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Health care ought to be available to all Americans

Re: Consider this cure for health care, by John Balzar, July 11.

This was a great piece. Congress is preoccupied with a putative fix (lawyers) to, supposedly, help a very small portion of the millions lucky enough to have health care coverage. As Balzar says, how about the 45-million or so who have no such coverage?

I have two friends, each in their 50s, who have no coverage and cannot obtain it. Life is no fun for them. Pre-existing conditions, cost, "you are not in a group" _ one turn-down after another. It seems Vice President Dick Cheney got covered very quickly with a pre-existing condition!

Emotional irrationality aside, I feel that every American could have some reasonable level of coverage if we voters would just wake up. All we have to do is notify every single candidate for the state Legislature or U.S. Congress that if he or she wants our votes, he or she must undertake to work tirelessly toward creating a health care system for all. Then, if anyone does not honor his promise, vote him out next time around!

This would be a daunting undertaking with the gloom of the failure of several systems in Europe hanging over us. But this is America and we are blessed with many fine minds and institutions. This challenge can be met. Think about it!

M. Inge Johnstone, Ozona

A sound model for health care

Re: Consider this cure for health care, July 11.

It was very refreshing to read an opinion that believes our government can be an effective administrator of a national health care service. The author praises the military Tricare system, which serves veterans reasonably well (although I am not sure that all dependents are covered for retired military).

There is another government aided system, managed by the Bureau of Primary Health Care. It is the network of Community Health Centers. The week of Aug. 20 is National Community Health Center Week. There are more than 700 of these centers nationwide, operating nearly 2,000 locations of service. There are 27 in Florida, one in Tampa, one in St. Petersburg and one in Dade City.

These centers are not-for-profit, but private agencies governed by community boards that have consumers in the majority. Doctors are hired and work for salaries. Federal grants cover the cost of serving those with no insurance and with limited income, but the centers otherwise look and operate like any other medical practice, accepting insurance, Medicare, Medicaid and participating in managed care experiments.

The grants are a fixed amount, renewed each year, and are just enough to cover costs. No one gets rich and any left-over revenue is invested in upgrading salary and benefits to retain staff and refurbishing facilities to make them attractive.

Doctors are all well-trained, most are board certified. The centers, under the guidance of the Bureau of Primary Health Care, have excellent quality control systems, must work at reducing racial and ethnic disparities in service delivery, must be culturally sensitive and have more oversight than any other part of the health care industry. This adds to the work but ensures good use of public funds.

The only drawback is this system does not go far enough. It does not get funded to pay for specialists, diagnostic work, medications and hospitalization. But it is a good base to build a national system on, and a good model of public and private not-for-profit collaboration.

The Community Health Center system has had strong bipartisan support in Washington for several years now. It could become the national primary care system if, as John Balzar says, we were not afraid of the words: socialized medicine.

Ron Melancon, vice-chair, Florida Association of

Community Health Centers, Tampa

Amtrak police seek passenger safety

Robyn Blumner's June 24 column regarding the relationship between Amtrak and the Drug Enforcement Administration, Amtrak snitches on riders for profits, overlooked the importance of law enforcement efforts to prevent drug trafficking aboard trains. In addition, it did not completely describe that this association is solely with Amtrak's Police Department, a national law enforcement agency.

Created by federal statute in 1976, the Amtrak Police Department has been an accredited police force since 1992. Its mission is to ensure the safety of passengers and others in and around Amtrak facilities and trains throughout a 22,000-mile rail network. Like other law enforcement agencies, the police department works in cooperation with other departments at the federal, state and local level on a variety of public safety efforts. The Amtrak Police Department is constantly vigilant when it comes to stopping the flow of illegal drugs at our facilities or on our trains and preventing other illegal activity.

We have consistently cooperated with law enforcement agencies, including the DEA, and will continue to do so in the future. While the Amtrak Police Department shares in the proceeds of forfeited property, any proceeds received must be used for law enforcement purposes in accordance with guidelines established by the U.S. Department of Justice. Thus, it does not generate revenue for Amtrak's general funds or operations. This is not a unique program, but one in which many state and local police departments throughout the country participate.

As with major law enforcement agencies, our mission, code of ethics and policies forbid the illegal practices and procedures that violate the civil rights of individuals, such as racial profiling. Information related to a person's race, ethnicity and other factors is simply not included in the Amtrak reservation and ticketing computer system.

