Save the ACA

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The Affordable Care Act (ACA), sometimes called Obamacare, is legislation designed to help people who cannot get health insurance through their employers buy affordable health care.

It requires companies to cover pre-existing conditions which had made insurance unavailable at any price to many people.  It also eliminates lifetime caps on coverage that in the past forced people with serious illness into bankruptcy. Finally, it requires companies to cover essential services necessary to maintain good health and recover from illness or accidents. Those services include outpatient, emergency and rehabilitative services; hospitalization; maternity/newborn care; mental health, substance abuse services; prescription drugs; laboratory services; preventive and chronic disease management; and pediatric care. Even if you are healthy and don’t expect to need any of those services, you are covered if you do. With preventive care covered, people stay healthier and serious conditions can be caught earlier when they are easier and cheaper to treat.

The ACA also requires insurers to cover women at the same cost as men. It limits premiums for older people to 3 times that for younger people. It allows young people to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26, giving them more time to establish careers and afford their own insurance.

What does the ACA mean for Maryland?  In Maryland, only 54% are covered by employer-based insurance. Those who are self-employed, working for small organizations, between jobs or who lose a job find themselves without insurance. The ACA solves this problem by helping people who cannot get health insurance through their employers.

Thanks to the ACA, 309,202 more people in Maryland have health insurance now than before the law was implemented. The ACA accomplished this by using federal funds through subsidies and tax credits to help those who could not afford insurance plans.

Though it has been controversial, and has some problems that need resolving, the ACA has enjoyed popular support. An October 13 Kaiser poll found that 71% of those polled wanted legislators to keep the ACA and fix the problems rather than adopting proposals designed to make it fail. Despite the fact that a majority of people would rather keep the ACA and resolve its problems, it has been under attack since the 2016 election, with several failed attempts to “repeal and replace” it.

With Congress unwilling to repeal the ACA, President Trump has now tried to undermine it using executive actions that do not require congressional approval. Last week, he signed two such orders that will undermine the ACA and make it more likely to fail.

The first executive order promotes small group insurance plans to be sold with no essential services required.  So while the premiums might be cheap, the policies would not cover services most people need, and insurance companies could exclude pre-existing conditions or charge sky-high rates to cover them. These policies might be attractive to healthy people, but they are useless if those people get sick. They could also exclude older, sicker people or charge them so much that they would be forced to go without. Trump’s proposal returns health insurance to the scatter-shot coverage the ACA was designed to correct.

We’ve been here before. Prior to the ACA, insurers could sell bare-bones plans many people bought because premiums were lower. Those plans were popular with younger, healthy people, but they were useless to people who got sick or were injured because they did not cover many services. That’s why they were so cheap! That’s also why so many people found themselves with serious medical debt or unable to obtain affordable healthcare.

The second executive order immediately ends federal subsidies to insurance companies that had helped insurers offer affordable plans to lower-income people. Under the ACA, insurance companies used that funding to subsidize the costs of deductibles and out of pocket expenses for people who otherwise could not afford insurance.  Without that federal funding, insurance companies still have to cover lower-income people but they will have less money to do so.  That means that they will have to raise rates for everyone, making health insurance costs out of reach for many people.  Their alternative is to stop offering plans on the individual market. If many insurers stop offering plans, that leaves fewer plans from which consumers can choose, making rate increases even more likely.

The ACA is under attack, but the fight to save it is not over. The are several bi-partisan proposals being discussed in the Senate, including one by Republican Lamar Alexander and Democrat Patty Murray, that would keep the features of the ACA most people want while finding solutions for the problems.  If you or someone you love depends on the ACA for health care, or if you believe that everyone ought to have access to affordable health care, contact your representatives in Congress and urge them to find a way to keep the benefits of the ACA while resolving the problems:

Senator Ben Cardin:   www.cardin.senate.gov or call: (202) 224-4524

Senator Chris Van Hollen: www.vanhollen.senate.gov  or call: (202) 224-4654

Representative Andy Harris: www.harris.house.gov or call: (202) 225-5311

Linda Cades

Kent and Queen Anne’s Indivisible

Support Our Schools Response to Kent County Commissioners

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Support Our Schools was disappointed to read the letter written (to the Kent County News) by the Kent County Commissioners William Pickrum, Ronald Fithian, and William Short outlining their position on school funding. To use a time when our schools are in the midst of a busing crisis (our families facing unreliable or nonexistent transportation to and from school) as a time to promote and justify their assault on our education system is thoughtless and tone deaf. As concerned parents, we could not let this go unanswered.

