We must improve programs to help mentally ill

As the father of an eight-year-old son and the grandfather to six children under the age of 10, I am horrified by the incredible act of violence that killed 20 young students and the teachers who fought to protect them last week in Newtown, Conn.

In the wake of this tragedy, there’s no doubt that we need a serious and thoughtful national discussion about preventing this kind of senseless violence and protecting our children in their schools. I believe that should include a discussion about finding ways to spend federal dollars more wisely when it comes to treating and identifying people who are mentally ill. It should also include a conversation about ways that we can intervene before someone who is mentally ill does something that tragically impacts their lives and the lives of others.


Driving a hard bargain for healthcare

I’m wrapping up my term as Governor here in Montana, and we’ve had a great run -- eight years of record budget surpluses, huge investments in education, tax cuts for most everyone, the largest increase in college graduation rates in America, and one of the lowest jobless rates in the country. We’ve brought this about by doing the opposite of what the U.S. Congress does: thinking out of the box, challenging expenses small and large, and driving hard bargains for whatever the government must purchase.


Meningitis outbreak: Playing political football when disaster strikes

Have you noticed the pattern?  A private company cuts corners on risk control; a terrible disaster occurs; and then politicians and the public blame . . . the U.S. regulatory system.

The latest example: a Massachusetts drug compounding pharmacy that contaminated vials of steroids and caused hundreds of cases of fungal meningitis, including dozens of deaths. Even while the Food and Drug Administration was still responding to the serious public health threat, the FDA Commissioner had to answer angry questions from members of Congress. Representative Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) told Commissioner Margaret Hamburg that the meningitis outbreak “was a complete and utter failure on the part of your agency.”


New 'essential benefit' rules need to empower doctors, patients

The federal government will soon close the public comment period for an important new healthcare regulatory ruling.

A key element of the President's 2010 health bill is the establishment of "essential health benefits" (EHB) for all insurance plans sold on the new state-level exchanges. In order for private insurance companies to participate in the exchanges, the plans they offer will have to include coverage for a predetermined set of drugs and medical services, at a minimum.


Numbers matter

Numbers are a big deal in Congress right now. Strategies are being planned and compromise is being attempted, but it all comes down to whether the numbers add up to a budget framework that will avoid the fiscal cliff. Some big dollar figures can be attributed to Medicare and Medicaid. However, nursing homes only make up a small sliver of each of those programs’ spending and yet, over recent years, have been dealt billions of dollars in cuts. So, as Congress begins examining its budget sheets and crunching the figures, they should consider some new numbers.


Why a tax on alcohol and soda makes sense

We don’t know if soda, beer, wine, or liquor will be on hand when Democratic and Republican negotiators meet to decide how to avoid letting the economy drop over the fiscal cliff. But taxes on those products definitely should be on the table.

As far back as 1776, Adam Smith, the “father of free market economics,” wrote that “sugar, rum, and tobacco are commodities which are nowhere necessaries of life, which [have] become objects of almost universal consumption, and which are therefore extremely proper subjects of taxation.”  Smith’s sentiment is echoed today by the Bipartisan Policy Commission, the Economic Policy Institute, the American Medical Association, and dozens of groups interested in health and government revenue. The Congressional Budget Office includes these taxes in its catalogue of revenue options.


Community clinics created by health reform law can help combat violence

It seems to me that the best way to help the psychologically ill before they do harm to themselves or others is to make it easier and less obtrusive for family members to seek close-to-home and less formalized treatment when they become aware of possible problems.

On Friday I had five grandsons in three schools within 30 miles of Newtown in Fairfield County, Connecticut. I am also a veteran with many years of experience with firearms, and really do not see the need for assault weapons to be in the hands of ordinary citizens. Gun control is an important part of the solution to curbing violence.


Bipartisan action on tuberculosis crucial to progress, elimination

There is a frequent misconception that tuberculosis (TB) is a disease of the past, or is only a problem for those living in developing countries. In reality, TB is the second leading cause of death due to infectious disease worldwide; taking approximately 1.4 million lives in 2011 alone. It is the third leading cause of death among women of reproductive age and orphaned nearly 10 million children around the world in 2010.


Affordable Care Act proving unaffordable for states

In 2010, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi famously said to find out what was in President Obama’s health care bill Congress would have to pass it. After nearly three years, it has become obvious why Congressional Democrats wanted to hide the facts from the public before the president’s health care bill became the law. You’ve probably read about the 21 new taxes the bill requires in an effort to impose an individual insurance mandate, and how the law cuts more than $700 billion out of Medicare to fund a new entitlement. But you may not know about the impact that President Obama’s health care law will have on the states. 


Making bad drugs? Three strikes and you're out

If you were one of more than 400 Americans harmed by the recent outbreak of meningitis, caused by tainted steroid injections, you might not be surprised to learn that we are losing the global fight against bad medicines.
Some progress is being made - authorities just seized 82 million doses of counterfeit drugs in Africa, comprising about $40 million worth of antimalarials, antibiotics, cough medicines, contraceptive pills, and fertility treatments.