It’s not rocket science

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

Sam Clovis earned his stripes as a fighter pilot following his graduation from the Air Force Academy. He worked in the defense industry, as a radio show talk show host and as a professor at Morningside College in public policy and management. You could call him, we suppose, a political scientist. That science mainly involves reading the newspaper and understanding the margin of error in polling by reading a nerdy website. It does not qualify you to become, essentially, the chief agricultural scientist for the United States Department of Agriculture. That is the job that Clovis is about to get, if the Republican-controlled Senate Agriculture Committee stays on track with a Nov. 9 vote. The job controls agricultural research around the nation at places like Iowa State University in Ames.

Here is political science: If you are the national co-chairman of the Donald Trump campaign, as Clovis was, the science dictates that you tell a junior Trump national security advisor to of course seek dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russian Foreign Ministry “if feasible.” That’s what it said in an indictment brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller against George Papadopoulos, who received his marching orders from Clovis in an email.

This revelation got Senate Democrats in an uproar, and they plan to fight the Clovis nomination before Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas, a pragmatic man who is being unusually loyal to Clovis. Since Clovis has not been charged and is fully cooperating with the special counsel, Roberts said, so there should be nothing to block his appointment.

Except that he is not a scientist, not as we think of a scientist. A fighter pilot knows physics, but not integrated pest management. You would want someone with an agronomy degree from Iowa State, or somebody from Cornell in New York, or even Bill Northey of Spirit Lake. Northey has no PhD, but he does know how to battle nematodes and knows the difference between nitrate and phosphorous. At least he is a farmer who is acquainted with the science of chemical agriculture. Clovis is a talk jock who bounced from Ben Carson’s campaign of weirdness to Trump’s Russian-driven reality show.

Of course Clovis is disqualified for any job involving real science. Squirrel him away somewhere in the Pentagon where Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis can give him projects that keep him out of Russia and away from practicing what is not a science but can be a dark art. He could be put in charge of ordering parts for airplanes, by dint of his resumé, or supervise propaganda for Radio Free Europe. He is fully qualified for those jobs, the latter one at least.

If, however, this USDA position is about politics and not science, then Clovis might be just the doctor. The Ag Committee will be asked on Nov. 9 which one it is.

Fatal, costly disaster

Continued bad news arises from Gov. Kim Reynolds’ handling of the budget. AmeriHealth Caritas, one of three managed care companies serving the Iowa Medicaid marketplace, pulled out this week because of short reimbursement from the state. The two other companies agreed to stay on, getting a 3.3% increase on their new annual contract. Full details were not available this week about what other financial arrangements are in store — for example, what the dollar amount involved actually is. More than 200,000 Iowans will have to switch from AmeriHealth to one of the other two companies as a result, and figure out a whole new network of health care.

The companies and the Department of Human Services have been in secret negotiations since last spring over a new contract. They had complained that they lost hundreds of millions of dollars providing care. Hospitals, nursing homes and mental health care providers complained of payments that are months late, and their concerns still have not been addressed. Nursing homes are closing as a result.

To help direct more funds to insurance companies, the Reynolds Administration notified health care providers that the state no longer will require insurers to cover health care costs immediately preceding the insured’s enrollment into Medicaid. Normally people so poor that they require Medicaid are not able to pay for private health insurance, which is why they are applying for Medicaid in the first place. Covering retroactive health care costs for 90 days leading to Medicaid enrollment made certain that local hospitals do not have to eat bad accounts. Again, it is hard for the recently unemployed to cover those costs when they have so little income they seek state coverage. It is a cruel rule that dings the poor and the health care providers who would like to serve them.

The entire experiment of shifting Medicaid from government management to private management has been a fiscal disaster and a tragedy for patients, health care providers and rural communities in particular, where mental health service delivery is abysmal. We can hope that Republicans with some sense and compassion, like Sen. Mark Segebart, R-Vail, can talk sense to the governor. We are doing indelible harm right now. As we noted Wednesday, rural white men have the highest premature death rate in America partly because services are not available. We need arrive at a legislative fix for this problem that saves the governor from herself and, more important, saves Iowans’ lives that are needlessly lost over fiscal fantasy.