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The issue of bicycling and bike lanes has landed front and center in the Star Tribune’s news and opinion pages again recently. What often gets lost in the discussion is just how important bicycling is to the health of Twin Cities residents. Bike commuting has been a significant part of my health and fitness for the past eight years. There is a direct correlation between health and health outcomes and physical activity like biking. A joint University of Minnesota and Minnesota Department of Transportation study released earlier this year found that “bicycle commuting three times per week is linked to 46 percent lower odds of metabolic syndrome, 31 percent lower odds of obesity, and 28 percent lower odds of hypertension — all of which lowers medical costs.” In other words, frequent bicycling reduces heart disease and the likelihood of stroke, which has a significant and positive impact on what all of us pay in increased health care, health insurance and tax costs associated with obesity and poor health. Bike lanes and other bicycle infrastructure are critical to these positive health outcomes, because the safer and easier it is to bike, the more likely people will do it.

Sueling Schardin, Bloomington

The writer is senior director of community health for the American Heart Association, Minnesota.

MENTAL HEALTH

Commerce Department backs insurance compliance legislation

As Minnesota’s insurance regulator, I want to affirm and add to Sue Abderholden’s Oct. 25 call to action (“Completing Paul Wellstone’s legacy is up to us”) for Minnesota to realize the promise of the bipartisan 2008 federal law, championed by Minnesota’s Paul Wellstone and Jim Ramstad, that puts coverage for mental health and substance use disorders on an equal footing with other health care coverage.

Earlier this year the state Commerce Department supported NAMI Minnesota’s bipartisan legislation to better identify and address how health insurance plans might be improperly limiting the scope or duration of benefits for treatment. These insurance practices can include excessive medical necessity and prior authorization requirements, restrictive drug formularies, narrow access to in-network providers and unfavorable provider reimbursement rules and rates.

This legislation would also bolster Commerce’s ability to protect consumers with stricter compliance and reporting requirements for insurers. We hope NAMI Minnesota’s legislation passes in 2018.

Thanks to a federal grant, Commerce recently launched a “know your rights” educational campaign to empower patients and their families to understand the coverage guaranteed by law and where to turn for help if, directly or indirectly, they are denied coverage for needed treatment. This has resulted in complaints and ongoing Commerce investigations about practices that some insurers may be using to avoid paying Minnesotans’ claims for mental health or substance use disorder care.

Because his older brother struggled with severe mental illness, Wellstone knew the anguish and financial burden for so many families, especially when they cannot get the full help and support they need. For him, ending insurance discrimination against people with mental illness and substance use disorders was always a matter of both civil rights and basic human decency. Thanks to him, it is now also a matter of law. The challenge remains to fulfill both the letter and spirit of that law.

Mike Rothman, commissioner, Minnesota Department of Commerce

WOLF MANAGEMENT

The solution is greater dispersal in parklands around the state

I found the Oct. 21 commentary by Collette Adkins (“Minnesota’s gray wolves are under attack — again”) well-written if you agree with her assumptions rather than the facts. The information gathered by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources shows a different picture.

The DNR uses aerial observation, on-ground tagging, computer chips and many other ways of collecting vast amounts of information on the size, movements and habits of the wolf packs in Minnesota. The information gathered shows a strong viable wolf population that far exceeds the guidelines set by the Endangered Species Act. The decision made by the federal judge was based on an opinion that the wolf population was not dispersed throughout the state properly.

My suggestion to those who agree with the judge’s decision is that they get together with the DNR and us who disagree with the judge and implement a plan to disperse wolves around the state. A good place to start would be a catch-and-release program. This program would live-trap packs of wolves in northern Minnesota and relocate them throughout the state. This would meet the judge’s criteria. Relocation of these packs should be Father Hennepin State Park (Mille Lacs area), William O’Brien State Park (Stillwater area) and Interstate State Park (Taylors Falls area). The closer proximity to more densely populated areas would allow a great majority of Minnesotans to enjoy these majestic animals up close. This would help out greatly with our pollution and climate-change crisis by eliminating the steady stream of gas-guzzling SUVs traveling from the metro area to northern Minnesota.

Jim Fraser, Emily, Minn.

ENGLISH EDUCATION

Here’s the bottom line: It teaches us to think

I think the writer of the Oct. 25 commentary “Let’s clarify the value of an English degree” missed the mark. Why should we value the study of English? Because English teaches us to reason, argue, debate, predict, infer and persuade. There is no other subject with as broad a cognitive framework. Through literature, we can understand other people and cultures, while developing a deep appreciation for beauty, truth and passion. The bottom line is, English teaches us to think. Future policemen, teachers, lawyers, managers, doctors, executives, salespeople and all professions benefit from the study of literature. Also, there’s one additional perk. I saw an ad on social media recently and it proclaimed a “Buy too, get one free” sale. That company should have hired an English major. We know our grammar.

Maureen Mulvaney, Minneapolis

The writer is an English teacher at Washburn High School.

‘FLESH’-COLORED CRAYONS

Newspaper looks foolish (again) in publishing this complaint

A recent commentary on understanding racial differences (“I learned (tangibly) about exclusion at a paint party,” Oct. 25) wondered what it must be like “day in and day out for a black child to see a ‘flesh’ crayon that does not look like their flesh.” I can’t believe people believe “flesh”-colored crayons are still on the market. I can remember using “flesh” crayons when I was just out of kindergarten. I can also remember the teacher saying that Crayola was no longer making that color because people were complaining, so we shouldn’t use it anymore. She also removed the color from her crayon box. So did most of the students. My class was about a third black. (This was in Flint, Mich., a city with a sizable black population.) The year was 1963. The only “flesh”-colored crayons I have seen since have been in antique stores. So, if you can’t remember the Kennedy assassination and don’t shop in antique stores, I suspect you have never seen a “flesh” crayon.

This isn’t the first time the Star Tribune has made this mistake. In 1989, a cartoon character in “Bloom County” was upset after finding a “flesh” crayon. The artist, and this newspaper, were ridiculed for being more than 25 years behind the times. Now, you are more than 50 years behind.

David Wiljamaa, Minneapolis