Kent County Public Schools (KCPS) have been chronically underfunded for at least the last five years by fiat of the Kent County Commissioners. This underfunding has directly contributed to this crisis. In its preliminary findings, the Commission on Excellence and Innovation in Education (also known as the Kirwan Commission), found that our county’s economic health is such that Kent County schools could be fully funded by the county without state aid. The only reason we continue to rely on state funding is the county commissioners’ decision to allocate our hard earned tax dollars elsewhere.

We would also like to correct the record on some material misstatements made in the letter. While the overall KCPS budget is $26.3M, the Kent County Commissioners contribution to “Maintenance of Effort” (ongoing support for the schools) is only $16.9M. The difference includes contributions to Chesapeake Community College, debt service, and one-time projects, as well as the State of Maryland’s roughly $8M contribution toward KCPS. The Kent County Commissioners allocate a mere 37% of the county expenditures to KCPS, well below the state average of 50%. Further, for some time now, the Commissioners have incorrectly reported the actual percentage as 42%. The “error” was brought to the attention of the county financial officer, who agreed with our finding, but no official correction has yet been made. (An SOS member gave you an opportunity to publicly correct the record on this front, and you [the commissioners] refused to do it, making us wonder whether this is an error or a purposeful misrepresentation.)

Additionally, the Commissioners claim that the schools operated with a $2.9 million surplus in 2016 and a $1.7 million surplus in 2017. We can only assume that they are referring to the school board’s “fund balance” or contingency fund. 1) We question the validity of these figures. 2) Regardless, this is a deceptive characterization of those funds, and seems to demonstrate a misunderstanding of public accounting. And 3) It is essential for a healthy school system to maintain a contingency fund for emergencies, capital improvements, and other unforeseeable costs. The commissioners know this, as evidenced by the pride they publicly claim in operating with a “surplus” every year, holding up the County’s contingency planning as a representation of fiscal responsibility.

We respectfully ask the Kent County Commissioners to tone down their rhetoric and instead to act like actual leaders in this time of crisis. Finger pointing and buck passing should be beneath the dignity of their office. Moving forward, we hope to see a more positive tone, greater transparency, and closer attention to detail where the safety and education of our children are concerned. And, to make a bold suggestion, perhaps our Commissioners could strive for even a hint of personal accountability–a yet unseen quality that most consider a basic requirement of holding public office.

The Support Our Schools (SOS) Initiative is a grassroots advocacy effort devoted to increasing awareness of and support for the needs, challenges, and untapped potential of our public school system—both for the sake of the current student population and for its opportunity to serve as a catalyst for economic development.

Robbi Behr
Jodi Bortz
Piers & Rebecca Heriz-Smith
Elizabeth Profitt
and Francoise Sullivan

A related Spy article on the school bus problem in KCPS – the immediate instigating issue for this letter – can be found here.

Commissioners Should Archive Meeting Videos

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I am a parent of school age kids, a small business owner and an active PTA member. Juggling responsibilities makes it difficult to attend as many government meetings as I would like. Even making the time to watch the live feed from the comfort of home is not always possible. I am not alone. With the school year starting soon my time and the time of most young families in our county will be taken up by afterschool activities, sports and family.

Providing opportunities for residents to be more engaged and better informed is a good thing. It should be a goal of all of our government leaders.  Since the reduction in the number of County Commissioner meetings it can take up to two weeks for minutes to be approved and posted. The latest minutes posted online are from July 18.

