Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Ohio newspapers:

Putting cameras on Akron houses raises thorny issues — but could fight crime

Akron Beacon Journal

Oct. 11

The city of Akron is considering a modern-day response to the age-old issue of crime.

Just weeks apart, Council President Margo Sommerville and Councilwoman Tara Samples independently came up with the idea of using small, city-owned surveillance cameras with remote feeds in high-crime areas in the city.

The council is now seriously exploring the proposal, which importantly also has the backing of Mayor Dan Horrigan.

“We’re really at the beginning stages of looking at this program,” Sommerville said last week. “We’re currently in the process of creating legislation, reaching out to some different vendors and creating some policy around this.”

Count us among those rooting for the city to find a way for the project to succeed. The intractable problem of crime and senseless violence has plagued us for too long, particularly in some neighborhoods where the risk of becoming a victim is far too high.

A new approach is clearly needed.

Of course, cameras aren’t new to law enforcement. What makes this approach different is their planned ubiquity: mounted on a multitude of homes or properties in a defined area to ensure any crimes committed there cannot evade the cameras’ ever-watchful eyes.

Which raises a host of privacy issues.

It’s one thing for a company like Amazon to sell doorbell cameras to its many customers in order to protect its package delivery business. It’s quite another for a government to install cameras capable of constantly monitoring the activities of its citizens and the authority to punish transgressions of law both large and small.

Any intrusive technology provides multiple avenues of abuse. Although it does not logically follow that such abuse will occur, prudent safeguards will need to be put in place to ensure it doesn’t.

Nobody wants a situation to develop here as exits in China, where government cameras keep citizens under mass surveillance in nearly every public space and, sometimes, even inside their own homes.

But so desperate are some of Akron’s citizens that they are eager to accept the trade of police access to camera footage for the security they could provide. Samples said she already receives doorbell camera footage from her Ward 5 constituents after local homicides or shootings. She passes the videos on to police detectives.

“Most residents would agree to let (the city) put them on their households, even with police having access to them, if it makes them feel safe and secure,” Samples said, wisely stressing that council would need to carefully legislate that trade-off.

How would such a system be paid for? Council has not yet found a public program that will purchase cameras to be used on private property. Samples said she wants the funds to come out of the public safety budget for police and fire, but obviously more money would be needed there.

Homeowners could obviously agree to accept cameras on their property, but what about renters? Akron’s plan would not allow a tenant to install a camera without the permission of the landlord, and Samples said care would have to be taken to ensure landlords with multiple properties would not use the system as a taxpayer-funded security system.

Benjamin Franklin famously warned about the folly of trading liberty for security. But we think some middle ground may exist — and we applaud the council for trying to find it.



State Medicaid reform should save lives, cut waste

The Columbus Dispatch

Oct. 11

Dispatch readers have heard a lot in the past two and a half years about what’s wrong with Medicaid in Ohio, especially the pharmacy benefit managers who have reaped hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars as prescription drug middlemen. It can be dense stuff, but it’s important because it isn’t just dollars at stake: The flaws in the state Medicaid system make Ohioans sicker and poorer than they otherwise would be.

A 2019 report by the Health Policy Institute of Ohio ranked the state 46th in health value: We don’t spend enough keeping ourselves healthy, so we end up getting sick and spending much more to treat our illnesses.

Ohio is especially bad at ensuring that children and adolescents on Medicaid get the health care they need. Barely half of our children receive the well-child visits to which they’re entitled. Fewer than half receive dental care, and fewer than two-thirds get all the vaccinations they need.

The good news is that the state Department of Medicaid aims to fix some of the problems by setting new rules for the private companies that handle Medicaid coverage. Currently, five different managed care organizations divide up Ohio’s Medicaid business under contracts that have been in place since 2013.

The state is seeking proposals for new contracts, and the “request for application” that went out recently makes new demands on would-be providers: Along with the long-established goals of keeping costs down and improving health and wellness outcomes, the new plans must be easier for patients and providers to navigate.

That would be a monumental improvement. Who hasn’t been frustrated trying to get an insurance company to approve a visit to a specialist or to understand which providers are in-network and out? It’s no different for Medicaid patients.

