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Troy’s Koch Problem May Affect Research Reliability

Lee Hedgepeth

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By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter

Troy University’s Johnson Center for Political Economy recently released a study examining the legitimacy of two previous analyses done by UAB and University of Alabama considering the economic impact of Medicaid expansion in the Yellowhammer State. The Troy study’s conclusions fly in the face of those of the earlier studies, which forecast revenue for the State of up to one billion dollars in the first three years of expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

It appears though, that funding from the Kochs, two Tea Party affiliated billionaire brothers, and other right wing foundations may have influenced the assumptions and outcomes of the Troy study, which conservative groups have used extensively in their insistence on the rejection of a medicaid expansion.

“We just relax a few of the assumptions made in their studies,” said Professor Scott Beaulier, Johnson Center Director and coauthor of Troy’s study about his study’s premise.

Governor Robert Bentley, who has promised not to expand Medicaid, called the earlier research pointing to positive impact “bogus.”

Instead of the one billion dollar tax boon predicted by UAB and UA, the Johnson Center study says Alabama stands to lose – not gain – $450 million during the same period.

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The study cites what it claims are faulty premises in the earlier work, such as including indirect as well as direct spending into tax revenue projections, unforeseen costs, and a shortage in health care supply – what Professor Beaulier referred to as “labor market rigidities.”

One of the assumptions Beaulier and Mixon relied on in their study was the taxpayer cost associated with implementation of an expansion by the Alabama Medicaid agency.

The figure they used, however, has now been disputed by the medicaid agency itself.

A spokesman for the agency, Robin Rawls, has told the press that under an expansion of Medicaid, administration costs would fluctuate between 1.7% and 2.1%, not the 3.3% to 3.6% assumed by the Troy research. That small change in assumptions would amount to millions of dollars the Johnson Center study did not include.

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For his part, Troy researcher Phillip Mixon told Alabama Media Group that while the number would definitely change the financial outcome of the study, he does not think it would be by much.

“It would alter it,” he said. “But I don’t think it would alter it in that it would windfall-for the-state alter it.”

Beaulier, the study’s other coauthor, recently appeared on APTV’s Capitol Journal to defend the Johnson Center study.

“You can argue for greater healthcare,” he said, “but it will cost us something.”

The Alabama Political Reporter has also covered other errors in the Troy University study, primarily the claim in the intro that the first research on the topic, research published by the University of Alabama at Birmingham, was commissioned by the Alabama Hospital Association.

Further, APR’s extensive coverage has already brought into question ties between Troy University’s Johnson Center for Political Economy and the Tea Party affiliated Koch brothers, whose private foundation donated the $3.6 million that allowed for the Center’s founding. Troy University even has a Charles Koch Chair within its economics department.

Though the foundation’s agreement with the school regarding the funding of the Johnson Center has not been made public, similar agreements with such conservative foundations have landed colleges and universities in hot water with faculty, students, and the general public, because of the high level of influence the foundations receive over staff hiring and firing decisions, research topics and outcomes, and even students’ curriculum.

One example, as has been reported on extensively by the Tampa Bay Times, is Florida State University.

After donating $1.5 million to the college’s economics department for the hiring of new staff, the Koch Charitable Foundation was entitled not only to influence over hiring and firing staff – but ultimate veto power.

“Traditionally, university donors have little official input into choosing the person who fills a chair they’ve funded. The power of university faculty and officials to choose professors without outside interference is considered a hallmark of academic freedom,” the Time article read.
“Under the agreement with the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation…  faculty only retain the illusion of control. The contract specifies that an advisory committee appointed by Koch decides which candidates should be considered. The foundation can also withdraw its funding if it’s not happy with the faculty’s choice or if the hires don’t meet ‘objectives’ set by Koch during annual evaluations.”

In fact, Koch ended up vetoing 60 percent of the new staff hired for a one year period at FSU, according to the reporting, which also noted that Yale University once returned a $20 million donation because the donor tried to assert a veto power over staff decision, something Yale said was “unheard of.”

