1. Letters to the Editor

Wednesday's letters: A vital asset for Alzheimer's researchers

Published Mar. 22, 2017

Alzheimer's research

Vital asset to Florida researchers

The Florida Translational Research Program has been invaluable to my Alzheimer's disease research at the University of South Florida. The program affords scientists at Florida universities and nonprofit institutes access to state-of-the-art drug technologies from the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute. This drug discovery center has been self-sustaining, and with continued FTRP funding will continue to be a valuable asset to Florida's biomedical research enterprise.

Research in my lab demonstrated that fractalkine, a protein that maintains normal neuron function in the brain, is lost in Alzheimer's patients. Through the FTRP, we were able to identify specific compounds that mimic fractalkine. These are the first and only compounds known to have this effect. My lab is studying these compounds to determine if they have the same beneficial effects in the brain as fractalkine itself. If successful, these experiments will open up new avenues for treating Alzheimer's disease, and the compounds may become the desperately needed medicines to treat this devastating disease.

This early-stage research is considered high-risk and therefore is unlikely to attract investment from pharmaceutical companies. I am positive that without the FTRP this potential new therapy would have not been revealed. Now we have the data to attract additional investment to develop these compounds as potential medicines.

This legislative session, we urge Florida legislators to continue to fund the FTRP. Without it, Florida wouldn't be home to the important work that is supported by the program.

Kevin Nash, University of South Florida, Tampa

Assignment of benefits

Abuse drives up insurance

A state law intended to give homeowners recourse in disputes with their insurers is instead being used by some repair vendors and their lawyers to generate a windfall.

The "one-way attorney fee" allows policyholders to collect legal fees from their insurer if they win a claims dispute. But if the policyholder loses in court, they don't have to pay the insurer's legal fees.

Some repair vendors are tricking policyholders into signing an assignment of benefits, or AOB, allowing the vendor to seize control of the policyholder's rights, file a claim and sue the insurer, often without their knowledge or consent.

This scheme has become an incentive for lawyers and their vendor clients to clog the courts with lawsuits and generate profit.

AOB litigation increased by over 66 percent from 2010 to 2011, fell briefly after the 2012 auto insurance reforms, and then started rising again, according to the Florida Department of Financial Services. From 2014 to 2015, AOB litigation increased 10.7 percent, and then 21 percent from 2015 to 2016.

This problem isn't confined to home insurance claims. Auto glass claims saw an almost 3,000 percent increase in five years — from 591 claims in 2011 to 19,558 claims in 2016.

This rampant AOB abuse and litigation is driving insurance costs up. Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier had it right when he told the governor and Cabinet that there's no explanation other than the one-way attorney fees.

It's time to pass meaningful reforms to keep consumers in control of their insurance policies and stop the abuse that's hiking up insurance rates.

William Large, president, Florida Justice Reform Institute, Tallahassee

Climate change

A bipartisan approach

Recently, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt stated unequivocally that he does not believe that carbon dioxide is responsible for our current climate change. Among scientists, this sparked a range of reactions from eye-rolls to outrage, but none of us was surprised.

Scientific authority has been usurped by these merchants of doubt who take advantage of the complexity and nuance of climate change science to convince many Americans that we just don't yet know enough to do anything about it. After all, what if we adopt job-creating green energy policies and make the world a better place for nothing?

Luckily, 68 percent of Americans can see through the smoke screen of this administration, agreeing that climate change is caused by humans, including 45 percent of us who "worry a great deal" about it, according to a new Gallup poll. While the best way for us to support progress on climate change is to vote in all upcoming elections for candidates who agree to advance progressive legislation, there is something you can do right now.

Ask your congressional representatives to join the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus. There are currently 30 members (15 Republicans, 15 Democrats) and counting. The caucus is gaining momentum with new Republicans joining regularly, and more are likely to join if they know that they have the support of their constituents.

With enough Republicans, a strong minority within the House majority may be able to move forward with progressive legislation and rebuff anti-environmental efforts.

Matt McCarthy, St. Petersburg

Health reforms

Don't neglect seniors

I understand the GOP has stated for the last seven years that they would repeal and replace the health care bill President Barack Obama signed into law. They had years to work on it, so how could the Republican plan have the elderly pay more than younger enrollees?

We are not asking for handouts or welfare. I have served in the military, paid my fair share of taxes and worked on my job for years.

Unlike our new president and most of his Cabinet and friends, I was not born into a rich family. So maybe the president doesn't understand the importance of a Social Security check every month. Most senior citizens have illnesses that require buying medications monthly. And as it is, some of us have to decide between paying a bill or buying needed medicine. We should come before a new border fence.

Mary Sims, Tampa