Most important, the hope is that a simpler, easier system also will mean healthier Ohioans. That’s because red tape and complexity prevent people from getting the advice and care they need. Loren Anthes of the Center for Community Solutions, a Cleveland-based health advocacy group, put it starkly: Under the new system envisioned by the state, the managed care organizations “are supposed to cut through the noise and make sure that if you have diabetes it doesn’t turn into a diabetic amputation. That’s the job.”

Medicaid officials hope to enable this by centralizing some of the customer service functions that currently are handled separately by each of the five plans.

Having a single entity for checking providers’ credentials will save doctors and other medical professionals from having to go through the process separately for each managed care organization. Similarly, all of the plans that win state contracts will have to work with a single fiscal intermediary — a company contracted to process providers’ claims for payment as well as patients’ requests for prior authorization.

Along with being simpler for the users, consolidating those functions and putting each under a single contract with the state, rather than with separate health plans, will allow much greater transparency.

Importantly, it will return control over the reams of data involved in Medicaid care to the state, making it easier for Medicaid officials to spot trends and analyze problems. It also will make it easier to see how much taxpayers are spending for those administrative functions. Having them built into each separate managed care organization’s contract and subcontracts allowed too much opportunity for the companies to hide and pad the associated fees.

Accordingly, state Medicaid officials don’t expect the health care plans to accept the change without pushback. “We fully expect there’ll be lawsuits,” Medicaid Director Maureen Corcoran said. No wonder: Just consider the 2018 state analysis that found that pharmacy benefit managers’ pricing practices added $224 million to the cost of Medicaid prescriptions in one year.

The most notable example of consolidation is the plan to move to a single, state-contracted pharmacy benefit manager rather than the current practice of each managed care organization contracting with one.

The downsides of the current setup have been well documented by Dispatch reporters: With unchecked latitude to set prescription prices and pharmacy reimbursements, PBMs have siphoned hundreds of millions in profits out of the Medicaid system. PBM companies point to the fact that they nonetheless fulfilled their function: using their size and buying power to negotiate lower prices from drug manufacturers.

Indeed, it’s possible the Medicaid program paid less overall for drugs than it would have without using a PBM. But the savings to the public could and should have been much greater, had the PBMs not scooped up most of the savings for themselves.

Nontransparent contracts and secret price lists have made it hard for the state to rein in PBM profit-taking. Reforms such as banning “spread pricing” — negotiating a low price from drugmakers but still charging the state insurance plans a high price — have helped, but PBMs have found other ways to pump up profits, such as by arbitrarily declaring some medications as “specialty” drugs (which command a higher price) and steering prescriptions for those drugs to pharmacies linked to their parent companies.

A single state contract with a PBM — not five separate, secret contracts — should offer more control.

As the Department of Medicaid goes forward with this significant change effort, a case before the U.S. Supreme Court could inhibit states’ authority to regulate PBMs. Even further down the road, a more conservative court could strike down the Affordable Care Act, which, by virtue of ending the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid, could end coverage for millions.

Nevertheless, the state should press forward with reforms. With close to $28 billion in state and federal tax dollars going into Medicaid each year, Ohioans have a right to expect more from the program than they’re getting right now.



Universities must choose freedom

The Toledo Blade

Oct. 12

The mission of a university is learning and teaching. The product of a university is twofold: knowledge and thought. Therefore universities must be bastions of free thought and inquiry.

All this is fundamental to the university: The principle is called academic freedom.

When universities fail to protect freedom of thought and inquiry, they fail themselves and they fail the open and democratic society.

Yet we live in a time in which such failure is common in America. Duquesne University in Pittsburgh is failing that test.

Gary Shank, a tenured professor at Duquesne, who has taught at the university since 1997, used a racial slur to demonstrate a point in his educational psychology class. His intent was clear. It was not to demean or harass or diminish. His intent was to teach.

Students filmed a portion of Mr. Shank’s lecture and posted the videos to social media. There was swift backlash.

The university suspended Mr. Shank without a hearing for creating “a hostile learning environment.” It denied him the due process that is his right according to the university’s faculty handbook. And on Wednesday of last week, Duquesne terminated his employment.

This sort of overreaction and arbitrariness, sadly, is no longer unusual. Professors at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, and Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Mich., were fired in recent weeks for similar transgressions. And the University of Southern California removed a professor from teaching a course after he used a Mandarin word that merely sounded like a racial slur and allegedly caused students distress.