Florida State University students were reported to have started demonstrations over the Kochs’ influence on the school just two days ago, April 21st.

At some point, the question  becomes: If $1.5 million gives you ultimate veto power over staff, can more than double that get you an anti-Obamacare medicaid study? This question was brought even closer to the forefront when APR confirmed that the medicaid study was sent out to the press not by Troy University’s usual public relations desk, but by a Koch-affiliated PR group.

Finally, and most notably, there is the case of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

In 2007, an agreement between a right wing private foundation known as the Academy of Capitalism and Limited Government Foundation and the University came to light.

The agreement, which had not been discussed with the faculty, drew wide criticism for its broad terms and influence. Not only did it give what the faculty senate called illegal influence over hiring decisions,  it also allowed for studies’ outcomes to be predetermined by ideological dogma.

Part of the faculty’s report on the financial relationship addresses the issue sharply:

“Simply put, the University of Illinois may not accept fund for an endowed appointment conditioned on the donor’s having a voice in the selection of the appointee, even if not a determinative voice. Neither may it give donors a co-determinative voice in critical academic decisions over curriculum, research, faculty selection, student support, and the like.”

It further went on to explain that the mission statement of the foundation, and its goals to be advanced in the university setting, lead to slanted research outcomes, an issue very relevant to the Troy case.

“Some areas in the [agreement],” the report says, “are outcome-neutral, but other areas would seem to invite [foundation] support only researchers base their research on a tacit assumption of what can be accomplished – or better accomplished – by free market capitalism.”

The report citing the following from the agreement as one example of goals that lead to assumed outcomes:

“The Academy will support studies asking why communism, socialism, government bureaucracy and high taxation have failed to bring prosperity, and how capitalism brings material wealth to a broad spectrum of society.”

The faculty report responds to that “goal:”

“That governmental regulation and… taxation… have in fact failed to bring prosperity is surely academically contested terrain, as the experience in the Nordic countries evidences.  Equally contested is the assertion that capitalism in the US has brought material wealth to that rather large segment of the American workforce that has experienced wage stagnation despite rising productivity over the past several decades.”

After more examples, the report says that “it would appear that studies that do not share the Academy’s premises would not qualify for institutional support.”

So it may be at Troy University’s Johnson Center for Political Economy. Though it may seem a stretch, Troy’s level of conservative foundation funding appears to be much higher than that of University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign’s. UI received $64,000 for programs from the foundation in one year according to reporting from the Tampa Bay Times; Troy, though, has received over $600,000 from conservative foundations – only including money secured by Scott Beaulier, the medicaid study’s author.

Finally, though, in the the UI faculty senate report, the conclusions on the agreement and its legitimacy were extremely terse:

“It is deeply troublesome that the [agreement] – a document so at odds with governing principles and that trenches so deeply into the areas of primary faculty responsibility – was negotiated without consultation with the faculty. It is also troublesome that the terms agreed to were held in confidence for so considerable a period of time.”

“Aspects of [the agreement] are incompatible with the principles and policies ‘essential to the maintenance of a free and distinguished university.’ To that extent, implementation of [the agreement] is not practical.”

Oddly enough, the mission statement of the conservative group questioned in the report is nearly identical to the mission statement of Troy’s Johnson Center.

From the Academy on Capitalism and Limited Government Foundation:

“We will provide finds for the study of the interrelatonship of capitalism, markets, taxation, government spending and regulatory policies as they affect economic growth, income distribution, and the quality of life, including personal economic well-being, social responsibility, and individual liberty. We will also address the historical and moral underpinnings of capitalism.”

From Troy’s Johnson Center of Political Economy:

“The Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University provides a dynamic and rigorous education program focused on the moral imperatives of free markets and individual liberty, as well as relevant policy research on current and local issues. We will also cultivate within our students the virtues of entrepreneurship, individual responsibility, free enterprise, leadership, and openness.”

