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Ohio legislators appear ready to weaken environmental and energy regulations after months of lobbying by Akron, Ohio-based utility company FirstEnergy. The utility company argues the regulations, particularly energy efficiency standards that require customers use less electricity, cost businesses and customers too much money. But environmental groups and other supporters of the rules say FirstEnergy is just looking out for its own self-interests while putting up a front of caring about others. A study by the Ohio State University and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy coalition found eliminating the energy efficiency standards would cost Ohioans $3.65 billion more on electricity bills over the next 12 years. State Sen. Bill Seitz, who’s spearheading the regulation-weakening efforts, formally introduced his bill yesterday, and business groups say it’s a backdoor way to eliminate energy efficiency standards and the in-state renewable business by weakening them so much.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati on Tuesday announced it won a 2013 Green Power Leadership Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because of local efforts to draw down dirty energy production and replace it with clean sources. The Cincinnati area currently produces nearly 408 million kilowatt-hours through green energy sources, which is enough to cancel out nearly 60,000 cars’ emissions and meet 14 percent of the community’s purchased electricity use, according to city officials. To commemorate the award, Mayor Mark Mallory unveiled a Green Power Community sign at the Cincinnati Zoo, which installed solar panels on its parking lot in 2011 and became one of the region’s leading clean energy producers.Raw health insurance premiums for Obamacare’s online marketplaces will be 16 percent lower than previously projected, according to the latest estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released less than one week before marketplaces open on Oct. 1. In Ohio, the average family of four making $50,000 a year will have to pay $282 a month after tax credits for the second cheapest “silver” plan, or $486 less than the plan would cost without tax credits. Under Obamacare, online marketplaces will allow consumers to compare and purchase subsidized health insurance plans in the individual market. The plans only apply to the individual market, which means the majority of Americans, who are currently getting insurance through an employer or public programs, will be under a different insurance system and won’t qualify for the online marketplaces’ tax subsidies. CityBeat covered outreach efforts for the online marketplaces — and Republican attempts to obstruct them — in further detail here.
Commentary: “Let Them Eat Nothing?”
The Charter Committee, Cincinnati’s unofficial third party, yesterday endorsed Roxanne Qualls for mayor. The endorsement comes as little surprise to most election-watchers, considering the Charter Committee has endorsed Qualls four times over the years.
The Cincinnati Enquirer is displeased it couldn’t cover a private mayoral debate between Qualls and ex-Councilman John Cranley because the group hosting the debate closed its doors to the public.
Ohio Democrats yesterday made their endorsements for 2014: Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald for governor, former Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper for attorney general, State Sen. Nina Turner for secretary of state, State Rep. Connie Pillich for state treasurer and Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Judge John O’Donnell for the Ohio Supreme Court.
This infographic released by an anti-privatization group shows the negative impact of private prisons. CityBeat covered Ohio’s own privately owned prison and the problems it’s faced, including rising violence, in further detail here.
A federal grand jury charged a North Canton man for allegedly making illegal campaign contributions to U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci and Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel. Both candidates returned the campaign contributions after they became public in stories published by the Toledo Blade and The New Republic.
A 43-year-old Hamilton man allegedly used a poison-laced knife to stab his brother-in-law.
A supposedly sexist gorilla is getting kicked out of the Dallas Zoo after 18 years.
Health insurance premiums for the Affordable Care Act’s (“Obamacare”) marketplaces will be 16 percent lower than previously projected, according to the latest estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
The report, released on Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), comes less than one week before online marketplaces are set to open on Oct. 1.
In Ohio, the average 27-year-old making $25,000 a year will have to pay $145 a month after tax credits for the second cheapest “silver” plan, the designation given to the middle-of-the-pack plans under Obamacare. Without tax credits, the second cheapest silver plan would cost the 27-year-old $212 a month.
Meanwhile, the average Ohio family of four making $50,000 a year will have to pay $282 a month after tax credits for the second cheapest silver plan, or $486 less than the plan would cost without tax credits.
