Editorials from around Ohio

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Ohio newspapers:

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Work should continue to improve imperfect college admissions

The Columbus Dispatch

Sept. 7

Trying to make up for deep-seated inequality in American society without being unfair to any one individual is no easy task. No one knows this better than people in the college admissions business — in particular the College Board, which recently backed away from a planned tweak in its all-important Scholastic Aptitude Test after the change was roundly blasted by critics.

Not that the SAT is unused to criticism; the test long has been accused of a cultural bias that results in higher scores for white and Asian students and lower scores for non-Asian minorities.

The accusation is that questions, intentionally or not, require test-takers to be familiar with white middle-class cultural references. Somewhat in response, colleges and other institutions, including the SAT, have tried to get at the problem by considering not race but overall social and economic privilege.

Thus the College Board announced its "Environmental Context Dashboard" just last May, the idea being that, along with the traditional up-to-800 scores on the verbal and math sections of the test, each student would be given a score reflecting the advantages or disadvantages of his or her circumstances.

The number, between 1 and 100, would be based on data about the student's school and neighborhood. Critics hated the idea for lots of reasons: A person's life circumstances can't be represented by a single number, some said; others said using an "Adversity Score" undermines the idea of succeeding on merit.

Others said the very idea — SAT's effort to correct for advantage and disadvantage — proves the test never has been valid.

That seems a bit unfair; of course students who have gone to better-equipped schools and can afford expensive test-prep courses are likely to do better. It's difficult to imagine any academic test for which that wouldn't be true.

Last week, the College Board announced a tweak to the tweak: It still will rate each student's school and neighborhood, but won't distill that information into a single number and present it as the student's personal score. It also will offer more explanation about data behind the ratings. That's important; the previous plan, to present the score with no explanation, surely would have spread distrust.

The effort to account for adversity still will be imperfect. The data won't, for example, tell the tale of a student from a poor neighborhood and weak high school who nonetheless is lucky enough to have caring, attentive parents who instilled a love for learning and good study habits. It won't be very meaningful for neighborhoods where incomes are mixed.

Still, it's hard to fault the SAT for trying. The test is expected to sort out who has the best potential for success in college, and privilege or the lack of it can skew the picture significantly.

For purveyors of college entrance exams as well as the admissions professionals who decide who gets in and who doesn't, the challenge remains figuring out what yardsticks to use to assess complex individuals.

How does the 4.5 GPA student from the high-rated high school with extensive AP course offerings compare with one who goes to a school with no advanced course offerings and has worked throughout high school to help support her family?

Absolute fairness in testing and admissions likely is impossible, but the effort to get closer to it should continue.

Online: https://bit.ly/2m8FD8H

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'Bigfoot' Dave Yost is doubling down on his wrongheaded opioid power grab

The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Sept. 6

Dave Yost is the elected attorney general of all Ohioans, but he refuses to demonstrate he gets what that means.

He refuses to acknowledge his responsibilities to all of the state's people and to communities that have borne the brunt of both the cost and hurt of the opioid crisis.

He refuses to hear the swelling chorus of dismay from within his own Republican Party and from key colleagues -- including Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association.

Instead, Yost has ceased being just an alternative version of himself. Alt-Dave has turned into Bigfoot Dave.

Bigfoot Dave seeks to eviscerate Ohioans' longstanding constitutional right to home rule not just with his sudden efforts to derail nearly 100 local opioid lawsuits but now with an even more audacious attempt to seize control of the national multidistrict federal litigation that's about to play out in a high-stakes trial in Cleveland.

After years of legal sparring, on Oct. 21, Cuyahoga and Summit counties' claims are scheduled to go to trial in the U.S. District courtroom of Judge Dan Polster.

Trying to head off that trial -- and prevent the awarding to the two counties of any of the $8 billion in damage claims underlying it -- is the main focus of Yost's 285-page Aug. 30 filing at the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

But his mandamus action also asks the appellate court to compel Polster "to dismiss or limit all claims that seek to remedy societal harms" in the litigation Polster is overseeing, involving claims from about 2,000 local jurisdictions across the nation.

