Bluegrass Beacon: Spray schemes with transparency disinfectant

BluegrassBeaconLogoEditor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon column is a weekly syndicated statewide newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute website after being released to and published by newspapers statewide.

Privatization done right can be a boon for taxpayers and those dependent on government services.

Outsourcing medical care for veterans – an idea floated by President Drumpf – would very likely reduce wait time and improve the quality of care received by those who have served our nation.

It couldn’t get much worse.

Too many veterans have died or needlessly suffered while waiting in line because of the inept delivery of government-provided care.

Worse, there’s an inadequate level of urgency to fix the problem.

Such earnestness is likely to be more present if a private company whose reputation and future is on the line is charged with delivering the care.

There’s really not a strong case for claiming that government somehow delivers medical care, builds roads, lands planes or more effectively educates children than conscientious competent engineers and teachers in the private sector.

However, even the fact that private entities can, and often do, provide these products and services at lower costs and more effectively doesn’t eliminate government’s proper, if limited, role of ensuring sound contracts, proper oversight and responses to demands for accountability, including transparency related to the spending of taxpayer dollars.

Just because government may not be the best entity to deliver a service doesn’t negate or minimize the importance of ensuring such services get delivered and that citizens still have access to how their hard-earned tax dollars are spent.

Creators of Kentucky’s sunshine laws diligently sought to provide such protection and ensure that outsourced services relying heavily on taxpayer dollars were transparent by making private companies deriving at least 25 percent of their funds from state or local agencies subject to the open records law.

However, loopholes created during intervening years weakened the law, allowing private entities like the Utility Management Group (UMG) to take Pikeville’s Mountain Water District (MWD) and its ratepayers for a ride in recent years.

UMG played hide-and-seek with ratepayers’ dollars behind those amendments, which – for some untenable reason – exempted funds received for certain types of publicly bid goods and services as being subjected to the 25-percent rule.

It must be deemed unacceptable by all taxpayers and legislators that not only did UMG deny the MWD itself the cost of operating the district, it thumbed its collective nose at then-state Auditor Crit Luallen’s request for cost information.

Whether UMG is subject to Kentucky’s open records laws will be decided by the Kentucky Supreme Court, which heard arguments in February but has yet to rule.

Kentucky legislators should now decide once and for all that secretive, costly and questionable, if not outright corrupt, agencies like UMG – which gets most of their revenues from public sources – need more, not less, light.

Private companies must understand: if they want to use taxpayer dollars to do business with government, how they spend those dollars must be subject to public scrutiny.

Failing to provide such oversight led to a decision by the Legislative Ethics Commission to fine former Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps, after one of his companies won $171,000 in no-bid sewer line projects he voted to include in the state budget.

Hall was later convicted and imprisoned for bribing a mine inspector.

Rep. Chris Harris, D-Forest Hills, who defeated Hall in his re-election bid in 2014, has twice introduced bills to close the loopholes and spray the disinfectant of transparency all over these public-private schemes.

“Regardless of whether a contract is placed for bid or not, the public’s business should be open and available for inspection and review,” Harris replied in a text message seeking comment.

Could consistently ensuring such transparency be even better than a disinfectant? Could it also serve as a vaccine against future secretive, self-serving and corrupt arrangements?

Let’s find out.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read previous columns at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com and @bipps on Twitter.

Bluegrass Beacon: Make health care affordable again

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Editor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon column is a weekly syndicated statewide newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute website after being released to and published by newspapers statewide.

Whether the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which narrowly passed the U.S. House of Representatives last month, offers an effective repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – affectionately known as Obamacare – is the subject of much debate as the Senate takes up another attempt to deal with the failed health care fiasco.

It’s indisputable, however, that any replacement plan failing to deal with cost – the primary malady affecting health-care policy – is an effort in futility.

A growing body of evidence suggests that not only has Obamacare done little to address the cost of health-care products and services, it’s exacerbated the problem.

Recent analysis by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services indicates average premiums are 105 percent higher for Americans in the 39 states purchasing policies through the federal exchange in 2017 than for individuals’ plans in 2013 – before the exchange was created.

The analysis further unpacked reports that the average individual market premiums rose from $2,784 before Obamacare had kicked up to $5,712 in 2017.

“Affordable” Care Act, anyone?

All of this, it seems, would produce a wonderful opportunity for Republicans, who control Congress, the presidency and most state legislatures to use the leverage given them by voters to tattoo history with:  “Here’s how you do health-care reform,” and do it right.

Don’t get your hopes up.

Insurance-company lobbyists and welfare recipients have joined forces to weaken the resolve of many legislators who campaigned for changing a policy that never should have been implemented in the first place.

We would’ve been much better off seven years ago, instead of passing Obamacare, to adhere to the wise adage of President Calvin Coolidge: it’s “much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones.”