Under Obamacare, online marketplaces will allow consumers to compare and purchase health insurance plans in the individual market. Participants with an annual income between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or individuals making between $11,490 and $45,960, will also be eligible for tax subsidies, with the highest incomes getting the smallest subsidies and the lowest incomes getting the largest.
The plans only apply to the individual market, which means the majority of Americans, who are currently getting insurance through an employer or public programs, will be under a different insurance system and won’t qualify for the online marketplaces’ tax subsidies.
HHS estimates the average Ohioan will be able to choose between 46 different plans, excluding catastrophic options.
Some states will be less fortunate, with Alabamians in particular only having an average of seven plans to choose from.
The plans will be designated as bronze, silver, gold or platinum, with bronze covering less services but costing the least and platinum covering more services but costing the most.
The federal government was originally expecting states to set up most of the online marketplaces, but it’s had to carry some or the entire burden in 36 states, including Ohio, after state governments refused the full task.
Beating projections doesn’t necessarily make Obamacare a success. That’s why outreach campaigns plan to advertise the law’s benefits to Ohioans and others across the nation through March, after which enrollment will temporarily close until October 2014.
The outreach efforts are important to the law’s success because the federal government estimates it will need to enroll 2.7 million young adults out of the 7 million it expects to sign up overall. Otherwise, Americans who are older — and therefore less likely to be healthy — will fill up the marketplaces, exhaust health services and drive up costs.
At the same time, Republican legislators in Ohio and other states have put restrictions on some of the outreach efforts to avoid what Republicans call potential abuses and conflicts of interest. In Cincinnati, the state-level restrictions have blocked Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center from participating as a “navigator,” or a group that will help guide the uninsured and others through the enrollment process.
CityBeat covered the outreach efforts and Republican efforts to obstruct them in further detail here.
Update: Clarified metal-based classifications for different health care plans.
As the Oct. 1 opening date approaches for the Affordable Care Act’s (“Obamacare”) online marketplaces, outreach campaigns are beginning to take root and aim at states with the largest uninsured populations, including Ohio and its more than 1.25 million uninsured. But the campaigns have run into a series of problems in the past few months, with many of the issues driven by regulatory changes and opposition from Republican legislators at the state and federal level. So far, none of the state’s “navigators” — the federally financed organizations that will participate in outreach campaigns and help enroll people into marketplaces — have been certified by the Ohio Department of Insurance as they await completion of 20-hour federal training courses. Meanwhile, some organizations have been shut out of the process entirely, including Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, because of regulations enacted by state Republicans.
Strategies to End Homelessness yesterday released its first annual progress report detailing how the organization intends to reduce homelessness in Hamilton County by half from 2012 to 2017. The main strategies, according to the report: prevention, rapid rehousing that lasts six to 12 months, transitional housing for up to 24 months and permanent supportive housing that targets the chronically homeless and disabled. The goal is to reduce homelessness by using supportive services to get to the root of the issue, whether it’s joblessness, mental health problems or other causes, and ensure shelter services aren’t necessary in the first place.
A new study found Ohio school performance is strongly tied to student poverty. Damon Asbury of the Ohio School Boards Association says the results shouldn’t make excuse for low-performing schools, but he claims there are other factors the state government should consider when grading schools, including whether low-performing schools actually need more, not less, funding to make up for a lack of resources. Greg Lawson of the conservative Buckeye Institute seems to agree, but he says his organization, which supports school choice and vouchers, will soon release a study showing no correlation between state and local funding and student performance.
The Cincinnati Enquirer yesterday held its endorsement interviews with mayoral candidates Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley, with some of the highlights posted here. Also, check out CityBeat’s previous Q&A’s with the candidates: Qualls and Cranley.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says the state’s Identity Theft Unit has received 600 complaints and helped adjust $250,000 in disputed charges since its creation last year.
Libertarian Charlie Earl yesterday announced he’ll run in the 2014 gubernatorial race. Earl served in the Ohio House from 1981 to 1984 and ran unsuccessfully for secretary of state in 2010.
Cincinnati State is getting a $2.75 million federal grant to expand the school’s manufacturing program in the region.
