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by Hannah McCartney 10.10.2013
 
 
gty_plan_b_contraseptive_ll_130430_wg

National Reporting Project to Examine Accessibility of Plan B

Crowd-sourced maps will show where and who is illegally limiting emergency contraceptives

The right to obtain emergency contraception is one that was only recently granted to all women of child-bearing age, marking a huge national victory for women's health rights over conservative political agendas.

But now that's it's available over-the-counter, is it really easy to access?

According to the Reproductive Justice Reporting Project, it depends on where and who you are.

The project, a newly-formed coalition comprising a number of alternative news publications under the umbrella of the Association of Alternative News Media (AAN) and the Media Consortium, part of a larger initiative to "study how independent news organizations can work together to create a collective impact," according to AAN.

The newest component of the project — "
Where Is Your Plan B?" — is a website that uses crowd-sourced data to monitor the availability of emergency contraceptives across the country. 

News outlets collaborating on the project include Austin Chronicle, Bitch Magazine, In These Times, LEO Weekly, Making Contact/National Radio Project, Ms. Magazine, People*Power*Media, Portland Mercury, Public News Service and Santa Fe Reporter.

Once the site gets a little more press, it will start publishing detailed maps documenting which pharmacies are readily providing Plan B, where it might be illegally restricted and where it's available but possibly made more difficult to obtain by roadblocks. For now, you can also find a thorough collection of investigative works from the Reproductive Justice Reporting Project from its participating news outlets, chronicling everything from how Native American women are being actively denied fair access to Plan B and women's access to abortion in New Mexico.

Plan B One-Step was first approved in July 2009 for use without a prescription for women only ages 17 or older; women younger than 17 were previously required to obtain a prescription.

In April, Judge Edward Korman ruled that the age restrictions on over-the-counter sales of emergency contraception were "arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable." His ruling prompted the FDA to announce Plan B One-Step's availability to women 15 and older without a prescription, which was in June amended to include women of child-bearing age.

Many women's health advocates have expressed concerns about how pharmacies are restricting accessibility to the drug, such as asking for identification even though the FDA doesn't require it or keeping the drug locked up or behind a counter, which could be a daunting barrier for some young girls, making an already unpleasant experience worse.

Commonly known as the "morning-after pill," Plan B is intended to be used when other methods of contraception fail. In extreme cases, it can be a rape victim's only option to prevent becoming pregnant.

The drug, which contains powerful levels of hormones found in some types of birth control pills, is more effective the more quickly it's taken after having unprotected sex, particularly within three days. That means having to obtain a prescription could null the effects of the pill or render it ineffective for a young woman struggling to get a doctor's appointment.

A research study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in January 2012 found that of several pharmacies called in five different cities, 20 percent did not have emergency contraception in stock on the same day the patient called.

Visit your local pharmacy and fill out the form here.

Where is Your Plan B? from altweeklies on Vimeo.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.10.2013
Posted In: News, Parking, Streetcar, Health care at 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
streetcar

Morning News and Stuff

Streetcar's cancellation unlikely, parking payment shrinks, Kasich could expand Medicaid

By the time a new mayor and City Council candidates take office in December, the city will have laid out roughly half a mile of track and spent or contractually obligated at least $117 million for the streetcar project. The contractual obligations mean it could cost more to cancel the project than to finish it, which will cost the city an estimated total of $88 million after deducting $45 million in federal grants. Still, mayoral candidate John Cranley and several council candidates insist they will try to cancel the project upon taking office. Check out CityBeat’s full in-depth story here.

The parking plan’s upfront payment has been reduced to $85 million, down from $92 million, and the city, as opposed to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, could be on the hook for $14 million to $15 million to build a garage at Seventh and Sycamore streets, according to an Oct. 9 memo from City Manager Milton Dohoney. The city manager claims the lump sum payment dropped as a result of rising interest rates and the Port Authority’s decision to relax parking meter hours outside Over-the-Rhine and the Cincinnati Business District. The parking plan leases Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages to the Port Authority, which plans to hire private companies to operate the assets. CityBeat covered the plan in greater detail here and the controversy surrounding it here.

Gov. John Kasich is considering using an executive order to expand the state’s Medicaid program with federal funds. The executive order would expand eligibility for the government-run health insurance program so it includes anyone up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or nearly $15,900 in annual income for an individual. Kasich would then on Oct. 21 ask Ohio’s seven-member legislative-spending oversight panel to approve federal funds for the expansion. Kasich, a Republican, has aggressively pursued the Medicaid expansion, which the federal government promises under Obamacare to completely fund through 2016 then phase down and indefinitely hold its payments at 90 percent of the expansion’s total costs. But Republican legislators claim the federal government might not be able sustain the payments, even though the federal government has met its payments for the much larger overall Medicaid program since it was created in 1965.

