Candidates have different ideas for controlling Health care costs


Polling has found that there is more interest in the coming national elections than there has been in years.
Because one of the most competitive House of Representative races in the country is fought in Central New York’s 24th District, the Cortland Standard each week up until Election Day will discuss a particular issue with both candidates.
Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — With the costs of health care spiraling upward each year, the Democratic and Republican candidates for the 24th Congressional District agree that something needs to be done to ensure health care for each and every American.
Although both agree on that fundamental point, state Sen. Ray Meier, a Republican, and Oneida County District Attorney Mike Arcuri, a Democrat, see different futures for the direction of health care in the country.
One important point that both candidates stress as vital to curtailing expenses is increasing the focus on preventive medicine.
“It’s always cheaper to engage in preventive care,” Meier said in a telephone interview Friday morning. “It’s easier to head off heart disease than it is to treat someone for a heart attack or perform open heart surgery.”
Another way to bring down costs, Meier said, is by using technology to better coordinate health care, especially in the case of a unified electronic database for health care records.
“You can save a lot of time, money and guesswork in treating medical conditions by having the information readily available through technology,” Meier said. “My medical records are a paper file sitting in an office in Rome.”
A unified billing system throughout the country would also make the system more efficient, Arcuri said.
“Not only would that save money, but it would help us detect fraud,” Arcuri said in a telephone interview Friday afternoon. “We should have uniform reporting, uniform forms, uniform procedure.”
A nationwide approach in general should be sought after, Arcuri said. U.S. companies pay an average of $552 per month per employee for health insurance, according to Kaiser Family Foundation, an independent, nonprofit agency focused on health issues.
Estimates put the number of uninsured Americans at approximately 45 million.
“We’re one of only two industrialized countries in the world, the other being Turkey, that doesn’t have health care for its citizens,” Arcuri said. “If we have universal health care, our government would have the ability to negotiate the cost of prescription medications. That would also dramatically bring the costs down.”
Arcuri is careful to emphasize that he doesn’t yet know if a single-payer system, in which the government has control over all medical decisions, is the best option.
“And frankly,” Arcuri said, “I’ve been very careful not to outline a specific plan.”
Government-run health care is not what Meier said he envisions for America. If people have trouble dealing with HMOs and insurance companies, just imagine the reaction if the federal government were to step in, he said.
“The major goal that we should have is that the people should be in control of their own health care,” Meier said. “The goal should be, in some fashion, to work with both the public and private sectors to ensure they have their own health care, and have control over their own health care.”
In places like Buffalo, Meier said, Canadians come over for quick medical procedures, at their own expense, that would have involved sitting on waiting lists and enduring delays and shortages were the surgery to be performed by the nationalized health system of Canada.
Arcuri contends this type of claim is exaggerated by opponents to nationalized medicine.
In the case of recent controversy surrounding Medicare’s Part D prescription drug plan, both candidates agree that in the future, the taxpayers and patients need to have more of a voice at the bargaining table than the insurance and drug companies.
Arcuri has said the plan was the backroom product of the Republicans and the prescription drug companies, and is “atrocious.” The government needs the ability to negotiate for the drug prices as insurance companies are able to do, he said.
Although Meier said more work needed to be done to ensure the availability of medicine for low-income individuals with large prescription drug needs, he said the plan has helped many people, despite how unnecessarily confusing the implementation of the plan might have been.



