Council members Roxanne Qualls and Chris Seelbach proposed a motion yesterday that would reduce the amount of police layoffs to 25 and eliminate all firefighter layoffs previously proposed in budget plans for fiscal year 2014. The huge layoff reduction comes despite months of warning from the city administration that the city would have to carry out big public safety layoffs without the parking plan, which is currently stalled in court. But it’s come with large cuts and shifted priorities in other areas of the budget, such as reduced funding to parks, health, human services, parades and outside agencies. (For example, the Health Department warned that cuts to its services could lead to more rats and bedbugs.) The motion from Qualls and Seelbach came just in time for last night’s public hearing, which mostly focused on the cuts to parks and public safety.
Ohio’s unemployment rate was 7.0 percent in April, down from 7.1 percent the month before, thanks to increases in the amount of people employed and decreases in the amount of people unemployed. The gains coincided with decent job growth throughout the rest of the nation in April, which dropped nationwide unemployment from 7.6 percent to 7.5 percent. But the state gains were fairly mixed, and the amount of construction, professional and business services and federal and local government jobs actually dropped. The mixed, slow growth helps explain why conservative and liberal think tanks seemingly disagree with Gov. John Kasich that Ohio is undergoing an “economic miracle.”
The Hamilton County Public Health’s (HCPH) food protection program is apparently the best in the United States and Canada. The Conference for Food Protection awarded the program the 2013 Samuel J. Crumbine Consumer Protection Award, which “recognizes unsurpassed achievement in providing outstanding food protection services to communities,” according to a statement from HCPH.
Homophobic Boy Scouts supporters are rallying nationwide today to support the continuation of the Boy Scouts’ homophobic rules.
The Taste of Cincinnati and the the Cubs-Reds series may have helped downtown Cincinnati earn the No. 42 spot in Priceline.com’s top 50 Memorial Day destinations.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources confirmed Ohio has been undergoing a boom in oil and gas production in the past two years thanks to developments in a drilling process known as fracking, which CityBeat previously covered in further detail here.
Duke Energy hired a new contractor — Southern Cross Co. — to carry out gas and line inspections.
Cincinnati-based Kroger developed a new system that will convert food that can’t be sold or donated into clean energy to power one of its distribution centers.
Convergys is selling is downtown Cincinnati headquarters as the company goes through big changes. So far the buyer is unknown.
Jim Kingsbury, CEO of UC Health since 2010, is retiring.
Using an optical illusion to make white people look darker can diminish racial biases, according to a new study.
Earth’s super-dense core is weak.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) unveiled price data today for more than 3,000 U.S. hospitals, revealing large price variations between hospitals around the nation, including in Cincinnati.
For treating chest pain, charges from three Cincinnati hospitals varied by thousands of dollars: Bethesda North charged on average $17,696, Christ Hospital charged $12,000 and University Hospital charged $10,130.
But the initial charge seems to have little relation to what Medicare ultimately paid out. In the three cases for chest pain, Medicare on average paid $3,242 to Bethesda North, $3,657 to Christ Hospital and $5,463 to University Hospital.
In other words, University Hospital charged about 57 percent of what Bethesda North charged, but University Hospital was ultimately paid 68 percent more.
The price variation wasn’t exclusive to chest pain, either. For major joint replacement or reattachment of a lower extremity without major complications, Bethesda North charged $61,947 and was paid $12,712 on average, Jewish Hospital charged $38,465 and was paid $14,069 on average and University Hospital charged $46,463 and was paid $20,116 on average.
In fact, all of the 100 metrics tracked by CMS had at least some degree of variation in charges and payments. Whether it was chest pain, joint replacement, diabetes or cardiovascular complications, prices always varied between hospitals — sometimes greatly, other times by a little.
The data from fiscal year 2011 shows how much hospitals initially charged Medicare for the 100 most frequently billed discharges and how much Medicare ultimately paid out. The difference between charges and payments is usually large because Medicare negotiates prices down.
CMS says the price discrepancy is happening at hospitals all around the nation: “As part of the Obama administration’s work to make our health care system more affordable and accountable, data are being released that show significant variation across the country and within communities in what hospitals charge for common inpatient services.”