On August 10th I started a petition requesting the following –

Currently the Kent County website has a live feed of the County Commissioner meetings but no video archive is available. You have to watch the feed while the meeting is happening. The County Commissioners and IT Department should provide a video archive that is available on the Kent County website. With the recent reduction of monthly County Commissioner meetings it would seem that it would not be an additional workload to continue to provide written minutes of these meetings in addition to a video archive.

Rock Hall provides a live stream and video archive. Their fee is $150 per month. Chestertown has a consultant record and post meetings on YouTube. I believe the consultant’s fee runs around $100 per month. Kent County is currently paying around $200 per month for just live streaming.

What was once considered a courtesy is becoming the standard.  More than half of all Maryland counties provide written minutes as well as a video archive or link to a YouTube channel on their websites – Talbot, Queen Anne’s, Harford, Allegheny, St. Mary’s, Anne Arundel, Howard, Baltimore, Montgomery, Washington, Calvert, Wicomico.  And two counties in Maryland provide written minutes as well as audio archive on their websites – Cecil and Garrett.

Last night I made my request in person at the County Commissioners meeting. They said they would consider it. If you would like to join me in my request please sign the petition at https://goo.gl/4fxybJ

Francoise Sullivan
Kent County

From South of Left Field: Shaking the Ground by Jimmie Galbreath

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Lets pick up where ‘Definite Problems’ left off last week. From the chart in ‘Definite Problems’ over the last 30 years the bottom 80% of us have experienced continuingly falling income. This decline has occurred under both the Democrats and Republicans; the D-R Axis or DRAxis. Finally re-electing the DRAxis or doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is a good definition of insanity.

If you are like me the idea of being in numerous mass protests waving signs or trying to run for office is too overwhelming. Leading a political charge is just not my cup of tea, although I am anxious to vote for it. Right now it seems all the new energy is out protesting after the elections are over. This ‘after the fact’ burst of activity makes a big splash and feels good for those engaged in it, but the real power lies in what befalls down the road at the polls. So how do we take the DRAxis out behind the woodshed?

Let’s discuss what needs to happen around the backside of the woodshed. Our current existing gaggle of miscreants lives for the financial support and the wealth that they get by selling their elected power. The key words here are ‘elected power.’ As long as we can be lured into voting the DRAxis by slick media and PAC ads, then we have no power. If we don’t vote at all, we have no power. The only way to take the DRAxis behind the woodshed would be large numbers of us refusing to vote for DRAxis candidates. This approach would have a dramatic impact. Chaos would ensue even greater than the Tea Party in the Republican henhouse. The more incumbents toppled, and the more people coming in from outside the DRAxis, the harder it would be for money to get what it wants. The DRAxis would fight back of course, and there would be plenty of stalemates and raging in the press. Like any path to real reform, it would take time, stubbornness, and pain. Is anyone salivating at the thought of this fight like I am?

It is true that the fundamental structure of our Government as laid down by the Founding Fathers will always resolve itself into a two party system. There is nothing about the structure that prevents new parties from gaining power and struggling with the two parties we already have.

At least one of the existing parties has to go! The internal structure of the DRAxis has proven itself highly capable of smothering any effort at internal reform. What will not bend must be broken.

Behind the real woodshed, there will be no votes for anyone with an (R) or (D) behind their names. It doesn’t matter if the new candidates are wing-nuts as long as they are not DRAxis. Until we pave the road outside of DRAxis with votes, no quality people or parties are going to be out there for us. Set your jaw, keep casting the votes, and in time better candidates will come. Keep doing this until they do.

The thing to remember is that wing-nut laws and tax codes can be reversed and failed policies overturned. Don’t let the fear of them stop you from paving a new path for new candidates and new parties. Until we are willing to provide a path to office for better candidates, there will be no better candidates. DRAxis will not change, we must. This is especially important for those who have stopped voting. Find your rage, turn your disillusionment into rage if you need too. Don’t wait for others. Pull the lever! Fire the shot! Keep doing it!

