Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers

in Apolitical/Top Headlines by

A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:

Tampa Bay Times — Positive news on slowing Medicare costs

Targeted Medicare cuts by the Obama administration, waste reduction and a shift toward rewarding efficient care have produced positive results. The Medicare cost report released this week shows that per-patient expenses have all but stabilized. Meanwhile, a refreshing bipartisan agreement in Congress has put doctor payments on a more sensible trajectory. America cannot escape baby boom demographics — providing health care to aging and disabled citizens will continue to present fiscal and moral challenges for decades. But this week’s developments are a welcome respite, and the president and Congress should build on these successes.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that federal spending will grow from 21 percent of the gross national product to 26 percent over the next 25 years, a jump attributable entirely to interest on the national debt, Social Security and major health care programs. Social Security spending can be managed by incremental adjustments if necessary. Preserving Medicare — though less expensive now at about $560 billion a year — has long appeared more challenging because of the double whammy of a rapidly aging population and spiraling health care costs. That perception has fueled calls in some quarters for privatizing Medicare or dramatically raising the eligibility age.

Medicare’s latest cost report should ease pressure to make dramatic changes in the near future. Per-patient expenditures grew by only 0.2 percent in 2013, considerably below the general cost of living rise of 1.7 percent. That compares to Medicare’s 1.8 percent annual cost growth from 2009 through 2012 and a 5.8 percent average during the five prior years.

Baby boomers drove part of the cost report’s rosier per-patient outlook, because they are swelling the ranks of Medicare’s “young old,” aged 65 to 70, who need fewer costly medical services than their older predecessors. As they continue to age, Medicare’s per-patient spending will again climb.

But that’s not the whole story. The Obama administration has wisely reduced payments to private Medicare Advantage insurance companies, bringing them more in line with the traditional fee-for-service system. Competitive bidding for durable medical equipment is expected to save $26 billion over the next 10 years.

The Bradenton Herald — Riverwalk Regatta organizer, DeSoto Society step up to plate to woo Palmetto

The future of the spectacularly successful Bradenton Area Riverwalk Regatta got brighter this week thanks to the DeSoto Historical Society.

Also credit Mike Fetchko, president of Integrated Strategic Marketing and regatta organizer.

Palmetto city commissioners and Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant have been balking about approving the closure of the Green Bridge after this year’s inaugural powerboat races and other events left the north river city without the promised Christian concert and the lack of an economic boost from the regatta.

For weeks, the commission has been balking at any official approval. Enter the DeSoto Society and Fetchko, working to ensure Palmetto shares in the economic benefits from the massive crowd, estimated at 80,000. The total impact on the county amounted to some $8 million.

Palmetto enjoys a strong relationship with the DeSoto organization, which moved its Seafood Festival out of Bradenton to Sutton Park several years ago.

And the organization intends to lend its event expertise to Palmetto, led by DeSoto President Rick Parcels and Executive Ray Niecestro, for regatta-related fun.

Fetchko is vowing stronger ties, too, possibly extending the Formula 2 racecourse closer to the city (while still steering clear of manatee zones) and moving the HydroCross championship to the Palmetto side of the river.

And adding land events and more food and beverage vendors.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal — House must abandon its brinkmanship

With two weeks left in this year’s regular session, the Florida Legislature is not any closer to resolving an intra-party dispute over Medicaid and funding indigent health care.

In fact, the two sides are further apart than they’ve ever been, and time is running out on reaching an agreement.

The federal government has notified the state that in June it will stop funding its half of the $2.2 billion Low-Income Pool, which helps cover the costs of charity care at hospitals across the state. Losing that money would deal a severe blow to local hospitals — Halifax Health, which provides about $50 million in uncompensated care and community health programs annually, would forfeit $14 million, and Bert Fish Medical Center would be denied about $2 million.

