Tennessee editorial roundup
Posted April 19
Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:
The Memphis Commercial Appeal on how two senators are seeking a health care fix:
Tennessee Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker reached into their first-aid kit to patch a wound in the Affordable Care Act and, for lack of something more substantial, pulled out the Health Care Options Act of 2017.
The legislative Band-Aid is for people who live in counties where health insurance providers have bailed out of the health care exchanges established under the ACA.
It would allow them to use their ACA subsidy to purchase any health insurance plan outside of the exchanges as long as the insurance is approved by the state.
In counties where the Secretary of Health and Human Services certifies there are no options on an ACA exchange, the legislation also would waive the act's requirement to buy a specific health care plan or pay a fine.
The bill would sunset in 2019, but it has merit as a temporary fix to the ACA, which remains the law of the land in the wake of the Republican-led Congress's failure to repeal and replace the Obama administration's signature legislative achievement.
Something had to be done, the Tennessee senators figured, when Humana, the Knoxville area's one remaining ACA insurer, pulled out of the exchange for 2018 and fears that the same thing could happen elsewhere in Tennessee continued to grow.
"There is also a real prospect that all 230,000 Tennesseans who buy insurance on the exchange — approximately 195,000 with a subsidy — won't have any plans to buy next year either," Alexander said, "and millions of Americans in other states are facing the same dire circumstances."
Of course, a lot heavier lifting will be required to, in Corker's words, "resolve the issues that are driving up health care costs, limiting choices, and causing the exchange market to spiral downward."
It's still not clear what Congress will come up with as a replacement for the ACA, which has made access to health care insurance available for roughly 20 million Americans and, in Tennessee, lowered the percentage of the uninsured to a record level, even without Medicaid expansion in the state.
The gains face a new threat in the form of a lawsuit brought by Republicans in the U.S. House challenging the use of cost sharing reductions, which subsidize out-of-pocket costs, including deductibles, for people who make 100-250 percent of the federal poverty line.
With so much uncertainty about the future of the exchange, luring companies such as BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee or Cigna back into uncovered areas will be challenging, said Julie Mix McPeak, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, in an interview with the USA TODAY NETWORK — Tennessee.
Some clarity could come in June, when insurers are required to notify the state Department of Commerce and Insurance if they intend to sell in 2018 and new rates are set. More defections by insurers could lead to a 2018 spike in the uninsured ranks, unless officials find a way to ensure profitability.
Meanwhile, Alexander and Corker deserve support for their temporary fix. When a Band-Aid is all one has to work with, it doesn't pay to sit back and hope for a better remedy.
The Johnson City Press on physical education and recess in schools:
How much school recess is too much recess? That's the question the Tennessee General Assembly has been struggling to answer this year. Lawmakers are being asked to amend an existing state law that requires schools to provide students with a specific amount of hours each day for physical activity.
These mandates are too much, some educators say, arguing recess is taking away from instructional time.
Other officials believe the law is too confusing and cumbersome to carry out. Meanwhile, some lawmakers say the whole issue should be left up to local school boards to decide.
There is just one overriding thing state lawmakers need to keep in mind in deciding this issue — the best interest of students.
A lack of exercise and poor diets have resulted in bulging waistlines and serious health problems for too many Tennesseans, both young and old.
Statistics show 75 percent of the waking hours for children in the United States are spent being inactive, with more than five hours per day spent engaging in some type of activity involving digital media.
Those statistics point also to a nationwide trend away from children receiving physical activity time at school. National averages show that only 8 percent of elementary schools offer daily physical education activities, while only 6 percent of middle schools and high schools offer daily physical education activities.
Regular physical activity provides a number of health benefits for children and teenagers, including improvements in muscle strength and a reduction in the risk factors for chronic diseases. Exercise has been found also to lower levels of anxiety and stress in adolescents.
As structured P.E. and recess programs have declined, obesity rates for children have climbed. That's why Tennessee lawmakers must be careful not to trim too much time away from such valuable programs. Healthy and fit children often grow into healthy and fit adults, and healthy and fit adults are less likely to be a financial drain on our economy and health system.
The Knoxville News Sentinel on proposed legislation regulating police body cameras:
We generally agree with a bill the Tennessee House and Senate have passed that would exempt from public records some information recorded by law enforcement officers' body cameras across the state.
The House approved a Senate bill last week that would exempt body camera footage that involves law enforcement interaction with minors, recordings inside hospitals or mental health facilities and inside homes where no crime occurred.
Rep. Sam Whitson, R-Franklin, and Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, sponsored the legislation. Whitson said the bill wouldn't change any current procedures for law enforcement but instead attempts to maintain some privacy in police investigations.
It is headed to Gov. Bill Haslam for his signature.
Whitson said he worked with law enforcement agencies across the state, the Tennessee Press Association and the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government (TCOG) on the legislation.
"Because it didn't close a lot, it turned out fairly well," said Deborah Fisher, executive director of TCOG.
"Tennessee is going slow on body cameras, because I think they want to get it right.
"There are a lot of complicating issues that have to do with body cameras, such as when they turn them on and off."
Other states have been more restrictive of footage being released to the public, and Fisher believes lawmakers have been "reasonable" so far in what they have done.The public conversation remains about timely release of camera footage, interpretation of what's on the video and the context of what's occurring, juxtaposed against other information, such as physical evidence and witness accounts.
Additionally, we can see some situations in the newly approved exemptions in which records should be released, particularly use of force or lethal force involving a minor or occurring inside a hospital or mental health facility. Those should be addressed on a case-by-case basis amid assurances that privacy concerns would be met during an investigation and the footage would be released after confidential information is redacted, not permanently withheld.
Human rights advocates argue that body cameras would hold police and suspects accountable, providing a video record of their encounters. Many believe the outcomes of lethal encounters with police officers would be different if all officers were equipped with body cameras.
Others point to the high cost of the technology — to equip a department can cost millions of dollars — as well as the privacy concerns that the Legislature is attempting to address.
"We need to get to the point of where we need to pay attention to what's in the video instead of where it's being used," Fisher said.
The Legislature should not hesitate when it comes to the debate of a law enforcement officer's actions. It should continue to move cautiously on questions of what should be withheld from the public.
When a law enforcement officer's actions are in question, transparency should be the highest interest.