At its final full session before the November election, City Council approved nearly $854,000 in tax credits for Pure Romance to bring the company to downtown Cincinnati for at least 20 years. Councilman Charlie Winburn, the lone Republican on council, was the only one to vote against the tax incentives. The city administration estimates the deal will lead to at least 126 new high-paying jobs in downtown Cincinnati over three years and nearly $2.6 million in net tax revenue over two decades. Gov. John Kasich’s administration was originally supposed to provide some tax incentives to the company, but it ultimately reneged after supposedly deciding that the company isn’t part of an industry the state typically supports. Critics say Kasich’s administration is just too “prudish” to support a company that includes sex toys in its product lineup.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio yesterday announced it’s suing Ohio over anti-abortion restrictions passed in the 2014-2015 state budget. The ACLU claims the restrictions are unrelated to the budget and therefore violate the Ohio Constitution’s “single subject” rule, which requires each individual law keep to a single subject to avoid complexity and hidden language. CityBeat covered the state budget in further detail here.

Hamilton County Administrator Christian Sigman says he’s monitoring the impact of the federal government shutdown with some concerns. “I’m more concerned if this goes more than four weeks or so, when we start talking about reimbursement programs for our larger social programs such as food stamps and cash assistance to the needy and those types of things. We just don’t have the money to front that type of thing,” he said. CityBeat covered the shutdown in further detail here.

Hamilton County’s government shrunk by more than one-third in the past decade.

City Council yesterday passed a resolution condemning State Sen. Bill Seitz’s attempts to weaken Ohio’s renewable energy and efficiency mandates. A study from Ohio State University and Ohio Advanced Energy Economy found Ohioans will spend $3.65 billion more on their electricity bills over the next 12 years if the mandates are repealed. CityBeat covered the attempts to repeal the mandates in further detail here and the national conservative groups behind the calls to repeal here.

Early voting turnout is so far “anemic,” according to The Cincinnati Enquirer.

Ohio has the No. 12 worst tax environment among states, according to a report from the Tax Foundation. The rank is unchanged from the previous year’s report.

A central Ohio school might ban Halloween.

Bill Nye explains Jupiter’s big red spot:

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 10.03.2013
Posted In: News, Not-for-profit, Health care, Health at 01:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
coverstory_web.widea

Ohio House Votes to Authorize Syringe-Exchange Programs

House overwhelmingly approves loosening restrictions on establishing SEPs

The Ohio House yesterday offered overwhelming support for a bill that would authorize local health boards across the state to establish syringe-exchange programs with fewer roadblocks, which could pave the way for Cincinnati to establish myriad programs across its neighborhoods most afflicted by intravenous drug use and bloodborne pathogens.  

House Bill 92, sponsored jointly by Rep. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) and Rep. Barbara Sears (R-Sylvania), would remove a restriction that stipulates programs can only be implemented when a local health emergency has been declared and lays out mandates for programs to protect the rights and educate the intravenous drug users who take advantage of the programs. 

Syringe exchange programs have been the privy to significant controversy; opposers say that offering addicts the tools they need to fuel drug habits ultimately fuels destructive habits and sends the wrong message to drug abusers. 

What’s helped turn the issue non-partisan, however, is overwhelming data supporting claims that the program saves lives. In 2004, the World Health Organization published a study on the effectiveness of syringe programming in reducing HIV/AIDS that found a “compelling case that (needle-exchange programs) substantially and cost effectively reduce the spread of HIV among (injection drug users) and do so without evidence of exacerbating injecting drug use at either the individual or societal level.” 

Adam Reilly, who is an HIV project manager for a local healthcare provider, says that a syringe exchange program is already in the works for Springdale; the location is expected to open in about a month. He says that project has been seven years in the making because of how entangled efforts to establish the program become in bureaucracy. Establishing a program is particularly laborious, he explains, because it requires citywide cooperation — including law enforcement — which has proven to be a challenge for programs in other states, where police officers are prone to harass participants entering or leaving an exchange facility.

The current bill would essentially take the issue out of the political arena, Reilly says, and thrust the responsibility onto health departments. The city of Cincinnati in 2012 already declared a public health emergency following significant proof of a citywide HIV/Hepatitis C epidemic sourced primarily from heroin abuse.

Cincinnati's now-defunct nonprofit agency STOP AIDS found through focus groups that the majority of intravenous drug users are Caucasian middle-aged males; 145 of 147 study subjects reported using ineffective methods to clean used equipment. Their data estimates that 4,000-6,000 people locally are currently living with HIV/AIDS.

STOP AIDS also estimated that spending $385,000 per year on a syringe exchange program has the potential to save nearly $50 million annually in health costs generated from contracting HIV or HCV infections.

To make the program as effective as possible, Reilly says other exchange programs offer participants assurance in writing that their identities will be protected; the House bill also says that future programs wold be required to encourage drug users to seek medical, mental health or social services, also offer counseling and other educational requirements.

The bill has been assigned to a Senate committee, where it will go through another vote and, if passed, will require Gov. John Kasich's signature to become law. 
 
 
by German Lopez 10.02.2013
Posted In: News, Economy, Health, Health care at 09:36 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
capitol hill

Morning News and Stuff

Shutdown hurts Ohio workers, infant mortality efforts continue, glitches snare Obamacare

Have any questions for City Council candidates? Submit them here and we may ask your questions at this Saturday’s candidate forum.

