise basic freedoms or provoke widespread government intrusion. Despite what appears to be a rock and a hard place future, Berners-Lee through his World Wide Web Foundation has developed a “Contract for the web,” meant to bring people, countries and governments together and reimagine the web in its original, undistorted image.

“The Contract for the web is about sitting down in working groups with other people who signed up, and to say, ‘OK, let’s work out what this really means,’” Berners-Lee said in our story about the 30th anniversary last week.

The challenge, though, is where to draw the lines and how to balance these altruistic expectations against a world where the genie has been out of the bottle for almost three decades. “Where is the balance between leaving the tech companies to do the right thing and regulating them?” he asked. “Where is the balance between freedom of speech and hate speech?”

The conversation has to start somewhere, though, if the idyllic outcome of a web “better for humanity” is to be realized. That means getting governments, companies and individuals together to reshape the web around basic fundamentals, our story said. For example, governments should make sure everyone has continuous access to the web while respecting the privacy of all citizens.

Companies are challenged to make The internet affordable and also respect the privacy of users with the noble goal of putting the “public good” first. Finally, people who use The internet should be online to “create and cooperate” while respecting civil discourse. There is no doubt the World Wide Web has made many aspects of life better. People are more connected than ever before. People around the world can order goods and services from around the world with ease.

But for all of the gains, the trade-offs have been staggering. The once fiercely guarded concept of personal privacy has become a casualty of online access. The keyboard and distance across cyberspace have emboldened people to say things to other people they might never have said face to face. Most likely, the web will never be the pure, collaborative tool it was meant to be, but it must be more than it is today, and that starts with giving the Contract for the web a chance.