Yost couldn't be more wrong or more transparent about his real agenda -- a power grab over opioid settlement money.

Ohio's opioid litigation dates to 2017, when DeWine was the attorney general. When Cuyahoga County filed its lawsuit, also in 2017, DeWine made no objections. Rather, he has criticized Yost now, rightly noting that the opioid harm and the costs of mitigating it have been local -- so the settlements, by rights, should be local.

But as we said in an earlier editorial, the big money now beckons. Cuyahoga and Summit counties recently reached a tentative $15 million settlement deal with two of the drug makers.

It was after that settlement deal that Bigfoot Dave got busy.

He effectively tried to undo the deal by sending both manufacturers warning letters that their settlements with the two Ohio counties would not preclude vigorous prosecution of Ohio's separate claims.

He announced he was backing a draft bill in the Ohio legislature that aims to seize control of all opioid litigation in Ohio and deny localities the ability to prosecute their claims. Once DeWine signaled his opposition to that legislation, Yost filed his mandamus action with the 6th Circuit.

What is wrong with this approach?

Cuyahoga County's top officials -- County Executive Armond Budish, County Prosecutor Michael O'Malley and Cuyahoga County Council President Dan Brady -- said it best in a joint statement expressing their frustration and disappointment at Yost's 11th-hour move.

After years of litigation, after years of local trauma, costs and distress tied to the opioid epidemic, Yost was suddenly trying to deny them their right to recoup damages -- even as county residents continue to die from opioid overdoses.

"Attorney General Yost needs to look his constituents in the eye," the statement said, "the coroners, paramedics, officers, first responders, nurses that care for babies with NAS (Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, when babies withdraw from the drugs they've been exposed to in the womb), and the men and women who have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into saving their neighbors as they struggled and died by the hundreds from opioids -- and tell us why we do not deserve our day in court."

Why, indeed. Bigfoot Yost is stepping all over the wrong people, his own constituents, his fellow Ohioans, the very people who elected him to his current office, and who expect more from him.

Online: https://bit.ly/2kBfvCW

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RSVP for a pollution diet

The Toledo Blade

Sept. 9

It wasn't so much an invitation, as a challenge.

After Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz remarked last month, "We know who's causing this problem," pointedly blaming the Lake Erie toxic algae problem on agricultural runoff, associations representing corn, wheat, and soybean farmers invited the mayor to come tour their farms and check out what they've done to reduce that runoff.

The algae isn't all their fault, the farmers said. They are doing their best to limit the algae-feeding phosphorus runoff from their fields. And they don't deserve to be demonized.

There are just a few problems with this ploy.

First, as the mayor astutely pointed out, anyone who wants to see how well pollution-reducing strategies are working ought to be looking at the lake, which was particularly putrid this summer, carpeted in a thick layer of algae.

The year 2019 is on track to be one of the worst algae seasons on record.

This despite very earnest and well meaning efforts from farmers throughout the state who have embraced better practices — well-funded by state and federal programs — that limit the amount of fertilizer running off their fields into waterways.

But even the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's own data showed last year that these voluntary pollution-control efforts were not making a dent in the overall amount of phosphorus pouring down the Maumee River into the lake.

And second, noticeably absent from the farms to which Mr. Kapszukiewicz was invited to tour were any livestock operations. And it is those livestock farms — particularly the large-scale concentrated feeding operations — that many believe are contributing the bulk of the runoff pollution to the lake.

There is some dispute about the data, but some environmental activists believe western Lake Erie basin's 146 concentrated animal feeding operations produce the manure equivalent of sewage generated by the cities of Los Angeles and Chicago. That manure has to go somewhere, and it usually ends up going down the Maumee.

