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Editorial Roundup: Florida

Posted October 14, 2020 2:40 p.m. EDT

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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Oct. 13

The Tampa Bay Times on the importance of making plans to vote in the upcoming general election:

Election Day was exactly three weeks from Oct. 13. No one needs reminding how important this election is. If you have already returned your ballot, great. If you haven’t, make your plans now.

If you have requested a mail-in ballot, set aside some quiet time, follow the instructions carefully, fill it out, seal it and — sign it! date it! —and then mail it in. That will give the U.S. Postal Service plenty of time to deliver your ballot on time.

If you’re concerned about mailing it in, you can drop it off at drop boxes provided by the Supervisor of Elections in your county. And if you’re planning to vote in person, either on one of the early voting days, beginning Oct. 19, or on Election Day, think ahead to ensure your personal safety during the pandemic. But in any case, vote.

Here are some numbers of where things stand three weeks out.

As of Monday, 1,669,753 Floridians have already voted by mail. Another 3,912,367 Floridians have requested mail ballots but not yet returned them.

Already, more Floridians have voted than the total of registered voters in each of 21 states, from Iowa (1.66 million) and Arkansas (1.26 million) to New Hampshire (726,000) and West Virginia (892,000).

Of Floridians who have already voted, 850,328 are Democrats, 487,754 are Republicans, and 312,768 have no party affiliation.

In total, Hillsborough has 934,480 registered voters. Of those, 127,586 have already voted:

34,178 Republican ballots returned; 66,123 Democratic ballots returned, 25,729 no party affiliation and 1,556 other.

In total, Pinellas has 711,492 registered voters. Of those, 97,068 have already voted.

29,399 Republicans, 47,583 Democrats, 19,008 no party affiliation and 1,078 other.

Florida looms large in every presidential election, and this year will be no different. We have more than 14 million registered voters, and we are once again a swing state, a purple mix of the red and the blue. Remember that in 2000, 537 votes in the Sunshine State decided who would be president of the United States. Make your vote count.

Online: https://www.tampabay.com

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Oct. 13

Florida Times-Union on an increase of uninsured children across the state:

Florida’s stinginess in providing health care for many of its residents has been well documented.

A new ranking from WalletHub shows that Florida ranks No. 47 for the proportion of its population with health insurance — 13 percent are uninsured.

On a list of 548 cities, Jacksonville ranked No. 430 for the proportion of its population with health insurance.

New evidence has emerged from the Health Policy Institute from Georgetown University. Its Center for Children and Families issued a report noting that the number of U.S. children without health insurance increased by 726,000 between 2016 and 2019.

A total of 29 states recorded losses in children’s health insurance in that three-year period. Only New York significantly improved its coverage of children.

The two states with the biggest decreases were Texas (243,000) and Florida (55,000).

The percentage of children without health insurance coverage had reached a historic low of 4.7 percent in 2016 in the Obama administration, then increased to 5.7 percent by 2019 during the Trump administration. This happened even when unemployment rates were low.

The Georgetown report identifies several factors that caused the decline in health insurance coverage for children:

— Efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut Medicaid. Both Texas and Florida have refused to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid.

— Cuts to enrollment outreach and advertising, a sort of benign neglect.

— More red tape barriers to taking Medicaid.

— A climate of fear among immigrant families that discourages them from enrolling their children in either Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The terrible irony here is that children generally are not expensive to cover with insurance. Much of their health care is preventive, which will pay dividends later in life.

“Being insured leads to better health, educational and economic outcomes,” noted the Georgetown report.

“Children, especially those in communities of color, face a host of challenges associated with the economic, educational and health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The United States must renew its commitment to ensuring that all children have high quality, affordable and comprehensive health coverage.”

OUTDATED PRICE DATA ON STATE WEBSITE

If you were going to shop for a car, would you want price information that is two years old?

Of course not, which is another reason why the health care market is nothing like the rest of the free market.

Health care prices often are hidden or so confusing as to be useless to consumers who have the ability and time to shop.

A website created by Former Gov. Rick Scott, FloridaHealthPriceFinder, has generated 131,653 visits since it was launched in 2017, reported the News Service of Florida.

For instance, a search of the site for the price of knee replacements produced national estimates ranging from $27,587 to $48,094 and a Florida range from $27,951 to $45,033. The prices were based on claims from 2016 through 2017, which is old news.

The FloridaHealthPriceFinder site did not show the cost of the procedure in an area nor a cost for local hospitals.

By 2021, the site will have claims data for 2019, the bureau chief for the site told a health information advisory committee.

Granted, some medical treatments are complex, which can make comparisons difficult.

Nevertheless, the state’s system is not good enough. People shopping for an automobile can find sales examples that are only a few months old, not two years old.

Online: https://www.jacksonville.com

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Oct. 11

The Gainesville Sun on a plan to build toll roads in rural Florida:

The last thing that Florida needs right now is to waste hundreds of millions of dollars building 330 miles of unnecessary toll roads through rural parts of the state.

The plan was a bad idea when state lawmakers approved it last year over the objections of environmental groups, residents of some of the rural communities where the highways would be built and others. Since then, groups studying the projects have only found more reasons why they should be stopped before construction begins.

The latest reasons come from the three task forces created by the Legislature to study the projects, one for each planned road: an extension of the Suncoast Parkway from Citrus County to the Georgia line, a connector between the Florida Turnpike and the Suncoast Parkway, and a new highway from Polk County to Collier County.

Those task forces recently issued draft reports that indicated they were unable to determine if there is a need for the projects, as the News Service of Florida reported. The reports suggested that the state Department of Transportation consider a “no build” alternative and displayed a preference for existing roads to be expanded or improved before new ones are built.

Previous reports from Florida TaxWatch and a consulting firm that studied the projects found they would be fiscally unsustainable and create other problems. But the project’s main proponent, outgoing Florida Senate President Bill Galvano, keeps finding reasons to ignore these objections and justify the projects — even if those reasons have little to do with the roads themselves.

Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who will be leaving office in November, suggested to the News Service that halting the projects would hinder technological advances in rural communities. He said in a statement that an expansion of high-speed internet service connected to the road projects was needed in these communities, where a lack of such service has made learning and working remotely difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s nice to see a legislative leader finally waking up to the problems Floridians are facing due to the pandemic. Republicans in the Legislature rebuffed calls to return for a special session as coronavirus cases soared in the state and the state’s unemployment website was overwhelmed.

Florida should close gaps in broadband access, but the state doesn’t need to waste hundreds of millions on toll roads to address that problem. With the state facing budget cuts due to the pandemic, the Legislature should use the funding that would have been spent on roads and prevent cuts to programs vital to the health and well-being of residents.

With Galvano getting ready to leave the Legislature, Floridians need to make their voices heard to incoming legislative leaders. Final public comments on the draft reports of the three task forces are due by Oct. 14, with those reports required to be sent to the governor and Legislature by Nov. 15.

The planned toll roads would benefit wealthy land owners in the path of the projects at the expense of the rest of the state. The state’s natural environment would suffer, especially in the part of North Florida’s springs heartland that the Suncoast extension would bisect.

Lawmakers need to take the advice of those who have studied the toll roads, putting the brakes on building them and using the money for the state’s actual needs.

Online: https://www.gainesville.com

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