Still, some health care advocacy groups say Ohio is doing worse than other states. A study from Catalyst for Payment Reform and the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute gave Ohio and six other states a “D” for health care price transparency, based on the states’ laws and regulations. That was actually better than 29 other states, which flat-out flunked with an “F.” Only New Hampshire and Massachusetts received an “A,” the highest grade possible.
Even then, the Catalyst for Payment Reform and the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute cautioned in the study that their grades were given on a curve, which means all states would likely fare worse if the organizations measured them based on ideals instead of comparatively.
Many health care experts and advocacy groups claim the price variation is caused by a lack of transparency in the health care system, which gives hospitals free reign to charge without typical market checks (“Healthy Discussion,” issue of April 10).
As Ohio debates the Medicaid expansion, a new study from Harvard researchers revealed access to Medicaid in Oregon led to better mental health outcomes and reduced financial strain, but no short-term gains were found in physical health outcomes.
The study, which was released Wednesday by The New England Journal of Medicine, had its most positive findings in mental health outcomes, with Medicaid recipients showing 30 percent lower rates of depression in comparison to people without health coverage. Medicaid recipients had a rate of depression of 21 percent, while those without coverage had a rate of 30 percent.
But the gains did not apply to physical health outcomes. When looking at cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels, there was no significant difference between Medicaid recipients and people without coverage. The three measures were chosen because they typically reveal better health results within two years and they're easy to obtain.
Still, the study doesn't rule out the possibility of long-term gains. The study found increased rates of diabetes detection and management, which could lead to better physical health outcomes in the future.
Medicaid enrollment also reduced financial strain, allowed patients to use more preventive services and nearly eliminated catastrophic out-of-pocket medical expenses, according to the study.
The study was conducted by looking at Medicaid recipients in Oregon, which enrolled 10,000 people into Medicaid out of nearly 90,000 applicants through a lottery approximately two years ago, giving researchers the first major randomized pool of Medicaid recipients to study.
A previous study from Harvard researchers, including the lead author of the Oregon study, found that Medicaid expansions improved mortality rates, coverage, access to care and self-reported health. That study looked at three states that expanded Medicaid and compared them to neighboring states that did not.
The Oregon study comes at a time when legislators are debating whether Ohio should use federal funds to expand its Medicaid program. Even though Republican Gov. John Kasich supports the expansion, Republican legislators say they're concerned the federal funds will eventually dry up, leaving the state to find a solution for hundreds of thousands of new Medicaid enrollees. Democrats are joining Kasich in supporting the expansion, with Ohio Senate Minority Leader Eric Kearney recently calling it a "no-brainer."
The Health Policy Institute of Ohio found the Medicaid expansion would insure nearly half a million Ohioans and save the state money in the next decade.
The budget bill that recently passed the Republican-controlled Ohio House would forgo the Medicaid expansion while leaving room to consider further Medicaid reforms down the line ("The Chastity Bunch," issue of April 24).
State Sen. Eric Kearney, a Cincinnati Democrat, introduced a bill in the Ohio Senate yesterday that would allow opened alcoholic beverages in “entertainment districts,” which must have populations of more than 50,000 within one-half mile by one-half mile. Kearney said Over-the-Rhine would be an ideal benefactor of the new bill. “Senate Bill 116 will promote tourism and business development across the state,” Kearney said in a statement. “By modifying Ohio’s law, this will provide an opportunity for developments such as the Over-the-Rhine Gateway in Cincinnati and The Flats in Cleveland to create an entertainment experience and attract more customers.”
Supporters of the Medicaid expansion say they may attempt to put the issue on the November ballot if the Ohio General Assembly fails to take action by fall. Republicans in the Ohio House and Ohio Senate have so far rejected Gov. John Kasich’s pleas for an expansion, instead moving toward asking the federal government for a Medicaid waiver that would allow the state to make broader reforms. At least 90 percent of the expansion would be funded by the federal government. CityBeat covered the Medicaid expansion and other aspects of the Ohio House budget bill in further detail here.
