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Better benefits, more choices in Medicare plan

Re: Medicare disservice.

Your March 7 editorial fails to acknowledge the real advantages for seniors included in the president's new framework for strengthening Medicare. While the Medicare + Choice program has not been as successful in some parts of the country as we would like, the president is taking a different, proven approach to give beneficiaries more choices and better benefits.

Under the new framework, seniors could choose to keep their current fee-for-service Medicare program and gain meaningful discounts on drugs and new protection from high out-of-pocket drug costs. They also could choose to remain in their existing Medicare managed care plans that also offer prescription drug coverage.

Or they could choose a new, enhanced Medicare that would provide the same kinds of choices and benefits that members of Congress enjoy _ including comprehensive drug coverage, free preventive care and protection against high out-of-pocket costs.

This option would give seniors the kind of PPO coverage that most Medicare beneficiaries in their 60s and soon-to-be beneficiaries know and like. In fact, PPOs cover more than half of all Americans covered in employer-sponsored health plans, and seniors should be able to take advantage of this kind of coverage. To make it work, we would rely on the successful regional approach used by the federal employees' insurance program, which ensures a broad range of choices for all beneficiaries in all parts of the country, including rural areas.

The bottom line is that the president's plan gives seniors more choices and better benefits _ including meaningful prescription drug coverage. And he backs his plan up with $400-billion in new money for Medicare to make it happen. Hopefully, members of Congress from both parties will work together to make this important investment a reality for our seniors today and in the future. It's time to act.

Tommy G. Thompson, Health and

Human Services secretary, Washington

Keep support for after-school care

Re: Bush would cut the 3-to-6 gap into a gaping hole for working families, by E.J. Dionne Jr., March 8.

E.J. Dionne is correct when he states that President Bush's proposed 40 percent cut to 21st Century Community Learning Centers' after-school programs for working families, while giving tax breaks to a few wealthy citizens, will gut this essential program nationwide.

You might be interested to know the potential impact on Pinellas County. As the Organizer for FCAN Foundation's AfterSchool Alliance in Pinellas, I have seen courageous Pinellas families, schools and nonprofit organizations work to give kids a place where they can fill the 3-to-6 gap. Should the president's cuts be implemented, as of next year, it is unlikely that there will be money available for many new 21st Century after-school programs. The cut would leave only enough money for the maintenance and planned phase-out of the programs that Pinellas is currently trying to establish.

Several local community organizations and the Pinellas school district are in the process of trying to expand the availability of free or low-cost after-school programs to eligible public middle schools through 21st Century Community Learning Centers' support. There are only six middle school after-school programs in place. They are made possible by the Juvenile Welfare Board, R'Clubs Childcare, Inc., and YMCAs of the Suncoast and Greater St. Petersburg. (Other low-cost, nonschool-based programs are provided by Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCA, city recreation centers, and specialized agencies.) Even if Pinellas' 21st Century initiative is successful, many of our middle schools will still need after-school programs.

With severe local and state education budget constraints, and families more financially strapped than ever, this is not the time for Congress to pull the rug out from under working families and their children. Many middle school students leave at the end of the school day, go home and watch TV. At least they are safe if not productive. Others, left unsupervised, make bad, peer-influenced choices that result in drug and alcohol use, pregnancy and committing or being the victim of juvenile crime, one-third of which occurs between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m.

Instead of tax cuts for a few, the youth and families of Pinellas need President Bush and Congress to keep their commitment to quality after-school programs for all.

Ruth Barrens, organizer, Suncoast AfterSchool Alliance,

a project of Florida Consumer Action Network Foundation,

St. Petersburg

Sending girls the wrong message

Don't you editors find it ironic that a March 10 article about the importance of preserving a middle-school or high school girl's reputation (Helping a middle-school girl survive the rumor mill) is buried on Page 5 in Section D of your paper and an article featuring a Hooters' girl in her "teeny weeney" outfit is featured on the front page (Pushing hot buttons and wings)?

Girls and boys are bombarded by these not-so-subtle messages about the power of sexuality dozens of times a day. Your paper would have set a better example by putting the Hooters article in the Business Section where it belonged.

Carol Turk, Palm Harbor

Don't cut aquaculture budget

Re: Proposed cuts cloud future of "Clamelot," by Julie Hauserman, Feb. 24.