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.

The ongoing federal government shutdown is keeping thousands of Ohioans from going to work. The federal government closed its doors yesterday after House Republicans refused to pass a budget that doesn’t weaken Obamacare and Senate Democrats and the White House insisted on keeping President Barack Obama’s signature health care law intact. Without a budget, non-essential federal government services can’t operate.

As part of a broader campaign to reduce Cincinnatis high infant mortality rate, the city yesterday launched another effort that aims to educate parents in the city’s most afflicted zip codes on proper ways to put their babies to sleep. According to the Cincinnati Health Department, 36 babies died from unsafe sleeping conditions between 2010 and 2011. Cradle Cincinnati plans to help prevent these deaths by reminding parents that babies should always sleep alone, in a crib and on his or her back. The education effort is just one of many to reduce Cincinnati’s infant mortality rates, which in some local zip codes have been worse than rates in third-world countries.

Ohioans who tried to use Obamacare’s online marketplaces on opening day yesterday likely ran into some website errors, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is asking participants for patience as they work out the glitches, which appear to be driven by overwhelming demand. The problems weren’t unexpected, given that software launches are often mired in issues that are later patched up. “We’re building a complicated piece of technology, and hopefully you’ll give us the same slack you give Apple,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters at a Sept. 30 briefing.

Domestic violence arrests in 2012 were down from the previous year, but law enforcement officials say they need more help from lawmakers to bring down the number, which remained above 41,000, even further. Officials claim a law on teen dating violence, which, among other things, allows protective orders on accused abusers who are under 18 years old, has helped, but advocates argue protections need to be strengthened. CityBeat covered the advocates’ efforts in further detail here.

The Ohio Libertarian Party asked lawmakers at a hearing yesterday to loosen restrictions in a bill that seeks to limit ballot access for minor political parties. The bill, which is sponsored by State Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), requires minor parties to gather an estimated 100,000 signatures every two years to remain on the ballot, which Libertarians say would be difficult and expensive. Instead, Libertarians would like that provision to require the signatures every four years. Libertarians also asked lawmakers to allow voting thresholds, which give minor parties automatic recognition in Ohio if they get 3 percent or more of the vote, to apply to more than the gubernatorial race. Seitz said he’s open to the changes.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced yesterday that the Bureau of Criminal Investigation exceeded its goal of testing 1,500 rape kits in the program’s first year. In total, the agency has tested 1,585 out of 4,053 submitted kits. The program allows local and state law enforcement to analyze and match DNA evidence to verify criminal allegations. So far, it has led to 505 DNA matches.

Cincinnati could make an offer by the end of the year for a currently unused section of the Wasson Way railroad line that the city plans to convert into a five-mile bike and hike trail.

Three more downtown buildings will house apartments. Although the buildings aren’t directly on the streetcar route, the developer said that public transportation, along with bicycles, will play an important role in promoting the apartments because they won’t have dedicated parking.

The Greater Cincinnati Green Business Council is offering an energy benchmarking toolkit that allows small and medium-sized businesses to see how they can improve their environmental performance.

Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati is the No. 1 hospital for delivering babies in Ohio.

The number of induced abortions in Ohio rose between 2011 and 2012 but ended up at the second lowest levels since 1976, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

The Ohio Department of Transportation is putting more than $3 million toward purchasing new vehicles and equipment that should help elderly and disabled residents across the state.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first “artificial pancreas” to help diabetics better monitor and control their insulin levels.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.01.2013
Posted In: News, Health care at 01:35 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)
 
 
obamacarefail

First Day of Obamacare Snared by Website Errors

Marketplace website produces waiting periods, errors

Ohioans who tried to obtain health insurance through HealthCare.gov, the online portal for Obamacare’s marketplaces, on its opening day likely ran into a few problems, ranging from delays to problems logging in.

Before logging in, participants typically go through a waiting period that can last up to a few minutes. During this time, a large message pops up that says, “Health Insurance Marketplace: Please wait. We have a lot of visitors on our site right now and we're working to make your experience here better. Please wait here until we send you to the login page. Thanks for your patience!”

Following the waiting period, logging in can become its own challenge. After entering a username and password, the screen often flashes a “Downstream Error,” occasionally joined with the incomprehensible code “E501.”

Even if someone manages to get through the issues and log in, another error message can pop up that makes browsing insurance plans impossible.

The problems aren’t necessarily unexpected — new software often launches with glitches that are later patched up — and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is asking participants to be patient.

“We’re building a complicated piece of technology, and hopefully you’ll give us the same slack you give Apple,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters at a Sept. 30 briefing.

Federal officials also caution that Oct. 1 is just one day of the six-month enrollment period, which will last through March. And even if someone did manage to sign up on the first day, none of the insurance plans begin coverage until Jan. 1.