The Greater Cincinnati region and Hamilton County ranked among the worst in the nation in the American Lung Association’s annual “State of the Air” report. The report, which used 2009-2011 U.S. EPA data, found Greater Cincinnati to be No. 10 worst for year-round particle pollution and No. 14 for ozone pollution. Still, the report did find overall improvement around the nation, with Greater Cincinnati making some advances in pollution reduction in the past few decades.
A new Ohio law going into effect today will require school coaches to acquire additional concussion awareness training. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard Ross says the training will make it easier for coaches to identify symptoms of concussions and get help for students.
A University of Cincinnati study found it could be cost-effective to screen at-risk populations for hepatitis C.
A vegetarian lifestyle may fit some of CityBeat’s most beautiful employees, but Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble says pets need a more expansive diet.
Not only do they have multiple cultural traditions, but humpback whales also learn new tricks by watching their friends.
Pro-choice groups are criticizing Ohio House Republicans’ budget plan for pulling money from Planned Parenthood and shifting federal dollars to “anti-choice” crisis pregnancy centers.
The Ohio House Republicans’ budget plan would redirect federal funding for family planning services in a way that would strip funding for Planned Parenthood and family planning providers.
During hearings at the Ohio House Finance and Appropriations Committee today, multiple women’s health advocates, ranging from health experts to members of Planned Parenthood, said these services mostly benefit low-income women, particularly in rural areas. On the other side, representatives from anti-abortion groups spoke in support of the Ohio House Republicans’ measures, citing health care options, family values, abstinence and chastity.
Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, says the defunding measure has become a recurring trend for Ohio Republicans, who have taken up the Planned Parenthood measure multiple times in the past couple years. But she says the threat could have more weight this time around.
“This feels different,” Copeland says. “They’ve always kind of tried to hide it before. This time they were a lot more upfront about it. It seems like they may be willing to put political capital into this fight this time.”
A separate section of the Ohio House Republicans’ budget plan redirects federal funding to a program that will fund crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), which provide abstinence-only family planning services.
Some researchers have found abstinence-only programs to be ineffective. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health
found abstinence-only programs have no impact on rates for teenage
pregnancy or vaginal intercourse, while comprehensive programs that
include birth control education reduce rates.
A 2011 study from researchers at the University of Georgia that looked at data from 48 states concurred abstinence-only programs do not reduce the rate of teenage pregnancy. The study indicated states with the lowest teenage pregnancy rates tend to have the most comprehensive sex and HIV education programs.
Still, a 2010 study from a University of Pennsylvania researcher found abstinence-only education programs may delay sexual activity. The study, which tracked black middle school students over two years, found students in an abstinence-only program had lower rates of sexual activity than students in the comprehensive program.
Some supporters say the Ohio House Republicans’ budget measures aren’t specifically about Planned Parenthood, abortion or birth control. Instead, they argue they’re trying to establish more health care options for women.
But the providers that would be able to get more funding already apply for it; they just lose out to Planned Parenthood’s services, which are deemed superior by state officials who distribute the funds during the competitive distribution process.
Copeland says “no thinking person” should fall for the reasoning given by Republicans and supporters who say abortion is not one of their concerns.
“They’re trying to impose their morals on you,” Copeland says. “These are not health care experts. These are not people who are trying to find real solutions for the problems that real people face. These are people who want to impose their personal views, their personal morality on you.”
Some anti-abortion supporters, including Denise Leipold of Right to Life of Northeast Ohio, say abortion and broader cultural issues are absolutely part of the reason they support the Ohio House Republicans’ budget plan.
“Our mission is to support the right to life from conception to natural death,” Leipold says. “Abortion happens to be a big problem right now because in the past 40 years it’s become part of the culture.”
She adds, “Now kids are learning that responsible sex means that you can have sex but just use birth control. That’s not supposed to be the attitude. The attitude is supposed to be that sex is for a committed relationship between a man and a woman in a marital relationship.”
During testimony today, Stephanie Kight, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, asked state legislators to support the organization’s numerous medical services, including women’s health, family planning and sexually transmitted infection (STI) treatment.
Kight also said state and federal funds do not go to abortions. Planned Parenthood’s abortion services are instead funded by private donations.
