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Editorials from around New York

May 22, 2019

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:

The Wall Street Journal on the benefits of short-term health insurance

House Democrats last week voted to reverse a Trump Administration rule that the left has branded as promoting “junk insurance.” So note that the vote arrives the same week as a fresh analysis about how short-term health insurance can be a better option than ObamaCare.

The Trump Administration last year allowed for short-term, limited-duration health insurance that can last up to a year. Plans can be renewed up to 36 months without new medical underwriting, which can protect against higher premiums if someone falls sick. The Obama Administration limited short-term insurance to three months to force everyone into the ObamaCare exchanges. The Trump crowd thought short-term plans could be viable for relatively healthy folks who earn too much for subsidies and are soaked by Affordable Care Act prices.

Democrats claim these are “garbage” plans designed to trick Americans. Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted this month that the Trump Administration “is fighting to replace many Americans’ health care with junk insurance policies that are allowed to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions.”

Short-term offerings are nascent and several states ban them, with restrictions in about two dozen others, which limits data. But Chris Pope at the Manhattan Institute offered a useful comparison in a paper last week. Mr. Pope examines Fulton County in Georgia, where ObamaCare premiums hover around the national average and multiple insurers compete on the exchange. Short-term insurance is available, consistent with the new federal rules.

A Blue Cross bronze ObamaCare plan_which covers about 60% of medical expenses_for a 30-year-old male who doesn’t smoke runs $296 a month in premiums. The plan carries a $5,200 deductible, with a maximum out-of-pocket cost of $7,900. UnitedHealthcare’s short-term plan that lasts 360 days? Monthly premium: $209, nearly 30% lower. The deductible and out-of-pocket caps are also lower, at $5,000 and $7,000, respectively.

The savings are greater for a more generous silver plan: $467 a month in premiums on the exchange versus $250 for a comparable short-term plan. Mr. Pope says that while “narrow-network HMOs are often the only plans available through the ACA exchange,” short-term plans “tend to be PPOs that offer broader access to providers.”

Not every plan covers, say, mental health or prescription drugs, but many do, and not every customer wants to pay for every benefit. A February survey from eHealth found that 80% of those who bought short-term insurance said affordable premiums were more important than comprehensive benefits. Some 61% considered coverage that complies with the Affordable Care Act before looking at short-term options.

Democrats predicted that the short-term rule would siphon patients from the exchanges and send premiums soaring, which hasn’t happened. Mr. Pope notes that Affordable Care Act premiums increased 3% on average for 2019, and that 92 of 124 requested rate increases didn’t even mention short-term insurance as a significant factor in higher rates. The effect on premiums has been negligible.

Anyone with a tough medical condition and modest earnings will likely be better off on the exchanges, where coverage is generously subsidized. But plenty of Americans may conclude that short-term plans are better. The Democratic response to this individual choice? In the words of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer: “Democrats will do everything in our power to stop this.”

Online: https://on.wsj.com/2EmFcxx


The Niagara Gazette on the state legislature pushing public safety measures too far

May 17

Why does it always seem to be the case where well-intentioned state lawmakers push reasonable efforts to improve public safety just a bit too far?

Such is the case with the latest package of safety measures approved this week by the Democrat-controlled state Senate.

On the one hand, the measures include a bill that would allow for the installation of video cameras on the stop arms that extend when a school bus stops to pick up or drop off students.

Supporters make a strong argument when they note that adding such technology to school buses would likely make it easier for law enforcement to track down those drivers who, for whatever reason, still insist on passing stopped school buses in defiance of laws already on the books. As such, it also seems likely that those same drivers who pass school buses today may think twice before doing it again if they know there’s a camera on the bus they are attempting to pass.

“The numbers are mind boggling,” said Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, who was the main sponsor of the legislation. “Studies have shown over and over that vehicles pass stopped school buses in the state of New York — each day — to the tune of 50,000 illegally. That number is absolutely unconscionable.”

It seems likely that most New Yorkers — probably the same ones who would never think of passing a parked school bus with students near it in the first place — would support such technology upgrades for school buses without much argument.

The same might be said for another part of the public safety package which calls for all individuals 16 years and older to be required to wear seat belts while riding in the back seat.

If public safety is to be improved or more importantly lives are to be saved through the simple click of a backseat safety belt, then where’s the downside?

The New York Legislature being the New York Legislature, it can’t seem to help itself from pushing sound safety measures just a bit farther than they probably need to go.

Another part of the nine-piece public safety package would require the operators of all motor boats who were born on or after Jan. 1, 1993 to complete a boating safety course.

