Georgia editorial roundup

By: The Associated Press
June 22, 2016 Updated: June 22, 2016 at 12:10 pm

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:


June 17

The Savannah Morning News on Medicaid:

State Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) deserves credit for breaking the Republican hard-line opposition to Medicaid expansion in Georgia by telling a radio interviewer that Georgia should "re-examine" the notion.

"We have to open that box and look just a little bit and see what's available," Unterman, who chairs the Senate's Health and Human Services Committee, told WABE radio in Atlanta earlier this month.

Better late than never.

Georgia has already lost out on billions of federal dollars that would have covered medical costs of people with incomes too low to qualify for health care subsidies under the Affordable Care Act but not low enough to get Medicaid. We are talking about an estimated 400,000 to 600,000 Georgians without coverage who would likely qualify if Medicaid were expanded. These are people who use the closest emergency room for all medical issues, which forces hospitals to foot the bill, close or pass the cost along to the rest of us. At least four rural hospitals in Georgia have closed during the past three years.

The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, sought to close the gap by expanding Medicaid. As an incentive for states to sign up, the law offered to pay 100 percent of the additional cost the first three years beginning in 2014, then 95 percent and, beginning in 2020, 90 percent from then on out.

But when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states didn't have to sign up if they didn't want to, most Republican-controlled states balked. Governors, including ours, said they feared spiraling costs down the line. They were also loathe to sign on to anything connected to Obamacare for political reasons.

As a result, hospitals, their employees, taxpayers and the sick have suffered. Locally, Memorial Health University Medical Center is losing millions of dollars annually, in large part because of its commitment to treating uninsured patients. That loss has helped fuel the hospital's ongoing effort to find a third party to be a financial partner with the hospital, resulting in a major political controversy that continues to boil.

"Times have changed," Unterman said. "How many years in a row can we pump in hundreds of millions of dollars to hospitals that are closing, to physicians that are going out of business?"

Indeed they have changed, and lawmakers from areas in which these hospitals are closing are feeling the heat. At least some of the hundreds of dollars that these hospitals desperately need to keep their doors open could be coming from Uncle Sam, she said.

Unterman qualified her remarks by pointing to modified, hybrid plans that Republican governors in 10 other states have fashioned to take partial advantage of the additional dollars. Arkansas, for example, buys private insurance for low-income residents who were in that gap. Georgia is one of 19 states still not offering any kind of Medicaid expansion.

For the state to sign on now, it would take an act of the legislature as well as the governor's signature. Democrats, a minority in both chambers, have pushed for Medicaid expansion, but Republican opposition remains strong. We urge Chatham County's delegation to join Unterman and encourage the legislature and Gov. Deal to reconsider their past objections to Medicaid expansion in this state.

Gov. Nathan Deal, who previously opposed Medicaid expansion, told the Associated Press last week, "It's not something I have closed the door on." That's encouraging.

Unterman and any others who want to walk through that door have the summer and fall to come up with a plan to try to sell to lawmakers and the governor. Let's hope they do. The state has already missed out on three free years of Medicaid expansion. It's not too late to get help for hospitals like Memorial and their staffs, physicians, low-income residents and state taxpayers.



June 20

The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer on the Veterans Choice Act:

Two years ago, in response to a Department of Veterans Affairs health care scandal that seemed to offer up a new and disgusting revelation every day, Congress passed, and President Obama signed, something dubbed the Veterans Choice Act.

The law provided, among other things, that veterans forced to wait absurdly, and in too many cases dangerously, long times for medical care would have greater options of obtaining that care from private providers. More to the point of the immediate issue, it gave the VA greater authority to quickly and summarily dismiss workers, including senior staffers, for the kinds of negligence, administrative malfeasance and records-doctoring that had been uncovered within the department's medical bureaucracy.

