Category: Opinion

Letter to the Editor – Roger White

To the Editor:
Under the Affordable Care Act (what some call Obamacare), nearly 200,000 Iowans have access to healthcare through Medicaid expansion. These are hard-working Iowans who don’t receive group health insurance at work and who earn such low wages they couldn’t afford to buy individual health insurance. What will become of these hard-working Iowans when Senator Grassley, Senator Ernst and Representative Blum destroy the Affordable Care Act? They are tossed out into the cold with no relief since the current plan is to repeal the existing law before there is even hope of a qualified replacement. Such action is unconscionable, but seems to be par for the course among Republicans this year.
Candidate Trump made lots of promises about healthcare features that would be preserved (young adults staying on family plans, no lifetime caps, no denial of coverage because of illness, etc.). Even though Trump promised many times to “repeal and replace with beautiful health care” in the end he’s doing nothing. Grassley, Ernst and Blum continue to push repeal without replacement causing catastrophic results for ordinary Iowans. Some hard-working Iowans voted for Trump based on his promises, but they will be sorely disappointed now when Republicans act.
Roger L. White
Cedar Falls

Practical Money Matters – February 22, 2017

 
By Nathaniel Sillin
Having Trouble Paying Your Heating Bill?
The chill of winter can be offset with the pleasure of curling up inside a warm home. Turning on the heat and settling into your favorite chair to open a new book or watch a movie feels even better when snow falls or rain patters against the windows. Unfortunately, some families have to choose between paying high winter utility bills and buying groceries or gas for their cars. The necessity of food and transportation often wins.
Fortunately, there are assistance programs. One such program, the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), helps low-income households with heating or cooling costs, during an energy-related crisis (such as a shutoff notice from your utility) and with weatherization improvements.
If you, a parent or a friend are struggling to make ends meet this winter, LIHEAP and similar programs might be able to help keep your home warm.
Apply as soon as you can if you think you’ll need assistance. The federal government provides the funding for LIHEAP, but the programs are run at the state level. The money gets distributed on a first-come-first-served basis and states give priority to households with children, elderly or disabled members. Often the largest benefits are awarded to the homes with the most need.
States open their winter applications at different times, and you should apply for LIHEAP right away if you think you’ll have trouble paying for heating.
LIHEAP won’t cover your entire utility bill, but it can help keep your home warm. LIHEAP’s heating benefit is only intended to help you pay to heat your home. For example, if you’re heating unit runs on gas, the program will contribute towards your gas bill, but not your electricity bill.
You might only be able to receive a benefit once every 12 months, but it can make a big difference for your finances. For the fiscal year 2014, the most recent data available, over 5.7 million households received heating assistance and it offset an average 45.9 percent of recipients’ annual heating costs.
Qualifying for LIHEAP assistance. States, tribes and territories have some control over the services, qualifications, aid limits and application process for the LIHEAP program in their area.
You can review each state’s income eligibility for the fiscal year 2017 on this table. The state or local organizations that distribute funds also consider applicants’ utility costs, family size and location. Renters and homeowners could be eligible for LIHEAP assistance, but you might not qualify if you have subsidized housing.
Being qualified doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get assistance. Each state receives a set amount of funds for the year, and on average only 20 percent of qualified household receive benefits.
How to apply for LIHEAP. Often you’ll apply for LIHEAP at a Community Action Agency (CAA), local non-profit organizations that help administer federal, state and local grant programs. Some states let you complete the application online, otherwise you may need to mail, fax or hand in an application.
The Office of Community Service’s website has contact information for each state and territory, including a link to a website where you’ll find state-specific eligibility guidelines and program information.
As part of the application process, you may need to share identifying and financial information, including:
Recent utility bills.
Recent pay stubs, or a profit-and-loss statement if you’re self-employed.
Documentation for other income, such as Social Security benefits.
A lease or property tax bill as proof of your address.
Your Social Security number.
A list of people living in your home, their relation to you, dates of birth and incomes.
A copy of a utility termination notice, if you received one.
Your energy provider’s information.
If you’re having trouble with your state’s website, or want to help someone who isn’t computer savvy, you can call the LIHEAP Clearinghouse’s National Energy Assistance Referral (NEAR) at 1-866-674-6327 (TTY: 1-866-367-6228).
Bottom line: When the temperature drops, heating costs can quickly rise. You shouldn’t have to suffer, and LIHEAP could help provide much-needed financial aid. You can look for additional assistance programs using the Benefits.gov search tool. Also look into state-based programs and payment plans or assistance from your local utility.

