Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Flip flopping on RomneyCare

Although both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney seem to be doing a flip flop on RomneyCare, significant changes to the Massachusetts law have taken place since the initiating bill passed in 2006. As a Massachusetts state legislator, I have seen many bills working their way through the committee process that seek to add procedures/equipment/illnesses to what we call the “minimum creditable coverage” (MCC) standard—the definition of what a policy must cover in order to be deemed “legal” (that is, not subject to penalty for the policy owner via his/her personal income tax return).

The continuing ratcheting up of the MCC has produced health insurance policies that average well over $14,000 per year for a small group family plan, the highest premium cost in the country (a statistic from the Internal Revenue Service). At the same time, RomneyCare did not carry with it any provisions to reduce the cost of health care delivery; just the theory that universal coverage would temper fast rising premiums as well as emergency room visits for people without health insurance. The theory proved not to be correct, but the blame for this can be pinned on the state legislature’s actions since the enactment of RomneyCare as much, or more so, than the 2006 legislation.

It is not at all surprising that both Gingrich and Romney have reformulated their opinions on RomneyCare as it pertains to ObamaCare. No one questions that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was premised on the Massachusetts concept, but one only has to look at the results of this incubator experiment in Massachusetts to see that, perhaps, this solution should not be ported to the nation as a whole.

For those who do support the ACA, there may be some level of comfort in noting that, in spite of Massachusetts leading the way in high health insurance premiums both before and after RomneyCare, the rate of increase since passing RomneyCare is tracking below the national average. Cost savings measures, such as uniform electronic medical records and accountable care organizations are being discussed at the Statehouse as ways to make our health care delivery system more efficient and less subject to fee-for-service arrangements.

In my opinion, expressing disappointment with a system that was so promising five years ago (before it was implemented) is not at all hypocritical, but reflective on outcomes to-date. The more important policy issue for these candidates is not the repeal of ObamaCare, but what avenue will yield the best, most affordable health care delivery system for the United States.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Spring peeper leaping to finish line

Spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer)
Debra Jeffries' second grade class studies amphibians as part of their curriculum at Crocker Elementary School in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. This year, they exercised their state constitutional right to file a bill in the General Court which declares the spring peeper to be the official amphibian of the Commonwealth.

I noticed in the House of Representatives session log for today that the bill has moved to the Committee on Bills in the Third Reading. That means this bill is rounding third base and on its way home. Votes to engross the bill by the House and Senate and the Governor's signature are all that need to be accomplished for this aqua lung to enjoy its rightful place among official state stuff.

Some people rail at legislation such as this, claiming that we're wasting our time and money on nonsensical things. I disagree.

First off, no one is paid any additional money to shepherd such a bill through the legislature. Not making the spring peeper official would save no one any money.

Secondly, our state constitution gives citizens the right to author bills and petition their government to act on them. These "by request" bills are sometimes important, sometimes not so important, but who's to judge which citizens should be allowed to exercise their constitutional rights and which should be denied?

Thirdly, when we're doing stuff like this, it happens in informal sessions. Only a few people are present and no contentious bills are discussed. If one is, the objection of a single representative kills it. Today's session dealt with 17 items and took a total of 27 minutes.

Lastly, the kids in Ms. Jeffries' class will have a learned an important lesson on how the government works and how they can actually affect change. I would rate this lesson even more important than learning about spring peepers.

Some other official state stuff:

Official bird: Black-capped chickadee
Official game bird: Wild turkey
Official dog: Boston terrier
Official cat: Tabby
Official fish: Cod
Official insect: Lady bug
Official marine mammal: Right whale
Official flower: Mayflower
Official tree: American elm
Official bean: Navy bean
Official beverage: Cranberry juice
Official cookie: Chocolate chip
Official dessert: Boston cream pie

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Town of Sandwich's "no plow" rules generating snowstorm of discontent

Prius plow: To stop global warming, we'll need more of these
Guest article by Jonathan Fitch

I don’t much like that our town leaders continue to deny plowing services to folks on some private roads. The announced reasoning is that these roads do not meet standards the leaders feel are not just desirable, but absolutely critical for municipal workers to be able to do the job at all. The advice from the selectmen is for affected residents to hire private contractors. To my mind, the logic in this advice defeats the reasons given for the town’s refusal to plow. If a private contractor can do the job, so can the town.

There are no legal obstacles preventing the town from plowing all private roads; the decision to deny services is purely political business. Many years ago, town meeting voted to authorize the town to plow private ways. Without that vote, no town would plow private ways. I doubt voters at that meeting realized, however, that the vote authorized, but did not require plowing.