From the start, the Florida House and Senate, both controlled by Republican majorities, have disagreed on what to do. To maintain a LIP funding stream and avert a crisis, the Senate has proposed accepting additional Medicaid funds from Washington and using them to create the Florida Health Insurance Affordability Exchange. FHIX would provide private-policy health coverage for the 800,000 Floridians not already covered by Medicaid. Able-bodied recipients would be required to pay modest premiums and be employed, looking for work or enrolled in school. Proponents argue this would inject some market forces into the health insurance system.

The Florida Times-Union — Scott, speaker must focus on people – not politics

Hospitals are paying millions in charity care.

Employees are paying hidden taxes on their premiums of about $1,500 a year to provide that charity care.

But Gov. Rick Scott — aka “Mr. Jobs” — is willing to turn down 71,000 jobs in the first three years following Medicaid expansion.

He’s playing politics with the state’s economy.

Scott — aka “Mr. Business” — is turning down the proposed Medicaid expansion plans supported by the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Associated Industries of Florida. In the first three years of Medicaid expansion, Florida could realize an $8.8 billion increase in economic activity.

Why would he turn down business expansion? Politics.

At stake is a program to pay for charity health care that the federal government always intended to be temporary, the Low Income Pool.

The federal government didn’t care for the way Florida was managing those funds. As Vikki Wachino, acting director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services wrote to Florida’s health care administrators, Florida’s program suffered from a lack of transparency, an overreliance on supplemental payments and too little focus on Medicaid patients.

The federal government presumed that Medicaid expansion would lessen the need for this Low Income Pool, which is why the two programs are linked.

Scott and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli are righteously indignant over that linkage. How, they fume, could the federal government dare do that?

Well, because it could. And it did.

Florida Today – All aboard! Brevard accepts train project

None of the usual things residents and officials do to stymie high-speed rail projects have worked on All Aboard Florida because it’s not your usual Florida enterprise.

And now, the business planning to run 32 passenger trains a day through Brevard is about to gain even more independence from local politics. On Monday, a state board in Tallahassee probably will approve its sale of $1.75 billion in “private activity” bonds to private investors. That will eliminate the need for a federal loan and, along with it, a host of requirements including an environmental impact statement that provides the usual opportunities for activists to monkey-wrench a project.

This is what happens when conservative Brevard gets its way — when a company doesn’t ask for tax dollars to start a high-speed train service between Miami and Orlando, when it absorbs all the risk, lays all the track on land it already owns, and lets the market decide.

No public investment, less public say.

“It’s private capital doing what it does best – creating new transportation infrastructure, creating thousands of jobs and billions of dollars’ worth of GDP,” All Aboard Florida President Mike Reininger said Friday.

Residents who live near or drive across the Florida East Coast Railway tracks remain understandably concerned about noise and crossing delays. But in a series of interviews, Brevard city and county leaders told me they have accepted that All Aboard Florida will operate here. Instead of fighting it, they are working with the company to upgrade safety equipment and create “quiet zones” through urban areas.

While Indian River County tries to block it with a environmental lawsuit, Port Canaveral and the Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization have commissioned a ridership study to help make the case for a stop to serve tourists.

The Gainesville Sun – Cheers and jeers

It didn’t seem possible that turnout in Gainesville City Commission elections could get any worse.

Yet that is exactly what happened from the initial round of voting to Tuesday’s runoff election.

Jeer: Gainesville voters, for turning out at a rate of less than 12 percent in the runoff. About 12.5 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the first round of voting on March 17.

The community needs an all-hand-on-deck approach — from Supervisor of Elections Pam Carpenter down to us in the local media — to work on boosting turnout. Moving elections from the spring is one obvious way to do so.

Cheer: State Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican whose district includes Alachua County, for agreeing to changes in his bill that would broaden the type of patients who qualify for medical marijuana and the levels of euphoria-inducing THC that can be contained in it.

It’s still far from a full-fledged medical marijuana bill, but it’s better than what was previously on the books.

Jeer: The Florida House of Representatives and Gov. Rick Scott, for the budget impasse over expanding Medicaid.

They shouldn’t be surprised that the federal government is tying funding for hospitals to care for low-income patients to the state’s expansion of the program that would help those patients avoid relying on hospital emergency rooms for care. Scott’s planned lawsuit against the federal government over the issue is sheer lunacy.