Cincinnati Children’s is testing a new bird flu vaccine.
The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County received the Auditor of State Award with Distinction for a clean audit report.
A new study suggests people act more selfishly when interacting with wide-faced men.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and ex-Councilman John Cranley focused most of their disagreement on the streetcar and parking lease at yesterday’s first post-primary mayoral debate. No matter the subject, Cranley repeatedly referenced his opposition to the streetcar project and his belief that it’s siphoning city funds from more important projects and forcing the city to raise property taxes to pay for debt. Qualls argued the streetcar project will produce economic growth and grow the city’s tax base, which the city could then leverage for more development projects; that claim has been backed by studies from consulting firm HDR and the University of Cincinnati, which put the streetcar’s return on investment at three-to-one. On the parking lease, Qualls claimed money raised through the lease could be used to leverage economic development projects, while Cranley said the lease would hurt an entire generation by shifting control of Cincinnati’s parking assets from the city to the unelected Port Authority and private companies.
State Rep. Denise Driehaus and Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, both of Cincinnati, called on the state government to reverse its decision to not give local company Pure Romance tax credits. Pure Romance, a $100 million-plus company whose product lineup includes sex toys, was planning on moving from Loveland to downtown Cincinnati with local and state support, but because the state declined the tax breaks, the company is now considering moving to Covington, Ky. Gov. John Kasich’s administration has said Pure Romance doesn’t fit into the traditional industries the state invests in, but Democratic legislators argue Kasich’s social conservatism is getting in the way of keeping jobs in Ohio.
Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder says he has “literally no thoughts” about the possibility of the state expanding Medicaid without the legislature and through the state Controlling Board — a possibility that Kasich hinted at earlier in the week. Kasich has been pleading with the Ohio General Assembly to take up the federally funded Medicaid expansion, but Republican legislators have so far refused. If the Controlling Board does expand Medicaid, Batchelder said the state legislature will likely pass some protections in case the federal government reneges on its funding proposal. Under Obamacare, states are asked to expand Medicaid to 138 percent of the federal poverty level; if they accept, the federal government will pay for the entire expansion through 2016 then phase its payments down to an indefinite 90 percent.
Documents uncovered by USA Today further show the IRS, particularly through its offices in Cincinnati, targeted tea party groups by looking at “anti-Obama rhetoric,” inflammatory language and “emotional” statements made by nonprofits seeking tax-exempt status.
The Cincinnati area’s economy grew by 2.7 percent in 2012, slightly higher than the country’s 2.5-percent growth in the same year.
In perhaps another sign of growing local momentum, venture capitalists appear to be investing more in Cincinnati’s entrepreneurs.
Following two high-profile suicides at Ohio’s prisons, an expert on inmate suicides will inspect the state’s facilities and protocols.
Saks Fifth Avenue might move to Kenwood Collection.
Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble and TriHealth are among the top 100 companies for working mothers, according to the magazine Working Mother.
A very rare genetic mutation makes subjects immune to pain.
A national organization is looking at Ohio’s LGBT community as a potential target for a nationwide campaign that will raise awareness about the Affordable Care Act’s (“Obamacare”) enacted changes and benefits.
Kellan Baker, founder of Out 2 Enroll and associate director of LGBT Health Policy at the Center for American Progress, explains the campaign is crucial for Ohio and other parts of the country because gay, lesbian, bisexual and particularly transgendered groups are often uninsured at greater levels than the rest of the population — both because of poorly targeted outreach efforts and outright discrimination.
“We’re hoping to provide the tools that these systems need to see where LGBT people are and include them in these efforts so LGBT community members can get the benefits that they need,” Baker says.
To accomplish that, Baker’s team is using data collected through focus groups and other research to establish messages that will resonate with LGBT communities and land in hotspots in which the groups are active.
Some of the messaging is as simple as putting pictures of gay couples on brochures. Other times, it will involve reaching deep into specific LGBT circles and social media — perhaps even Grindr, the popular phone application that gay men use to arrange dates and other sexual activities.
