Monday, August 13, 2012

Driving While Texting, Texting While Driving

After reading Vanessa's commentary Distracted driving is blind driving, I have really put some thought into how we could turn this dire situation around. I agree that we need stricter laws for distracted driving as I will admit that I occasionally use my phone while driving. One option would be to somehow link the driver's cell phone with the ignition and consequently turn off texting capabilities while the car is in drive. The texting feature would be enabled once the car is put into park. Another option would be to disconnect all cell phone services while the car is in drive, although this could possibly hinder emergency calls.

I think that going forward all vehicles should be equipped with the necessary technology to link up with cell phones. This would allow the driver to make calls from the car rather than directly from their phone. This would free up the driver's hands, and still allow them to make "emergency" calls. Some may argue that phone calls distract drivers regardless of whether or not their hands are free, but I believe that it is impossible to eliminate every single distraction from a driver.

I thought Vanessa's blog was very well thought out, though I would have liked to see her include her suggestions for how to solve this problem. She did a great job explaining the problem and giving the reader the relevant background information, I just would have liked to have been presented with options.

Friday, August 10, 2012

"F" as in Fail

      With more and more Texas schools failing to meet national and federal standards, one has to wonder: what are we doing wrong? Unfortunately, it's not just Texas, but schools nationwide. Recently, Texas lawmakers have considered doing away with the Early Start Education Program as a way to close the budget gap that has become so deep. I believe this will only increase the percentage of students that fall behind. If we do not get our youth off to an early and appropriate start, then it will just be downhill from there. Some have argued that it is up to parents to provide their children with education in the home until the child enters kindergarten. With many children living in broken homes, or within families with two working parents, this is often unfeasible. Also, many parents are uneducated and therefore may not value the importance of an education. According to More area schools fail federal standards, schools that fail to meet these federal standards may be uneligible to receive federal funding. In my opinion, this will create even more problems. Lack of funding could mean fewer teachers and below-average programs.

      So where do we go from here? We need to teach our youth the value of education, especially those in low-income and working-class families. We also need to provide incentives for students to complete their education. With such a grim economy and lack of jobs, it is no wonder that graduation rates are down. I believe that there need to be mentor programs and career counselors in each school to provide guidance for students. I can remember being lost in college trying to choose a major. While working on my first degree I wish that I would have had someone accessible to me to discuss my options with. While I am thankful for my business degree, looking back I wish that I had chosen a more focused career path.

      My point is that we need to help steer the youth of Texas in the right direction. Children come from different backgrounds, have different talents, and therefore need different levels of assistance. I also believe that schools should implement work-study programs. I also highly suggest that students take some time between high school and college, maybe a year or two, to enter the working world and discover their talents, travel the world, and experience life outside of their current situation. Then, should they choose a career that requires further education, they will value their experience and become a better person for it.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

I agree with Quynh-Nhi's commentary "A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words". A photo ID should be required when voting, and I am surprised that there is such a huge debate over this issue. Yes, it may be difficult for some to acquire a state form of identification. But then wouldn’t it also be just as difficult for that person to get to a voting booth? If you can’t put in the minimal time and effort, then you obviously are not serving as a model citizen and therefore shouldn’t be able to vote. With regards to the elderly, I do not believe that a mail-in vote should be counted. Like you mentioned, how do we know that this person isn’t deceased? Rather the state, county, or local office should implement some sort of program that can prove that the person is still alive. With state ID’s easily renewed online, there is no reason that a person cannot maintain an up-to-date ID. If minorities are trying to vote and do not have identification, I do not think they should be able to vote. Maybe this is a red flag that this person is living in the country illegally. In that case, they definitely should not have a vote. I agree with your argument. I would have liked to have had access to an article with more information. I also liked that you included policies of other states, such as Georgia and Indiana no tolerance policy. It is always a good idea to present specific cases and examples to back up your argument.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

