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    Letters to the Editors

    Let's talk about universal health care

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 15, 2000

    Re: HEALTH CARE CHALLENGES, editorial, Oct. 8.

    Thank you for noting that a prescription drug plan for Medicare recipients is just one challenge among many important health care issues that need to be tackled. The United States is in urgent need of health care reform. It is shameful that in a prosperous country, millions of Americans have no health insurance, resulting in limited or no access to health care. Even those who have good health insurance coverage should be shocked at how often medical decisions lie in the hands of private insurance case managers and not with their physicians.

    Neither George W. Bush nor Al Gore has demonstrated the courage to speak about the need for radical health care reform. Presumably, after President Clinton's failed stab at such reform in 1994, the present presidential candidates are gun-shy. Instead, both have chosen to focus on the smaller, yet still significant need for prescription drug coverage.

    Bush's plan for drug coverage fails to acknowledge that reliance on the private sector to provide health insurance to the elderly and the disabled on Medicare has not worked in the past, and thus is unlikely to work in the future. Moreover, private insurers have expressed little interest in managing Medicare prescription plans.

    Gore's plan, on the other hand, takes an initial first step toward the notion of universal health care by proposing that the government administer the prescription drug benefit for Medicare recipients. This appears to be a promising but costly proposal, and tax increases are never a way to attract voters in an election year.

    I believe that the notion of universal health care is one that needs to be addressed by the next president's administration, be it Bush or Gore. However, until Americans are willing to demand that our health is not a commodity and our health care should not be a for-profit business, any proposals for major health care reform are doomed to failure.
    -- Margaret G. Small, Tampa

    An attractive option

    Re: HEALTH CARE CHALLENGES, editorial.

    I think it is unfortunate that one aspect of health care for seniors, prescription drugs, has overshadowed the potential benefits of Medicare reform as proposed by Gov. George W. Bush. His proposal is based on the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program and will offer the option of an array of modern, all-inclusive health plans to all seniors.

    As a retired federal employee with a chronic illness, I have found the FEHB far superior to either Medicare or any private health insurance. The most popular participants in this program are plans run by not-for-profit organizations and unions, and total costs, for employee and the government, are about two-thirds those of commercial insurance.

    There is a highly competitive annual open season when you may change plans, and all plans must take all enrollees regardless of health. The federal regulations covering the FEHB are extremely simple, 26 pages instead of the 130,000 pages of Medicare regulations, and the annual competition for enrollees makes the plans nearly self-regulating. The plans have wide discretion to set their benefits, rates and co-pays to meet the mandated minimums, attract new enrollees and reduce the total cost of medical care.

    The fee-for-service plans offer very inexpensive care with physicians, health care facilities and hospitals that are part of extensive PPOs (preferred provider organizations) with negotiated rates. They all have reasonable catastrophic cost limits and pay almost all of the cost of drugs, about 95 percent in my case for prescriptions which would otherwise cost me about $400 a month.

    I cannot understand why the Democratic candidate has tossed the seniors a bone, of paying only half their prescription costs, and trying to patch up that antique clunker, Medicare.

    While there is no panacea for high medical costs, the FEHB has proven that a modern, integrated health insurance system can provide outstanding care at a reasonable cost.
    -- James J. Klapper, Oldsmar

    Poll options lacking


    The statewide poll the TIMES conducted on the presidential election did not include all of the candidates who have earned the right to be included.

    The two major party candidates were included, along with Green Party candidate Ralph Nader and Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan. But the only other option was apparently "undecided."

    While I'm happy to see the inclusion of Nader and Buchanan, since it reminds people that they have more than two choices on Election Day, the big mistake was excluding Libertarian Party candidate Harry Browne. He has received only a fraction of the press coverage that Buchanan and Nader have gotten, and he does not have the celebrity status that they have.

    Nevertheless, he still is competitive with them in every poll that has the decency and sense of fairness to include his name as an option.

    In your poll, 5 percent said they are undecided. But don't assume that means they will eventually choose one of the four options you've given them. How much of that 5 percent do you suppose is actually Browne's total?

    It is enough to affect the outcome of the election totals in Florida perhaps, since the difference between Bush and Gore is only 3 percent, according to the poll.

    There is plenty of proof that Browne's campaign has earned enough credibility to be included in every poll conducted on the election, yet several continue to ignore him. I am disappointed in the TIMES for continuing this trend of exclusion. It is irresponsible journalism at its worst.
    -- James Bennett, Safety Harbor

    The missing candidates


    Bill Maxwell failed to mention the largest factor detracting from the first presidential debate: George W. Bush and Al Gore were the only ones in it! If Ralph Nader, Pat Buchanan, John Hagelin and all the others whose names will appear on the ballots in most of the states had been included, the night would have been much longer, but the range of ideas debated would have been far more substantial and enlightening.

    Instead, poorly polling candidates are relegated to forums like SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE and THE LATE SHOW and for some reason seem to get little mention in the "legitimate" news media. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a Nader supporter. That said, I believe that had he been included, he would have been far more acid-tongued concerning the other participants' total lack of campaign-financing scruples and their respective policy offerings.

    Nader and the other so-called third-party candidates deserve a chance to offer their views to the American people. Until that happens, our democracy borders on illusion.
    -- James Cornwell, Tampa

    Flawed school choice


    The perspective put forth in this article is right on target. In following the development of the school choice plan, I have considered all of the points mentioned in this article and have come up with pretty much the same conclusions. One of the biggest issues addressed by Rob McMahon and Jade Moore is the potentially huge group of children whose parents either don't understand and don't participate in the "choice" offered to them, or simply don't have the time to deal with the whole thing. Considering the relatively low parent involvement in public school activities and academic programs, what about the children of these parents -- who looks after their best interests?

    If education is really as important as everyone seems to agree it is, and if we truly believe in equal educational opportunities for all children, it would seem that we need to direct all efforts toward devising a plan that makes all schools equally effective. No matter where a child attends school, the quality of education and all the material factors involved should be equal.
    -- Marti J. Moorefield, St. Petersburg

    A road to resegregation

    Many thanks to Rob McMahon and Jade Moore for their well-thought-out and clearly presented Oct. 8 article, OVERHAULING PINELLAS SCHOOLS MAY RISK TOO MUCH. As a veteran of the long and tedious struggle for school desegregation, I have publicly warned that the federal court order issued 30 years ago was the only reason Pinellas County schools remained integrated, or "unitary," for three decades.

    It is inevitable as long as demographic changes continue and racial bias persists that in the absence of an iron-clad mandate, Pinellas County schools will soon become resegregated.
    -- Perkins T. Shelton, St. Petersburg

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