Still, killing not only Obamacare but its foundational ideas and approaches remains a priority.

More than reasonable doubt exists concerning whether the AHCA comes anywhere close to doing this – with its Obamacare-like approaches to taxes, subsidies and even mandates.

Northern Kentucky congressman Thomas Massie, one of 20 Republicans to oppose the AHCA, sassily compared the legislation to a kidney stone, charging “the House doesn’t care what happens to it, as long as they can pass it.”

Yet even when it comes to something as politically charged as whether we’re going to replace a health-care policy bearing the name of a Democratic president with a Republican-created substitute, progress can be made regarding critical policies in a bipartisan way.

There is, for example, strong support for making the cost of care transparent.

Costs have largely been hidden in our days of low co-pays, employer-provided plans dominated by third-party administrators and government programs.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a Medicaid patient ask me how much something costs,” Dr. Cameron Schaeffer, a Lexington-based pediatric urologist and proponent of free-market policies, said on KET’s recent Kentucky Tonight program.

Neither Obamacare nor the AHCA effectively connects patients with cost, which is critical to making America’s great health care affordable again.

One viewer’s email read by Kentucky Tonight host Renee Shaw noted, “a free market only works when there is competition.”

Both Schaeffer and fellow KET panelist Dr. Barbara Casper, an internist, professor of medicine at the University of Louisville and Obamacare supporter, agreed providers should post their prices in a clear and understandable way.

Doing so would “help patients know what they’re getting into” and “would also allow for … more competition,” Casper said.

“I think we need to do everything we can to lower costs,” she added.

Whatever your political belief system, you will bear the burden or at least the consequences of higher health-care costs.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read previous columns at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com and @bipps on Twitter.

Pension crisis on Louisville’s 970 WGTK

BIPPS Logo_pickMembers of the Bluegrass Institute Pension Reform Team Dr. William Smith and Bluegrass Institute president and CEO Jim Waters appeared on “The Rest of the News” with host Dr. Frank Simon. The Saturday interview on Louisville’s 970 WGTK addressed the looming pension crisis in the Commonwealth.

The pension crisis “threatens every aspect of our economy,” according to Waters, which is why the Bluegrass Institute has spent five years working on this issue. It is both a math problem and a policy problem.

Figuring out the cause of the $38 billion deficit is necessary to find a solution. As Waters pointed out, “For years, the politicians have used the pension system to curry political favor. And this has resulted in serious problems.” Ignoring the facts has lead policy makers to promise more benefit than the state can afford.

Dr. Smith expounded on the reason why the pension system has escalated this far: “Employees and employers fund their own benefits. All these systems have a full set of actuarially pre-funded benefits, but those benefits change over time.” Because of retroactively enhanced benefits, the pre-funded account is exhausted.

While the state did perform an audit on the pension system, they only went back to 2004. Dr. Smith for the Bluegrass Institute went back to the beginning of the system, 1958, in order to assess the situation.

Though the unfunded liability is daunting, the Bluegrass Institute believes Kentucky can turn its pension system around. Dr. Smith made it clear that the state cannot, and even should not, roll back the enhanced benefits, but should “stop the bleeding.” Moving forward, “assumptions need to be based on empirical data.” Benefits calculations must be grounded in reality.

Additionally, as the Bluegrass Institute has said for years, the system needs more transparency. While many Kentuckians receive a modest pension, there is corruption in the system. Some private entities crept onto the public pension payroll, such as the Commonwealth Credit Union.

Some of the solutions the Bluegrass Institute proposes include making the pension boards accountable for their behavior. The state needs to set up independent actuarial analyses to assess the system. Crucially, the benefit factors must be set at a level the state can actually fund.

Ambiguity allows officials to use tech toys, dodge sunshine laws

COG2Bluegrass Institute Center for Open Government Director Amye Bensenhaver and President and CEO Jim Waters joined Kruser and Krew on Lexington’s NewsTalk 590 WVLK-AM  this week for a segment on Bensenhaver’s report.

Sunshine laws, Bensenhaver told the afternoon radio audience, are laws that “guarantee the public’s right of access to open records…and open meetings.” The state enacted the laws in parallel with the federal Freedom of Information ACT in “recognition that … we need those same kinds of guarantee of access.” These laws apply to agencies that receive at least 25 percent of their funding from the government.

Unfortunately, the sunshine laws are getting outdated. These open records and meetings laws were last updated in 1994, with the last substantial changes being passed in 1992.

Twenty-five years later, much work remains to be done.

Under current statute, a public official could dodge open records laws by using Skype because of a lack of clarity in the language. Bensenhaver emphasizes the importance of change to “eliminate those ambiguities that exist in the statute.”

Bensenhaver addressed violations of the sunshine laws by two of the commonwealth’s universities.

