Letters to the editor – Opinion

It’s not brain surgery

With more than 50 million people in the United States affected by neurologic disease such as stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, and needing medical care from neurologists, we read with great concern the inaccuracy of how neurologists were portrayed in the Aug. 22 article, “Northwestern doubles down on neurology.”

The article quotes Allan Baumgarten, an independent health care analyst, who states that neurology is a particularly lucrative line of business, partially because the field is “procedure-heavy,” which he says is “well paid by Medicare and commercial insurers.”

Neurologists are physicians who primarily provide face-to-face care for people with chronic and complex medical conditions of the brain and nervous system, conditions that can sometimes last a lifetime—and they are not reimbursed at high rates for such care and are among the lowest-paid physician specialties. The median neurologist receives nearly 75 percent of their Medicare payments for face-to-face care with patients and their families and caregivers. This statistic can be found in a study published in the journal Neurology titled, “Medicare payments to the neurology workforce in 2012.”

It is important to distinguish between neurology and neurosurgery. Neurologists do not perform surgical procedures or many other procedures and therefore are not compensated at high rates.

As leaders of the American Academy of Neurology, representing 32,000 members worldwide, we urge you to remind your readers that neurologists spend most of their time working one-on-one with their patients, helping them to best manage their neurologic conditions and live their lives to the fullest degree possible.

CATHERINE M. RYDELLCEO, American Academy of NeurologyMinneapolis

Beverage tax costs store owners

The Cook County sweetened beverage tax has many problems associated with it. Most notably, the tax is represented as a method to curb high consumption of sugary beverages among youths. However, the reality is that one of the largest consumer groups within Cook County is lower-income individuals, many of whom participate in the food stamp program and are not required to pay taxes on these products. The sugary beverage tax does not offer a good solution for store owners to recapture the taxes consumers didn’t pay but that the store paid upon receipt of the product. It is a huge burden on store owners to calculate and collect this money.

In addition, store operators, especially single store owners, who have businesses in Cook County are already plagued with the area’s highest property taxes (twice as much or more than neighboring counties), and now when situated close to neighboring counties, they are suffering sales erosion as consumers move their shopping basket to those counties to eliminate having to pay the new tax.

I would be happy to set up a committee to meet with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in an effort to work out a solution that would be beneficial for both the county and business owners.

PAUL BUTERA SR.Chairman and CEOButera Market

Miller is from Mars

Rich Miller is a veteran political writer in Chicago, but his story “Bridging Springfield’s partisan divide—literally” (Sept. 4) reads as if he arrived from Mars yesterday. A Martian on his first day in Chicago might not know that Illinois is in deep debt. He might not know that Democrats try to overcome that by continuous tax increases, but expenses always grow even faster.

This Martian might not know that our governor sees the problem in overblown bureaucracy. He might not know—but Rich Miller certainly should—that there are too many people employed in government. They produce too many regulations, hurting businesses. They pay themselves too much. On the top of that, they legislated for themselves a generous pension system that is financially unsustainable. The new governor wants fewer bureaucrats, paid less. He wants the pension system changed to 401(k)s, as many Illinoisans currently have.

As a solution, Mr. Miller appeals for bridging the partisan divide, but complains that “the two parties don’t seem to be interested in compromise.”

The improvement will start only with politicians and their cronies giving up a lot of their political power and paying themselves less. Many need to be fired. Pensions need to be made financially sustainable. The only compromise can be on the details in how to do it.

Democrats do not want to do it at all; they want Rauner out. If they withstand the governor to the end of his term, they might succeed. But can Illinois withstand Democrats?

HENRYK A. KOWALCZYKBolingbrook

Earning an F

Once again, Jesse Sharkey fails to make the grade with his op-ed, “We need a better plan to fix Chicago Public Schools,” Aug. 28.

Mr. Sharkey claims that the three biggest cost drivers to the continuing Chicago Public Schools’ deficit are “unchecked privatization and charter proliferation, unfunded pension liabilities, and debt service.”

However, the Chicago Teachers Union needs to look no further than its own organization when it apportions blame for CPS finances.

The union looked the other way when legislation passed to allow CPS to take pension holidays for more than a decade, shifting more than $1.5 billion away from pensions and to CPS operations—including consistent salary increases, which averaged 4.2 percent per year dating from 1998 to 2012. So, yes, CPS finances have been dire, partially because the CTU chose to stuff their own wallets over putting money into their retirement funds.

But recently something historic happened—we saw compromise in Springfield, something we need more of in this country. With the historic school funding law signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner, CPS will receive more than $300 million in additional funds, including a provision requiring the state to provide pension parity. The law also provides operational funding equity for charter schools for the first time ever, and, more importantly, it drives additional state funding to districts with a higher concentration of poor students and districts with lower levels of property wealth. Instead of taking potshots, we should all redouble our efforts to encourage more progress on education funding.

Finally, Mr. Sharkey chose to laud the performance of CPS students but refused to acknowledge that charter schools lead the district in many of these measures. In Chicago, for instance, charter schools represent nine out of the 10 highest-performing open enrollment high schools in school growth on the 2016 ACT.

Twenty years ago, Chicago launched the first charter school in Illinois with the hopes of improving education outcomes across the city. The 2017 graduation rate progress released recently is further evidence that this plan is working, with charter schools jumping nearly 3 percent to 81.6 percent, an all-time high. Other types of high schools are also improving.

Despite those who claim charter success is a zero-sum game, the facts demonstrate that all high schools can benefit from a clear focus on high school completion. Perhaps that’s a lesson Mr. Sharkey should consider studying.

ANDREW BROYPresident, Illinois Network of Charter Schools

If you have an opinion you’d like to share, email us at letters@chicagobusiness.com.

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