Once the marketplaces do work correctly, officials promise that they will allow Cincinnatians to browse, compare and select from 46 different private insurance plans that range from a “bronze” plan that costs and covers the least to a “platinum” plan that costs and covers the most.

The plans’ raw premiums are also 16 percent lower than the federal government previously projected, according to the latest Congressional Budget Office numbers. An Ohio 27-year-old making $25,000 a year will be able to buy a “silver,” or middle-of-the-pack, plan for as low as $145 a month after tax credits, while an Ohio family of four making $50,000 a year will be able to pay $282 a month for a similar plan. Without the tax credits, the individual will pay $212 a month and the family of four will pay $768 a month.

Participants must make between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level a year, or $11,490 to $45,960 in annual income for an individual, to be eligible for tax credits. Higher income levels will get smaller subsidies; lower income levels will get larger subsidies.

Anyone interested in the marketplaces can browse options and sign up online at HealthCare.gov, by phone at 800-318-2596 or in person at various locations, including community health centers and the Freestore Foodbank.

Updated: Added more details about tax subsidies in Ohio’s marketplaces.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.01.2013
Posted In: News, Mayor, Health care, Budget at 09:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
capitol hill

Morning News and Stuff

Federal government shuts down, Obamacare opens for enrollment, Qualls picks vice mayor

Have any questions for City Council candidates? Submit them here and we may ask your questions at this Saturday’s candidate forum.

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.

The federal government shut down today for the first time in 17 years after House Republicans, including local Reps. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup, refused to pass a budget bill that didn’t repeal, delay or otherwise weaken Obamacare, the controversial health care law that Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama strongly support. Federal law requires government agencies to largely shut down and furlough non-essential employees if lawmakers fail to pass a budget that funds government services. The showdown is the latest in Republican efforts to repeal or weaken the president’s signature health care law. Republicans claim Obamacare is an example of government overreach that burdens the economy, while Democrats say the law will help millions of Americans receive health insurance and clamp down on rising health care costs.

Mayor Mark Mallory and other community leaders yesterday jumpstarted a six-month effort to get as many people signed up for Obamacare’s online marketplaces, which opened for enrollment today at www.healthcare.gov. At the marketplaces, an Ohio 27-year-old making $25,000 a year will be able to buy a “silver,” or middle-of-the-pack, plan for as low as $145 a month after tax credits, while a family of four making $50,000 a year will be able to pay $282 a month for a similar plan, according to Congressional Budget Office numbers. 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 be eligible for tax subsidies, with the highest incomes getting the smallest subsidies and the lowest incomes getting the largest. Various local groups, including the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County and Freestore Foodbank, will participate in the outreach campaigns, which will attempt to enroll as many Ohioans as possible despite Republican legislators’ attempts to obstruct the efforts.

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls says she would pick Councilman Wendell Young as her vice mayor if she’s elected mayor this November and Young wins re-election. Qualls is running for mayor against fellow Democrat and ex-Councilman John Cranley. Although Qualls and Cranley agree on a host of issues, they are completely divided on the streetcar project and parking plan, both of which Qualls supports and Cranley opposes. The issues took much of the spotlight during the first post-primary mayoral debate.

Ohio and Ky. officials say they expect to break ground on the Brent Spence Bridge project in 2015, but no funding plan is yet in place. Officials agree tolling will be part of funding the $2.5-billion project, but motor fuel taxes, subsidies and a loan from the federal government could also play a role. The project is nationally recognized as necessary because of the current bridge’s deteriorating condition.

The Cincinnati Reds set an attendance record this season.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is still extremely sure humans are causing global warming.

 
 
by German Lopez 09.30.2013
Posted In: Health care, News, Mayor at 12:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
mark mallory

Mayor Touts Obamacare Outreach Efforts

Marketplace enrollment will remain open from October through March

Mayor Mark Mallory and other community officials today jumpstarted a six-month effort to enroll uninsured Cincinnatians into the Affordable Care Act’s (“Obamacare”) online marketplaces, which open for enrollment on Oct. 1.

“This is not politics,” Mallory said. “Obamacare is now the law of the land.”

The goal is to reach out to the 21 percent of Hamilton County residents who currently lack health insurance and hopefully help enroll them through the marketplaces, which will allow anyone to go online and browse and compare different health insurance plans.

Forty-six plans will open for enrollment in Cincinnati on Oct. 1, but coverage won’t begin until 2014. The three-month period is supposed to give consumers enough time to decide on a plan before insurance kicks in.

“A new day is starting tomorrow for millions of Americans who have been shut out of the health insurance market,” said Kathleen Faulk, a director at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services who will oversee the Cincinnati area’s marketplace.

At the marketplaces, an Ohio 27-year-old making $25,000 a year will be able to buy a “silver,” or middle-of-the-pack, plan for as low as $145 a month after tax credits, while a family of four making $50,000 a year will be able to pay $282 a month for a similar plan, according to Congressional Budget Office numbers. Other options will range from catastrophic plans, which will cover the barest minimums for a low price, to “platinum” plans, which will provide the most expansive coverage at the highest price.