To Insure or not to Insure?
Recently, Texas has been in the spotlight regarding their decision to opt out of measures that would expand the state’s Medicaid program. “Obamacare” would add an estimated $17 million Americans to the program, 2 million of them residing in Texas. Governor Rick Perry argues that although the program would result in $100 billion in federal funds and $1 billion in revenue for managed care organizations, Texas would be required to put up $27 billion, an amount that he believes will eventually bankrupt the state. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court voted to allow states to block Medicaid without a penalty (Businesses will push Perry to rethink Medicaid expansion rebuff).
Texas, with one in four individuals going without health care coverage, has the nation’s highest rate of uninsured citizens as well as one of the most restrictive Medicaid programs. Supporters of the program have reevaluated Texas’ share of the cost, proposing that the state would only be required to spend $16 billion over the next ten years for the program’s expansion. The federal government will pay 100% of the cost for the first three years, but only 10% after the three years have passed (Fewer Texas doctors willing to accept Medicare, Medicaid patients because of low pay, red tape).
Without health care coverage, individuals that need medical attention are opting to skip doctor’s visits. Unfortunately, without early intervention, these individuals eventually end up in the emergency room, where they are ensured access to care, but at a high cost. I believe that the government is spending more on these ER visits than it would if it would agree to Medicaid expansion.  
To add fuel to the fire, more and more doctors in Texas are refusing to accept Medicaid for the poor and elderly. This may be due to complaints of low pay (some say Texas Medicaid only pays half of the actual cost of most services) and time spent pushing paper. I believe that all of this red tape is causing doctors to focus on administrative issues rather than the quality of patient care. Also, more and more Texas medical students are leaving the state to complete their residencies due to the lack of positions in Texas. Therefore, Texas is faced with fewer doctors, and even fewer of them willing to accept Medicaid patients. This seems like a never-ending, vicious cycle to me (Can Medicaid expand in Texas? That questions lingers).
So, what are our options? Some argue that if individuals are willing to opt out of health care coverage, then the individual, not the state, should be responsible for their care. If this is the case, then these individuals should not be penalized, as I believe their burden will be heavy enough. Others argue for a co-pay system, a cost-sharing program that will also result in patient responsibility for their coverage. Regardless, individuals should be required to take active participation with regards to their health care. If Medicaid is expanded, and individuals are able to qualify based on their yearly income, then what incentive is there for them to better themselves? Children raised in low-income families on Medicaid will likely grow up with the same frame of mind. While I believe that no one should be denied access to health care, I argue for a system that would require those individuals on Medicaid to take active steps to eventually be able to provide for themselves.  

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Our Health Care Dilemma

In Ed Hubbard’s blog titled Our Health Care Dilemma, posted on Big Jolly Politics, the issues being discussed are the problems with Obamacare and several solutions that could be implemented instead. Hubbard is summarizing one of Holman Jenkins, Jr.’s articles in his column in the Wall Street Journal. I believe that the author is intending to attract readers that are citizens of voting age, most likely belonging to the middle- and lower classes. Hubbard believes that Americans need to take more personal responsibility for their health care and establish a doctor-patient relationship that would allow a free market health care system. The current system in place not only prohibits us from choosing our own doctor(s), but it also gives us no input into the cost or scope of services that these doctors provide us. The middle men, or “dictators,” comprised of private insurance companies, government agencies, hospital systems, and even employers, give Americans basically no choice over the health care that is received.

Obamacare puts all of the power in the hands of these middle men; therefore, Hubbard suggests a restructuring of the current system to a free market system. His solution involves three delivery systems. The first is coverage for major medical issues only and ones that require high deductibles or HSAs with the remaining cost falling to the individual. The second is a local hospital system that is paid for by local tax dollars and serves those in low-income families. The final is a voucher system that pays for private insurance premiums and covers the elderly with funds from the Medicare tax.

Critics of Hubbard’s three-delivery system inject that they cherish the “middle men” system because of its simplicity and the convenience of co-pays. Jenkins challenges that Americans must be willing to take back personal responsibility of their health care. And I agree. Sadly, many Americans are clueless about our current system. Therefore, I believe it is up to our school systems and parents to educate the youth of America about health care and its reform.

While I think that Hubbard is on the right track with his three-delivery system, I would like to have gotten more details about the coverage of each system. Our current health care system involves numerous loopholes and I think that contributes to the root of the problem. People need an understandable break-down of their coverage in order to know what is and is not covered by their policy. I cannot even begin to count the times that I have been at a doctor’s office, in the dark about how much I will owe at the end of my visit. Sometimes I am presented with a small co-payment, other times I leave without opening my wallet. I will admit that I did not read the fifty page packet that I received in the mail after signing up for health insurance, but even if I did, I am sure that I would not have understood or retained any of the information provided. I think most people will agree with that. Spell it out for me in a short, bulleted list that leaves nothing to the imagination.