At the hearings, Republican State Rep. Ron Maag asked Kight why Planned Parenthood doesn’t shut down its three abortion clinics in Ohio if those clinics are potentially threatening the “good work” Planned Parenthood does elsewhere. Kight said Planned Parenthood believes its abortion services are “good work.”
Ohio House Republicans are poised to reject the Medicaid expansion and the $500 million per year in federal funding that would come with it for the next two years — a move that has united Republican Gov. John Kasich, Ohio Democrats, mental health advocates and other health groups in opposition.
The Medicaid expansion is part of a measure in the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) that encourages states to expand their Medicaid programs to include anyone at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level with the use of federal funds. For the first three years, the federal government would pick up the entire tab for the expansion. After that, payments would be phased down over time so the federal government would be paying 90 percent of costs.
Ohio House Republicans oppose the measure because they say they’re worried federal funding will dry up in the future, even though there is no historical precedent of the federal government failing to pay its commitment to Medicaid.
Kasich’s proposal for the Medicaid expansion includes an automatic trigger that would immediately stop and retract the expansion if federal funding falls through, but Ohio Republicans previously voiced concerns in hearings that the trigger would hurt Ohioans who have become accustomed to government-provided health insurance without any plan to make up for the lost coverage.
A report from the Health Policy Institute of Ohio found the expansion would help insure 456,000 Ohioans by 2022 and save the state money in the next decade by producing economic growth and shifting health-care expenses from the state to the federal government.
For advocates of mental health and addiction treatments, Ohio House Republicans’ rejection of the Medicaid expansion and other budget items means mental health and addiction services will miss out on $627 million per year, according to a report from the Office of Health Transformation.
Ohio House Republicans’ budget plan would include $50 million more annual funding for mental health and addiction services, but that’s also not enough to make up for the $140 million in annual funds cut around the state since 2002 and the $17 million being cut over two years through the dissolution of the tangible personal property tax replacement funds.
Cheri Walter, chief executive officer of the Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities (OACBHA), says the Medicaid expansion is a great opportunity to emphasize mental health services around the state.“On the mental health side, ... sometimes it can take two or more years for someone to get a disability determination that makes them Medicaid eligible,” she says. “In addition to making more people Medicaid-eligible, it will speed up the process for many others.”
Walter says for addiction patients in particular, getting access to health services can be difficult because alcoholism and other forms of addiction are not technically disabilities. By including more income levels in the Medicaid program, less people will fall through the cracks, she says.
OACBHA was one of the many groups that rallied at the Ohio Statehouse Thursday in support of the Medicaid expansion. The crowd, which received support from Ohio Democrats and Kasich, was estimated to reach 2,500.
Until the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare, the Medicaid expansion was required, but the court ruled that states must be allowed to opt in and out.
The Medicaid expansion was one of the few parts of Kasich’s budget plan that Democrats and progressives approved, while the two other major proposals in Kasich’s plan — school funding and a tax cut proposal — were criticized for disproportionately benefiting wealthy Ohioans (“Smoke and Mirrors,” issue of Feb. 20).
In Cincinnati, an ankle MRI can range in price from $367.46 to $2,865.42, but weak transparency laws make it difficult for consumers to compare prices. But to make up for the lack of transparency, some companies are providing compiled price and quality data to paying employers. A previous report from Catalyst for Payment Reform and the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute gave 29 states an “F” for health-care price transparency, Ohio and six other states a “D” and only New Hampshire and Massachusetts an “A.”
Ohio House Republicans killed Gov. John Kasich’s Medicaid expansion plan, but Ohio Democrats are planning to introduce the expansion as a standalone bill. The expansion, which was one of the few aspects of Kasich's budget that Democrats supported, would have saved the state money and insured 456,000 Ohioans by 2022, according to the Health Policy Institute of Ohio. CityBeat covered the Medicaid expansion and other aspects of Kasich’s budget proposal here.