University of Louisville’s latest audit demonstrates shocking cover-ups of blatant transgressions. The University of Kentucky has held meetings, “with trustees in less-than-quorum meetings to discuss the budget excluding the public from those meetings, she explained.”

Acting this way keeps the budget discussions off the record, she noted.

These are not isolated incidents, according to Bensenhaver.

“Based on the flaw within the statute, (lack of transparency) has been a perennial problem across the state,” she said. Ignoring transparency means “you get no public discussion of a public issue.”

Bensenhaver warned: “one of the gravest threats to public access … is a decision rendered by former Attorney General Jack Conway on the last day of his  administration.” The decision declared that “those communications between public officials, if they are conducted on private devices, do not constitute public record,” Bensenhaver declared.

“That decision is so wrong,” she declared.

Kentucky has fallen behind in addressing the need for revision, which is why the Bluegrass Institute is so deeply committed to transparency.

Amy Searl is working with The Bluegrass Institute through the Koch Internship Program.

It’s a Free-Market Friday with BIPPS on the Joe Elliott Show on Louisville’s 970 WGTK-AM

Bluegrass Institute President Jim Waters joins talk show host Joe Elliott for a Free-Market Friday tomorrow at @ 10 a.m. (EDT) on Louisville’s 970 WGTK-AM.

Among other issues, Jim and Joe will discuss Kentucky’s latest ACT scores released this week, the institute’s recent Unbridled Learning report, public charter schools and the Intrastate Coal and Use Act. 

Listen live here. Then, if you like what you hear and you think it’s important for Kentucky, help keep the Bluegrass Institute in the winning column and on the airwaves by contributing here.

BIPPS school-choice debate topic of discussion Monday on the Leland Conway show on Louisville’s 84WHAS

Legalize School Choice Bluegrass Institute President Jim Waters will focus on a newly released online written debate on the Leland Conway Show on Louisville’s 84WHAS at 9 a.m. today. Listen live online here.

The Institute today released the third and final school-choice debate in its Free to Learn series.

Go here to support the message of liberty across the commonwealth!

 

 

On the air: BIPPS on Louisville’s ‘Resistance Radio’

Bluegrass Institute president Jim Waters will guest host for Jim Coyle on Resistance Radio – Louisville’s WGTK 970 AM – Sunday from 10 p.m. to midnight.

Listen live here to see why WGTK-AM is known as “Intelligent Talk” radio, and why it makes sense to have the Bluegrass Institute involved!

Help us continue to spread the message of free markets and free people on Kentucky’s airwaves. Click on the “Donate” button at www.bipps.org. Microphone-pic-150x150

It’s a Free-Market Friday with BIPPS on the Joe Elliott Show on Louisville’s 970 WGTK-AM

Bluegrass Institute President Jim Waters joins talk show host Joe Elliott for a Free-Market Friday tomorrow at @ 10 a.m. (EDT)on Louisville’s 970 WGTK-AM.

Don’t be surprised if the recent Bluegrass Institute policy victory related to the Kentucky Supreme Court’s ruling last week that put the clamps on unelected county health boards implementing and enforcing smoking bans on private-property owners doesn’t somehow find its way into tomorrow’s discussion.

Listen live here. Then, if you like what you hear, help keep the Bluegrass Institute in the winning column and on the airwaves by contributing here.

On the air: BIPPS on Louisville’s ‘Resistance Radio’

Bluegrass Institute president Jim Waters will guest host for Jim Coyle on Resistance Radio – Louisville’s WGTK 970 AM – Sunday from 10 p.m. to midnight.

Listen live here to see why WGTK-AM is known as “Intelligent Talk” radio, and why it makes sense to have the Bluegrass Institute involved!

Help us continue to spread the message of free markets and free people on Kentucky’s airwaves. Click on the “Donate” button at www.bipps.org Microphone-pic-150x150

On the air: BIPPS president Jim Waters on ‘Kentucky Tonight’…tonight!

Join Bluegrass Institute president Jim Waters tonight on KET’s Kentucky Tonight at 8 p.m.

Jim joins host Bill Goodman a panel of guests discussing the 2014 session of the Kentucky General Assembly. Also appearing will be Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates; Dave Adkisson, president and chief executive officer of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce; and Jason Bailey, director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

Watch the hour-long show live on KET and at www.ket.org/live.

Viewers with questions and comments may send e-mail to kytonight@ket.org or use the message form at www.ket.org/kytonight. Viewers may also submit questions and comments on Twitter @BillKET, #kytonight, or on KET’s Facebook page. All messages should include first and last name and town or county.

Plan to call in during the program with your comments and questions at 1-800-494-7605.

Kentucky Tonight programs are archived online, made available via podcast, and rebroadcast on KET, KET KY, and radio.

Help the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions continue to advance freedom and prosperity by promoting freemarket capitalism, smaller government, and the defense of personal liberties. Join us!