Whether stopping drug trafficking, providing station security or any of the scores of other responsibilities we undertake, the mission of the Amtrak Police Department is to ensure the safety of our passengers and others on our facilities and aboard our trains. I am proud of our public safety efforts and the strong working relationships we enjoy with other similarly dedicated law enforcement agencies in carrying out this mission.

Ernest R. Frazier Sr., Esq., vice president-system operations

and chief of police, National Railroad Passengers Corp.,

Wilmington, Del.

Killers deserve more time

Re: The British care to rehabilitate their criminals, July 8.

As a former exchange teacher at an urban school in England, I am more than dismayed by the simplistic defense of child killers by Diane Roberts this article.

From my perspective, anyone who has read the details of the 1993 torture killing of 2-year-old James Bulger, whose 10-year-old tormentors left him to die on a railroad track, would immediately if not sooner join Justice for James, the "crowd" to which Roberts made a rather disparaging reference. As an American, I am thoroughly proud to have sent them my contribution several months ago.

Though I am no advocate of vigilante action, it is my opinion that these two killers should remain incarcerated for another eight years at the very least before there is any consideration of parole. In addition, they should occupy their time reflecting on their horrific deed while making toys for toddlers, not watching television and playing video games as has been reported. Rehabilitation sounds enormously civilized, but we must not naively forget the victims nor the fact that there are financial burdens in keeping criminals behind bars, no matter what the locale.

Lou Hunter, Clearwater

Beware of arbitrary justice

Re: The British care to rehabilitate their criminals, July 8.

Diane Roberts' article covered the madness of the American people's hysterical zeal for punishment over rehabilitation, although it did so with textbook journalistic style by neutrally reporting the facts.

I won't run through the dilemmas and quandaries of the issue again since they're well-known to many people, but I do have an interesting analogy to suggestabout this situation: People love a spectacle, much as the ancient Romans did when they thronged to the coliseum to watch people and animals torn to bloody bits while still alive.

To paraphrase the words of somebody famous, "Arbitrary justice is the refuge of scoundrels." And nothing is more arbitrary than zero-tolerance policies and the purported get-tough-on-crime razzmatazz that pervades the minds of perhaps well-intended but always misguided individuals.

Shane Hunter, St. Petersburg

Teacher center pays dividends

Re: Rewarding top teachers: The quest for renewal, July 9.

I've twice had the privilege of being a Florida Center for Teachers seminar leader, and I'm an educator (29 years as a professor at Eckerd College). My experience tells me that Gov. Jeb Bush's veto of funds for the center is a serious loss for education in Florida. His idea of teacher training is to focus on the mechanics: teaching methods, classroom management, school safety and assessment.

Okay, but these are not adequate rewards to retain quality teachers. Not adequate if you're thinking of accomplished, dedicated teachers, the ones who light up students' minds and change their lives for the better. Not adequate for idealistic, competent people who want to bring students something more than "teaching to the test."

These were the kinds of teachers I met at the center. They made me proud to belong to the teaching guild. They did their homework (a fair amount of preparatory reading), they took risks (canoeing among alligators on the Hillsborough River is scary to some!), they were generous in sharing ideas and accolades with each other. And they clearly were having fun discovering new ways to enliven their students' learning.

It seems to me that the Florida Center for Teachers gives our best educators a reward really meaningful to them: some precious time set aside for their own learning delight and renewal. There's nothing "selfish" about this. It pays dividends in lives _ our children's and our own.

Nancy Corson Carter, Ph.D., St. Petersburg

How about real local control?

Re: Union wants more money for schools, July 11.

How ironic that Gov. Jeb Bush says that teacher contracts are a "local issue, not a state matter," when his education plan has strengthened Tallahassee's control over local school districts like no previous administration.

If he truly believes in local control of schools, then he should let local school districts decide how much emphasis to place on testing and how best to spend money instead of dictating from Tallahassee which schools to label with grades that reflect little more than the socioeconomic status of their communities.

But then, that would require him to trust people who have committed themselves to a life of serving children instead of making fortunes for themselves in some other profession, something I doubt he can remotely relate to. And as far as his increase in school spending, how much of that goes to the testing companies? Imagine if that money went to the teachers instead, and we actually let them do their jobs, including testing? Now that would really be local control, wouldn't it?

Sarah J. Robinson, Safety Harbor

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