Center for the Arts receives grant to repair building

Staff Reporter

HOMER — The Center for the Arts has received a $350,000 grant from the state’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to repair its building at 72 Main St., the state announced Friday.
“We’re just all very excited and quite surprised,” said Daniel Hayes, executive director at the center.
Hayes said the center applied for the grant prior to closing on the building in June 2005. Center officials thought they had not received the grant when in June the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation announced grant recipients, and the Center for the Arts was not among them.
Hayes said he did not realize there would be another round of funding in the fall.
“We assumed we would have to wait until next year,” he said.
Hayes said two-thirds of the money will be used for historic preservation work. That includes putting a new roof on the building, repointing the brick and mortar and other repair work to the building.
The other one-third of the money will be used for other expenses, he said. Those include fixing the center’s back parking lot.
“We just want to fix it,” he said. “It’s in disarray at best.”
Hayes said he thought the center received the grant because of all it has accomplished in the recent past.
“In only 15 months we’ve been able to create not only a center for the arts with the art and music but we’ve turned it into a community center.
Hayes said the center has ballroom dancing classes, Head Start classes and ballet classes through the Cortland City Ballet.
Hayes said the center’s board, which is made up of about 19 people, will decide what exact renovations the money will cover.
Work on the center probably won’t begin until next spring, due to the winter weather, he said.



Educators give assessments mixed grade

Testing not helpful to teachers and is too much for grades three through eight, some say  

Staff Reporter

Local education officials call state assessment everything from “overkill” to “good accountability measures.”
“It’s good that states are holding schools accountable,” said DeRuyter Superintendent of Schools Bruce Sharpe. “I would question doing it every year. The testing program is overkill.”
Some of the superintendents in Central New York have mixed feelings about the state English and math assessments tests.
Last year was the first year grades three through eight were tested. Before, only fourth and eighth grades were tested every year.
Sharpe believes state testing should revert back to testing in “benchmark years such as fourth and eighth grades.”
“I think (state assessment tests) have some value,” said Marathon Superintendent of Schools Tim Turecek.
Turecek worries the tests become the only measure that students are judged upon.
“It’s the only kind of grades that is in the newspaper,” said Turecek. “People don’t have other measures to get their arms around.”
Some superintendents were concerned about the timing of the assessments. Homer’s director of curriculum and instruction Larry King said the test results are needed in the beginning of the summer.
“Our problem is with the way (the tests) are evaluated and graded,” said King. “They should be able to get it done in six months.”
Jonathan Burman, spokesperson for the State Education Department issued a press release that said, “Beginning this fall, test results will be delivered directly to schools in an electronic format, giving authorized school administrators and teachers instant access to data regarding individual student performance, performance by groups of students (including breakdowns by race, ethnicity, disability status, gender, English proficiency, economic status, and migrant status), and overall performance by school and school district.”
In an e-mail, Burman also said the reasons the scores were delayed is because the state has triple the amount of tests to score.
“Because of the tremendous size of this endeavor, we announced early on that schools would not be receiving their results on the English exams until the end of summer, which we delivered,” the e-mail states.
Groton Superintendent of Schools Brenda Myers said she’s worked on state accountability measures for 15 years. She said the tests are good accountability measures for the state, but the test “doesn’t look for answers teachers need.”
“This test is not very helpful to teachers,” Myers said. “It gives states the ability to sort by (levels) one, two, three, four. If you tell me your child is a two, I don’t know what that means.”
The assessments score students in one of four levels. Level one and two are considered failing, while level three and four are considered passing.
Superintendent of McGraw Schools Maria S. Fragnoli-Ryan said, “ I believe that the three to eight testing is going to give us an instrument that measures proficiency.”
Although there are varying stances on the tests, the superintendents agree the assessments have no bearing on how children will do in the future.
“It is a program evaluation,” said Dryden Superintendent of Schools Mark Crawford. “Lots of youngsters who achieve (level) twos can do well in high school.”
“As the kids get into high school they do better on high school exam. It has to do with maturity,” Sharpe said. “One hundred percent of my kids passed the English and math Regents.”
Both Myers and Crawford believe the tests would dictate the curriculum. The curriculum would only address materials on the test
“Assessment does drive instruction in addition to teaching to the tests,” Crawford said. 
Myers said there is research to prove that “accountability narrows curriculum.” She also said there was an increase in teaching to the test and an increased pressure on children. School officials cite a host of factors why some students do better than others. The reasons range from a lack of motivation to living in poverty.
On Oct. 11, the day the math assessments were released, New York State United Teachers President Richard C. Iannuzzi issued a statement that said, “Closing the performance gap starts with making sure that every teacher and child in every classroom had sufficient resources.”
The New York State United Teachers were urging the state government to resolve the Campaign for Fiscal Equity Case, which has been in the courts for more than 10 years. Campaign for Fiscal Equity vs. the State of New York is currently in the Court of Appeals. CFE is asking the court to give more funding to New York City Schools.
Turecek said there is a correlation between wealth of a district or the wealth of a child and how well the child will perform.
“Wealthier districts tend to do better,” Turecek said. “Rural poverty is reflected in our scores. It will not be an excuse for us. It can’t be.”