Courses of this nature cost money and it will be New York’s boaters who will bear the largest brunt of any associated expense.

In a community like Niagara County where sport fishing is a big part of the local tourism economy and tourism is a huge part of the local economy as a whole, such measures may be viewed by outsiders as onerous and by locals as yet another example of greedy New York state dipping into their pockets which have already been lightened by an excessive tax and fee system. Next up on state lawmakers’ list of ideas designed to make us all safer is a proposal that would make it illegal for people to cross streets in New York while they are looking at their smartphones.

While it’s wise to protect public safety through sensible rules and regulations, there is such as going too far when it comes to regulating what should amount to plain, old common sense.

Are officers across New York really going to be expected to issue violations to people who aren’t smart enough to understand the wisdom of detaching themselves from their phones long enough to navigate a busy intersection?

It’s the Empire State so not much would surprise us anymore.

As they have demonstrated for years now, our leaders in Albany aren’t above going above and beyond when it comes adopting legislation that sounds good on paper but may not make any sense at all in practice.

Online: https://bit.ly/2LZNrWB


The Leader-Herald on avoidable conflict between the U.S. and Iran

May 22

Any number of individuals, organizations and even nations in the Middle East would not be displeased in the slightest at a military conflict between the United States and Iran. Islamic terrorist groups, for one, understand that would divert U.S. assets from targeting them, to at least some extent.

Tension between the U.S. and Iran has been increasing steadily during the past few weeks. On Sunday, it was bumped up a notch or two by a rocket attack in Baghdad, one place where Iranian operatives are active.

Within hours after the attack, there was speculation Iran was behind it. Headlines stating a rocket had landed near the U.S. embassy in Baghdad were making the rounds.

But the rocket landed about a mile from the Embassy. No U.S. casualties were reported.

Either the rocket launchers were incompetent or our embassy was not the intended target.

There is enough real, provable violence originating in orders from Tehran to make war between Iran and the U.S. a distinct possibility. Allowing attacks such as that in Baghdad to ratchet up the tension would be unwise.

Plenty of wars have been started “by accident” — that is, by events which were not serious enough to provoke full-scale conflict or by incidents staged by third parties in order to drag two major nations into battle.

War between the U.S. and Iran would be bloody and would have long-lasting, serious repercussions worldwide. Americans should not allow ourselves to be forced into an avoidable conflict.

Online: https://bit.ly/2JS7V10


The New York Times on the recent election victory for conservative Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison

May 20

It was another election that couldn’t be lost until it was. Rived by years of infighting, Australia’s conservative governing coalition was trailing in the polls. The opposition Labor Party’s polls showed it all but certain of ousting Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and its action platform on climate change seemed bound to resonate in a country devastated by drought, heat waves, brush fires and the loss of its magnificent Great Barrier Reef to warming seas.

On Saturday, in another surprise of the sort that had stunned Americans and Britons, Australian voters handed Mr. Morrison what he called a “miracle” victory. His conservative Liberal-National coalition, sharply opposed to cutting down on carbon emissions and coal, is expected to take 77 seats, one more than enough for a majority.

In hindsight, there are many reasons Mr. Morrison defied predictions. One was his success in projecting himself as the average Joe, a rugby-loving, beer-drinking evangelical Christian in a baseball cap who peppered his speeches with folksy Australianisms and slogans like “a fair go for those who have a go.” Urban Australians rolled their eyes, but polls show that whatever they thought of his party, the larger pool of those Mr. Morrison called the “quiet Australians” — a category similar to those who voted for Brexit or President Trump — consistently favored him over the Labor Party’s Bill Shorten.

The troubling message was that even on an island-continent where the ravages of climate change are there for all to see, especially after the hottest summer on record, invocations of economic stability, secure jobs, cuts to immigration and conservative family values trump the unknowns and costs of dealing with climate change.

The surprise result also appeared to reflect a recent tendency of pollsters to underestimate the strength of conservative candidates and causes. Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory in Israel in 2015, and Britain’s Brexit vote and Mr. Trump’s election, both in 2016, confounded pollsters’ and pundits’ predictions and have caused considerable analysis and soul-searching in the world of survey research.

There are many possible explanations for these polling misses, from voters’ lying to survey-takers or avoiding pollsters altogether, to faulty turnout models, to a tendency by polling companies to reinforce one another’s findings, a phenomenon called “herding.” The industry is hard at work trying to correct these problems, and the generally accurate polling in the United States’ 2018 congressional election was a good sign.