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 be eligible for tax subsidies, with the highest incomes getting the smallest subsidies and the lowest incomes getting the largest.

Throughout the enrollment period, outreach campaigns will attempt to enroll as many Americans as possible. Some of those efforts have been made more difficult through new regulations passed by legislators who oppose Obamacare, including Ohio Republicans.

The federal government estimates it will have to sign up 2.7 million young adults out of the 7 million Americans who are expected to enroll. Otherwise, older Americans, who are more prone to sickness and poor health, will flood the marketplaces, exhaust health services and drive up costs.

Enrollment will remain open from October through March. Afterward, enrollment will open annually from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7, just like Medicare. There will be exemptions for those who have life-changing events, such as losing a job or turning 26, to allow people to sign up for coverage during unexpected circumstances.

Starting in 2014, most Americans — with exemptions for religious and economic reasons, the imprisoned and those living outside the country — will have to enroll for health insurance or pay a tax penalty. The penalty will start at $95 per uninsured adult in a household or 1 percent of household income, whichever is higher, and grow in 2016 to $695 per uninsured adult in a household or 2.5 percent of household income, whichever is higher.

Anyone interested in the marketplaces will be able to browse options and sign up online at www.healthcare.gov or www.mayormallory.com, by phone at 1-800-318-2596 or in person at various locations, including community health centers and the Freestore Foodbank.

Update: Clarified metal-based classifications for different health care plans.

 
 
by German Lopez 09.30.2013
Posted In: 2013 Election, News, Pensions, Health care at 09:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Early voting tomorrow, Obamacare enrollment to open, pension amendment cuts benefits

Have any questions for City Council candidates? Submit them here and CityBeat may ask your questions at this Saturday’s candidate forum.

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections begins tomorrow. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.

Tomorrow is also the first day of open enrollment at Obamacare’s online marketplaces, which can be found at www.healthcare.gov. At the marketplaces, an Ohio individual will be able to buy a middle-of-the-pack health insurance plan for as low as $145 a month after tax credits, while a family of four making $50,000 will be able to pay $282 a month for a similar plan, according to Congressional Budget Office numbers. Starting in 2014, most Americans — with exemptions for religious and economic reasons, the imprisoned and those living outside the country — will be required to buy health insurance or pay a tax penalty. Organizations from around the state and country will be working over the next six months to help insure as many Ohioans and Americans as possible, but some of those efforts have been obstructed by Republican legislators who oppose the president’s signature health care law, as CityBeat covered in further detail here.

Meanwhile, the federal government is nearing a shutdown because of Republican opposition to Obamacare, including local Reps. Steve Chabot and Brad Wenstrup.

A report from the conservative Buckeye Institute echoes claims made by both sides in Cincinnati’s pension debate: A tea party-backed amendment, if approved by voters, would reduce retirement benefits for new city employees by one-third. At the same time, the city’s unfunded pension liability might be $2.57 billion, or three times what officials currently estimate. The amendment would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system by forcing future city employees to contribute to and manage their own individual retirement accounts, which would imitate private 401k plans commonly seen in the private sector. Under the current system, the city pools pension funds and manages the public system through an independent board. The pension amendment is backed by tea party groups, some of who may reside outside Cincinnati and Ohio, and will appear on the ballot as Issue 4.

To celebrate early voting, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who’s running for mayor against ex-Councilman John Cranley, will name her vice mayor today. Qualls is expected to select Councilman Wendell Young. Cranley and Qualls are both Democrats, but they’re heavily divided on the streetcar project and parking plan, both of which Qualls supports and Cranley opposes. The mayoral candidates mostly focused on the two issues in their first post-primary mayoral debate, which CityBeat covered here.

Jeffrey Blackwell, Cincinnati’s new police chief, starts on the job today. He’s replacing former Police Chief James Craig, who left in June to take the top police job in his hometown of Detroit. The city has praised Blackwell for his 26 years at the Columbus Division of Police, where he reached out to youth and immigrants, advanced the use of technology, worked closely with community members and helped reduce operating costs.

Cincinnati Councilwoman Pam Thomas today announced that she’s introducing a motion to hire a 40-member police recruit class. The motion addresses a drop in the amount of Cincinnati police officers in recent years: Staffing levels since the last recruit class have dropped by 15.2 percent, according to Thomas’ office. “Our police staffing levels are dangerously low,” Thomas said in a statement. “We cannot afford to sacrifice our public’s safety by not hiring this recruit class.” In this year’s budget, the city managed to prevent cutting public safety jobs by slashing other city services, including city parks. But Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan argues that Cincinnati’s public safety forces, which are proportionally larger than most comparable cities, need to be “rightsized” and reduced over time.

The amount of local children and teens going to the hospital with a concussion massively increased between 2002 and 2011, and the number is expected to increase further because state law now requires medical clearance to continue playing sports after a concussion.

Ohio gas prices are back below the national average.

AdvancePierre Foods, Cincinnati's largest private company, got a new CEO.

