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Tulsa World

Many children still not

being tested for lead

Almost 40 years ago, Americans were made aware of a silent scourge, lead. It disguised itself in common things around the house and businesses such as paint and water pipes. It was making kids sick and many died.

A massive national awareness campaign coupled with federal money almost wiped out the problem. Almost.

Recent statistics show that it never really went away. Even after the disaster in Flint, Michigan, too many people believe that the lead poisoning scare was a thing of the past.

In Oklahoma, children are supposed to be tested for lead levels when they are 6 months old and at ages 1 and 2, if they live in an older home, which is more likely to have been painted with lead-based paint. But even some doctors in the state are unaware of that requirement.

That means thousands of Oklahoma children are not being tested. Lead poisoning has no obvious symptoms but can have disastrous, even deadly, effects.

Although lead-based paint was banned for use in housing in 1978, Oklahoma has enough older homes that it remains a problem. In Oklahoma, 57 percent of housing units were built before 1979.

The 1970s campaign was successful — blood lead-levels in both adults and children have dropped 80 percent. But with that success came a lack of awareness.

The state data available, according to recent stories by Brianna Baily and Jaclyn Cosgrove in The Oklahoman, show that of 316 ZIP codes where children were tested, 106 have blood levels higher than those in Flint, Michigan. Most of Tulsa County shows elevated blood lead levels.

The state has a lead awareness and testing program. It is budgeted at $325,000, $65,000 of which is state money. The Health Department has asked the Legislature for an additional $632,366 for next year’s program. If that were allocated, it would be matched by federal funds, bringing the budget to $1.8 million.

That would allow the Health Department to hire more staff to monitor lead levels, including home visits, and to get the message out that lead poisoning is still a threat.

Since 2009, the Health Department, along with just about every agency in the state, has had its budget cut. Somehow, it has managed to protect the lead program.

But as the state’s budget hole deepens, that might not be possible any longer.

It’s difficult to prioritize a dwindling amount of money. But lead poisoning continues to stalk our children, and especially those of low-income families.

The Legislature must take a hard but compassionate look at the lead problem when parceling out money for the Health Department.

Stillwater News Press

Maintain open access

to all public records

March 12 was the beginning of Sunshine Week, an unofficial celebration of access to public information and public officials. It kicked off on the Sunday of the week that coincides with James Madison’s March 16 birthday. Madison, years before he was president, introduced and proposed to the House of Representatives the Bill of Rights, and that was after writing the first drafts of the U.S. Constitution.

We still hold sacred those documents written 230 years ago, and it’s always a good practice to look back at how and why the Founding Fathers created this new government. They were separating themselves from what they believed was tyranny, and with that in mind weaved individual freedoms into the fabric of our nationality.

Would we really want to live in a country where power goes unchecked? Where we have to fear imprisonment for speaking out against the government? Where we can only get our information about the government from its rulers? It’s not that farfetched of a concept. It happens in this day in age in multiple countries.

That freedom of speech, and by extension, freedom of the press meant a lot to the Founding Fathers as well. It’s right there in the top 10, at the tippy top of the top 10, the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

It’s also why we never stop fighting attempts to silence the press or deny the press access or keep public records from the press. It’s why a declaration of “war on the press,” is such a disturbing concept. No one wants a war. The press has an agenda of trying to inform the public — it isn’t the press that is trying to stay in power.

We shouldn’t be in the business of fear-mongering, but we shouldn’t have to be. Maintaining open records and access to the press isn’t that difficult. It’s only difficult if you have something to hide — something you want to keep in the dark. For that reason we are committed to the principles of Sunshine Week, for open government, because it’s the American way.

The Oklahoman

Modest ACA improvements

will still help access to care

The ironically named Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, has been a mess since day one. Yet the slapdash way the law was drafted, combined with the logistical challenges of overcoming a Senate Democrat filibuster, make a clean repeal of the law unlikely.

Thus, the replacement proposal unveiled by House Republicans left many disappointed. We share critics’ concerns, but also see positive elements in the plan.

The proposal would repeal many regulations and taxes that have created perverse incentives in U.S. health care. Admittedly, the repeal is slower than what we’d like. But elimination of those regulations opens the door for a better system.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth, director of Economics21, notes repeal of many regulations means employers “would have the option of providing some of the lower-cost plans that were banned under Obamacare.”

That in turn “would reduce the cost of employing workers at the low end of the income scale, resulting in more employment and fewer jobs offshored.”

The House plan would nearly double the amount of money Americans can contribute to health savings accounts to pay for out-of-pocket expenses.

That’s a good combo, because lower-cost plans typically have higher co-payments and deductibles, and are designed largely for catastrophic events. Having the ability to put aside money into HSAs allows workers to budget for typical out-of-pocket costs.

In contrast, Obamacare required people to buy, at high prices, extensive health coverage regardless of need. To restrain costs, those policies often had large deductibles even as restrictions on HSA use made it difficult to financially handle those costs.

Thus, people had “insurance” without access to health care because they still could not afford it.

A major provision of the House plan would transition Medicaid to a block grant program. States would receive funds based on per capita enrollment and medical inflation, rather than having an open-ended spending commitment from the federal government. In return, states would be given more flexibility in managing Medicaid.

That’s an important reform, because under the current Medicaid system the primary flexibility states have involves the amount they pay providers. When program costs surge, states typically cut doctor pay, which leads fewer doctors to take Medicaid patients. That’s one reason studies have concluded people on Medicaid have health outcomes comparable to people with no insurance. Again, the system provides “coverage,” not necessarily health care.

As with any change of this magnitude, there will be winners and losers. But it’s a mistake to act as though Obamacare is sustainable. The cost of coverage on Obamacare exchanges has skyrocketed and competition has plunged. (In 2018, it’s already anticipated 16 Tennessee counties will have no insurers selling Obamacare policies.)

A recent CNN/ORC poll found greater dissatisfaction with the total cost of health care than what was recorded before Obamacare’s passage. Just 23 percent said Congress should leave Obamacare “as is.”

The House plan will be debated and, hopefully, revised and improved. Conservatives should fight for all the gains they can get while understanding they’ll fall short on some goals — for now.

Nonetheless, even modest changes can generate significant improvement over Obamacare’s status quo.

Their view

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