Whatever their missions’ similarities, it is undeniable in the professors’ statements and actions. In reference to the error in incorrectly assuming high administrative costs, Troy’s Phillip Mixon said even if he uses medicaid’s numbers, the conclusions will probably still be wrong, based on the fact that – well – the government basically sucks at doing anything, an assumption that UI’s Academy would surely have endorsed.

From AL.com:

“Mixon said he also is somewhat skeptical that the administrative costs could be contained as well as Alabama Medicaid officials project given the fact that government programs often prove more costly than originally predicted”

So while it may seem Troy University’s professors do not care for facts, it may just be a Koch problem.

 

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Health

“We’re not going to get a do-over:” Alabama health officer on Thanksgiving and COVID-19

There were 1,427 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Alabama on Monday, the most since Aug. 11.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris on Monday pleaded with the public to avoid gatherings over Thanksgiving as COVID-19 continues to surge in Alabama and hospitals statewide are filling with coronavirus patients. 

“We don’t want this to be the last ever Thanksgiving for someone in your family, like your parents or your grandparents,” Harris said during a press conference Monday. 

Harris said Alabama’s numbers aren’t headed in the right direction and more than 230,000 Alabamians — roughly 4 percent of the state’s population — have been infected by the coronavirus. 

“We are adding a couple of thousand new cases a day, at least, that we are aware,” Harris said. “This is a time for people to be vigilant. This is a time to be careful and to think about what you’re going to be doing.” 

Alabama added 1,574 new coronavirus cases on Monday, and the state’s 14-day average for new daily cases was at a record high 2,087. In the last two weeks, the state has added 29,223 cases, the most cases in any two week period since the pandemic arrived in Alabama in March.

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There were 1,427 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Alabama on Monday. The last time so many were hospitalized in the state was on Aug. 11, during Alabama’s summer surge. 

Harris said that he and his wife will be staying home for Thanksgiving instead of having his family’s regular large, intergenerational gathering. What happens with Alabama’s COVID-19 numbers over Thanksgiving will impact what the state’s December holiday and Christmas season will look like, Harris said. 

“Are we gonna be here a month from now trying to have the same conversation? I really, really hope not,” Harris said. 

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Dr. Mary McIntyre, the Alabama Department of Public Health’s chief medical officer, said during the briefing that her home usually sees between 15 and 20 family members arriving for Thanksgiving. They’ve limited this year’s Thanksgiving to three additional people from out of their household, for a total of seven people, she said.

Everyone must wear masks and have temperatures checked at the door, she said. 

Everyone will be seated six feet from one another and a Zoom video conference will be set up for those family members who won’t be attending in person, McIntyre said. They’ll use disposable plates, cups and utensils and have the ability, weather permitting, to eat outdoors.

“If we want to live to see another Thanksgiving, and I do, that it may mean stepping back this Thanksgiving and really limiting the number of people, and some of the things that we do,” McIntyre said. “Now is not the time to get out to do Black Friday shopping.” 

Dr. Kierstin Kennedy, UAB’s chief of hospital medicine, in a separate press briefing Monday echoed concern over the possibility of spikes following Thanksgiving and Christmas if the public doesn’t do what’s needed to keep themselves and others safe.

“We are very much worried about the potential spike in numbers. We’ve also seen some of our own staff getting sick,” Kennedy said. “And unfortunately that’s not been at work. It’s been because we are just like you. We’re tired. We’re lonely. We want to try to socialize, and some of us have let our guards down and, as a result, have gotten sick.”

Kennedy said while there’s is concern over future spikes following the upcoming holidays “there is a way for all of us to help prevent that from happening.”

Kennedy said when Gov. Kay Ivey first issued her statewide mask order and social distancing requirements, the public masked up, businesses enforced the orders, and coronavirus numbers improved.

“It didn’t get nearly as bad as we thought, and we are really hopeful that the community is going to come together and do that again for us,” Kennedy said. “Because it’s more than just not having enough space for the COVID patients. It’s also those patients who do not have COVID that have other conditions. They rely on us for routine care, and we want to make sure that we’re available to provide that.”