In its messaging, Out 2 Enroll will tout the potential benefits of Obamacare: tax subsidies, online marketplaces that will allow participants to compare insurance plans and new regulations that protect LGBT groups from discrimination in the health care and insurance industries.
Baker says the efforts could be particularly critical for transgendered individuals. According to focus groups conducted by PerryUndem Research & Communication, the transgendered population has generally felt misunderstood and discriminated against when trying to obtain health insurance. Complaints about intrusive, inappropriate questions and being misgendered were fairly common.
In some cases, the discrimination wasn’t subtle. Until new regulations were enacted through Obamacare, insurance companies were able to withhold some medical services and refuse coverage altogether by treating gender identity issues as a pre-existing condition.
Gays, lesbians and bisexuals have faced their own discrimination as well: The focus groups found one in three respondents in a same-sex relationship tried to get partner coverage through an employer plan; of those, 50 percent had trouble getting partner coverage and 72 percent felt discriminated against during the process.
Baker explains that helping with many of these cases could be as simple as raising awareness about Obamacare’s LGBT benefits. Although 64 percent of respondents in the focus groups knew about Obamacare’s mandate to obtain health insurance, 71 percent had not heard about new coverage options made available through the federal law.
To reverse the statistical trend and ensure Obamacare’s success, Baker says Out 2 Enroll and other groups partnering with Enroll America will have to target critical enrollment areas with large uninsured populations, including Ohio.
A recent analysis from the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati put Ohio’s population of uninsured working-age Ohioans at 1.25 million.
The outreach campaign will mostly play out in the next six months, as online marketplaces open for enrollment on Oct. 1 and remain open until April.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine certified a petition effort
that, if approved by voters, would require the state to expand its
Medicaid program. The effort
now must gather roughly 116,000 signatures to be approved by the Ohio
Ballot Board and eventually end up on the 2014 ballot. Under Obamacare, states are asked to expand their Medicaid programs; if
they accept, the federal government will pay for the full expansion
through 2016 then indefinitely phase down its payments to 90 percent
after that. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found
the expansion would insure nearly half a million Ohioans and generate $1.8
billion in extra revenue. But the expansion has been so far rejected by
Republican legislators, who tend to be opposed to government-run health care
programs and say they’re concerned the federal government won’t be able
to uphold its commitment to Medicaid as it has for nearly four decades. CityBeat covered the expansion in greater detail here.
In another example of rising secrecy surrounding JobsOhio, state tax credit estimates are now exempt from public records law, which means the public will no longer be able to see the value of tax credits granted to new and expanding businesses. The estimate is used by JobsOhio to gauge whether it should propose granting a tax break to a certain business, but the Ohio Development Services Agency says it’s concerned the numbers aren’t accurate in the long term. In the past few months, JobsOhio has been mired in controversy because of its lack of transparency. Republicans argue that JobsOhio’s secretive nature allow the privatized development agency to move more quickly with job-creating development deals, but Democrats argue tax dollars are being used with little accountability.
The final results of Cincinnati’s disparity study for city contracts aren’t expected until 2015. The city is pursuing the study, which is estimated to cost between $500,000 and $1.5 million, to gauge whether Cincinnati should change its contracting policies to favorably target minority- and women-owned businesses. The study is necessary before making such changes because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that requires governments to empirically prove there is a racial or gender-based disparity before favorably targeting such groups.
Meet Cincinnati’s new police chief: Jeffrey Blackwell. He’s currently deputy chief at the Columbus Division of Police, where he’s been for 26 years. Blackwell was picked over three other finalists: Paul Humphries, who’s been acting Cincinnati Police chief since June; Michael Dvorak, deputy chief of the Mesa, Ariz., Police Department; and Jerry Speziale, deputy superintendent of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio criticized Debe Terhar, president of the State Board of Education, for calling Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye “pornographic” and demanding it be removed from the state’s teaching guidelines. Terhar and others have criticized the book because it contains a scene in which a father rapes his daughter. The Common Core standards adopted by Ohio suggest The Bluest Eye as an example of reading text complexity, quality and range for high school juniors who are typically 16 or 17 years old, but it’s ultimately up to school districts to decide whether the novel belongs in the curriculum. Removing mention of the book from the state’s guidelines wouldn’t explicitly ban the book in Ohio schools, but it would weaken the novel’s prominence as a teaching tool.
