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Opinion | Congress should consider real solutions to health care reform, not buzzwords

Sallie Bryant

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Last week, members of the House unveiled their Medicare for all bill, legislation that would largely overhaul the nation’s health care system. You don’t have to look far to see that access to health care is a priority for many nationally and especially here in Alabama. Our country has made strides to improve the health care system and while there’s still work to be done, government-run health care is not the solution.

“Medicare for all” is a buzzword, a campaign talking point at best, but not a practical answer. When dealing with health care, we must look at commonsense solutions that align with the needs of Alabamians and all Americans, not just those vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential candidacy.

The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 150 million Americans get their coverage through their employer and 80 percent of people with these employer-sponsored plans are happy with their coverage. Additionally, 49 percent of Alabamians receive employer coverage.

However, the recent House bill calls for a one-size-fits all approach to health care through a government-run system that would eliminate private health insurance as we know it. This plan would negatively impact consumer choice and control over their care. Today, 91 percent of Americans receive coverage under the current system. A single payer system would disrupt the coverage millions of Americans depend on.

Like in many countries, health care costs continue to rise in the United States, and we need to focus on improving affordability. The Urban Institute estimates that a single payer system would be excessively expensive, with an estimated cost of $32 trillion. It would also raise taxes by billions of dollars every year, requiring American families to pay more and more. For Alabamians already struggling, this would be an added burden for them and an increased economic drain on our state.

On the surface this plan may sound appealing, but it would harm those it’s intended to help the most: patients. The patient impact of this legislation is longer wait times in emergency rooms and doctors’ offices and lower quality of care. Despite most Americans being happy with their health insurance, everyone would have to give it up for a more limited plan, limiting their choice of healthcare provider and access to care.

America’s health care system needs improvement but a healthcare overhaul that would start completely from scratch and place decisions in the hands of government is not the solution. We must encourage lawmakers to make strides to improve the affordability of health care without enacting unrealistic policies that hurt all Americans.

As our leaders in Washington work to identify ways to improve the system, I encourage them to consider real solutions to health care reform, not ideas propped up by buzzwords and empty promises.

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Sallie Bryant is executive director of the Alabama Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors.

 

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Opinion | It’s past time to turn the page on racism, racial violence in America

Anthony Daniels

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On June 10, 1963, President John F. Kennedy sent National Guard troops to accompany the first black students admitted to the University of Alabama.

In an address to the nation, he said, “It is not enough to pin the blame on others, to say this is a problem of one section of the country or another, or deplore the fact that we face. A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all. Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right as well as reality.”

Sixty years later, that task is still at hand. The job is still far from done. And more and more often, it even seems like we’re losing ground. It has sure seemed that way this week and, indeed, over the last few months.

We’ve been through this before.

Ahmaud Arbery is not the first African American to be ambushed and murdered by men claiming to be protecting their neighborhood, simply because he seemed out of place. And it’s not the first case of such a murder being swept under the rug.

Breonna Taylor is not the first African American to be killed in their own home by police searching for a suspect who wasn’t there.

Christian Cooper is not the first African American to have the cops capriciously called on him and be falsely accused of menacing a white woman.

And the latest tragic miscarriage of justice, George Floyd is not the first African American to be brutally assaulted and killed at the hands of police officers. And his violent death is not the first to be videotaped and broadcast across the internet, social media, and television. The question is: how do we make it the last? How do we ensure his death and our anger isn’t in vain?

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For too many of us, institutional racism is a fact of daily life. And when the system begins to crack and crumble under the strain of decades of injustice and inequality, only then do we say ‘enough is enough.’ Only then do we go through the same cycle we’re going through right now. Anger is warranted, but it’s not enough to get enraged, despondent, frustrated, and mad. It’s not enough to protest. It’s not enough to lash out. And it will never be enough until we begin to act to change the underlying and lingering conditions that make racism a reality – that makes it part of the American experience.

If you think the system is already working fairly for all people, I ask: by whose standards? Not mine. Our laws, our leaders, and our system of government were never intended to be stagnant.