Cheer: The Saarinen family for donating a new 78-acre preserve in Newberry and the AmeriCorps volunteers and others who got the preserve in shape to be open to the public.

The preserve has nearly three miles of trails for hikers, cyclists and equestrian users.

The Lakeland Ledger — Four-Year Programs: Colleges Under Attack

For the past two legislative sessions, state Sen. Joe ­Negron has waged an inexplicable and unnecessary battle against Florida’s state college system. On Thursday, the Stuart Republican, a member of the Higher Education Committee, announced a compromise. The conditions, however, could rightfully be viewed as terms of surrender — by the colleges.

After enduring Negron’s crusade for the past two years, these schools’ leaders can be forgiven for simply wanting a cease-fire. But releasing a plan for an incremental, three-year cap on the number of four-year degrees granted by these institutions, such as Polk State College, should not be the end. As Negron seeks to shove his so-called compromise into the legislative grinder to get it adopted by the end of the session, supporters of Polk State and the other schools should rally to their defense and convince other lawmakers that Negron’s misguided quest must be curtailed.

Negron’s excuse for a crackdown on state colleges — previously known as community colleges — is a concern about “mission creep.”

For decades, these schools offered two-year degrees focusing on workforce-skill development. In 2001, lawmakers authorized a program — limited at the time to St. Petersburg College — allowing community colleges to offer four-year degrees. The initiative was largely an extension of the schools’ previous efforts, and it has grown. By 2013, 24 of the 28 state colleges participated, and combined they offer 175 different baccalaureate programs. Polk State students can find eight, including five different tracks within business management as well as one each in criminal justice, nursing and aerospace sciences — which, by the way, have been partly funded by local employers hoping to hire those graduates.

The Miami Herald — A spring without Heat

If you’re a Miami Heat fan, these are strange days as the NBA season comes to an end and the playoffs start Saturday.

For the first time since the 2007-2008 season — that’s roughly seven years — there will be no postseason for the Heat and their fans.

There is no looking forward to sweat-filled playoff battles with the Chicago Bulls, or the Boston Celtics, or the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Eastern Conference title. No leaping out of our seats at that magical last-minute three-pointer. Forget the Hollywood scenario we had envisioned of a Chris Bosh-led Heat vs. LeBron James’ Cavs in the semifinals.

And, never mind the parade through downtown Miami. Just wishful thinking at this point.

The bitter truth is AmericanAirlines Arena is closed for basketball dreams this spring. Find something else to do, Heat fans.

It’s an empty feeling for those who follow the team, which in recent years has been our only consistent winner. What fun the team showed us when it was riding high. Who didn’t love those ESPN or ABC nighttime aerial shots of a packed AAA-by-the-bay for a deciding Game 7 at home?

This is the time of year when true fans (and fair-weather fans) would gear up, flying the Heat flag from their car windows and sporting the players’ Ts — and be all cocky about winning it all. No sweat. Heady times.

The Orlando Sentinel — Free agency would ruin high school sports

The words were seismic.

“This fall, I’m going to take my talents to South Beach … and join the Miami Heat.”

With those words, basketball superstar LeBron James sent shock waves throughout the NBA. With star player Chris Bosh joining Lebron to pair with Heat All-Star Dwyane Wade, non-Heat fans decried the rise of the prefabricated super team. With the Big Three leading the way, the Heat enjoyed great dominance, collecting a pair of championships in four years.

Now, Florida is gearing up for déjà vu all over again. Not in the NBA, but in high schools, if lawmakers and the governor sign off on a wrongheaded measure fast-breaking through the Legislature. In this year’s attempt to dismantle the Florida High School Athletic Association, lawmakers propose not only to replace the governing body with a state-tapped nonprofit organization, but also open the door to scholastic free agency.

The proposal to “reform” the FHSAA would let students whose schools (including virtual and charter schools) have no team in their sport attend a different school in their county for athletic purposes only.

