Lansing State Journal, Sept. 25.
Be prudent about large online courses
Online learning has the potential to reshape the way Americans are educated, but policy makers need to put considerable thought into how.
For example, consider the phenomenon known as "massive open online courses," or MOOCs. Universities, including Michigan State University and the University of Michigan — are thinking through how to best use this new format, which can let tens of thousands of students from around the world participate in an Internet-based course together.
Interestingly, the two schools have taken vastly different approaches to date.
MSU offered a MOOC course with specific ties to its MetroFood initiative, which is looking at new ways to grow food for the world's urban populations. The 400-student course helped create new research collaborations.
But MSU officials remain hesitant about doing MOOCs just to be among participants in the trend. That's significant, because so far almost no MOOC course work is accepted for credit by U.S. universities. (Colorado State University's global campus has agreed to offer transfer credit for a MOOC introductory class in computer science; but such arrangements so far are rare in the United States.)
At U-M, officials opted to join Coursera.org, one of the major purveyors of such courses. U-M officials decided that they wanted firsthand experience with the course work and an opportunity to help shape the direction of this potentially game-changing trend.
But it's a trend that requires caution. So far, MOOCs are typically free. Offering access to some of the world's preeminent professors for free seems generous and may help build a school's reputation. But universities have to be careful that they aren't ultimately diminishing the value they provide to students who pay tuition.
It's a delicate balancing act. Public universities that receive taxpayer funding should be most cautious about how much time and effort they put into free courses.
Colleges and universities that are involved in such offerings should consider fees and figure out how the classes fit into certification or degree programs.
Experimentation and innovation are as welcome and needed in higher education as in any field. But those experimenting with benefit of taxpayer subsidies should be very clear in their purpose and their goals.
Be bold, yes. But also be discerning.
The Macomb daily of Mount Clemens, Thursday, Sept. 27.
Keeping lottery winner names private could reduce school aid
At first glance, a proposal to allow multistate lottery winners in Michigan to remain anonymous may sound good.
But — to paraphrase football replays — upon our further review the decision is overruled. Yes, we know that winners of most Michigan-only lottery games can request their names be withheld from the public. We disagree with that.
It's not a question of a winner not wanting others to know he or she just won millions. We see it as government transparency.
The lottery rakes in millions — more than $727 million last fiscal year — for the Michigan School Aid Fund. And the lottery bureau is a state agency.
Our lottery players — and other state taxpayers — deserve to know how the money is being allocated and to whom.
The press conference with Lapeer resident Donald Lawson, when he claimed his $337 million Powerball jackpot, certainly spurred ticket sales.
And there was no harm to Lawson, who seemed to enjoy the spotlight when introduced at the press conference.
We agree with the Senate Fiscal Agency, which says the legislation, if enacted, would decrease media coverage and the promotional impact of prizes. That would result in fewer ticket sales.
It doesn't come as a surprise to us that the anti-disclosure proposal is sponsored by Sen. Tory Rocca, a Sterling Heights Republican.
Rocca has the reputation of purposely avoiding the media. He seldom returns phone calls, doesn't answer election questionnaires and won't return emails.
The Senate passed the legislation by a 35-2 vote. We can only hope the House is more reasonable.
Midland Daily News, Tuesday, Sept. 25.
A costly addition
Section 3025 of the Affordable Care Act requires that section 1886(q) be added to the Social Security Act establishing the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program.
This program establishes the excess readmission ratio which is used in part to calculate payment adjustments to hospitals that fall below a bright line used by Medicare for hospital readmissions after some medical procedures.
As pointed out in an earlier editorial this month, MidMichigan Medical Center-Midland and MidMichigan Medical Center-Gratiot were above that bright line and will face no penalties this year.
We mention "this year" because the way the bright line is determined ensures that every year a certain percentage of hospitals will be penalized. According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, a hospital's readmission rates for patients who were initially hospitalized for acute myocardial infarction, heart failure and pneumonia is compared against a national average of like illnesses. Those falling below that average can be penalized; those above not so much.