Earth may have stolen its moon from Venus.

 
 
by German Lopez 09.11.2013
Posted In: News, 2013 Election, Mayor, Health care at 09:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
roxanne qualls

Morning News and Stuff

Cranley and Qualls win mayoral primary, state limits Obamacare, zoo levy renewal on ballot

Ex-Councilman John Cranley decisively defeated Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls as both Democratic mayoral candidates won the primary election and advanced to the general election. With all precincts reporting, Cranley got 55.9 percent of the vote and Qualls picked up 37.2 percent, according to unofficial results from the Hamilton County Board of Elections. But voter turnout for yesterday’s primary was especially low at 5.68 percent; in comparison, turnout was 15 percent during the primary held on Sept. 11, 2001 — the day of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon — and 21 percent in the 2005 mayoral primary. In the past two mayoral races with primaries, whoever won the primary election lost the general election. Voters will make the final choice for mayor between Qualls and Cranley on Nov. 5.

Limitations imposed by Ohio lawmakers who oppose the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) have forced Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center to give up a $124,419 federal grant that would have gone toward helping uninsured Ohioans navigate new online marketplaces for health insurance. State legislators say the regulations are supposed to clarify who qualifies as a “navigator” under Obamacare to avoid potential abuses and conflicts of interest, but Obamacare’s supporters say Republicans are just trying to make the law more difficult to implement. Under Obamacare, participating organizations are classified as navigators so they can help promote new online marketplaces and tax subsidies to meet the law’s enrollment goals. By losing its classification as a navigator, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital can no longer help in that outreach effort.

After getting approval from county commissioners, the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden is asking voters to renew a levy that will appear as Issue 2 on the Nov. 5 ballot. The renewal wouldn’t increase taxes from today’s rates, but it would keep property taxes $10 higher for every $100,000 of home value. It will go to the care, feeding and maintenance of the zoo’s animals and botanical gardens. A study from the University of Cincinnati Economic Center found the zoo had a $143 million impact on the Cincinnati area in 2012 — representing nearly 3.9 times the zoo’s total spending — and produced 1,700 jobs and nearly $1.6 million in tax revenue for Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

State Rep. John Carney announced yesterday that he will run for state auditor. Carney, a Democrat, will aim to replace Republican Dave Yost. He says his run will “bring much-needed bipartisanship and transparency back to our state government,” particularly by ending the one-party rule in many state offices. Carney also took aim at JobsOhio, the privatized development agency that has been mired in scandals in the past few months. Yost split with his fellow Republicans when he pursued a full audit of JobsOhio’s public and private funds, but Republican state legislators cut the debate short by passing a law that made the agency insusceptible to a full audit.

Two Ohio prison guards are suspended with pay after the apparent suicide of Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man who was convicted to a life sentence for holding three women captive and beating and raping them. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction is investigating whether proper protocols were followed to avoid Castro’s death.

Campaign contributions to Republican Gov. John Kasich and Democratic opponent Ed FitzGerald came from people the gubernatorial candidates appointed to government positions. In the case of Kasich, the contributions are legal under state law. But the $1,000 contribution to FitzGerald was returned because it was deemed illegal under a county ethics law that FitzGerald helped establish as Cuyahoga County executive. Still, Kasich’s campaign has criticized FitzGerald for the illegal contribution, even though Kasich isn’t applying the same standard to his own campaign.

The panel reviewing the state’s controversial facial recognition program will actually review the entire web-based, decade-old Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway for proper protection protocols. Gov. John Kasich and the American Civil Liberties Union are among two of many who criticized the facial recognition program for potential breaches of privacy. 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 online for two months without an independent review of its protocols and before the public was notified of its existence.

President Barack Obama nominated former Gov. Ted Strickland to be one of five alternative representatives to the United Nations delegation.

People can often remember events early in life better than more recent events, and that might explain why they usually enjoy their parents’ favorite music.

 
 
by German Lopez 09.10.2013
Posted In: News, Health, Health care at 02:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
cincinnati children's

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Loses Obamacare Money

Medical center blocked from helping uninsured navigate online marketplaces

Limitations imposed by Ohio lawmakers who oppose the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) have forced Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center to give up a $124,419 federal grant that would have gone toward helping uninsured Ohioans navigate new online marketplaces for health insurance.

Specifically, the state law, which Gov. John Kasich signed on April 30 and went into effect on July 30, excludes any organization that receives payments from a health care payer, such as an insurance company, from being designated as a “navigator.”

The designation is necessary for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to receive the federal grant, which is part of national outreach efforts to enroll as many Americans, especially young adults, into Obamacare’s online marketplaces when they open for enrollment on Oct. 1.

Without the designation, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital was forced to give up the federal money, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital spokesperson Terry Loftus told CityBeat.

State legislators passed the restrictions to clarify regulations on navigators that avoid potential abuses and conflicts of interest.

But Obamacare’s supporters claim the state law is part of a nationwide effort from state and federal Republicans to make Obamacare more difficult to implement.