If Ohio's agricultural lobby were sincere in their plea for public officials to stop pointing fingers at the wrong culprits, they would get behind calls for a scientific inventory of pollution sources, particularly in the Maumee River basin.

Of course, such an inventory is more likely to quantify just how much runoff is coming from every farm, including the CAFOs.

More than that, a scientific pollution inventory, which state and federal environmental authorities should call for, would set Ohio on a path to creating a pollution diet.

Creating a total daily maximum load would allow regulators to set pollution limits and then enforce them.

That's the only real strategy for cleaning up Lake Erie and saving it from the annual toxic algae that threatens Ohio's tourism and sport fishing industries, Toledo's drinking water source, and the region's quality of life.

If the agriculture lobby were serious about reducing runoff, they wouldn't be inviting Toledo's mayor to visit farms, they'd be inviting regulators.

Online: https://bit.ly/2k2ZCEW

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The Akron Beacon Journal

Ohioans still without decent health care coverage

Sept. 6

With passage of the Affordable Care Act, Congress set up a mechanism for improving lives — and for making additional improvements to the health care system. The landmark legislation is something better, a work in progress, with flaws and unintended consequences. The shame of the past decade is that Congress has devoted little time to addressing the shortcomings, and some of the regrettable results surfaced Wednesday through a survey of 1,000 Ohioans conducted by Altarum's Healthcare Value Hub.

The study, unveiled by the Universal Health Care Action Network of Ohio, found many people across the state struggling with the cost of health care. For instance, 43 percent of respondents needing care the past year reported cost-driven decision-making about their health. They delayed care, or didn't seek treatment at all. They passed on tests and prescriptions. They rationed medications, going with less than the recommended dosage.

State Rep. Beth Liston, a Dublin Democrat and a physician, put it right: "Our system is set up for them to fail."

Those coping with the reality of care beyond their reach do not get better. Their conditions often get worse, leading to emergency room visits and other more expensive treatment. They may end up receiving care from physicians and facilities outside their insurance network. Soon, a medical bill arrives with a big surprise, the kind of expense that can take years to pay off. This is how health care can turn into bankruptcy.

The Affordable Care Act was designed to prevent such outcomes, if not immediately, then through fine-tuning to fix shortcomings. As it is, many have been helped, gaining access to adequate coverage without ruinous financial outcomes. Subsidies are available to low- and middle-income households. One problem is the subsidies are not sufficient, particularly at the higher income levels of those qualifying. This leads to high deductibles and sketchy coverage, or, in many instances, the unfortunate results found in the survey.

The study discusses potential repairs, such as greater transparency, insurers and providers making available upfront realistic cost estimates. It is reasonable to ease the punitive aspect of out-of-network expenses, especially in emergency situations and when there is little prospect of the patient covering the cost, sooner or later.

It should be easier to switch insurers if your doctor leaves a health plan.

At the same time, larger steps are needed, and they involve improvements to the Affordable Care Act for those who must buy insurance on their own, or do not have coverage through an employer, Medicaid or Medicare. The subsidies available through the online insurance exchange must be more realistic given cost realities, which pose another problem requiring greater attention. In Ohio, the average annual premium for an individual plan has more than doubled the past six years, reaching nearly $6,200 this year.

Fortunately, the state projects an average 7.7 percent reduction in the year ahead. That decrease reflects, in part, insurers having a better grasp of the marketplace. They've been raising prices as a cushion against the uncertainty fueled by congressional inaction and a Trump White House committed to undermining the effectiveness of the exchange, from narrowing the window for signing up to permitting low-cost and lower quality alternatives.

More, the administration has been at the front in the misguided lawsuit seeking to strike down the Affordable Care Act because it no longer includes an individual mandate. Imagine the president and Congress using their time constructively. The act has proved resilient and worthy of upgrading, its combination of market principles and public support involving an intelligent compromise designed to address the problems of many here and elsewhere as they seek what they deserve — decent health care coverage.

Online: https://bit.ly/2k6XOuD