Beginning Oct. 1, more than 2,000 hospitals in the U.S. will forfeit about $280 million in Medicare funding over the next year, an amount that could double in 2013 and triple in 2014. Even if all hospitals improve their readmission rates, some hospitals will necessarily fall below the bright line, or national average, and face penalties.
According to Kaiser Health News, nearly one in five Medicare patients return to the hospital within a month of discharge, a rate the government deems "a prime symptom of an overly expensive and uncoordinated health system."
Although many hospitals have been working on readmission rates for some time, the needle hasn't moved much during the past few years. Many people in the health care industry believe that hospitals can't be held responsible for many of the readmissions that do occur, especially among high risk patients and particularly among the nation's poor.
Kaiser Health News quoted Dr. Kenneth Sands, a senior vice president for Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston: "A lot of places have put in a lot of work and not seen improvement. It is not completely understood what goes into an institution having a high readmission rate and what goes into improving it."
Yet, CMMS is barging ahead with the penalties, which most likely will become a permanent part of the medical landscape, a tax upon hospitals which may not even know why their patients return.
Medicare will also be flexing its financial muscle in a few months when it begins penalizing or rewarding hospitals on "how well they adhere to basic standards of care and how patients rated their experiences," according to Kaiser.
This leads us to believe that the government, in this instance Medicare in particular, knows more than the experts about patient care — an arrogant attitude at best. At worst, this is another example of a health care law hastily put together with little regard for outcomes.
Traverse City Record-Eagle, Sunday, Sept. 28
Bipartisan voter info priceless
As they have so often in the past, the League of Women Voters — Grand Traverse Area have stepped up when voters need them most.
The League, which has a long and enviable record of providing honest, detailed, bipartisan information on candidates and ballot proposals from township elections to statewide ballot issues, is hosting a number of forums concerning the Nov. 6 general election, including as many as five candidate forums.
The first was a panel discussion last night regarding the Traverse City Division Street parkland ballot proposal.
The discussion was aimed at providing various viewpoints on a November city ballot issue asking voters to authorize the city commission to use park property on the west side of Division to accommodate an as yet-unspecified street redesign.
On Thursday, the league will host a presentation on the six statewide ballot issues before voters in November, ranging from ensuring collective bargaining rights to requiring a two-thirds majority of the Legislature to raise taxes.
Given the potential fallout from any one of the ballot questions, that presentation alone makes the League's efforts this year worthwhile. It will be held at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 4 at the Traverse Area District Library's Woodmere branch.
But there's more:
— Oct. 10, 7 p.m., a forum with Leland Township supervisor candidates at the Leelanau County Government Center.
— Oct. 15 at 7 p.m., a forum with Leelanau County commission candidates in contested races at the Leelanau County Government Center.
— Oct. 16 at 7 p.m., a tentatively scheduled debate forum between U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek and opponent Gary McDowell at the Woodmere library.
— Oct. 17 at 7 p.m., a forum with Leelanau Township supervisor and trustee candidates at the fire hall in Northport.
— Oct. 25 at 7 p.m., a debate forum between state Rep. Wayne Schmidt and opponent Betsy Coffia at the Woodmere library.
And there could be more if arrangements work out.
Inara Kurt, the Grand Traverse League's voter service chair, said the point is to let voters get information from the candidates and to let them ask questions.
"We just think it's important that citizens get information from candidates themselves rather than look at political ads," she said.
Donna Hornberger, president of the Grand Traverse Area league, said the aim is to educate voters.
"The whole purpose of the League of Women Voters is to make sure we have an educated voter base — that people know what they are voting on," she said.
The League's reputation for being truly nonpartisan is more valuable than ever in this day of hyper partisanship, and gives voters confidence that they're getting the real deal.
Their service to the community is priceless.