In two 5-4 votes yesterday, City Council approved the executive director position for the streetcar project and a repeal on a “double dipping” ban. The city says it needs the measures to hire John Deatrick, the current manager of The Banks project, to head the streetcar project, but critics argue the city should not be making hires when it’s threatening to lay off 189 cops and 80 firefighters to balance the budget — even though the hire is through the capital budget used for the streetcar project, not the general fund that is used to employ cops and firefighters. CityBeat wrote more about the new position and the double dipping ban here.
This week’s commentary from CityBeat: “Religious Birth Control Exemptions Are a Double Standard.”
City Council also approved the Music Hall lease, which will enable extensive renovations. CityBeat covered some of the original details of the renovation plan when it was first announced here.
StateImpact Ohio has some information on how Ohio House Republicans’ plan for school funding differs from Kasich’s proposal. The big difference is Kasich’s plan was based on property taxes, which ended up being regressive, while the House plan is based on the average cost to educate each student, which makes it so less schools, particularly poor and rural schools that fell under Kasich’s plan, have their funding reduced. The House plan also expands performance-based pay and school choice, which Policy Matters previously found may hurt students and teachers. CityBeat covered Kasich’s proposal in further detail here.
Policy Matters Ohio posted an interactive map showing the county-by-county benefits of a state earned income tax credit. The credit, which mostly benefits low- and middle-income earners with children, is already used by the federal government and some states to progressively reward employment.
Freedom Ohio and Equality Ohio will debate the Family Research Council today over whether Ohio should legalize same-sex marriage. The debate will be streamed here. CityBeat covered Freedom Ohio’s same-sex marriage legalization efforts here.
The U.S. Postal Service will drop its threats to stop delivering on Saturdays after Congress denied the action.
A new study found humans tend to think strangers are staring at them.
Headline: “Why Are Monkey Butts So Colorful?”
Ohio House Republicans released their own budget proposal yesterday that does away with many of Gov. John Kasich’s proposed policies. The budget gets rid of the Medicaid expansion, the oil and gas severance tax and the sales tax expansion. It also reduces the state income tax cut to 7 percent, down from 20 percent in Kasich’s plan. The amount of schools getting no increased funding under a new school funding formula decreased from 368 in Kasich’s plan to 175 in the House plan, addressing issues that selective wealthy schools were benefiting too much from Kasich’s proposed school funding formula. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget proposal in detail here.
NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio is criticizing the Ohio House’s proposed budget for defunding Planned Parenthood and redirecting federal funds to anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs). A study from NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, which is highly supportive of abortion rights, found 47 percent of CPCs gave inaccurate medical information regarding a link between mental health problems and abortion, and 38 percent provided false information about the connection between breast cancer, infertility and abortion, among other findings.
The city of Cincinnati is asking Judge Robert Winkler to stay his previous ruling so the city can use emergency clauses to expedite legislation. City Solicitor John Curp says the city needs emergency clause powers in case of natural disasters and to advance economic development deals that need to be implemented before 30 days. The city previously used emergency clauses to avoid a 30-day waiting period for implementing laws, but Winkler ruled the clauses do not nullify the right to referendum, effectively eliminating the use of emergency clauses because the city now always has to wait 30 days in case of a referendum effort. The ruling was given after City Council used an emergency clause to expedite the lease of the city’s parking assets to the Port Authority to help balance deficits and fund economic development.
With the support of Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, City Council is looking to study youth poverty, homelessness and other issues to better prioritize city policy. The $175,000 study, which will be mostly privately funded, will look at multiple factors affecting the city’s youth, including crime, poverty, homelessness and educational opportunities. Simpson says the study will be the first comprehensive look at the city’s youth.
Democratic Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown’s bill to end Too Big to Fail was leaked to the press Friday, and The Washington Post has an analysis on what it does here. While the bill doesn’t explicitly break up big banks, it does severely limit big banks in a way that may encourage them to downsize. Brown will co-sponsor the bill with Republican La. Sen. David Vitter, making it a bipartisan compromise. CityBeat covered Brown’s efforts in further detail here.