Practical Money Matters – February 15, 2017

By Nathaniel Sillin
Make the Most of Your Rewards Program Membership
I’m often intrigued and sometimes inspired by stories of people traveling the world using points and miles. There’s a well-known (within certain circles, at least) man who earned over a million airline miles by purchasing more than $3,000 worth of pudding during a special promotion in 1999. Or, you might have heard about people using coupons during a grocery store’s membership-only sale to get food and household products for free.
While I might not be as enthusiastic as some world travelers, or as extreme as some couponers, I do see the benefit in a program that’s free to join and offers you potentially money-saving perks. However, I also know it’s important not to get so caught up that I wind up spending more money than I would otherwise. As a friend of mine loved to say, “never spend a dollar to save a nickel.”
The perks of membership. There are many loyalty or rewards programs to choose from and the rules and benefits can vary. For example, a grocer’s program might offer the same in-store savings and exclusive coupons to all its members. By contrast, travel rewards programs often have tiers, different levels of membership with varying benefits depending on how often you travel or how much you spend. While the basic tier may offer discounted hotel rates or free Wi-Fi, the higher tiers might come with free room upgrades (including to coveted suites) and guaranteed early check-in and late check-out.
Recognize why companies might have rewards programs. When you’re a big fan of a company or product, getting rewarded for your loyalty can be great. After all, it’s a free perk if you were going to make the purchase anyway. But try not to get too attached to a particular company or product based solely on the rewards program.
Buying something simply because you get a discount as a member, or making a purchase “for the points,” might be a waste. You could find yourself with a pantry full of products that are slowly going bad, or paying more for a trip because you didn’t comparison shop the offerings from other airlines or hotel chains.
Joining a rewards program could lead to overspending if you’re not careful. Recognizing that the programs could be designed to get you to spend more, and more often, can help you refrain from overspending. Here are a few additional ways to make sure you maximize your benefits.
Don’t double-count your savings. You’re tricking yourself if you consider the rewards points from a retailer’s program as savings when making a purchase and then consider the same points as savings (again) when you redeem them for store credit. Count the rewards once, or don’t make them part of your buying decision at all.
Keep your programs organized. Points in some programs expire if you don’t use them within a specified period or have recent account activity. You could use a website, app or spreadsheet to help track your accounts, how many points or miles you’ve earned and when they expire.
Another way to avoid overspending is to consider your net cost when comparison shopping. To do this, you’ll need a list of the dollar value of each programs’ rewards points. You could take a shortcut and copy the values other enthusiasts place on each program’s points. Or, you could make estimates of your own based on trips or purchases you regularly make.
Now you’ll know when 1,000 points are worth $1 or $10 and can plan your purchases accordingly. In the end, you want to be able to make as close to an apples-to-apples comparison as possible, inclusive of the value you place on the rewards.
Bottom line: Consumer rewards programs offer a wide variety of benefits, including exclusive savings and complimentary perks. While it’s often free to join the programs, and you could get rewarded for doing so, keep the big picture in mind and be careful about letting your membership lead to unnecessary purchases.
 

