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EVERYBODY'S COLUMN / Letters from our readers

Mandate ignores health care realities

As someone who has been in the health insurance business for years, I am fascinated with the unrecognized consequences of the government's recent decision to permit religious institutions to opt out of covering contraception services, but require their health insurance companies to provide the coverage to the religious institution's employees free of charge. The mandate ignores health insurance premium funding and administration realities.

For insured clients, these new coverage costs, even if not technically covered under that religious employer's plan, will either be paid within that same employer's premium dollar or be pooled/funded by the carrier's other customers, the latter of which one could argue is not fair and appropriate. That is not the core issue, however.

This new regulation assumes every employer has an insurer to whom it can assign the coverage and risk. However, more than half of the employees in the United States are covered under self-insured health plans, where a large employer funds its own medical claims and does not transfer the risk to an insurance carrier. As part of the process, the employer (as its own insurer) decides what benefits to offer and pay for.

Many Catholic dioceses and universities self-insure the health plans covering their employees. How does an employer such as Notre Dame handle this administration mandate if it has no insurer? It seems this was not thought out very well.

Ronald K. Zoeller

Orchard Park


Church up in arms about wrong thing

I wish the Catholic Church got as riled up about its pedophile priests as it has about the contraceptive practices of its parishioners. Last Sunday's sermon was peppered with anti-Obama rhetoric because Mother Church felt the unkind stab of the administration's fledgling and imperfect health care reform law, mandating a birth control postulate that has been a reality in 28 states for years.

I have divorced friends who couldn't get remarried in the Catholic Church, yet two-time adulterer Newt Gingrich is welcomed with open arms. (How big do you think that check was?) We have our faith and we have our institution. Our faith teaches the beatitudes, the golden rule and faith in God while our institution projects intolerance, hypocrisy and misplaced power. I don't know about you, but I'll leave the Spanish Inquisition, questionable behavior during World War II and the inability to deal with the complexities of a modern world to the mitered men who reside in the upper echelon of the corporate flow chart and instead opt for the fundamental, profound and righteous message of the founder.

Joe Sullivan



Bishops are forcing their beliefs on others

No one in the Obama administration is "forcing religious institutions to hand out birth control," as has been claimed. Rules under the new health care legislation would have required hospitals and colleges (not churches) to provide employee health care coverage that includes reproductive health care. This is a health issue.

If any "forcing" is going on here, it is the Catholic bishops' attempt to enforce religious doctrine onto others, who may or may not subscribe to those tenets. How many employees of Catholic hospitals and colleges are not Catholic? Seems like we have some "cafeteria Catholic" leaders here, who only choose to promote human rights when it suits their agenda.

Maria Scrivani



State legislators got us into this mess

Are you kidding me? After Gov. Andrew Cuomo says New York State is broke, the legislators responsible for the alleged crisis want a raise? For what? Cuomo wants teachers evaluated and held accountable. How about the legislators being evaluated and held accountable?

I have been a New York State correction officer for 24 years. I work full time, paid into my retirement for 14 years, pay 25 percent of my health insurance and, after 25 years, can retire at half pay after surviving in the worst work environment imaginable.

Our legislators are considered part-time employees, have never paid into their retirement pension, pay nothing for their health insurance and receive both of them for life after serving only one term. Really?

Cuomo told the state employees that any raises would have to be offset with givebacks to pay for them. What about the legislators? Are they not state employees? Make them start paying 31 percent of their health insurance like other state employees. Make them work 25 years before they get a state pension. Make them accountable for their reckless spending. Tell them to stop crying about their $79,000 salary when they get additional pay for being appointed head of a multitude of committees and per-diem pay.

Let's get rid of the Albany double standards and not give raises to people who didn't earn them.

Michael L. Kaempf



Governor's actions hurt working families

New York has a proud tradition of collective bargaining. While the process isn't always neat, it works. In the case of the new teacher evaluation law now under attack, the U.S. Department of Education awarded New York $700 million precisely because it encouraged collaboration between teachers unions and school districts, and allowed for local control of decision-making. After all, school boards and teachers in my old district, Hamburg, as well as in Buffalo, know best how many times teachers need to be observed by principals, and which measures of student learning should be included.