If there are only DRAxis candidates then utterly reject the incumbent. DRAxis uses polished spin doctors to sell these people, so reject every effort to paint them as being for you. If they were, we wouldn’t need to do this. Thirty years of data does not lie! Go to the primary of your choice and fire the first shot, it is the only bullet we have in this fight. Go to the general and fire another! As an example for us here in the First District

I currently have my hopes for Ben Jealous for Governor and Michael Pullen for The House of Representatives. I happen to personally know both and trust them. Their choice to run within DRAxis is unfortunate, but like Bernie Sanders, the current landscape drives them into the DRAxis meat grinder where money and tremendous pressure has successfully co-opted so many well-meaning people before. My choice will be very hard if a non-DRAxis candidate pops up, but the road to reform must be paved with votes to defeat the DRAxis. Nothing less will do. Good people like Ben and Mike who want to support us don’t see another path because we have not been paving another path with votes.

The choice I face will be faced by a lot of us. DRAxis will not reverse our falling standard of living because they are supported, elected, and ultimately paid by the wealth. It is our own fault that this has happened. We let them buy our votes with empty promises and slick advertising.

The DRAxis committees, DNC and RNC, are funded by the wealthy. They will continue to support the wealthy gathering ever greater income at our expense. Don’t let poverty and want swallow us slowly. Don’t turn away from those already swallowed, because if this decline is not reversed, it will swallow us all.

Let’s keep taking the trip to the woodshed, year after year until….

Jimmie Galbreath is a retired Engineer originally from a small family owned dairy farm in Jefferson County, MS. He earned a B.S in Petroleum Engineering from MS State University, accumulating 20 years Nuclear experience at Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Station and Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Station. Along the way he worked as a roustabout on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, served 3 years active service as a Quartermaster Officer in the US Army, Supervised brick kilns first in MS than in Atlanta GA and whatever else it took to skin the cat. He now lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

United Way Campaign Update

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Letter to the Editor:

As we head into the last month of our 60th annual campaign for United Way of Kent County, our “giving thermometer” is just shy of 95% of our $210,000 goal.  The volunteer board members of UWKC, and especially the 24 member agencies which comprise our family of charities, are sincerely grateful to our Kent County friends and neighbors who have brought us this far in our appeal.  Even more importantly, the hundreds of Kent County families and individuals whose lives – through your contributions – have been enriched with better health, greater financial stability, and better education, are truly appreciative of this community’s generosity and caring spirit.

The critical needs of Kent County’s less fortunate will not be met even if we attain 100% of our goal, but each and every contribution, large or small, goes a long way toward improving the quality of life for all.

The success of this campaign and our member agencies’ efforts to better the lives of Kent County’s most needy rely on the generosity of us all, and we urge our Kent County neighbors to help us achieve our goal.

Sincere Thanks,

Glenn Wilson

President, United Way of Kent County

From South of Left Field: Definite Problems by Jimmie Galbreath

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“People with definite plans and definite expectations have definite problems.” My Dad drove me crazy with this little gem in my early years. I still have no idea where he got it. Somehow today it seems appropriate to our fractured nation.

The internet abounds with funny, comforting little memes suggesting simplistic solutions to issues that are interconnected and complex. Build a wall, ban gays, kill someone with bombs or drones, $15 minimum wage, the simple solutions go on and on. Like a child’s mobile no one part can actually be touched without every part moving as a result. Not that leaving it alone means nothing changes, everything changes as time passes.

We live in a complex ‘system’ that changes over time. No company, no government, no economy and certainly no society is ever unchanging. Even religion changes over time. Otherwise, the Crusades, witch trials and the Inquisition would still be with us. When an imbalance in our ‘system’ rises to the point of becoming a definite problem such as police violence, mass shootings, income inequality, lack of medical care and so on the social discourse settles onto some simple solution or particular plan. These definite plans come with a definite expectation of quick resolution that is seldom met.

Let me paint a picture and see if it makes sense to you. A stable ‘system’ would have the wealthy (corporate) and general population both exerting a fairly balanced influence on the government. The government should function to regulate the opposing desires of wealth concentration on the corporate/wealthy side and a reasonable standard of living on the population side. A good measure of whether this balance exists is the degree of income inequality. After all, more income for a few equals less income for the many. If in fact jobs are being created for the betterment of the many then we should see balanced income growth with all income levels increasing about the same.