More people are checking out area libraries

Librarians attribute increase in new card holders to rising gas prices, reading programs

Staff Reporter

Shelly Jacobi signed her 4-year-old daughter up for a library card Friday at the Lamont Memorial Library in McGraw since the two will likely be visiting the library often, she said.
“We just heard this is a great story hour,” said, Jacobi, 35, of Homer, before the 10 a.m. story hour.
Jacobi’s daughter, Grace Jacobi, is among a growing number of people getting library cards in and around the region, according to library statistics. Librarians cite a number of reasons for the trend, including higher gas prices, more resources available at the library and an increase in library programs.
Julie Widger, director of the Lamont Memorial Library, said from 2003 to 2005 the library’s number of new cardholders grew from 153 to 171. As of Oct. 1 of this year the library had already gained 155 new patrons, and she anticipates the number of new patrons in 2006 to surpass the 2005 total.
Widger said the number of people attending the library’s programs has also increased. Right now the programs average 70 people whereas they previously averaged about 40 to 50 people.
Gas prices must largely explain the increase, she said. People don’t want to travel far to do activities.
“I honestly think it’s probably the gas prices,” she said. “And that’s all I can figure — oh, my gosh, people aren’t going anywhere so they’re coming to these things.”
Kay Zaharis, director of the Cortland Free Library, agreed higher gas prices have drawn more people to get library cards and use the library.
A chunk of those people don’t have the money to subscribe to newspapers so they read them at the library.
“People read the news and don’t have to buy them,” she said. Papers have been so successful that the library will be adding the Ithaca Journal to its collection, she said.
Zaharis added that the library’s increased usage of interlibrary loan has likely contributed to the increase in cardholders. The library loaned out 74 items in 2004, 391 in 2005 and 718 so far this year. Books, CDs, DVDs, video cassettes and audio books can all be requested through interlibrary loan.
Nancy Harbison, interim director of the Phillips Free Library in Homer, said the computers lure new people into the library. From Jan. 1, 2005, to Oct. 1, 2005, 406 people signed up for new library cards, whereas 558 people signed up for new cards during that same time period this year, she said.
Many of those people use the Internet on one of the library’s four computers, she said. A library card is required to use a computer.
Eileen Hills, director of the DeRuyter Free Library, said the library’s selection of videos attracts new library cardholders. That’s especially the case since DeRuyter no longer has a video store, she said.
The greater selection of other media types are luring in community residents, she said.
“They come in to borrow the videos, DVDs, audio books … they’re very popular,” she said. “A lot of commuters are using the audio books.”
Hills said the library gave out 101 new cards in 2005. That compares with 94 in 2004 and 77 in 2003.
Mary Frank, director of the Peck Memorial Library in Marathon, said her library gave out 220 new cards in 2005, whereas of Oct. 1 this year it had already given out 216 cards.
Widger said one factor in the increase could be the increase in the number of programs offered at the library. The library offers such programs as a sign language class, a Spanish class and three programs for children every week.
The increased number of programs along with the high gas prices could largely explain the increase in program participants, she said.
“I think we’ve gotten more than last year,” she said. “They don’t have to drive far.”
The Kellogg Free Library in Cincinnatus has also seen an increase in library card registrations.
Suzanne Vetter, library director, said her library had 117 people sign up for library cards in 2005 and as of Sept. 1 had already had 157 sign up for library cards.
Only one library interviewed has not seen an increase in library registrations: the Groton Public Library. From July 2004 to June 2005 there were 530 people who signed up for library cards, the next year there were 454 and this past year there were just 390, said Julia Schult, library _director.