Mississippi editorial roundup

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

Sept. 21

Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss., on state legislature should slash all state travel budgets by 50 percent:

A tipping point in the abuse of Mississippi taxpayers should have been reached last month when the director of the state Department of Rehabilitation Services sent himself and 16 of his employees to a conference in New York City at a cost to taxpayers of about $30,000.

As reported by Geoff Pender in The Clarion-Ledger, H.S. “Butch” McMillan, DRS executive director, and his staff have a history of frequently flying at taxpayers’ expense.

Although McMillan told Pender he “questioned it myself on the front end,” he approved the trip to New York because his staff “finally ground me down. I wouldn’t do that again, send that many people to one conference. . No, it was definitely an anomaly. We don’t normally do that.”

But Pender examined records showing “17 DRS employees also attended the same conference, in Chicago at similar expense, the year before. And the year before that, 13 DRS employees attended the same conference in Salt Lake City and four went to the association’s annual board meeting in Chicago.” McMillan went on all the trips, according to the travel documents.

If only this were an anomaly.

But instead of being a deviation or departure from the normal conduct of state business, it is increasingly the norm.

And the Mississippi Legislature should put a stop to it. …

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves told Pender that “it appears there are travel expenses that are frivolous and taxpayers should not be paying for it.”

Believing that, Reeves should rally other state officials around the idea of reducing the amount of tax money available for travel and increasing the oversight of all tax money spent on travel.

Is some travel necessary? Absolutely. Some is even essential. But even justifiable travel at taxpayer expense should not always require an entourage.

The reason given for 17 DRS employees going to New York? One of them was being named president-elect of the National Rehabilitation Association.

The total tab has not been calculated, but it is approaching $30,000. To put that in perspective, half the households in Mississippi earn less than $37,095 in an entire year.

It is obscene to squander the taxes taken from those working men and women.




Sept. 19

Clarion-Ledger on no excuse for DPS’ lack of budget hearing preparation:

Budget hearings are nothing more than the opening salvo in a protracted negotiation over how to carve up state funds for the next year, and little in this year’s hearings has stood out from years prior.

But what did stand out was how ill-prepared the representatives from the Mississippi Department of Public Safety were when they appeared before the Joint Legislative Budget Committee seeking a nearly 50 percent increase in spending.

DPS has been at the center of its share of budget debates over the past couple of years. While most lawmakers generally stand proud beside the men and women who protect our highways, a clear lack of confidence in the department’s leadership continues to show from lawmakers.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves infamously blocked a bond bill two years ago that, in part, would have allowed for the purchase of new vehicles department leaders said were vital to replace an aging fleet.

Last year, lawmakers tried to rectify the problem by allocating nearly $2 million for vehicles, but DPS purchased just a handful of cars, none of which went to Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol troopers. Instead, they went to the Department of Public Safety’s investigative unit.

The Legislature also appropriated $3 million this year to cover what the department said was a budget shortfall. Instead, the money went to meet payroll needs, a decision that angered many lawmakers.

When questioned about these things, Public Safety Commissioner Albert Santa Cruz provided less-than-satisfying answers.

He and his staff were unable to answer simple questions about how they came up with the numbers for next year’s budget, which includes additional money for 69 cars, a new trooper school to hire 60 troopers and numerous technological and facilities upgrades.

Both Reeves and House Speaker Phillip Gunn, R-Clinton, expressed their frustration. …

DPS officials should spend the next three months performing a thorough audit and evaluation of department operations and finances. Then they should head to the Capitol in January with budget requests that are more realistic and supported by quantifiable data.




Sept. 20

Greenwood (Miss.) Commonwealth on health care:

Aside from the obvious mission of providing medical care to patients, it’s clear that the second most important element of health care is who’s going to pay for treatment.

If Mississippians needed that point reinforced, it happened earlier this week when members of both the House and Senate insurance committees held a hearing in an attempt to hear both sides of a payment dispute between insurance company Blue Cross & Blue Shield and Health Management Associates, a Florida company that owns 10 Mississippi hospitals.

HMA sued Blue Cross in June, accusing the company of breaking the terms of a contract by reimbursing less than it promised for medical procedures. Blue Cross contends that HMA’s facilities overcharge the insured patients.

This business dispute, if unresolved, is sure to affect Blue Cross customers who are accustomed to receiving care at HMA facilities.

Because of the lawsuit, Blue Cross ended its contract with HMA hospitals in August. …

Representatives of Blue Cross and HMA predictably pointed fingers at each other at Monday’s legislative hearing. But it would seem like BlueCross, which controls access to its customers and their insurance reimbursements, has the upper hand in this dispute.

At the hearing, the House Insurance Committee chairman said that if the problem cannot be resolved, the Legislature might have to pass a law to alter or eliminate insurance networks in favor of regulations that would let any hospital into a network if it meets requirements.

The state already has an “any willing provider” law for pharmacies. But it would be quite a step for the Legislature to extend that to hospitals, which provide far more expensive medical treatment than do pharmacies.

As the country prepares for the slow rollout of the Affordable Care Act, and the many unknown effects it will have on medical care, one concern is whether the new law will increase the friction between insurers and health care providers. If it does, the patients will most likely end up paying for it.



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