This closing down of free speech and thought is shocking and dangerous. Academic freedom goes to the heart of the university just as free speech and thought is the heart of our system and our country.

At Duquesne, when a student reached out to Mr. Shank personally, he apologized to the class profusely by email, pledging not to use the term again in any context.

But that was not enough.

When public relations or political correctness matters more than teaching, at any university, that university is in deep crisis.

The hope is that this is not over and that this injustice — a failure of due process as well as academic freedom — will be corrected.

The Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has come to Mr. Shank’s aid, and sent a missive to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education urging the department to investigate.

The American Association of University Professors has also spoken up and asked Duquesne’s president to reinstate Mr. Shank. The ball is now in President Ken Gormley’s court.

The point is not whether you agree with Mr. Shank’s pedagogy or not. It is not whether he, or any other teacher, may sometimes make students uncomfortable with his teaching.

The point is that teaching and learning depend on free inquiry.

This freedom is the basis of the American university and the American experiment itself.



Assistance now is crucial for country’s need

The Vindicator

Oct. 12

Many sectors of the U.S. economy continue a slow but steady recovery from the COVID-19 slowdown. By the end of September, the U.S. unemployment rate had dropped to 7.9 percent, down from 8.4 percent in August.

But as we and many others have warned, some businesses — and millions of their employees — continue to struggle. In addition, a significant number of companies failed to weather the coronavirus storm. They have closed their doors forever.

Locally, Trumbull and Mahoning counties’ jobless numbers were stagnant and, sadly, remained among the worst in Ohio. August numbers released in recent weeks from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services had Trumbull County’s 11.4 percent unemployment rate third worst in Ohio, and Mahoning County’s 11.1 percent rate was fifth worst among the 88 counties.

In the news recently have been airlines. Passenger count is everything for them. With it down drastically, most carriers are struggling. Allowing them to go down would be an economic disaster — affecting first smaller airports.

Less noticed have been other businesses such as restaurants. They have been affected by the double whammy of fewer potential customers and restrictions on the number they are permitted to serve.

COVID-19 is far from finished with the U.S. economy and with millions of men and women who have never asked for handouts in their lives. They just want to work.

Nearly $3 trillion in federal aid linked to the epidemic has helped some people and their employers survive — but in many programs, the cupboard is bare of money to provide the aid many still need.

We all know why: politics. Democrats and Republicans have been haggling for weeks over a new relief package.

Without taking sides, it is fair to note that much of the disagreement is over hundreds of billions of dollars in proposals that have no direct connection to the pandemic. Both sides express optimism that negotiations will bear fruit.

Again without taking sides, politics has been called the art of compromise. Clearly, some of that is needed now.

With every day that passes, people and companies that need help to survive not their own mistakes but a tiny virus continue to suffer. Some employers will not make it through the crisis unless federal aid is rushed to them.

Both the White House and members of Congress need to keep that at the top of their minds.



Ohio still needs relief from losses

The Marietta Times

Oct. 12

Buckeye State residents are not out of the woods yet when it comes to the economic challenges that have accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, last week, initial claims for unemployment compensation rose for the third week in a row.

For the week ending Oct. 3, 18,592 Ohioans filed jobless claims, an increase of about 3%, according to the Department of Job and Family Services. Depending on who you ask, there is a chance a second wave of the virus this winter might make the situation even worse.

In fact, virus cases are increasing right now in the Buckeye State, with the Department of Health reporting 1,539 confirmed and probable cases Thursday. That is well above the 21-day case average of 1,080. More than 164,000 confirmed and probable cases have been reported to date, including 4,983 deaths.

“Frankly, these numbers are very alarming,” DeWine told the Associated Press last week.

But DeWine says he has a plan that could help — a little, which he plans to discuss this week. A proposed aid plan would at least give a little breathing room to those struggling to pay their rent, and for small businesses and nonprofits.

Given the bickering and constant delays accompanying a reported relief plan bouncing around Washington, D.C., it is tempting to have little faith that an aid plan will come to fruition in Ohio. But DeWine and other state officials have had the interests of Ohioans in mind far more than their counterparts at the federal level, from the beginning of this challenge.

Surely he and Ohio lawmakers will find a way to quickly get Ohio residents at least some of the help they need — now.