ViewPoint: Repeal of Iowa law Could Threaten Access to Health Care

By Mike Riege, Administrator, Virginia Gay Hospital and Clinics
Iowa has one of the highest quality, lowest cost health care systems in the United States. And at the heart of that system are 118 community hospitals that stand ready, every day and every night, to serve everyone, regardless of their ability to pay. A move is underway in Des Moines to change an Iowa law, the Certificate Of Need legislation, that we think might threaten rural health care. The law, enacted in 1977, was designed to avoid duplication of medical services to keep costs down for patients. In Iowa this law, requiring approval of new facilities costing $1.5 Million or more, has worked very well.
Critics of the law are now saying it “stifles competition” and eliminating the law would lead to private investment in new medical facilities providing more choices, and therefore, lower costs. We think those critics fail to understand the realities of living in rural Iowa.
What’s most important for rural communities isn’t the opportunity to go shopping for doctors or surgeries like critics imagine, it is an emergency department close-by and staffed to respond when needed. What’s important is a relationship with a primary care provider and access to the technology needed to provide for your health. What’s at stake is the future of rural Iowa and the health of rural Iowans.
The new facilities built without oversight won’t be located in small towns. They will be in urban communities and using their services will require rural patients to travel, which is especially difficult for the elderly and those of lesser means. What we fear is what has already happened in states where Certificate Of Need requirements have been repealed; the small number of patients hospitals in rural communities lose will spell the difference between keeping the doors open or closing them for good.
This might be an acceptable economic or medical outcome if our small hospitals provided services at inflated costs, or if patient outcomes failed to be at the same level of quality as larger hospitals. The data says, and our patients agree; we provide high quality services at comparable or lower costs.
There is one additional factor to consider. Community hospitals are an engine of economic growth. Virginia Gay Hospital provides employment for more than 200 people and has a total economic impact to the communities we serve estimated at $37 Million, and generates retail sales of $4 Million. Those retail sales in turn generate $240,000 in sales tax revenue to help support our state, our communities and our schools.
Requiring a Certificate Of Need before constructing new medical facilities is a proven, fair, and reasoned process of approving medical expansions based on patient need rather than on marketing hype. If you are concerned that repealing the Certificate Of Need requirement might jeopardize your access to health care, let your state legislators know how you feel.

Letter to the Editor – Gary Murphy

To the Editor:
I’m responding to the two letters published in The Progress Review, the first from an inmate (published on January 11, 2017), the second from a veteran (January 18, 2017).
To the veteran: Sir, I have a couple of things that I would to THANK YOU for.
One: SERVING OUR COUNTRY. Reminding people it’s not easy being in the service. Or being away from home and family. Not easy all around. THANK YOU.
Two: Thank you for telling this inmate and others, “after their debt is paid to society. Put this mistake in your history book as a lessen well learned and move on with your life… It’s not too late.”
This letter is not to get a war of words going, but to do some comparisons. With no actual military or prison experience, I may be way off target, or closer than I think.
MILITARY SERVICE: Positives include three meals a day, a bed (maybe not comfortable), exercise (physical training), self-defense training, stationed around the world, discipline (as well as self-discipline), money for school, weapons training, friendships with people around the world (different ethnicities), regular daily schedules, being THANKED FOR YOUR SERVICE.
Negatives include the possibilities of going to war, dying, losing limbs, suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, being hazed in boot camp, being dishonorably discharged, not eating or sleeping for long periods, not seeing families for holidays or again, not getting great feasts for holidays, and BEING FORGOTTEN.
PRISON INMATES: Positives include three meals a day, a bed (maybe not comfortable), exercise (weights, maybe basketball, softball), cards, some schooling for General Educational Development (GED) tests, maybe some general education classes
for college and developing some friendships.
Negatives include daily counts (at least twice every day) for guards to know exactly where you are, sleeping behind
bars, very little contact with the outside world, being hazed when not getting along with someone or a group of people, dying, being forgotten by family and friends, treated like dirt when they get released.
SERVICE also has some extra things that kind of help remember them also: Veterans Day, Remembrance of Pearl Harbor, Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day (not just for Veterans). All the war memorials that honor those who have served. THANK YOU AGAIN FOR YOUR SERVICE.
INMATES: Nothing extra
Therefore, I don’t think this inmate was looking for empathy. Just don’t forget about family and friends that are incarcerated. Send them a letter to let them know you’re thinking about them, just like you would do for a service member that is on your mind.
THANK YOU TO ALL SERVICE MEMBERS RETIRED OR ACTIVE, INJURED.
To the incarcerated, some of us think of you daily.
Gary Murphy
La Porte City

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