Kenedy said UAB has an incredible group of staff members, who’ve proven themselves to be quite resilient, but that “the group is tired.”

“We’ve been doing this every single day since March, and so as you can imagine, people are very tired. It’s very emotional, especially as we see younger patients getting sick with this and getting sick in ways that we weren’t expecting,” she said.

Harris again urged the public to make smart decisions that will help slow the spread of coronavirus and save lives.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re not going to get a do-over on this,” Harris said. “This is a big national holiday, and we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and our numbers are worse than they have ever been during this entire response. Please be careful. Please be safe. And please try to take care of those people who are most vulnerable.”

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Health

Governor allocates $3.6 million in CARES Act funds to food banks

The money is to go to the nonprofit Alabama Food Bank Association, which will administer the funds.

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday announced that $3.6 million in federal CARES Act money will be used to reimburse food banks for COVID-19-related expenses. 

“Alabama is a state where neighbors help neighbors, even in the most difficult times,” Ivey said in a statement. “The Coronavirus pandemic presented significant challenges around the world, as well as here at home in our own state. Food banks in communities across Alabama have been a lifeline for those in need, and I am proud to be able to put these funds toward the Alabama Feeding Initiative. I have told Alabamians that I remain committed to getting these CARES Act funds into the hands of those who need it.”

The funds are to go to the nonprofit Alabama Food Bank Association, according to the memorandum of understanding. The association will administer the funds to eight participating food banks across the state, which can be reimbursed for the following: 

  • The purchase of food, packaging and related supplies to meet increased demand.
  • operational expenses, including fuel and maintenance, incurred due to handling a higher amount for food, as well as open-air distribution events. 
  • Rental costs of storage space and vehicles to handle increased volumes of food. 
  • To purchase PPE, screening equipment and decontamination services to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Unless Congress extends the deadline, Alabama and other states have until Dec. 30 to spend CARES Act funds or the money reverts back to the federal government. Ivey has just under $1 billion left to spend before the deadline.

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Education

Alabama Education Association, Board of Medical Examiners meet over excuses to break COVID-19 quarantines

Prior to the meeting, the AEA on Nov. 5 threatened legal action against the board over the matter. 

Eddie Burkhalter

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(STOCK PHOTO)

Officials with the Alabama Education Association and the Alabama State Board of Medical Examiners met on Thursday to discuss a concern the association has with doctors who write excuses to allow students to return to school before their mandated COVID-19 quarantine periods expire.

At the meeting between Theron Stokes, associate executive director of the Alabama Education Association, and William Perkins, executive director of the Alabama State Board of Medical Examiners, Stokes learned that the board wasn’t aware of the problem, the AEA said in a press release. 

“Both groups agreed to set up a meeting with educational and medical organizations on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic in Alabama,” the AEA said in the release. “A meeting should be held before the end of the year and will allow the AEA and the Board of Medical Examiners, as well as other educational and medical organizations, to review existing guidelines issued by the Alabama Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and ensure conformity in following those guidelines.” 

In a letter to Perkins on Thursday, Stokes wrote that it was AEA’s understanding that the board was aware of the problem, but he wrote that during their meeting he became aware that neither the board nor Perkins was aware of the problem. 

“It was not the intent of AEA to cause any unnecessary problems for you, the doctors you represent, or your organization regarding this matter,” Stokes wrote. 

Prior to the meeting, the AEA on Nov. 5 threatened legal action against the board over the matter. 

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“It is our firm belief that there exists no medical scenario under which these students could be written out of quarantine and that to do so is violative of ADPH and CDC quarantine recommendations,” Stokes wrote in the Nov. 5 letter. 

Stokes in his recent letter notes that both agreed in the meeting to bring together representatives of the other organizations to come up with a uniform procedure for following state and federal guidelines. 

“I agree with your plan to conduct this meeting and finalize our goals before the holidays,” Stokes wrote.