The federal government intends to sign up 7 million people into Obamacare’s online marketplaces, but 2.7 million have to be young adults to keep costs low. Otherwise, older, less healthy Americans will fill up the marketplaces, exhaust health services and drive up costs.

Supporters of Obamacare acknowledge that signing up so many young adults will be difficult, so they’ve taken to national and state-by-state education campaigns that tell young adults about the benefits and cost savings made available through the president’s signature health care law. These campaigns are being headed by various organizations that have been dubbed “navigators.”

But opponents, particularly Republicans, are preventing some of the efforts by investigating navigators and passing legislation in state governments that limits what navigators can do and who can be classified as a navigator.

Most recently, Republicans in the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to groups participating in the navigator program with a series of accusations and questions.

“This is a blatant and shameful attempt to intimidate groups who will be working to inform Americans about their new health insurance options and help them enroll in coverage, just like Medicare counselors have been doing for years,” Erin Shields Britt, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told The Hill.

For the uninsured, not knowing about the online marketplaces could mean losing out on opportunities to obtain health insurance at lower costs. Recent reports have found that Obamacare’s online marketplaces and tax subsidies will lower costs for Ohioans in the individual health care market.

An Aug. 29 study from the RAND Corporation, a reputable think tank, found 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 Ohioan will only pay a premium of $3,131 — $842 less than he or she would pay without the law.

Avik Roy, a conservative health care economist and prominent critic of Obamacare, found even better results for Ohio. His model found premiums will drop by 30 percent in Ohio, although they’ll rise by 24 percent on average for 13 states, including Ohio, and the District of Columbia as a whole. Unlike RAND, Roy’s calculations don’t take subsidies into account, so the final cost for the average Ohioan is likely much lower.

The numbers 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.

It’s unclear how much Republican opposition will ultimately play into the numbers. But for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, it means $124,419 less to help its neediest, less knowledgeable patients.

 
 

 

 

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by German Lopez 02.13.2014 70 days ago
Posted In: News, Health care, Health, Barack Obama at 10:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Obamacare Enrollment Improves

Demographics, overall numbers move in right direction

The federal government reported slightly better numbers in January for Obamacare’s once-troubled online marketplaces, but Ohio and the nation still fall far short of key demographic goals.

For the first time since HealthCare.gov’s glitch-ridden rollout, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) numbers show the amount of new enrollees actually beat projections. About 1,146,100 signed up for Obamacare in January, slightly higher than the 1,059,900 previously projected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

More importantly, a small boost in young adults means 25 percent of 3.3 million enrollees across the nation and 21 percent of 60,000 Ohio enrollees were aged 18 to 34. That’s up 1 percentage point for the nation and 2 percentage points for Ohio.

The White House previously said 39 percent of enrollees need to be young adults, who tend to be healthier, to avoid driving up health care costs by filling the insurance pool with older, sicker people who typically use more resources.

HHS’ numbers only reflect people who signed up for a health plan, not people who paid for their first premium, which is widely considered the final crucial step to getting covered.

Nearly nine in 10 single, uninsured young adults could qualify for financial assistance through the health care law or free Medicaid, which expanded eligibility in Ohio through Obamacare, according to HHS. 

 
 
by German Lopez 10.31.2013
Posted In: News, Health care, Courts at 12:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
kasich_2

Supreme Court Expedites Medicaid Expansion Case

Groups contest Gov. John Kasich’s decision to bypass legislature

The Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday expedited the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law’s challenge against the federally funded Medicaid expansion, which Republican Gov. John Kasich pushed through the Controlling Board, a seven-member legislative panel, despite resistance from the Ohio legislature.

The case will decide whether Kasich was constitutionally allowed to bypass the legislature to expand Medicaid eligibility to more low-income Ohioans. The 1851 Center says the Controlling Board isn’t allowed to go against the will of the legislature. The Kasich administration argues the Controlling Board can unilaterally accept federal funds.

With the case now expedited, both sides will submit their arguments on the merits of the case to the state’s highest court by Dec. 1.

Kasich tried for most of 2013 to get the expansion approved by the Ohio House and Senate, but he couldn’t convince Republican legislators, who control both chambers, to approve the plan.

But instead of accepting defeat, Kasich asked the Controlling Board to take up federal funds for the expansion. The board approved the funds on Oct. 21.

The legal complaint was filed on Oct. 22 on behalf of Republican State Reps. Matt Lynch, Ron Young, Andy Thompson, Ron Maag, John Becker and Ron Hood, Cleveland Right to Life and Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati.

Kasich, in a rare alliance with Democrats, says the Medicaid expansion is necessary to insure more low-income Ohioans and obtain federal Obamacare dollars that would go to other states if Ohio declined the expansion.

But Republican legislators say they’re concerned about the government’s involvement in the health care system and whether the federal government can afford to pay for the Medicaid expansion.

Under Obamacare, states are asked to expand Medicaid eligibility to reach anyone up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or individuals with an annual income of $15,856.20 or less. If states accept, the federal government will pay for the entire expansion through fiscal year 2016 then gradually phase down its payments to 90 percent of the expansion. In comparison, the Kaiser Family Foundation found the federal government paid for nearly 64 percent of Ohio’s Medicaid program in fiscal year 2013.