The University of Cincinnati Medical Center is part of an international effort involving clinical trials to cure Alzheimer’s, the neurodegenerative disease with no known cure that causes long-term memory loss, confusion, mood swings and other symptoms typical of dementia.
Police are searching for an active shooter on the grounds of the Washington Navy Yard in the District of Columbia. The shooter has barricaded himself in a room after allegedly shooting at least three people.
Ohio gas prices are back down.
An unarmed drone club for children with autism might teach the children to view things from different perspectives.
Ohio charter school have largely failed to live up to their promises, according to The Columbus Dispatch. Charter schools were originally pursued by Ohio lawmakers to help find a suitable alternative to the state’s struggling urban public schools. But in the latest school report cards, charter schools performed just as poorly as urban public schools. Charter schools are allowed to run a profit and skip on certain state rules and regulations, which was supposed to give them some leniency in implementing successful academic models.
Obamacare will lower average health care costs in Ohio’s individual market, according to a study from RAND Corporation, a reputable think tank. Although premiums will rise as a result of the law, the tax credits offered in Obamacare will be more than enough to offset the increases. The numbers only apply to the individual marketplaces; anyone who gets insurance through an employer or public program falls under different rules and regulation. Still, the findings are good news for Obamacare as the federal government aims to insure 7 million people — and 2.7 million young, healthy adults among those — to make the individual marketplaces work. As part of Obamacare, states and the federal government will open online enrollment for new, subsidized individual insurance plans on Oct. 1, and the plans will go into effect at the start of next year.
The Medicaid expansion could insure more than 42,000 people in Hamilton County, according to the Ohio Poverty Law Center. As part of Obamacare, states are asked to expand their Medicaid programs to include anyone at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($15,856 for a single-person household). If states accept, the federal government will pay for the entire expansion for the first three years then phase down its payments indefinitely to 90 percent of the expansion’s total cost. Earlier this year, the Health Policy Institute of Ohio released an analysis that found the Medicaid expansion would insure nearly half a million Ohioans and save the state about $1.8 billion in the next decade.Gov. John Kasich says he wants to slow down Attorney General Mike DeWine’s facial recognition program and work with the Ohio legislature to review if changes are necessary. Kasich compared the program to federal surveillance programs like the NSA and FISA, which have come under scrutiny in the past few months after leaks unveiled broader snooping and data collection of Americans’ private communications than previously expected. The facial recognition program allows police officers and civilian employees to use a photo to search databases for names and contact information; previously, law enforcement officials needed a name or address to search such databases. The program was criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union because knowledge of the program’s existence was withheld from the public for two-plus months and an independent group never reviewed the program’s privacy-protecting protocols.
Democratic City Council candidate Greg Landsman backed the second phase of the streetcar in a column Friday. The endorsement could be vital to the project’s future because Landsman is widely considered a favorite in this year’s City Council race.
JobsOhio’s leaders plan to launch a public relations offensive to repair the agency’s image. The privatized development agency has been criticized for its lack of transparency after media outlets uncovered that it was handing out tax credits to companies with direct financial ties to JobsOhio board members. Democrats argue the agency needs more transparency and checks on its recommendations, while Republicans, who created the agency to replace the Ohio Department of Development, claim the agency’s privatized, secretive nature allows it to move more quickly with job-creating development deals.
The University of Cincinnati was named public university of the year by The Washington Center. The award recognizes UC for supporting experiential education through its partnership with The Washington Center, an independent academic organization that serves hundreds of colleges and universities by providing internships and other opportunities in Washington, D.C., for school credit.
Police busted a $1 million shoplifting ring in Ohio that targeted discount retail stores along the Interstate 75 corridor, such as Walmart, Meijer, CVS and Family Dollar.
State law will soon require vaccine immunizations against several diseases for children attending school.