Overall, I think Hubbard’s article was a great read and it opened my eyes to the alternatives that could be implemented to solve the current health care crisis. Hubbard seems very well-versed in this issue and I take to heart his suggestions, criticisms, and easy-to-understand outline of his reform. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

For better health, pay Perry no mind

In the Austin American Statesman’s July 14 article For better health, pay Perry no mind, the author is addressing the expansion of Medicaid and the health insurance exchange, both provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. This article is intended for all Texans of voting age, though I believe it is mostly targeted to those with health insurance and those who are for the passage of this act, as I believe that the author is trying to rally readers into supporting Obama’s policy.
Rick Perry announced that he would not expand Medicaid or set up a health insurance exchange.  At this point, it seems there are no penalties for his refusal. Last month, the Supreme Court denied the passage of a provision that would have punished any state that refuses to expand Medicaid by withholding all of the state’s Medicaid dollars. The author notes that Texas would be able to decrease the number of uninsured residents with the expansion of this program. Otherwise, the insured will bear the brunt of the cost to pay for the uninsured. Doesn’t sound fair to me and I agree with the author’s statement.
While the act would not provide universal coverage it would encourage citizens to buy insurance. Otherwise, they will be faced with a penalty. We need to look ahead and realize that paying a monthly premium will allow individuals to go to a doctor’s office when they are sick, rather than waiting until there is an emergency, which will no doubt cost more than a visit to the doctor.  And while this act will not fix all of the concerns with healthcare, it is the best solution that has been put out there so far.
I stand behind this article and believe that it came from a very credible source. I learned several new things about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as it relates to Medicaid and health insurance. His claims were backed by what I believe is valid evidence and, though his article is not objective, I do not think it was meant to be, as it is an opinion piece. I agree with what he has said and therefore believe that his article was a success. He has made a believer out of me and I now feel more confident discussing this topic with friends and colleagues.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Central Texas students' absences cost districts millions

     Recently, there has been much concern about the money allotted to Texas schools, or lack thereof.  One reason for the lack of funding is that absenteeism among Texas students is extremely high. On average, students missed around six days of school per year, with most absences coming from children from low-income families (who missed around fifteen days per year). Hispanic children missed the most with an average of fourteen days, followed by African Americans with thirteen days, whites with nine days, and Asians with six days. 

     Improving school attendance means more money for schools.  Even just three days of absence per student can cost up to thirty-four million dollars. Austin area schools have implemented a program called Every Day Counts in order to increase attendance rates. Perfect attendance would mean anywhere from fifty to sixty million dollars. The program utilizes home visits and contests to encourage students to come to school when they are healthy. Over the last three years, improvements have yielded over two million dollars for Austin schools. Another program, Get Schooled, targets 7th through 10th graders and includes a seven-week challenge that tracks weekly attendance.  Prizes include celebrity wake-up calls. The program encourages students to get more involved in their classes and school organizations as well.

     There are numerous other benefits to improving attendance. Students have more opportunities to learn, have a brighter future, and are less likely to engage in delinquent behaviors. Schools will need to discourage non-emergency absences, but stress the importance of keeping a child home if they are too ill, as this will just spread the illness around to other students. Monthly contests are the ideal as they allow a student who was absent in one month to have a chance to win the following month. Any “delinquent” students will be assigned a mentor that will support and encourage them to attend school and get involved. Any time a student is absent, they will receive a call from the school and if they are not ill, they will be asked to be dropped off and school or someone from the school will pick them up.

     I believe that it is extremely important to intervene at the earliest possible stage. Studies have shown that students who are absent from school are more likely to drop out before receiving a degree and therefore will have less opportunity in their lives. Parents should be encouraged to get involved at home. Students should view school in a positive light.  Teachers should provide exciting lesson plans and opportunities for learning. While I think the contests will work in the short-term, I don’t believe that “bribing” our youth to attend school is the way to go. I never received anything for attending school or making good grades other than knowing that I was increasing my chance of being successful later in life. I believe this came from a proper up-bringing and parents who believed in me and wanted to see me succeed.  I think that this article ( is important for all citizens to read as it has opened my eyes to the dramatic effect that school absences can have, not only on the school system, but also in the life of each student.