Houston, we have a definite problem. Looking at these charts, it is apparent that since about 1980 increases in income have been largely confined to the upper 20% and the rest of us have been losing income. Now comes the definite expectation, the belief that the answer to this starts with an increase in the minimum wage. Folks I hate to point this out but the minimum wage is not why the increases in income are going to the top 20%. Government guides income increase through the tax codes, not the minimum wage! This doesn’t mean the higher minimum wage is a bad idea; it means it doesn’t do anything to address the actual problem.

Here’s another definite expectation, the belief that this can or will be addressed by one of the two existing political parties. The truth is that the tax codes and laws that have tilted the ‘system’ to favor those already wealthy were enacted by these two parties. Like everyone in a capitalist economy, the Parties work for money. That is why the Democrats push for the $15 minimum wage and the Republicans push for tax breaks for business. These things don’t change the cause of the ever increasing inequality; it is just a pretense at change that has no real impact.

The existing political parties are graveyards of popular political movements from both the right and left. Don’t believe it? Ask the Tea Party where the ACA repeal is. Watch as the Democratic Party slowly tries to absorb the Bernie folks and smother them in useless quibbling and ineffective goals like the minimum wage. All the while the wealthy grow ever richer, and we grow ever poorer. The function of the Republican and Democratic Parties is to smother popular will and continue to empower the upper class. The ONLY tool left to us other than open violent revolt is our vote.

So long as we continue to vote for the same old people and same old Parties we will get the same old results. It is insanity to expect anything different. Until the angry and disaffected finally begin to vote and refuse to vote for anyone with an (R) or (D) behind their name nothing is going to change. Think the Green, Independent or Libertarian is a nut? Look at the graph again. Look at our current President. A new Party is needed, one that does not have an existing bureaucracy which is paid by the wealthy and serves to smother the popular will.

The race is on, conditions are not and will not improve so long as the Republican and Democratic Parties have the power. Wealth demands ever more wealth and will rely on the police and military to control us. Over 1,000 citizens a year are already dying under the guns of the Police. That is more than any other country on earth! We have more citizens in prison than any other country in the world and the second highest incarceration rate in the world. These things are not accidents; they are the result of desperation and oppression in a population whose standard of living is falling.

The only way to shake the foundations and hopefully usher in real change is to reject the Republican and Democratic parties completely, shatter them and throw open the doors to new blood. Take risks, seek the people who will enact law and tax code to suppress excessive wealth and rebalance the life of all Americans. If we want America to be Great again, we must create an environment that allows Americans to become Great again. Let’s level the playing field.

Jimmie Galbreath is a retired Engineer originally from a small family owned a dairy farm in Jefferson County, MS. He earned a B.S in Petroleum Engineering from MS State University, accumulating 20 years Nuclear experience at Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Station and Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Station. Along the way, he worked as a roustabout on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, served three years active service as a Quartermaster Officer in the US Army, Supervised brick kilns first in MS than in Atlanta GA and whatever else it took to skin the cat. He now lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

An Open Letter from PFLAG

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Last Friday, PFLAG’s MID-SHORE MD chapter sent the open letter below to those most directly impacted by President Trump’s declaration that transgender individuals are to be excluded from the military. PFLAG MID-SHORE MD’s recently elected President, Claire Hansen said, “Such changes in direction are ungrounded in fact, are hurtful to the effectiveness of our military, and frankly are cruel. PFLAG stands ready to support transgender individual’s full inclusion. As an organization, we can partner with local organizations to do training on issues affecting the trans (and broader LGBTQ+) community.”

PFLAG is an organization whose mission is, “Uniting people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) with families, friends, and allies, PFLAG is committed to advancing equality through its mission of support, education, and advocacy.”

July 28, 2017

An open letter to the Eastern Shore LBGTQ Community, 

 It’s a day after President Trump’s tweet storm declaratively excluding transgender individuals from military service and we remain stunned and appalled. For all who identify as ‘trans’ and for your families, friends and loved ones, we are deeply sorry for the pain this is causing. It is wrong. 