Cincinnati-based Kroger is cutting health care benefits for employees’ spouses on Jan. 1, but the plan will also increase pay, stabilize the company’s pension fund and provide more benefits for part-time employees. Obamacare apparently played a role in the decision to cut spousal benefits, but Kroger says the most influential factor was rising health care costs all around the nation — a trend that has been ongoing for decades.
Here is a visualization of the urban heat island effect, which will make cities warm up much faster as global warming continues.
Could you survive the end of the universe? io9 tackles the question here.
The Medicaid expansion could provide health insurance to more than 42,000 people living in Hamilton County, according to a county-by-county breakdown released on Aug. 28 by the Ohio Poverty Law Center (OPLC).
In Hamilton County, OPLC reports nearly 89,000 people are currently uninsured and roughly 155,000 use Medicaid.
OPLC found Hamilton County also includes the two hospitals that spent the most on uncompensated care in Ohio last year: Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and University Hospital. Much of that cost is incurred when low-income patients use services and can’t afford to pay for them — an issue that would be in part resolved if the same patients could pay for care through Medicaid.
Under the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), states are
asked to expand Medicaid eligibility so the public health insurance
program covers anyone at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty
level, or an annual income of about $15,856 for a single-person
household. If states accept, the federal government will carry the
entire cost of the expansion for the first three years then phase down
its burden to indefinitely pay for 90 percent of the expansion’s cost. That’s much higher than the 73-percent share the federal government paid for Ohio’s Medicaid program in 2010.
Earlier this year, the Health Policy Institute of Ohio released an analysis that found the Medicaid expansion would insure nearly half a million Ohioans and save the state about $1.8 billion in the next decade.
Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, and Democratic legislators support the Medicaid expansion, but Republican lawmakers, who control the Ohio legislature, have so far resisted it.
Republican legislators say they’re concerned the U.S. government won’t be able to afford its future Medicaid payments, even though the federal government has done so since the program was first established in 1965. Many tea party Republicans also oppose Medicaid and other public health programs from a philosophical perspective that calls for smaller government.
Ohio Health Issues Poll results released in June found 63 percent of Ohioans support the Medicaid expansion, with a margin of error of 3.3 percent.
Legislative leaders have said they will vote on a Medicaid
overhaul bill and perhaps a separate bill including the Medicaid
expansion when they reconvene in October.
The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) will lead to an increase in Ohio’s raw health care premiums, but the increase will be more than offset by the law’s tax credits, according to an Aug. 29 study from the RAND Corporation, a reputable think tank.
Specifically, health care premiums will rise to an average of $5,312 under Obamacare in 2016. Without the law, premiums would reach an average of $3,973 that year.
But when Obamacare’s tax credits are plugged in, the average Ohio individual will only pay a premium of $3,131 — $842 less than an individual Ohioan would pay without the law.
The tax credits will be available to individuals between 100 percent ($11,490 in annual income) and 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($45,960 in annual income). The subsidies will be smaller for higher income levels, and the raw premium will vary depending on the insurance plan, so the premium and subsidy numbers don’t apply perfectly across the board.
The numbers also only apply to Ohioans in the individual health insurance market. Under Obamacare, individuals will be able to enroll for health insurance through an online marketplace. The majority of Americans who get health insurance through their employers or public programs fall under different rules and regulations.
Obamacare will help more non-elderly Ohioans get health insurance. Without the law, 14.9 percent of non-elderly individuals would lack insurance. With the law, only 6.2 percent will go without insurance.
RAND attributes the difference in insurance rates to tax credits, which make health insurance more affordable, and the individual
mandate, which requires certain Americans buy health insurance or pay a fine.
The numbers are good news for Obamacare, which needs a certain amount of young adults to enroll to avoid causing health care costs to skyrocket. Federal officials say they expect to enroll 7 million people through individual marketplaces, but 2.7 million must be young adults. That’s because young adults tend to be healthier, which will help balance out sicker, older people flowing into health care plans.
The online marketplaces are supposed to open enrollment on Oct. 1. The actual plans will go into effect on Jan. 1.