Wednesday, October 10, 2001

Remember 9-11-01

Ridge should enlist
cities, states in war

The issue: Former Pennsylvania
Gov. Tom Ridge has been sworn in as the
new director of homeland security.

TOM Ridge compares his new job with the earlier American tasks of building the transcontinental railroad, winning World War II and landing a man on the moon. His first assignment will be to determine how his position of director of homeland security fits into the bureaucratic landscape. It may be best for him to look beyond the federal government and try to lead efforts at the state and local levels.

Ridge is assigned to coordinate 46 federal agencies in preventing a further attack on U.S. soil, protecting critical systems within the country and responding promptly in case of such an attack. His powers are described as matching those of Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, but his lines of authority are vague.

Retired four-star Army Gen. Wayne A. Downing has been named the new counterterrorism deputy and Richard Clarke is the new director of cybersecurity. Both are to work under the direction of Rice but also to report to Ridge.

Ridge will head a homeland security council that will include the vice president, the attorney general, the heads of the FBI and CIA and the secretaries of defense, treasury, transportation and health and human services. But he is unlikely to have the authority to tell them to alter their polices or priorities.

Ridge, who stepped down as governor of Pennsylvania to accept the White House post, may be most effective in enlisting state and local governments in the battle against terrorism. Economic effects of the attack on the East Coast and the military strikes in Afghanistan have attracted most of the attention at those levels.

The home Web sites of the city of Honolulu and the state of Hawaii give little indication that the country is at war and no information about what Hawaii residents should do. The state Department of Health's home page is topped by new information about dengue fever, but contains nothing about how to prepare for the possibility of biological warfare. Internet sites of other cities and state probably lack such information, which Americans are used to receiving at those levels. If the people are the front-line soldiers in the war on terror, they need much information through all channels to know what is expected of them.

Efforts certainly are being made in Hawaii to increase security at critical power and communication facilities. Federal coordination and sharing of information could greatly enhance those efforts. Ridge is in a position to take charge of that front in the war against terrorism.

Talk about health
bill on another day

The issue: The governor sends to
the emergency Legislature a bill to place
health insurers under government regulation.

Government regulation of Hawaii's health insurers may well be a matter to consider, but not at the emergency session of the state Legislature later this month. The purpose of the special session is to find ways to prop up the state economy that has been shaken by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Regulating health insurers appears to be a peripheral issue, if it is at all related.

Lawmakers already have a full agenda in the drop in the number of tourists and the increased unemployment that has followed. It would be unreasonable to expect the health insurance industry to present its arguments and for the public to be able to weigh in on such short notice.

The proposal is one of 20 bills Governor Cayetano has submitted to the Legislature in an effort to stimulate the economy. The bill, which would give the state control of health-care premiums, was submitted by Insurance Commissioner Wayne Metcalf in response to Cayetano's request that state departments find ways to offset economic declines.

Metcalf contends that regulation of other insurance providers, such as auto and worker's compensation insurance, has produced significant savings for consumers. The bill proposes that health insurers be required to cut rates if they are deemed excessive or discriminatory and to justify rate increases by showing how health-care costs have similarly risen. The bill asserts that Hawaii's consumers have few choices among health insurers who thus have little incentive to offer competitive rates.

These arguments certainly should be discussed, but at the appropriate time. Government involvement, Metcalf's opinion aside, may not necessarily be beneficial. For example, in response to recent layoffs, the board of the Hawaii Medical Services Association moved swiftly to cut rates temporarily for members who had lost their coverage. If government regulations had been in place, could such quick action have taken place?

Metcalf argues that only one other state leaves health insurance rates unregulated, which is a marginal contention at best, and further says there is an urgent need to oversee health insurers in the current economic downturn. Right now, however, the Legislature has bigger fish to fry and the pan isn't even on the stove.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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