In other words, with a little ingenuity, certain high schools could become powerhouses by wooing elite athletes who live outside their boundaries to take their talents to join their sports teams. Think high-school Heat teams. And parents could finally shop schools to get their kids the best coaches.

The bill (SB 1480) passed the state Senate pre-k-12 education committee Wednesday by a 6-5 vote. A House companion (HB 7137) heads to the House floor.

What’s the problem you ask?

Think about the potential for manipulation.

The Ocala StarBanner — AOBs: The new insurance wrinkle

For years, Florida residents have been spared the wrath of a hurricane, and last week Colorado State University forecasters predicted calm on the Atlantic storm horizon for 2015. If they are correct, a full decade will have passed since hurricane dread gripped some region of Florida.

But recall that the 2005 season was a doozy. Forecasters documented 30 named storms that year, half of which were full-blown hurricanes, including Katrina, which struck South Florida with more than a glancing blow.

Covering the associated losses that year, on the heels of the hyperactive 2004 storm season, led many insurers to flee the state — an exodus that eventually made the taxpayer-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. the largest property insurer in Florida.

Yet the lack of hurricanes has not left the insurance industry unscathed. And in Tallahassee today, a political storm is brewing over a new aspect of insurance coverage. At issue are what’s known as an assignment of benefits, or AOBs, wherein the policyholder grants a third party his rights to collect on a claim.

Such a provision has long been a staple of health insurance, for example, when a patient allows a doctor or hospital to seek payment for services directly from the insurer. But AOBs represent a new wrinkle in property insurance and have fed a boom in lawsuits, according to industry advocates.

It works like this: A homeowner suffers damage and the contractor called in to make the repairs demands that the homeowner sign an AOB agreement before work begins. The contractor — not the homeowner — then seeks payment under the policy.

The Pensacola News-Journal — Gov. Scott wrong on Medicaid

Gov. Rick Scott won his first term in office by demonizing President Obama and denouncing handouts and spending by the federal government. Now in his second term, Gov. Scott is suing the Obama administration for not handing over more than $1 billion in federal money.

Welcome to Florida: the mentally unstable state.

This is what our battle over Medicaid expansion has become. Our governor will now spend your tax dollars in order to sue the president in opposition to an issue that he once supported. If it wasn’t so stupid, wasteful and tragic, it might be funny.

First of all, it should be noted that the conservative, Republican-dominated state Senate has come up with a private-sector-based plan for Medicaid expansion money. This is the Florida Senate of Don Gaetz. They’re not playing by Obamacare’s rules. They’ve made up their own rules and the federal government is poised to go along.

It should further be noted that a majority of Floridians support this expansion, as do hospitals, state medical groups, business interests and the Chamber of Commerce – hardly a gaggle of left-wing radicals.

Simply put, Medicaid expansion means that the federal government will give us back roughly $15 billion of our tax dollars through 2016. Floridians have already surrendered these taxes to the federal government. If we don’t take them back, someone else will. Like Obamacare or hate it, there is no fiscal rationale for refusing to take back our own money. Yet the Florida House has stubbornly dug in to oppose it.

Worse yet, the governor, who once supported Medicaid expansion is now against it. Not only is he against it, he’s suing the Obama administration for more than $1 billion in federal Low Income Pool funds, a program that essentially gives charity money to hospitals for treating the poor. The state has known for several years that the program was expiring in June. For the governor to pretend otherwise is blatant dishonesty.

The Palm Beach Post — Will health care fight drive Florida’s budget off a cliff?

One of the more disturbing scenes in American cinema is the chicken run race from the 1955 classic, “Rebel Without a Cause.” This past week, Florida’s Medicaid/budget debacle looked a lot like that scene.

Gov. Rick Scott is Buzz, adjusting his leather jacket, bent out of shape over the latest health funding knife fight with the Obama administration: “She signals. We head for the edge. And the first man who jumps is a chicken. All right?

