Rethinking summer, subminimum wages, health merger, drug costs
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Thank you to Laura Yuen for her column from March 12 on the impossibilities of kid summer camp registration (“Summer camp registration exasperates”). In an act of parental defiance this year, I made no attempt to register, after last year’s careful research and planning landed me in closed waitlists within minutes. Like the parent in the article, I am privileged to be able to make this choice and am aware of so many caregivers who are not. Several more equitable improvements were presented in the article and would likely help in some ways. But maybe the answer is removing the daunting three-month block altogether and switching to year-round school. Summer months could have a more outdoor, exploratory curriculum. A two-week summer break could celebrate time with family and friends, mirroring the winter break in December. Teachers could get a compensation bump that pays more in line with what they deserve, let’s say 25% to reflect the amount of additional classroom time. What can we learn and implement from schools and communities already operating like this?
I’m writing this from one tired mom’s perspective, after having aired these same frustrations with other parents for years. I acknowledge no educators have been engaged in this conversation with me. Yet. Let’s start, please. Let’s work together to look beyond Band-Aid solutions and toward a system built to support families, communities and all of our futures.
Natalie Schaefer, Golden Valley
We read with great interest the front-page article on HF 2513 (“Higher expectations,” March 13), a bill that has been introduced in the House to “end subminimum wages for Minnesotans with disabilities.” Unfortunately, while well-intended, it would actually serve to isolate the disabled by eliminating jobs for the ones who are unable to secure jobs in an integrated employment setting. Please let us explain.
One of us is the legal guardian for her disabled sister and can attest to the difficulty she experienced trying to secure employment in a regular job setting. Debbie was with Lifeworks at the time it dropped its piece-rate work in 2017. Instead of working in a supervised work environment that she loved and was good at, she was taken on interview after interview in an attempt to find work at minimum wage. She was rejected and embarrassed again and again in the process. Debbie didn’t even want the work she was interviewing for, as she is unable to stand for long periods of time and work an eight-hour shift, as most regular jobs require. Debbie wanted to keep the piece-rate job she had. After endless interviews, Lifeworks told us there was nothing more it could do and recommended that we find another program. We happily took her out of Lifeworks and enrolled her in Opportunity Partners, which provided piece-rate work, an opportunity to get out of her apartment every day and interact with the staff and co-workers around her. It was and is a perfect fit!
Many employers don’t want to pay minimum wage for someone who isn’t as productive as a nondisabled person. With piece-rate work they don’t have to, plus it creates jobs for those who can’t compete in a regular job setting.
HF 2513/SF 2669 will eliminate, not create, job opportunities for the disabled. If any disabled person wants a regular job at minimum wage, they are free to interview for one at any time and hopefully get hired. For those who are unable to get hired or unable to perform the work of a regular job, sheltered workshops are an answer to a prayer. State representatives and senators should vote no to HF 2513/SF 2669 to keep as many disabled people as possible working in both settings.
Kathy and John Tyler, Eden Prairie
Reports of social change (“Higher expectations”) are always undergirded by years of courageous struggles carried out by women and men who shape history but whose names are forgotten to all but a few. Forty years ago, brave Minnesotans like J.R. Sudduth, Ken Tice, Gloria Steinbring, Irving Martin, Cliff Poetz, Mark Thomford, Mary Lou Grabenc and so many others threw off the confines of the demeaning labels they had been given and challenged the paltry wages and conditions of their workshops. They asserted their full humanity. They were called names, threatened and accused of being manipulated. They responded by educating, organizing, trying to start a union and going to the Legislature. Lawmakers like Karen Clark and Skip Humphrey listened.
They celebrated victories and learned from setbacks. They started Advocating Changing Together (ACT) and sparked the Self-Advocacy Movement that has led to the historic shift reported on Monday.
Mel Duncan, St. Paul
There is a simple math problem with health care finance that has not been mentioned in the discussion of the Fairview merger with Sanford vs. the University of Minnesota Medical School and the well-written letter on March 12 (“The root cause of trouble”) and commentary on March 13 (“Health care ailment spreads far beyond hospitals”).
Government payments to hospitals represent roughly 50% of the revenue that hospitals receive for the care they provide, and those government payments cover roughly 70% of the cost to provide that care. The government (both Medicare and Medicaid) has raised hospital payments on average by about 1% per year for the past 10 years while hospital unit costs have increased by over 3% per year. This has forced hospitals to cut costs or services while increasing negotiated payment rates with commercial payers at a rate significantly higher than unit-cost inflation.
If Medicare and Medicaid continue to pay less than unit costs for hospital services, hospitals will be forced to cut resources or close. A temporary cash infusion, as recommended by the Editorial Board (“Vital signs poor at Minnesota hospitals,” March 5), would do nothing to fix the long-term systemic financing problem.
Another question that should be addressed by the U is, why would it be bad for an out-of-state entity to manage the university hospital? If the hospital is well managed and has the resources it needs, it seems that would be a better learning environment for U students than a hospital that is managed poorly without needed resources. Isn’t that the more important criterion rather than the home state of the managing organization?
Robert McCoy, North Oaks
The writer is a health care finance executive.
The Center of the American Experiment is a boundless source of free rhetoric, all ultimately shilling for a libertarian approach to every social problem and a defense of enterprises that make a heck of a lot of money, regardless of the cost to the public (“Drug price controls would cost plenty,” Opinion Exchange, March 14).
Thus, it’s funny to see them slither past the fact that one of the main reasons drugs are so expensive is the patent system. Basically, it’s a system of controlled monopoly — which should be anathema to an entrepreneurial capitalist — that has been so manipulated by the drug companies that even drugs developed decades ago at public expense, like insulin, remain obscenely expensive. This is because the only forms of it made are slight variations on the original theme, engineered to remain subject to patent protections.
And the CAE’s argument for the public putting up with this legalized robbery? Socialism! Don’t worry about the $6,000-per-dose cost of the meds, because the government will subsidize part of it. And the rest will be covered by insurance, so we all get to pay for this obscenity when we pay our taxes or buy insurance, even if we aren’t taking the drug. Talk about faceless victims, CAE! How about us?
CAE is right about one thing, though: Big Pharma is hated. That’s because its practices are actually hateful. It spends lavishly on lobbyists, advertising and executive salaries and prioritizes this and stockholder return all above the public good or patient welfare.
CAE dutifully cranks out stuff like this commentary. The Star Tribune should not feel compelled to print it uncritically.
Richard E. Langer, Edina