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Legislature

Caravan to honor the life of longtime State Rep. Alvin Holmes

The caravan is being organized by community activists Ja’Mel Brown and William Boyd.

Brandon Moseley

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(STOCK PHOTO)

There is a car ride caravan honoring the life and service of Rep. Alvin Holmes in Montgomery at 2 p.m. Monday. The caravan is being organized by community activists Ja’Mel Brown and William Boyd.

On Saturday, Holmes passed away at age 81. He was born in 1939 into a very segregated Montgomery and spent his life battling in favor of civil rights causes. He was one of the first Black state representatives to serve in the Alabama Legislature after implementation of the Voting Rights Act.

There had been Black legislators during Reconstruction in the 1870s, but Jim Crow segregation during much of the 20th Century had effectively disenfranchised millions of Black Alabamians for generations.

Holmes served in the Alabama House of Representatives, representing House District 78 from 1974 to 2018. Holmes participated in the civil rights movement. He was a professor and a real estate broker.

The chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, State Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, released a statement mourning Holmes’s passing.

“Representative Alvin Holmes was a great Democrat and a fighter,” England said. “He stood on the frontlines of the fight for civil rights and was willing to sacrifice everything in his fight for justice for all. He not only had a long and distinguished career as a civil rights leader, but also as a member of the Legislature, serving his constituents faithfully and dutifully for 44 years. Alabama has lost a giant, whose wit, intelligence, fearlessness, selfless determination, and leadership will be sorely missed. My prayers are with his friends, family, and colleagues.”

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State Rep. Kirk Hatcher, D-Montgomery, fondly remembered Holmes, whom he defeated in the 2018 Democratic primary.

“Today we lost a dedicated warrior for social justice. Representative Alvin Holmes was a true public servant,” Hatcher said. “What an amazing legacy he has left us! He could always be seen waging the good fight for equality in all aspects of state government and beyond. His public service is legendary and without peer.”

“In recent years, I am profoundly grateful for the grace he showed me in his willingness to share with me his blueprint for effectively serving our people—and by extension the larger community,” Hatcher said. “Today, my fervent prayers are with his beloved daughter Veronica, her precious mom (and his best friend), as well as other cherished members of his family and friends as they mourn his passing. I humbly join the many voices who offer a sincere ‘Thank You’ to Mr. Alvin Holmes for his dedicated service to our Montgomery community and our state. ‘May angels sing thee to thy rest.’”

State Rep. Tashina Morris, D-Montgomery, also fondly remembered Holmes.

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“Sending Prayers to The Holmes family,” Morris said. “Alvin Holmes was the epitome of greatness working for his people!! May you Rest Well !!!”

Republican insider and former State Rep. Perry Hooper Jr. also served with Holmes in the Alabama House of Representatives and the Montgomery legislative delegation.

“I served with Alvin for 20 years in the Alabama Legislature,” Hooper said. “We often disagreed on the issues, but even after a heated floor debate, we could shake hands at the end of the day. I always considered him a friend. He loved Montgomery and he was a great representative of his district and its issues. He was always willing to go the extra mile for one of his constituents. When I served as Chairman of the Contract Review Committee, he was one of the committee’s most conscientious members. He was always questioning contracts so he could be assured that the contract represented a good use of taxpayer’s dollars which as Chairman I greatly appreciated. He was one of a kind pioneer in the Alabama Legislature and will be sorely missed.”

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill served with Holmes in the Alabama House of Representatives prior to his election as secretary of state.

“I just learned that former State Rep. Alvin Holmes passed away today,” Merrill said on social media. “I enjoyed the privilege of serving with him from 2010-14. There was never a dull moment whenever he was in the Chamber. I appreciated him for his candor & for his desire to work on behalf of his constituents!”

Holmes was a member of the Hutchinson Missionary Baptist Church, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Montgomery Improvement Association, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Alabama Southern Christian Leadership Conference Board, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He has one daughter, Veronica.

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