The proposed reduction in the state's Division of Aquaculture will severely erode the natural fabric of Florida's heritage and should therefore be rejected. Native Americans settled along our coasts subsisting on the rich abundance of fish and shellfish. Tampa Bay was once home to a viable commercial harvest of oysters, clams and scallops until urbanization degraded water quality, virtually eliminating this valuable economic and recreational resource. Many in the area still remember collecting tubs of tasty mollusks with family and friends in days gone by.

Now, Tampa Bay enjoys a resurgence of water quality, habitat and other aquatic resources. While water quality may have improved enough to allow shellfish harvesting, the state of Florida has limited water quality monitoring that would allow shellfish harvesting areas to open in the bay. Other areas in the state may share the same fate. Clammers in Crystal River, oystermen in Apalachicola Bay and all who enjoy catching a fresh meal may now be restricted to a few areas where shellfish harvesting can be monitored. A valuable resource may be lost _ not to loss of habitat or water quality but to budget reductions.

Chesapeake Bay spends $10-million each year restoring oyster reefs for commercial and recreational harvest. The state of Florida should maintain Department of Agriculture aquaculture programs and develop comprehensive monitoring to allow shellfish harvesting back into Tampa Bay _ so that the next generation of Floridians can continue to appreciate one of the true treasures of Florida.

Peter A. Clark, St. Petersburg

Taking whacks at elderly drivers

Re: AARP supports eye tests for drivers 80 or older, March 8.

For crying out loud. Two years ago, we heard, "Are some people too old to drive?" Last year, the question was, "Should seniors be kept off the road during rush hours?" Now, legislation has been proposed to require everyone 80 or older to have a vision test when renewing their drivers' license. It looks like the senior pinata doll has been whacked again in the hope their car keys will fall out and be confiscated.

Surprisingly, the AARP is endorsing this legislation. If that presumably prosenior group had done its homework, it would have learned that, two years ago, a report showed that in Florida the 15-to-19-year-old group had the highest rate of accidents, 5.89 per 10,000 licensed drivers. The 85-plus group had a rate of 3.24 per 10,000 licensed drivers. Imagine that. Seems to me the test is planned for the wrong group.

Unbelievably, the pending bill might be amended to include a task force that will examine ways for neighbors to report drivers who should be taken off the road. That's a frightening idea. Homeland security tried to turn us into spies, now the motor vehicles department might turn us into snitches.

This proposed legislation is woefully misguided. Singling out only drivers 80 and older for vision tests borders on age discrimination and tacitly assumes all those under 80 do not need vision tests. That's ridiculous. Simply stated, failing eyesight knows no age. Oh, and the "squeal" amendment, as I like to call it, would just give everybody a free whack at the "elderly" pinata.

Boy, it's tough growing old.

Jack Bray, Dunedin

A case of discrimination

Re: AARP supports eye tests For drivers 80 or older.

The proposed legislation requiring eye tests for people over age 80 renewing drivers' licenses discriminates. People younger than 80 also have sight problems. Call or write your state senator and representative.

Harry Harper, Clearwater

Reject city pay raises

Re: Mayor, council want pay raises, March 12.

When the elected officials start to ask for money, it should be for the good of people they were elected to represent. The mayor of St. Petersburg has found it necessary to downsize many departments for budgetary reasons, so I find it very interesting that he now asks council members to consider an annual adjustment to both the mayor's salary as well as the salaries of council members.

At a time when he refuses to even think of funding more benefits for city services and our police department (police staffing is not at full strength _ wouldn't the money be better spent here?) he feels justified asking for salary increases.

The mayor and council members feel that they need more money to do the job that they chose. (I do not remember arms being twisted when they ran for their positions.) I'm not saying that some might not be deserving of a raise, but it may not be warranted across the board. As council member Bill Foster stated, "A salary hike is going to be even more unpalatable to the public now, given the economically troubled times."

As a very active neighborhood volunteer, I am at many meetings around the city, and I very rarely see any of our council members at any of these meetings.

I say no to raises for the mayor and City Council.

Casimiro V. Rael Sr., St. Petersburg

Taxpayers, beware

Re: Mayor, council want pay raises.

St. Petersburg's mayor is at it again, taxpayers. He wants a raise for himself and City Council members, plus retirement benefits. Eliminating one of his many deputy mayors may be the way to find the money he is looking for. He paid $50,000 for art work sitting on Ninth Avenue N and 49th Street at the fire station being remodeled there. Drive down Ninth Avenue N and look at what your tax dollars paid for. It looks like a large ice cream cone and just lacks a dip of ice cream on top.

As taxpayers, you have the right to let him know how you feel about this. The number is 893-7201.

Norma Rantz, St. Petersburg

Share your opinions

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