Florida editorial roundup


Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

Sept. 28

The News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Fla., on flood insurance rates need to be adjusted properly:

Congress took the right step in reforming the National Flood Insurance Program last year, but the overdue reforms mean many Floridians may experience sticker shock.

That is why Congress should delay the reform for a year, and examine the best way to phase in changes that establish more market-oriented rates.

The solution must be to fine-tune the law at a pace that doesn't damage vulnerable — and recovering — real estate markets in Florida, Louisiana and other states hard hit by the housing-based recession.

The flood insurance rates in some parts of Florida could go up by as much as 25 percent per year.

Dean Asher, president of the Florida Realtors, told News Service of Florida that some policies in flood-prone areas could even go from $3,000 annually to $30,000 annually.

Obviously, rate hikes like that could lead to abandoned properties, foreclosures and frozen real estate submarkets.

Even so, reform of the flood insurance program was long overdue. After the 2005 hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the program went more than $20 billion in the red. ...

Congress made changes to the 45-year-old program in 2012 but lawmakers seemed to underestimate the possible effects of ballooning rates in parts of Florida and elsewhere.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency claims there are problems with only a small portion of the policies. But many of those policies — mostly on older properties that received lower rates — are in economically vulnerable regions, ones recovering from the housing-based recession.

The Florida Legislature has taken note. Gov. Rick Scott and state House Insurance and Banking Chairman Bryan Nelson, R-Apopka, want Congress to postpone implementation of the reform so Floridians can go over their options to keep rates more affordable.

A one-year delay is probably the best course of action. Reform shouldn't knock property owners for a loop because the flood insurance program was poorly designed and didn't take into account proper risk assessment.




Sept. 30

Star-Banner, Ocala, Fla., on health growth:

More than a little of the national conversation today will be centered around health care as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is the focus of talk on two fronts. First, today is the official opening of the health care exchanges that are central to the ACA. Second, the ACA is at the heart of a fever-pitch debate as Congress faces a new federal budget deadline.

For all the rhetoric about the ACA — and there has been endless amounts of it — there has been woefully little discussion about how to make this massive health care reform measure better — how to make it really work efficiently and economically.

That said, today also marks another milestone. One year ago on Oct. 1, the Heart of Florida Health Center assumed stewardship of the county Health Department's primary health care services. In doing so, HOF became Ocala/Marion County's principal health care provider for the community's sizeable uninsured and low-income population. That's a major undertaking — there are an estimated 80,000 people under the age of 65 who are uninsured in our community, out of a total population of about 350,000.

As we have stated in this column before, the Heart of Florida Health Center is the kind of community-based, nuts-and-bolts health care reform our country and state could use more of. ...

Maybe most impressive about HOF — something Jones Clark called "100 percent unique" — is the broad community collaboration that makes its work. Besides Uncle Sam, the community's two hospitals are significant financial supporters, as is the County Commission. The Marion County Medical Society, through its We Care program, donated almost $6 million in specialist services last year, too.

The result of that community collaboration and planning is there are fewer people in our emergency rooms for minor afflictions, thousands more getting regular, primary health care and, in the end, an overall healthier community.

The Heart of Florida Health Center is not only working, it is setting an example of what real health care reform should look like.




Sept. 29

The Miami Herald on breaking the travel gridlock:

Just in time for the Thanksgiving travel rush, Miami International Airport officials plan to have 36 self-service kiosks operating to accommodate U.S. and Canadian citizens traveling internationally. This is just one step of several MIA is taking to cut down the long waits that many overseas travelers must endure to enter the country.

How long is the wait? Between June 2012 and May 2013 it took more than 40,000 international passengers longer than two hours to be processed by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers, according to a new report by the nonprofit U.S. Travel Association. In April of this year, Miami had a peak processing wait time of 4.68 hours. That's an atrocious record, and no way to welcome visitors with money to spend here.

But blame the federal government for being chintzy, not the airport, says the travel group.

Customs and Border officials work hard, but they are "just under-resourced," says Roger Dow, president and CEO of the travel association. The report recommends hiring 3,500 more federal CBP officers to close the national gap, among other things.

Good proposal, but with Congress gridlocked over the budget and virtually everything else, good luck with that. ...

U.S. Customs officials and Miami-Dade leaders have worked together to speed up the Customs process before, usually with a prod from our congressional delegation. South Florida's members of Congress and both our senators need to keep pressing for a fix.

MIA needs more CBP officers and updated technology from the feds to make our visitors' wait in the Customs line a breeze instead of a grindingly slow welcome to greater Miami.



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