 The message sent out yesterday hurts well beyond those in the military, or who have served in the military, or who are considering the military. The message attempts to blatantly authorize discrimination and expresses an abhorrent view on who is welcome to full participation in community. It is wrong.  

 Ill-considered messages, which are not vetted through any rational process, are a part of our times. We don’t have answers, but we can say if you identify as trans, gender non-conforming, or queer, and all the other ways you may self-identify, you are loved as you are. You are a blessing. Please know there is support for you in our community – a community with readiness to include and to care – a community that needs and welcomes your energy, your skills and your creativity. 

 If you need support, there are many ready to help and resources available. It is never easy to be singled out for who you are. It’s even harder when elected officials, who should be serving you, do just the opposite. 

 Please know you are not alone. 

In love and support,  

PFLAG MID-SHORE MD
President: L. Claire Hansen

Treasurer: Amanda Kramer

Secretary: Barbi Bedell

https://pflagchestertown.blogspot.com/

pflagchestertown@gmail.com

(301) 938-0868

Hiroshima Remembrance

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As we remember the 72nd  anniversary of the dropping  of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August, it is so important that we, as the most enlightened species on the planet, ensure that this never happens again. We need not rehash the debate about whether we should have used nuclear weapons in 1945, but rather learn from the horrendous damage they can unleash on people and the land and take steps to make sure they are never used again.

Although it is not getting much attention in the news media, there are successful efforts underway to do just that. Thanks to the efforts of a number of people and organizations, the number of nuclear weapons on the planet has been reduced from its high of 70,000 in the 1980’s to approximately 17,000 today. Earlier in July the most powerful treaty yet to ban nuclear weapons was signed by 120 nations at the United Nations; unfortunately the United States, along with the other nuclear weapon states, were not signatories.

For moral, economic, and environmental reasons, I hope all concerned citizens of our nation will join this effort to make our world a safer, saner planet.

Harvey Zendt

Oxford

Letter to Editor: Royal Farms Responds to CRA’s Isabel Hardesty

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In response to the letter from Isabel Hardesty that appeared in the July 20th issue of the Chestertown Spy, Royal Farms has shown a commitment to safeguarding the environment given the extensive cleanup measures that occurred at this former industrial site prior to construction at our new Chestertown location. Since February 2017, hundreds of tons of contaminated soils were excavated from our new store location and transported to a permitted offsite facility (outside of the Chesapeake Bay watershed) for proper disposal.

In addition, the new fuel station will be responsible in complying with federal and State oil and tank management regulations that include such requirements as double wall tanks, corrosion protection, spill/overfill prevention, leak detection, periodic inspections, and the testing of the secondary portion of the piping prior to use and every 5 years thereafter. Royal Farms remains committed to serving the Chestertown community in an environmentally proactive manner.

Royal Farms is also committed to the environment by building many of our stores to LEED (leadership in engineering and environmental design) standards.

Stores built to these standards save an average of 15-20% is energy use as compared with a typical building and operation like ours. LED lighting throughout the store and the site uses 80% less energy than florescent bulbs and reduces the amount of mercury in the area. The water use in this store is 40% less than a comparable building, which helps to save the bay, reducing our burden on the local watershed. Over 20% of the construction materials used in the store are sourced from within 500 miles, This reduces the carbon footprint in building construction, and increases the benefit to regional suppliers and manufacturers. 20% of the materials also contain recycled material, reducing our burden on natural resources. 75% of the waste from the building of this store was diverted from landfills through recycling. All of the frying oil is recycled into biodiesel to be used in vehicles to lessen our carbon footprint. And our landscaping is native and adaptive to the region thus not needing water.

Royal Farms is committed to being a good neighbor. Our valued employees and customers live in the neighborhoods we serve and we take our responsibility to environmental stewardship very seriously.

Frank Schilling
Director of Marketing & Merchandising
Royal Farms
Baltimore, MD 21211