It’s Senate President Andy Gardiner in the Medicaid expansion car, looking like James Dean, coolly checking to be sure that the escape door is working. Gardiner’s the one with the plan; Scott’s the one with the hubris, threatening to sue the feds for tying safety-net hospital funding to Medicaid expansion. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli is right there with him. Will Scott and Crisafulli take Florida over a cliff? It’s looking that way.

The Senate has advanced a compromise called FHIX that would give Florida a unique twist on Medicaid expansion. It would allow more low-income Floridians access to Medicaid-managed care plans, and it would create a state-run, online health insurance exchange.

We’ve said it before: It’s nobody’s perfect solution, but it’s a compromise that leaves Floridians in a much safer position.

The Panama City News-Herald — Stories of hope

When things look bleak sometimes we only have to look around to see goodness, mercy and love.

The editors and reporters who work here often go out of their way to shine a light on positive community events and to find stories of hope and charity.
Here’s a few of those and a few fun ones you may have missed.

Port St. Joe was voted the 2015 Best City for Pet Travelers in a GoPetFriendly.com poll. Here’s how the folks at their blog described our neighbor; “Port St. Joe gazes across sparkling St. Joseph Bay at the 17-mile barrier peninsula known as Cape San Blas on Florida’s Panhandle. Famous for its stunning white beaches, gentle surf, and crystal clear water, the Cape is a soothing sanctuary for anyone looking to escape the hustle and bustle. Their pet friendly beaches stretch for miles, and when you’re tired of lounging you can rent a kayak, canoe, paddleboard, or bike to do some exploring with the Gulf as your backdrop.”

Pet stories always strike a chord thanks to years of covering several Bay County events involving dogs. The Editorial Page Editor recalls a string of Saturdays in which he was sent to every possible dog related function in the Panhandle. The stories weren’t all that much but the photos of canines chasing balls, Frisbees and each other were always eye-catching.

Jan Waddy, The News Herald’s features editor, did one of those this week when she reported on the good work being done at Gulf Coast State College to help the less fortunate. On Thursday Chef Paul Ashman, his culinary students, and students from the Rising Leaders Academy, Girl Scout Troop 312, Gulf Coast ceramics students, and this year’s artist-in-residence at GCSC, Meghan Sullivan, worked together to raise money for the Panama City Rescue Mission.

The students donated handcrafted bowls for an empty bowl luncheon. Empty bowl events, like this one, do a lot of good by raising money but also by raising awareness about the needs of those around us.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel – Viable medical marijuana program a must

Last November’s push to bring medical marijuana to Florida came up short. Amendment 2 just missed the 60 percent threshold, but advocates believe they’ll do better in 2016.

They certainly don’t have much faith in their elected officials. Even though the Florida Legislature passed a limited form of medical marijuana use in 2014, the state never put the program into effect. No wonder the push is on to let voters decide at the ballot.

State lawmakers, however, still have a chance to take control of this emotional issue by passing a bill moving through the Florida Senate that will expand the ailments that can be treated by marijuana and fix Florida’s flawed rule-making process that has squelched reform.

SB 7066 is a major improvement over Florida’s Charlotte Web effort, which legalized a marijuana oil-extract to help youngsters with epileptic seizures. The Legislature sent this to the governor’s desk two years ago, but controversy surrounding health department rules stalled the effort. In its wake, ailing children continued to suffer.

The current bill by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, increases the medical conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana, including AIDS/HIV, autism, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, paraplegia, quadriplegia and terminal illnesses.

The legislation also increases the number of nurseries that will grow and distribute the marijuana from five to 20, and removes the criteria that eligible growers have 30-plus years of experience and produce 400,000 plants a year. Allowing more growers is a boon to an emerging industry.

There are still issues that need to be worked out in Bradley’s bill. Growers don’t like the provision that picks the “dispensing organizations” via a lottery, and the senator is open to raising the level of euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in medical marijuana.

