January 18, 2010

Short takes: health care help for Washington seniors, help for transit riders

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Help for Washington seniors

Health care reform could make life better for doctors and hospitals in Washington state that provide medical care to more than 780,000 seniors if three congressional Democrats have their way. Sen. Maria Cantwell and Reps. Norm Dicks and Jay Inslee join four other congressional Dems in a letter to House and Senate leaders saying they won’t support health care reform unless it overhauls a complex Medicare reimbursement formula that for years has shortchanged doctors and hospitals in Washington state.

The changes should make it easier for Medicare patients in Washington to find and keep doctors. It also may help attract additional doctors to Washington state, reports Les Blumenthal of the McClatchy News. Cantwell, Inslee and Dicks expect the changes to become part of the what could be a historic health care bill being negotiated with the White House.

Help for Portland transit riders

Imagine this – major transit project funding based on livability issues including economic development and environmental benefits – in addition to cost and congestion fighting attributes. Those are newly issued guidelines from the Obama administration for funding mass transit projects and a it’s a major departure from Bush administration practices. It could make it easier for Portland to expand its light rail and street car systems, the Oregonian reports.

“Our new policy for selecting major transit projects will work to promote livability rather than hinder it,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We want to base our decisions on how much transit helps the environment, how much it improves development opportunities and how it makes our communities better places to live.”

Portland has a huge stake in this ruling because it has a big, well-established system serving urban commuters. The Bush yardstick measured travel time savings for suburban bus commuters. For example:

A Portland Streetcar extension to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry was held up for years because of the Bush administration rules. The Portland City Council last fall adopted a plan for 58 miles of streetcar lines criss-crossing the city. Metro planners are actively studying potential light rail routes to Tigard via Oregon 99W and to Gresham via Southeast Powell Boulevard.

Now, if Seattle only had an urban mass transit system. I mean one that served everybody. And the parts really worked together. And it had been around as long as Portland’s… Come to think of it, what Seattle does have primarily serves suburban bus commuters, doesn’t it?

— Rita Hibbard

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