Dollar Bill's Diary

Dollar Bill's Diary

Dollar Bill's Diary

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Dec. 22 1997 7:39 AM

Dollar Bill's Diary

The coming Washington tax reform debate leads at USA Today. At the New York Times, it's the decision of major HMOs to trim benefits for Medicare members. The Los Angeles Times leads with the news that senior Clinton administration types are turning up the pressure on Saddam Hussein and reluctant European allies for inspection access to about 80 Iraqi presidential "palace" sites. And the Washington Post goes with a look at the alarming number of unexplained deaths of young people in the District of Columbia. It seems that in recent years, on average, three people a month between the ages of 15 and 44 have died there under circumstances that have never been cleared up, a rate that appears, the Post says, to be the highest in the country. The paper lays much of the blame for this on the inadequacies of the D.C. medical examiner's office.

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The USAT lead states that President Clinton, eager to counter Republican proposals for the flat tax or a national sales tax, is considering various other simplification proposals, including one that would exempt as many as 19 million taxpayers from having to file at all, by letting the IRS calculate their taxes for them, which would then be withheld by employers.

The companion USAT news section cover story reports that 95 percent of respondents to the paper's poll on the topic say they want a change in the system, and yet a majority of them do not support either the flat tax or the national sales tax--and want to retain deductions for home mortgage interest and charitable contributions.

The NYT notes that for cost containment reasons, managed care companies nationwide are starting to cut some of the generous benefits--such as low- or no-cost prescriptions and eyeglasses and no membership fees--that attracted elderly Americans on Medicare to their plans in the first place. The changes are due, says the paper, to rising drug costs and a cap set by Congress on payments to HMOs.

These increases are significant because, observes the Times, Congress and the Clinton administration had been counting on managed care to help contain Medicare costs. A similar point is made in the Wall Street Journal's front-page piece about the spiraling management problems at the leading HMOs: namely that HMOs are not proving to be a brake on the system's problems, but rather arenas that readily reproduce them. What we're learning it seems, is that regardless of the setting, the market will tend to punish coverage of those, like the elderly, with the most health needs. And so the question that the Clinton health care reforms at least raised--What to add to the marketplace to ensure availability?--remains in need of an answer.

On its front, the LAT continues the comprehensive look it began Sunday into Bill Clinton's involvement during the 1996 presidential campaign with 237 fund-raising events that brought in $119.2 million. The story is illustrated by a shot of the presidential daybook for the week of June 17, 1996, during which Clinton raised $5,562,000. Clinton, the piece states, spent far more time raising money for his re-election than any other incumbent president in modern history.

The WP runs an AP story inside that brings home the high cost of poor personnel policies insides agencies like the DEA. According to authorities, ten days ago a veteran DEA agent fatally shot a colleague. But, says the story, this was hardly the first sign of trouble. Prior to that, the man had been in and out of counseling--once because he held a gun to his wife's head--and had undergone alcohol abuse treatment three times. And oh yeah, there was the time he shot and killed a man during an argument. The shooting was ruled justifiable, but it was also determined that the agent had 11 beers in him at the time. So what was his posting at the time of this last shooting? The Miami High Intensity Drug Trafficking Office.

How about this for a good idea? According to another AP story in the Post, South Dakota governor William Janklow started a program that puts prisoners to work building homes for the elderly and disabled in the state's small towns. So far, 161 South Dakotans have bought houses built by the convicts.

And the 1997 "No-Duh!" Award goes to...the IMF. Today's WP headline says it all: "IMF Cuts Asian Growth Forecasts."