For starters, this is a fairness thing. Taxes pay for town owned roads so why shouldn’t they pay for private roads just the same. Neighborhoods that wish to be truly private can opt out, but for the rest of us, our private roads are available to the public just the same as town roads. The only differences are technical and unlikely to deter the general public from driving on them.

I am not a fan of big government, but I concede there are some services government is better suited to handle than individuals. Snow plowing of all roads is one of those services. (I’ll save the subject of maintenance for another day.) Providing snow plowing for all who need it is not unlike operating a transfer station for all who need it. We have a DPW that is staffed and equipped and knows how to handle plowing. We can all benefit from economies of scale and management now in place.

But, for some time now, town leaders are just saying “No.” I don’t hear any talk of solutions and that is the most disappointing of all. I think it is fair to say that snow plowing of private roads is an important issue that is not getting the attention from leadership that it deserves. Without going on for ten pages and spouting off with my own proposals, I’m asking for an exchange of ideas.  Perhaps a solution will emerge.

Is the town’s current position legitimate? Is it fair? Should it be fair? Should government be involved at all? Should all roads be town roads upon request? Are those on town roads assessed differently from those on acceptable private roads and are they assessed differently from those on “no plow” private roads? How do we work this out?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

What's on your iPod?

This is a common question for celebrities these days: What’s on your iPod?

Described in the book Steve Jobs, Jobs handed his iPod to Walter Isaacson, biographer, who found among other things the complete catalog of Bob Dylan’s works through 1989 including several bootleg albums.

My iPod has five playlists: Jazz, Country, Singers (Sinatra, Mathis, Bennett, etc.), Beatles, and Not The Beatles. Each, other than the Beatles playlist, features a variety of artists, but I’m pretty heavy on Stevie Ray Vaughan, Rolling Stones, CCR, ZZ Top and U2.

My office computer, on the other hand, has one music CD that was compiled by my youngest daughter, Gayle, and given to me on Father’s Day. I play it often because she spent a great deal of time selecting the pieces just for me.

Hero – Mariah Carey
Because You Love Me – Celine Dion
Daddy – Beyonce
I’ll Always Be Your Baby – Natalie Grant
I Need You – LeAnn Rimes
Wind Beneath My Wings – Bette Midler

If a photo is worth a thousand words, these songs are worth a million.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Texas hog hunt

Every few years we pack the car and take a drive down to Texas to see our kids and my two brothers. One of my brothers lives in El Paso, about 2,400 miles from Cape Cod, so this is no light undertaking.

My other brother, Alan, lives with his wife, Mary, on a ranch east of San Antonio. Because my wife, Mary, makes for two Mary Hunts, we call her Mary Lyn to keep them straight.

I wrote a piece about Alan called O Brother, Where Aren't Thou, which explains a lot about his obsessions and is a pretty funny read. With more than 300 notches on his headboard for (not what you think) feral hog kills, it's always fun and interesting to accompany him on a late night hunt to control the population of these extremely destructive animals. The first two nights of our stay were too windy even for the most stalwart hunters, which left two more opportunities to show off our hunting skills before Mary Lyn and I had to start the trip back to the Cape.

The third day turned out to be picture perfect: Cool and clear with little wind. The temperature would be dipping into the thirties, so I dressed appropriately. Starting with long johns, I wore two pair of socks, jeans, a t-shirt, two long-sleeved shirts, field jacket, boots, and camo gloves and cap. I walked out of the house ala John Wayne for lack of movement in all of those clothes.

Gear for the hunt included binoculars, night vision goggles, a .308 rifle with a night scope, and a .44 magnum revolver. Alan traded his Kawasaki four wheel drive "Mule" for an electric all-terrain Club Car, which eliminated the problem of a loud engine announcing your arrival to the feral hogs from three miles away.

We hauled the Club Car in Alan's pickup to a neighbor's ranch who had just sustained major damage to a field from a sounder of hogs a night or two before. Alan clicked the night vision goggles into his head gear and we drove out across the pastures with no light other than a quarter moon that was rising from the horizon.

We settled on a location under the shade (something that could be clearly distinguished with the night vision goggles) of a tree in the field that had been heavily rooted by the onion grass eating pigs.

The night was crisp and quiet. Once in awhile a cow's moo could be heard from a distant field. Packs of coyotes started howling which triggered a response from their ranch dog kin. Then we heard a squeal. That was why we were there. We were completely silent, listening for more evidence of hogs nearby. Unfortunately, they never came.

Unlike what you are led to believe by watching hunting shows, there are many more nights like this one than those that produce a kill, or even an opportunity to shoot. After a couple of hours, we called it a night and headed back to the ranch house.

On our last night there, temperatures were even chillier and we made the decision to let the hogs have a night off while we tuned into A&E Television to watch Lady Hoggers