Like other victorious conservative populists, including in the United States, Mr. Morrison had the advantage of an easier message: change is risky and expensive; leftist plans to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases will wreck the economy, which has grown without interruption for 28 years. In the final debate between the candidates, each was told to ask the other two questions. Mr. Shorten used both of his to promote Labor policies, which included tackling climate change and wide-ranging reforms; Mr. Morrison used his to attack Labor policies.

The conservative coalition made the cost of addressing climate change the dominant issue. One economic model cited by Labor estimated that the 45 percent reduction in carbon emissions would cost the economy 167,000 jobs and 264 billion Australian dollars ($181 billion). Mr. Morrison used the study to claim Australia could not afford its current programs to reduce emissions and invest in clean energy.

It is certainly discouraging that so many voters in a democratic society could choose to shut their eyes to the obvious and immediate danger of climate change. The election gave added evidence that climate wars have become an adjunct of the politics of grievance that have brought populists to power in America, Europe and elsewhere, and have rent electorates into bitterly opposed camps of urban and provincial, young and old, activist and cautious.

But Mr. Morrison’s victory does not necessarily mean he will do nothing about greenhouse gases. The pressure to take action is certain to grow, especially from the young, who demonstrate a strong concern for the climate, and several candidates who pushed a climate-change agenda did win. (Alas, the government is likely to support a hugely contentious coal mine proposed in the northeastern state of Queensland, which would be among the world’s largest if approved, but Labor gave mixed signals on what it would have done.)

What the Australian election outcome revealed was the urgent need to broaden the message for reducing carbon emissions, and to separate it from the divisive culture wars afflicting Western democracies.

Mr. Morrison confounded the pundits with his victory. He could now confound them even more by showing that he is ready to lead Australia, a country where the ravages of man-made climate change are most evident, in fighting back. As the first director of Tourism Australia, Mr. Morrison approved the cheeky “So where the bloody hell are you?” advertising campaign. The next target of that Australian brashness should be the climate. Otherwise, a new generation of voters will be putting that question to him when the next election rolls around in three years’ time.

Online: https://nyti.ms/2VL53Ff


The Middletown Times Herald-Record on New York’s rejection of a proposed natural gas pipeline

May 20

The decision by the state Department of Environmental Conservation to reject a proposed 37-mile pipeline connecting natural gas fields in Pennsylvania to New Jersey and New York is big news all by itself.

In context, it is even more impressive coming as yet another sign of the lead our state is taking to combat climate change and create a future where alternatives supply the energy.

This decision came as the state Legislature is considering a bill that would commit New York to getting its electricity from alternative, non-burning sources of energy by 2030 if all goes well, by 2040 at the latest.

It comes as the opposition to the refurbishing of the Danskammer plant on the Hudson River gains momentum, as opposition to the Competitive Power Ventures plant near Middletown continues and as the day approaches when the Indian Point nuclear plants will stop operations.

For the real context, you have to go back a few more years, to late 2014 when New York decided that it would not allow fracking, injecting liquids at high pressure to break open areas with oil and gas deep below the ground.

That was a benchmark decision that put New York in the forefront of an environmental battle that has only intensified. At the time, no one envisioned an administration and a Congress so beholden to the fossil fuel industry that lobbyists and executives would effectively take over the departments that were created — by Republicans, it should be noted — to protect the earth. With those people now in charge of the federal efforts, it is more clear than ever that states need to take the lead, as New York has.

Fracking would have been an environmental disaster for New York. And there were those who predicted that the state would suffer as a result of its ban. But that has not happened. In fact, the ban in many ways set the tone for the debate that has gone on since, one that shows how states such as New York and California can take the lead while the federal government continues to avoid reality.

The decision about this pipeline was based on environmental considerations but it is impossible to ignore the political ones swirling around it. Last month the president signed executive orders to accelerate construction of pipelines and make it more difficult for states to block them. The decision is a direct rebuttal to that directive from the White House.

Even more important is the vision of the future this decision reveals, one that is very much in keeping with activity in Albany and in the rest of the state.

For New York to make the transition to alternative forms of energy, it needs to have as much investment as possible in those sources while having as little as possible in traditional fossil fuel plants and their supporting infrastructure. Resisting the Danskammer plant, rejecting the pipeline and making future decisions in similar ways when they come up in other areas, as they will, is essential for the state to make the transition it must to provide energy now and in the future in an environmentally sustainable way.

Online: https://bit.ly/2weQD6c

All contents © copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.