If you find it acceptable to try to turn victims into suspects, looking for any way possible to justify ruthless behavior, I ask: for every instance of injustice recorded, how many more have gone unreported? The answer is too many to count. What accusations would have been dug up and leveled then? We will never know. After all, it’s much easier to defame someone who’s not alive to defend themselves.

Of course, we won’t all agree on the best course of action, but I hope we can all agree that the status quo cannot continue and that action is required. That’s all the more reason we need to start talking. And to those who don’t want to have this conversation, who may feel uncomfortable or embarrassed, let’s not give them a choice. Let’s make it an issue. Let’s prioritize recognizing right and reality instead of inviting shame and violence. Let’s start today and not stop until we succeed.

We simply cannot allow this to be another situation where we shout, we scream, we cry, and then we clean up and move on to only do it all over again down the road. What will this week’s protests lead to next week or next month or next year? Starting now, we must have this conversation at every ballot box at every election – municipal, state, congressional, and so on. If you want your voice heard, presidential cycles are fine, but real, actionable change begins at the local level. Mayors and city councils appoint police chiefs. We elect District Attorneys, Sheriffs, Legislators, Judges, and Coroners. State Representatives and Senators make laws but law enforcement applies them. We all have a role to play in righting the wrongs by revisiting outdated and close-minded policies that continue to plague communities across our state and replacing them with a new vision.

Similarly, when I look at my young son, I wonder how I’m going to have the conversation with him. What am I going to say during “the talk” that black parents have, for generations now, had to have with their children? And how am I going to say it? How am I going to teach my son to protect himself? What are you telling your children?

In Alabama, we must come to terms with our legacy of racism and commit to eradicating injustice or we will never escape this cycle. As a policymaker and leader in this state, I cannot tell my son or anyone that we’ve fully turned the page on our dark and violent past. But I can tell you what needs to be done. Change starts with commitment. Individuals must resolve to break this cycle and then influence their own neighborhoods and communities to do better. It continues with conversations among people of diverse backgrounds, seeking to understand each other and treat each other with equality, decency, and dignity as human beings. It becomes reality when together we take our values to the ballot box and hold our leaders accountable to enact policies that ensure justice for all.

I invite and I welcome all Alabamians to join me in the task as an obligation to each other and to ourselves. Together, let’s continue this work. And at the very least, let’s each reflect on the words of President Kennedy so many years ago, “We are confronted primarily with a moral

issue. It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution . . . I hope that every American, regardless of where he lives, will stop and examine his conscience about this and other related incidents.”

 

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Opinion | To close the homework gap in our schools, let’s close the partisan divide in Washington

Matt Akin

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As Alabama shut down its schools on March 16thand moved classes online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was saddened but not surprised when many Gulf Shores students told me they didn’t have broadband at home needed for their coursework.

Having headed school systems in Piedmont, Huntsville and now in Gulf Shores’ first year as an independent district, I am passionate about closing the digital divide. At Gulf Shores, I gave 6ththrough 12th graders computers to take home early in this school year. Kindergarteners through fifth graders had assigned devices at school.  As we shuttered the schools, we ordered 100 mobile hotspots for our students to access the Internet.

But schools can’t – and shouldn’t have to – close opportunity gaps all by themselves. The crisis that has closed our schools has created a rare opportunity for national leaders to close the digital divide and homework gap through the next economic stimulus. 

With schools closed, the digital divide looks more like a socioeconomic chasm. More than a quarter of Alabama’s population are not online at home. As a math teacher by training, I believe in using data to analyze problems like the digital divide, which comprises two challenges – adoption and availability.

Adoption is the greater problem – about 25 percentof American households with broadband access in their neighborhood haven’t even subscribed to it. The major barriers to adoption appear to be households not having basic computer hardware, digital literacy or an understanding of the internet’s importance to their lives.

But, while 95 percent of Americans have access to high-speed fixed broadband, about 22 percent of rural households don’t. And, because of problems with  availability and adoption, over 30 percent of African American and Latino youngsters didn’t have home internet and nearly half don’t have a laptop or computer at home.

For the sake of our students and their families, we need all hands-on-deck – educators, broadband providers, computer companies and tech leaders – to address the challenge.

With broadband deployment, we need a process driven by public spiritedness, not political patronage. The best companies and technologies should compete to serve every community from isolated rural areas to the inner cities.