The scope of the scandal was undeniable, the need for reform unarguable, the sincerity of public outrage unquestionable. Veterans were kept waiting for treatment for up to a year — longer in some cases — by VA facilities whose administrators ordered records falsified to show that vets' appointments had been kept and their problems dealt with in a reasonably timely manner. At the Phoenix VA hospital alone — the facility that proved to be Ground Zero in the health care scandal — as many as 40 veterans died while waiting to receive care.

Appalling conditions in a country that pays such loud lip service to its support for those who defend it.

Though the necessity for something like the Veterans Choice Act was and is clear, it's hardly solved the problem.

The reasons why depend on whom you ask. Some in Congress, including U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., say the VA is simply refusing to enforce it. Others, including VA officials and the Department of Justice, specifically Attorney General Loretta Lynch, say the law as written is unconstitutional. Under those circumstances, Deputy VA secretary Sloan Gibson said last week, using such authority "would only hinder VA's ability to hold senior officials accountable ... and make those actions stick."

The snag, according to a May 31 letter from Lynch, is that existing law gives high-level officials the right to appeal firings to a Merit Systems Protection Board, whereas the 2014 law gives final authority to an administrative judge. Lynch's letter was in response to a filing by former Phoenix VA Health Care System Director Sharon Helman, who claims she was unconstitutionally denied her right to an appeal before the board.

That Helman deserved to be terminated, given the conditions at the Phoenix VA hospital, is hard to dispute. But like it or not, if the law gives her the right of appeal, then Lynch is correct on the facts of the case.

"Everyone knows VA isn't very good at disciplining employees," said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House veterans panel, "but this decision calls into question whether department leaders are even interested in doing so."

That last part might or might not be fair. Isakson, meanwhile, is urging Congress to write a new bill that would close the administrative loopholes and pass constitutional muster. That's the right approach.



June 21

The Valdosta Daily Times on the death of Kendrick Johnson:

The parents of Kendrick Johnson have lost a son.

No investigations, no rulings and no words can change that fact.

After more than three years of pain and tears, local, state and federal investigations, the convening of a grand jury and now a meeting with the United States Attorney's Office where they were told the feds believe there is not sufficient evidence to warrant keeping the case open any longer, Jackie and Kenneth Johnson and their family are still dealing with a devastating loss.

We understand the family is still hurting and this news from the U.S. Attorney's Office is difficult to hear.

After an in-depth local investigation, an FBI probe, federal review, a grand jury and a two-and-a-half-year investigation by the feds, it is very unlikely any other investigations, attempts at prosecution or even civil lawsuits will have a different outcome.

This case is over.

It is time for the community to move on.

Now is not a time to try the case in the press, or for people to take to social media with more speculation or to attack the family because they have repeatedly called for justice.

Now is a time for the community to help them heal.

No parent should have to deal with the loss of a child.

A son, a brother, a cousin and a friend is gone.

Nothing will change that, ever.

Because of all the controversy surrounding his death, the community as a whole never really found a way to express its full condolences to the Johnson family.

Now we should.

No parent can really say how they would deal with the loss of a child, much less a death under such unusual circumstances.

Any parent would have questions, would grieve deeply and be full of conflicting emotions.

People deal with grief in different ways and who is to say what is the best way to cope with such a loss?

The most unfortunate thing for this family, and for the community, is the way the U.S. Attorney's Office has dragged this investigation out.

That in and of itself has been an injustice to Jackie and Kenneth Johnson and their family.

It is unlikely investigators know any more today than they knew two years ago.

Many of the interviews that were conducted during the course of the past two years had little or nothing to do with the actual death of this young man.

People were questioned about false reporting, about obstruction and other peripheral issues that were only loosely related to the tragedy, all the while giving the community — and the family — the impression there was more to this case than what local and state investigators had already concluded.

People were vilified, groups were angered and justice was delayed because of a process that took way too long and turned up nothing.

We hope now the Johnson family — and the community — can heal and that Kendrick can be remembered for the way he lived his life and not for the controversy surrounding his unfortunate death.


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