Editorial Roundup: Michigan

Traverse City Record-Eagle. April 4, 2021.

Editorial: Fixing PFAS notification problems shouldn’t take discussion

They just don’t get it.

Weeks ago, after a Record-Eagle reporter unearthed a massive procedural flaw in how state and local officials disseminate information about possible drinking water contamination, we called for a swift, common-sense solution.

Unfortunately, what’s unfolding isn’t swift, a solution or common sense.

Our stomachs dropped to the floor when we learned residents in East Bay Township were allowed to obliviously continue drinking their well water for eight months after state and local officials had flagged their homes as at-risk for PFAS chemical contamination emanating from the nearby airport property. In the end, 18 home drinking water wells tested positive for the chemicals, at least one of them showed toxins at 80 times safety thresholds set in state law.

When questioned, state and local officials engaged in a grotesque form of scientific gaslighting, claiming their efforts to preserve residents’ ignorance was meant to avoid panic.

When their actions landed in the public spotlight, those same officials muddled through some half-hearted apologies, and tossed in the pandemic as an added excuse for the delay in telling residents they may be drinking poisoned water.

We were left wondering which explanation for the delay we should believe — was the lag necessary because the people drinking suspect water can’t be trusted to make health decisions for themselves? Or were they just victims of a pandemic-induced bureaucratic hiccup?

Well, we know a little more now, and we have less reason to trust what they’ve said.

It’s now clear the policy of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy to keep people in the dark about potential contaminants in their drinking water isn’t new. Homeowners who live near previously-discovered PFAS contamination sites said they also were allowed to drink contaminated water for months before state regulators raised alarm. Their experiences occurred long before the pandemic became a crutch for slow-working bureaucracies.

But the delays aren’t uniform. In Grayling, for instance, regulators acted quickly to notify residents whose wells were at risk, test their tap water and provide safe water supplies while samples were being analyzed.

Such a proactive reaction shows state regulators have been involved with common-sense efforts before, so they needn’t look far for an example of a job well done.

Unfortunately, it appears state leaders can’t or won’t take the simplest path to a solution that would serve and protect public health of Michiganders.

Instead, they assigned away their responsibility to fix department policy to a subcommittee of a volunteer working group with the muted power of generating recommendations.

Worse, the first pair of subcommittee meetings to discuss public notification and transparent communication about PFAS contamination sites were unannounced and occurred behind closed doors.

It’s apparent state leaders, the ones who could unilaterally fix the problem they created, simply aren’t that committed to doing the right thing. They seem to need the cover of a recommendation from a working group instead of simply acknowledging their mistake and fixing the systemic flaw they created.

None of what we’ve witnessed thus far gives us hope.

Because if our leaders can’t see the fault in their actions, our problems run much deeper than we thought.

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Detroit News. April 3, 2021.

Editorial: Bills to cut drug costs would raise insurance premiums

A well-intentioned pair of bills aimed at reducing the cost of certain essential medicines have passed the state House and are pending in the Senate.

While their goal is laudable, the bills wouldn’t actually reduce drug costs — they’d merely shift who pays for them. And they do so in a way that could cause many employees of small businesses to lose their health insurance.

The two bills are part of an ambitious 15-bill package that sponsors say would slash drug prices while increasing access to health care. They passed with bipartisan support.

While there are worrisome issues with several of the bills, the two specifically aimed at insulin and cancer medicines are the most problematic.

One would would cap the out-of-pocket expense of insulin drugs at $50 for a 30-day supply. The other limits outlays for patients taking orally administered anti-cancer medicine at $150 for a monthly prescription.

Prices for both drug categories have risen sharply across the country. Many patients are struggling to pay for them, even with insurance coverage.

So again, the instincts of the Legislature to do something to help patients dependent on these medicines is understandable.

But the arbitrary caps demanded in the bills don’t address the cost of the drugs. They just change who pays for them.

Pharmaceutical companies will be able to charge the same for the medicine. But more of the out-of-pocket expense will be billed to insurance companies instead of the patients.

While that may sound like a reasonable solution, the reality is that insurers will pass on the additional cost burden to their clients in the form of higher premiums.

Employer groups are banding together to oppose the legislation, arguing the impact on insurance premiums will force many small businesses to drop coverage for their employees.

The added cost for insurers is expected to be $17.6 million for the cancer drugs and $39.6 million for the insulin medications.

Just 30% of small businesses based in Michigan offer health insurance coverage to employees.

Forcing-up insurance premiums will prompt more employers to suspend coverage and force their workers onto federal insurance exchanges.

State legislatures are not the right places to address the cost of prescription medicine. This is a national problem that demands a national solution.

The better approach would be federal measures to bring more transparency to drug pricing and encourage more competition in the pharmaceutical industry.

The bills pending in Michigan do nothing to address the real cause of rising prices. What patients save at the pharmacy they’ll likely give back in their monthly health insurance premium.

The Senate should treat these bills as the right instinct, but wrong approach.

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Alpena News. April 1, 2021.

Editorial: Whitmer, lawmakers: Get it together

We were dismayed to see the headline in Saturday’s edition of The News saying Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had again vetoed $652 million in coronavirus relief as she and the Republican-controlled Legislature continue their battle over pandemic policy.

Whitmer says the allocation lawmakers approved does too much to help big businesses and not enough to help regular folks. Lawmakers counter the money would help employers hard-hit by the pandemic stay afloat.

Whitmer had first vetoed the money because the bill included provisions wresting control of the pandemic response away from her state health department, but lawmakers pulled those elements out of the second try.

We won’t get into who’s right or who’s wrong, because, quite frankly, both sides are wrong until that money goes somewhere to help someone. It does nothing for anybody sitting in the state’s bank accounts.

We urge the governor and the Legislature to sit down and set a good example to the rest of us that we all are truly in this together, and we can only successfully climb out of it if we do it together.

Find a way to work together and get that money out the door.

END