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Let’s learn from the 2009 stimulus: Legislators and lobbyists funneled funds to favored companies and technologies. The results of that anticompetitive practice?  Just what one would think:  Duplicative networks in areas where broadband was already available, with billions of dollars squandered, while many communities remained without service.

I’m skeptical of one-size-fits-all solutions. Wireless hotspots can close homework gaps in some communities. But elsewhere, wired connectionsmay be more cost effective and less expensive with faster download speeds for e-learning.

And we also need to regulate broadband intelligently. This crisis is a teaching moment.  U.S. broadband has risen to the challenge of a 34 percentsurge in internet demand during COVID-19.   But, in Europe, over-regulated networks are slowing down.

Why? While Europe regulated broadband as a utility, and investment suffered, the U.S. opted for a “light touch” approach that encouraged nearly $2 trillion in private investment. Our wise policy choices built robust networks that we can rely upon in these difficult times—and to rebuild our economy for better times.

To achieve what’s needed, Congress needs a bipartisan compromise, including an end to anti-competitive practices that exclude qualified providers and technologies—and an effort by broadband and computer equipment companies to help attack the divide. 

We have a job to do, and no time to waste.

Alabama’s Senators – Doug Jones and Richard Shelby – are well-prepared to reach across the aisle to form bipartisan consensus.  Broadband providers are providing free and discounted broadband to low income homes. But everyone needs to step up.

I wish Congress could have watched our students in the Piedmont schools after we provided them with computers and connectivity. Many mastered subjects such as advanced algebra they had previously struggled with because they couldn’t do homework online.

When our leaders in Washington bridge their partisan divide, communities across Alabama and America will bridge their digital divides. And many more students will bridge the gap between their performance and their potential.

Dr. Matt Akin is the Superintendent of Schools in Gulf Shores, Alabama, having held similar positions in Huntsville and Piedmont.

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Opinion | Secretary of State responds to Alabama Political Reporter op-ed

Secretary of State John Merrill

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The following statement from Secretary of State John H. Merrill is in response to the inaccurate op-ed published yesterday morning by Josh Moon of Alabama Political Reporter:

This morning, Josh Moon of Alabama Political Reporter alleged that “voting by mail does not lead to fraud.”

Moon went on to undermine the six voter fraud convictions and the five associated with tampering with absentee ballots in the last five years, claiming that these numbers are not substantial enough to have basis.

Let’s start with the facts, Josh.

When you have one person that violates the trust and confidence in the elections process by committing illegal activity, that is one too many. Whether you have one voter fraud conviction or a thousand, you are proving to the electorate that elections require integrity and credibility! We will continue to work to build trust and confidence in the elections process.

Claiming “you can’t commit enough fraud to alter the outcome of such a race” is naive and careless.

In 2018, we saw a member of the legislature who won her race by a mere six votes and another member who won his race by 28 votes. That same year, we witnessed a sheriff’s race that was tied even after the recount. It should be apparent to anyone that just a few votes can determine the outcome of an election.

The fraudulent practice of ballot harvesting, which is often associated with voting by mail, led to the defeat of seven Republican candidates in the California 2018 midterm election. Young Kim, who ran to represent California’s 39th Congressional District, was leading the vote count on election night and even in the week that followed the election. Two weeks later and after Kim attended New Member Orientation, the Democrat challenger was declared the winner after 11,000 mail ballots were counted. These ballots favored the Democrat challenger at a much higher rate than the previously counted ballots.

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Similarly, during the 2018 Election Cycle, the North Carolina Board of Elections appropriately refused to certify the results of the 9th Congressional District’s election due to the illegal misuse of absentee ballots.

It has also been reported, through data collected by the Election Assistance Commission, that between 2012 and 2018, 28.3 million mail-in ballots went unaccounted for, which equates to one in five of all absentee or mail-in ballots.

So, obviously, Josh, you can commit enough fraud to alter the outcome of an election.

The issues with mail-in voting far exceed the few that Josh attempts to raise. Consider Nevada where thousands of absentee ballots were just sent to inactive voters in Clark County. Consider the thousands of envelopes piling up in post offices or outside homes, apartments, and other facilities. Consider California in 2016 where 83 ballots were sent to one address housing just two people.

