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Smart Talk, Dec. 13

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Not ready to make nice

The Dixie Chicks are supporting defense efforts for the West Memphis Three — Damien Echols, Jesse Misskelley and Jason Baldwin — convicted in the 1993 slayings of West Memphis children. In a letter posted on dixiechicks.com, Chicks' leader Natalie Maines Pasdar urged contributions to the WM3's defense fund and directed letters to Arkansas Takes Action, a new support group headed by Little Rock restaurateur Capi Peck. Writes Maines: “The system hasn't only failed Damien, Jesse, and Jason, but it has failed the three little boys that were murdered. Their killer(s) is still out there, and justice has yet to be served.”

What's more a publicist for the effort says that on Dec.e 19 the Chicks' leader will help lead a rallyin Little Rock and deliver letters and petitions in support of the WM3 to Gov. Mike Beebe.

Rural school report

The annual report of Rural School & Community Action, a rural-school advocacy group, says that Arkansas is among the states whose schools face the greatest socioeconomic challenges, and also among the states that spend the least on instruction per pupil.

The group's “Socioeconomic Challenges Gauge” consists of the percentage of rural adults with a high school diploma; the rural adult unemployment rate; the rural median household income; the percentage of rural families in poverty, and the percentage of rural students eligible for free or reduced meals.

“Nine of the 13 states with the most urgent socioeconomic challenges also have the lowest level of per pupil instructional funding,” the report says. “These states — Mississippi, Kentucky, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, North Carolina, Arizona and Oklahoma — serve the most impoverished rural schools and communities in the nation, and they do so with fewer resources.”

Medicaid fairness

Arkansas is one of the top states in terms of seeing that Medicaid (low-income) patients receive medical treatment comparable to that provided in the Medicare program, which serves elderly patients whether rich or poor. So says the newsletter of the Public Citizen Health Research Group, a nonprofit, consumer organization.

Fees paid doctors for treatment of Medicare patients are set nationally. Fees for treatment of Medicaid patients are set by the individual states, with most states paying significantly less for Medicaid patients than for Medicare patients. Public Citizen compiled what it called “Medicaid-to-Medicare fee ratios for selected primary care procedures.” High-parity states paid about as much — sometimes even more — for Medicaid treatment as for Medicare treatment. The states with the highest-parity ratings were Alaska, 1.38; Wyoming, 1.25; Delaware, 1.00; Arizona, .99; North Carolina, .92; Arkansas, .91. This means that Alaska and Wyoming are paying Medicaid doctors considerably more than Medicare doctors. “That can be explained by their relatively sparse populations, and their need to recruit and retain practitioners,” the report said.

The states with the lowest-parity ratings were New York, .29; New Jersey, .31; Rhode Island, .40; Pennsylvania, .42; District of Columbia, .48.

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