Now we see Gov. Andrew Cuomo pulling a Scott Walker, acting like the anti-union Wisconsin governor in trying to remove collective bargaining from the teacher evaluation law. Cuomo wants to double the weight of a single state standardized test in teacher evaluations from 20 percent to 40 percent, instead of letting local communities decide for themselves. This mandate from Albany would lead to even more teaching to the test, while removing the voice of teachers. Cuomo has other Walker-like tendencies, like his bashing of teachers; his bullying of public employees; his deep budget cuts to satisfy his Wall Street cronies; and his attacks on the middle class.

The more I think of it, the more I wish New Yorkers -- like Wisconsinites -- had the ability to recall politicians who harm working families, teachers and public education.

Marcella Fugle



NFTA chiefs don't care about transit

Two recent stories in The News highlight the problems at the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority that led to the recent threat to drastically reduce transit service.

In an Another Voice column, NFTA planner James K. Morrell talks of his participation in a committee whose goal is to increase investment in downtown Buffalo and thus bring it back to life. Not once in his piece does he mention public transit and the essential role it can play in eliminating some of the surface lots and parking ramps that now blight downtown and deaden the streetscape. But it gets worse.

In the Feb. 12 paper, we learn that the NFTA is planning a very expensive overhaul of the airport. Not surprisingly, the number of parking spaces will be substantially increased. Improved public transit access to the airport, however, is never mentioned. NFTA Executive Director Kimberley A. Minkel speaks of various airport technologies for "reducing our carbon footprint." Isn't that what public transportation does?

The problem is clear. The NFTA is not staffed by people who understand transit. This could be forgiven if they would simply ride their own buses and trains on a regular basis. They could learn a lot about the system by talking to the real experts: the riders. But after competence, what is most lacking is commitment. They don't really care about transit. They are not transit advocates. In the above-mentioned stories, Morrell and Minkel seem eager to talk about everything but transit. With transportation experts like these, is it any wonder that the bus and rail system is so third-rate?

Bill Durfee



Members of chorus must work together

I have been a member of the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus for the past 20 years. I am deeply saddened by the destructive turmoil that has erupted in the chorus over the recent departure of the music director, Doreen Rao.

The chorus did not spring to life, full blown, on the stage of Kleinhans Music Hall the day that Rao walked through the door. Rather, it developed over a period of 75 years. During that time, thousands of singers and many dedicated conductors contributed their talent, energy and countless hours of exhausting practice to make the chorus what it is today.

No one single singer, or conductor, has been responsible for the long and well-deserved success of the chorus. It is the group, working together, that makes the music.

Consequently, when a singer or a conductor joins the chorus, he or she accepts an unspoken but very real responsibility. The well-being of the chorus, as a whole, is entrusted to each of us, but only for a little while. Then we must hand it on, strong and united, to the singers who come after us.

My colleagues who have chosen to leave the chorus rather than accept the difficult decision regarding Rao seem to have forgotten that. All of us agree that Rao is an able musician, but she failed the chorus in her capacity as a leader. Every group needs a leader who encourages harmony, not dissension; and who promotes the group, not individuals. The leader must subordinate her personal agenda to the long-term health of the group.

I wish Rao had understood this, for she had much to give. But she did not -- leaving the board with no alternative but to take action.

Janice R. Adair



Debate over oil misses the point

The oil debate article published on Feb. 12 glosses over several truths. First of all, the United States exports both oil and gasoline. Secondly, as was stated, demand is down due to the recession and better fuel economy in newer cars. Thirdly, domestic oil production is the highest in over a decade.

So given the tenets of the free market, when supply is up and demand is down, we should see a drop in the price at the pump, right? However, the price at the pump ever increases, telling me this is not the free market but a manipulated market.

I am not affiliated with the Occupy movement, but I believe this is exactly why these people have taken to the streets. Our government has been co-opted by corporations, leaving no redress for the citizenry.

James Durak