Then, Josh, after you have considered Alabama where in 2016, 109 absentee ballots were sent to the mother of a mayoral candidate in Brighton or when 119 absentee ballots were mailed to an abandoned home in Wilcox County, tell me that mail-in voting does not increase the likelihood for fraud to be committed.

To then pretend “small-town races” in Dothan, which is Alabama’s seventh largest municipality out of 463, are not worthy of being noted is ludicrous.

The state’s absentee law requiring a photo ID to be submitted with the application, which I remind you was passed last year with bipartisan support and sponsored, at our request, by Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham), has worked to prevent these sorts of opportunities in our state. This comprehensive, reform legislation has provided safeguards in our absentee process.

One major consideration that many supporters of mail-in voting fail to mention is cost. Currently, the administration for one Election Cycle (Primary, Runoff, and General) in our state is $16.5 million, whereas the administration of a full mail-in Election Cycle is almost $60 million.

I am positive that even Josh Moon can find a better way to spend $43.5 million generated by taxpayers.

 

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Opinion | Tough times show what makes our country great

Bradley Byrne

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This year, during the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Memorial Day provided an even more unique opportunity to reflect upon what makes our nation great and the shared values we hold as a people.  Though our celebrations may have been scaled down, the greatness of our country is, in many ways, more apparent in challenging times like these.

The struggles we are going through together as a nation are real and impactful.  The coronavirus overwhelmingly targets seniors and those with preexisting conditions.  As a result, nursing homes and long-term care facilities have been hit hard.  More than 36,000 residents and staff have died after coming down with Covid-19, more than a third of all deaths in our country that have been attributed to the virus.  Sadly, many of our cherished veterans have been among those lost to the virus.  Of all the tributes to those we have lost, the stories of our veterans are especially moving.

But there are bright spots in coronavirus medical research.  Testing quality and access has improved significantly.  And as we learn more about the virus, we are better able to prevent and treat Covid-19.  The hospitalization rate for those diagnosed with the virus is 3.4 percent, and the CDC estimates that 35 percent of all infected people are asymptomatic.  Taking this into account, the infection fatality rate is likely around 0.2 percent or 0.3 percent.  While that is still 2 to 3 times higher than the flu, the coronavirus is nothing like the killer some predicted early on.

Without question, the economy has taken a hit.  Unemployment levels are higher than any time since the Great Depression.  Our small businesses shed more than 11 million jobs in April.  That’s more than half of the 20 million private sector jobs lost last month.  

However, Congressional action to cushion the blow has helped.  More than 4.4 million small businesses have been approved for a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program, and over $511 billion has been processed in aid.  In Alabama, at least 60,457 loans have been made for a whopping $6,136,772,466.  The bulk of this aid to small businesses must go towards employee paychecks, ensuring that more Americans are able to keep their jobs.  In addition to the Paycheck Protection Program, nearly 431,000 Economic Injury Disaster Loans have been processed to assist small businesses during this crisis.  Alabama businesses have received 4,728 EIDL loans for $376,897,450.

There is no question that small businesses will face new challenges going forward.  Evolving ways we interact with one another and patronize businesses, including new occupancy limitations, will make staying in business more difficult.  That’s why it is so important for our economy to continue opening sooner rather than later.  You and I can do our part by visiting businesses and restaurants in our community.  Importantly, the foundation of our economy was strong before coronavirus spread prevention measures were enacted nationwide.  So, the country can and will rebound from this.  Prosperity will return.

One only needs to look at what is happening on the other side of the globe to be thankful for our nation.  The brutal Chinese Communist Party, whose mismanagement and dishonesty during the initial outbreak of the virus cost countless lives across the globe, is using the pandemic as an excuse to ramp up authoritarian measures.  The people of Hong Kong are suffering a loss of freedom that dwarfs the sacrifices we have made to stop the spread.

The American people have responded to crisis after crisis with resilience and togetherness, and we will do so again.  We may not have participated in all of our Memorial Day traditions, but we can still honor the fallen by treasuring the country and values they sacrificed to preserve.  That’s what makes our country great.

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