Public Pulse: Lung cancer screening saves lives; Methane problem on rise; Nebraska budget puzzle

Fire death toll at 56 and counting in Northern California (copy)
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Fire death toll at 56 and counting in Northern California (copy)

Fire death toll at 56 and counting in Northern California (copy)
Firefighter Jose Corona sprays water as flames consume from the Camp Fire consume a home in Magalia, Calif., on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, and I am speaking out because many Nebraskans are unaware that lung cancer is the leading cancer killer of men and women in the U.S. It is estimated that in 2018 alone, 1,310 people in Nebraska will be diagnosed with lung cancer. One of the reasons that lung cancer is so deadly is that it is often diagnosed in later stages, after the disease has already spread.

Raising awareness for lung cancer is personal for me because over the past three decades I have seen thousands of my patients succumb to this disease.

Current data suggest that less than 5 percent of patients eligible for lung cancer screening actually have a scan performed. With the data from the NELSON lung cancer screening trial showing an amazing 44 percent reduction in lung cancer mortality, we need to get more of our patients to be screened.

More needs to be done to raise awareness of lung cancer and the availability of lifesaving lung cancer screening.

That’s why I encourage local residents who smoked or still smoke to visit to take an easy lung cancer screening eligibility quiz and learn if they may be at high risk and eligible for screening.

If each of the 8 million Americans at high risk were to be screened, we’d have the opportunity to save about 25,000 lives.

Intensified wildfires and hurricanes were predicted decades ago and will worsen as we continue to pump out greenhouse gases, including methane escaping from the 1,400 gigatons stored in the thawing Arctic.

True, methane does not linger in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide, but if it is replenished faster than it leaves the atmosphere, we get a runaway feedback loop: more methane, more warming, more thawing, more methane.

That is the nightmare that keeps climatologists awake at night. Unfortunately for our survival, it does not keep our political leaders awake. In fact, we are cursed with science deniers in the White House and the Interior Department. They are our real nightmare.

The State of Nebraska, unlike the federal government, cannot print money to meet expenses. State officials must make do with the money they have.

As expanded Medicaid is now a priority, other areas such as property tax relief, K-12 school aid, the University of Nebraska budget, road construction and maintenance, infrastructure and prison reform, to name a few, may have to be reduced in scope.

The governor and Legislature will have to make all the pieces of this puzzle fit together. A daunting task. I wish them well.

The prevailing political issue in this state is addressing high property tax rates, particularly in rural areas. Year in and year out overburdened Nebraska taxpayers look to politicians for relief, and year in and year out they’re disappointed in the results.

One thing missing in the discussion is how new business growth in some counties is contributing to new tax revenues and decreasing tax pressure on landowners. For example, wind energy companies in Antelope and Holt Counties are now paying millions of dollars to those counties in taxes that are collected both per turbine and on personal property.

This revenue helps fund roads, schools and other essentials that otherwise would have been paid for by farmers’ property taxes.

It’s worth noting that trying something new is not always a bad thing. Counties that are embracing new growth opportunities are having much better luck managing their tax situations than those that are continually relying on politicians to solve the problem for them.

My reflections on the election. Nebraskans once again proved with Medicaid expansion, as they did with the minimum wage, that partisanship will not prevent progress. We have a tradition going back decades, with the voter approval of the unicameral Legislature in 1934, that we will do what is right when asked.

Now we must govern. Many excellent legislators were elected. It should be a session of bipartisan problem-solving.

These are common-sense Democrats within the Democratic Caucus who are ready to work in a bipartisan fashion.

I see that the mayor and most members of the City Council have again found a tax that they can’t seem to live without in the form of an enhanced business district.

Railroad enthusiasts appreciate stops at the twin train museums of the Union Pacific in the former Andrew Carnegie Library building and that of the Trails West in the old Rock Island depot. History buffs revel in the drive through the steep neighborhoods that surround downtown, including grand old Oakland Avenue and that quirky/spooky “Black Angel” standing guard over the fascinating, adjacent Fairview Cemetery.

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