The Tallahassee Democrat – Relay for Life battles cancer nationally and locally

In the Tallahassee community, the battle against cancer is fought daily in large and small ways. A volunteer transports a cancer patient to treatment. A patient visits the Tallahassee American Cancer Society to choose a wig. At one of the local cancer centers, a patient is matched with a clinical trial. In all of these ways, local funds and local volunteers make a difference every day.

Across the nation, American Cancer Society volunteers have been walking tracks to raise funds and awareness for the fight against since 1985 when Dr. Gordy Klatt first began the event that would come to be known as Relay for Life. Relay for Life came to Tallahassee in 1995 with the first local community event hosted at the Leon High School track.

As Tallahassee has grown, so has the community’s involvement in the Relay for Life movement. This year, the North Leon Relay for Life will be held at Chiles High School on May 1 and the Leon/Havana Relay for Life is scheduled at the Leon County Fairgrounds May 15.

Thousands of volunteers have formed teams and will hold events to fundraise in the weeks leading up to the events. In January, Leon/Havana Relay for Life Chair Rocky Hanna squared off against North Leon Honorary Chair Kristin Dozier in a guest bartending challenge at Madison Social to kick off the 2015 Relay for Life event season. Hanna said, “We had a little friendly competition behind the bar but at the end of the night the Tallahassee community was the real winner because we raised more than $2,000 in just a few hours to help fund the fight against cancer.”

The American Cancer Society Relay For Life movement is the world’s largest nonprofit fundraising event. Rallying the passion of more than four million people around the world, funds raised through the events help the society make progress in finding cures and removing barriers for people facing the disease.

The Relay For Life movement fuels the mission of the American Cancer Society, an organization that touches the lives of so many – those who are battling cancer, those who may face a diagnosis and those who may avoid a diagnosis altogether thanks to education, prevention and early detection. The American Cancer Society is here for everyone and when you fundraise through your Relay For Life event, you support the society’s lifesaving mission to finish the fight against cancer.

The Tampa Tribune — Everglades land purchase a no-brainer, except in Tallahassee

The state cut a deal with U.S. Sugar seven years ago to pay a fair-market price for 46,800 acres south of Lake Okeechobee that could be used to filter polluted water before it flows to the Everglades.

It was a good deal then, and it’s a good deal today.

Yet state lawmakers may not go through with it, even after 75 percent of the state’s voters approved the environmental lands amendment (Amendment 1) last November that could provide a definite funding source for the purchase. Moreover, a recent Senate-sponsored University of Florida study on how to move more fresh water into the Everglades suggests the land’s purchase would be a good option to consider.

Lawmakers should stop playing games with Everglades restoration funding and respect the will of the voters by approving the land’s purchase before adjourning this legislative session. And Gov. Rick Scott, who campaigned for a second term on his concern for protecting Florida’s natural beauty, should push the Senate and House to do the right thing and buy the land.

The purchase option expires Oct. 12. The state will never get a better deal. As Charles Lee, advocacy director of Audubon Florida tells us, “The issue here is a simple one: Don’t walk away from a sure thing.”

Former Gov. Charlie Crist cut the deal with U.S. Sugar to buy the acreage, part of which was to be used as a reservoir to store tainted water rather than divert it into rivers and estuaries.

U.S. Sugar supported the deal then, when the economy was reeling from the recession. Now it doesn’t, and it appears its generous donations to powerful figures in Tallahassee has put the deal in jeopardy as the deadline nears. If lawmakers let the option lapse, the land reverts to U.S. Sugar, which has proposed building a large housing and retail development in the area someday down the road.

The company’s considerable influence in Tallahassee is stoked by more than $2 million in donations to Republican candidates last year and by the secretive hunting trips it hosted in Texas for Scott, and for House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, among others. The company gave generously to Scott’s re-election campaign.

Opponents of purchasing the land, such as Putnam, who has opposed it from the start, say it doesn’t represent the best use of Everglades restoration expenditures.

They say money should be spent on projects north of Lake Okeechobee to clean the water before it reaches the lake. During heavy rains, overflow from the lake water, tainted with phosphorus and nitrogen, is diverted into rivers flowing east and west of the lake and causes significant environmental damage.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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