Ky. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign is complaining someone bugged a meeting to listen in on staff’s plans for the 2014 election. Jesse Benton, campaign manager for McConnell, said in a statement, “Today’s developments ... go far beyond anything I’ve seen in American politics and are comparable only to Richard Nixon’s efforts to bug Democratic Party Headquarters at the Watergate 40 years ago.” During the meeting, McConnell’s staff alluded to labeling potential opponent Ashley Judd as “unbalanced” by bringing up past mental health problems. Meanwhile, recent polling found McConnell is no lock for re-election.
Scientists discovered evidence of “dark lightning,” which may emanate from thunderstorms alongside visible lightning.
On New Year’s Day, a fire broke out in a residential home near the University of Cincinnati that led to the deaths of UC students Chad Kohls and Ellen Garner, and their friends and family say the deaths could have been prevented by a better fire ordinance code. Now, Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan is heeding their call.
Speaking in front of the Livable Communities Committee
today, friends and family of Kohls and Garner asked City Council to pass changes to the fire ordinance, including more required fire exits, annual inspections, a mandatory fire drill at the beginning of each school semester and the removal of all exceptions in the code. They’re also asking the new ordinance be named in honor of Kohls and Garner.
Quinlivan says her office will work with the city administration to find possible changes that would help avert fire deaths, including a measure that would prevent air conditioning units from being placed on windows that are supposed to act as exits.
Quinlivan is also encouraging UC to restart a certified list of preferred rental locations around campus, which would only include housing properties that pass fire safety inspections.
“I am touched that those close to Ellen and Chad contacted me, so that we can work with our city administration to prevent similar tragedies in the future,” Quinlivan said in a statement.
Two weeks ago, City Council unanimously approved an ordinance that requires all rental properties be equipped with photoelectric smoke detectors that are better at detecting slow, smoldering fires, which have been linked to more fatalities than the flaming, fast-moving fires picked up by the more traditional ionization smoke detectors, according to the vice mayor’s office. CityBeat covered that legislation here.
Following CityBeat’s blog post yesterday, the city released the official documents for the city manager’s parking plan. So far, no one has reported anything outrageous or unexpected. If you see anything, feel free to email email@example.com.
Of the two dozen people who spoke at a public hearing for the parking plan yesterday, all but two opposed the plan. Much of the opposition came from people who said they were worried parking will be expensive, but the city manager’s office says it will take three years for parking rates to go up in Downtown and six years for rates to go up in neighborhoods after an initial hike to 75 cents. CityBeat covered the parking plan in detail here.
Cincinnati officials are now saying that a freestanding restroom could cost as low as $35,000. Officials say the public restroom is needed to accommodate growing activity and population in Over-the-Rhine and Downtown. Some critics were initially worried that the facility would cost $100,000.
Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino will partner up with the Cincinnati Police Department to keep out cheats and prevent theft. The casino will also have advanced surveillance equipment, allowing them to detect anyone around the casino before they even get into the building. It may seem like a lot, but casinos do tend to attract cheaters and other troublemakers, according to Ohio Casino Control Commission Director of Enforcement Karen Huey. The Horseshoe Casino is set to open March 4.
A report from the Governors Highway Safety Association found more teen drivers died in crashes this year than the last two, and some officials fear wireless devices may be a leading cause. In Ohio, the six-month grace period for the teen wireless ban expires Friday, which will allow police officers to issue tickets instead of warnings to teenagers using any wireless devices while driving.
Gov. John Kasich’s budget proposal would cut back a state-funded college internship program, which awarded $11 million to universities around the state.
Ohio Democrats are asking Kasich to put his Ohio Turnpike funding promises in writing after they found out the governor’s budget proposal doesn’t actually say that 90 percent of leveraged funds will remain in northern Ohio, which Kasich originally promised.
Barry Horstman, investigative reporter at The Cincinnati Enquirer, collapsed and died in the newsroom yesterday. CityBeat offers its condolences to Horstman’s co-workers, family and friends.
The University of Cincinnati got a $2.3 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to train cancer researchers. “Our emphasis is on training the next generation of cancer researchers to translate basic science discoveries into improved patient care,” Susan Waltz, co-principal investigator of the grant and professor of cancer biology at the UC College of Medicine, said in a statement.
A homemade jetpack can reach altitudes up to 25,000 feet, but it might have some trouble landing.