The expansion would fill a so-called “coverage gap” under Obamacare and Ohio law. Without it, parents with incomes between 90 percent and 100 percent of the federal poverty level and childless adults with incomes below 100 percent of the federal poverty level won’t qualify for either Obamacare’s tax credits or Medicaid.

The Health Policy Institute of Ohio (HPIO) previously found the expansion would insure between 300,000 and 400,000 Ohioans through fiscal year 2015. If the expansion is approved beyond that, HPIO says it would generate $1.8 billion for Ohio and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade.

If the Ohio Supreme Court upholds the Controlling Board’s decision, the Medicaid expansion will go into effect in 2014 and cost the federal government nearly $2.6 billion, according to the Ohio Department of Medicaid.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.28.2013
Posted In: News, Voting, Privacy, Health care at 08:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

Bill could reduce voting, panel wants facial recognition limits, governors debate Obamacare

A Republican-proposed bill in the Ohio legislature is drawing criticism from voting rights advocates because they say it would unnecessarily limit absentee voting. The bill would permit the secretary of state to send out absentee-ballot applications on even years, when gubernatorial and presidential elections are held, only if the legislature funds the mailings, and it would prevent county election boards from mailing out additional ballot applications beyond what the state sends out. Previously, some counties mailed unsolicited ballot applications to all voters to potentially reduce lines on Election Day. Voting rights advocates say the bill will dampen and reduce voter participation, but State Sen. Bill Coley, the bill’s sponsor, argues it’s necessary to bring uniformity to county-by-county absentee voting.

A nine-member panel of criminal justice officials on Friday recommended limiting access and improving oversight of Ohio’s controversial facial recognition program, following a two-month review of the system and public criticisms over the program’s secrecy and alleged lack of oversight. The facial recognition program, which is part of a state database of criminal justice records known as the Ohio Law Enforcement Gateway (OHLEG), was live for more than two months and 2,677 searches before Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine formally announced its existence in August. The 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.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Ky. Gov. Steve Beshear debated Obamacare on Sunday’s Meet the Press. Beshear pointed to his state’s successful rollout of Kynect, a Kentucky-operated online marketplace for state-based health insurance plans. The Kentucky marketplace has already enrolled 26,000 Kentuckians, although 21,000 are Medicaid enrollees. Meanwhile, Kasich criticized the rocky launch of the federal portal HealthCare.gov, which only applies to states, like Ohio, that declined to run their own online marketplaces. The federal portal has been practically unworkable for a huge majority of Americans since it launched on Oct. 1. Kasich also claimed Obamacare will increase health insurance costs in Ohio — a claim that goes against findings in a national premium model developed by Avik Roy, a conservative health care expert who is typically critical of Obamacare. CityBeat covered Obamacare’s Ohio rollout in further detail here.

Councilwoman Yvette Simpson is questioning why WCPO used a man named Jim Kiefer as a source after he posted racist insults aimed at her on social media. WCPO quoted Kiefer in a story as a John Cranley supporter, but the Cranley campaign quickly distanced itself from Kiefer upon learning of his history of bigoted posts on his Facebook wall, which was public at the time but is now private. Kiefer told CityBeat the posts were supposed to be jokes.

The ongoing mayoral race looks like the most expensive since Cincinnati began directly electing its mayors in 2001.

City Council could move forward with a plan next month to reduce the noise freight trains make overnight.

Emma and William were the most popular names in Cincinnati in 2012.

Ohio gas prices dipped this week after two straight weeks of increases.

The furthest confirmed galaxy shows off light from just 700 million years after the Big Bang.

Early voting is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days are extended. Check out CityBeat’s coverage and endorsements for the 2013 election here.

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by German Lopez 10.23.2013
Posted In: News, Jail, Health care, Energy at 09:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

Medicaid expansion challenged, jails go uninspected, local senator's energy bill criticized

Republican legislators filed a lawsuit against Ohio’s two-year, federally funded Medicaid expansion after Republican Gov. John Kasich went through the Controlling Board, an obscure seven-member legislative panel, instead of the Republican-controlled Ohio House and Senate to get approval for the expansion. The lawsuit, filed to the Ohio Supreme Court, claims, “Each representative is disenfranchised in his legislative capacity through the Controlling Board’s exercise of legislative authority.” Kasich put his request to the Controlling Board to bypass the legislature after months of unsuccessfully wrangling legislators in his own party to approve the expansion. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would insure between 300,000 and 400,000 Ohioans through fiscal year 2015; if legislators approve the expansion beyond that, the institute says it would generate $1.8 billion for Ohio and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade.

Meanwhile, some state senators plan to use the savings from the Medicaid expansion to cut taxes. For Ohioans making up to $50,000 a year, the 4-percent income tax cut would mean annual savings of less than $50.

State officials haven’t inspected southwest Ohio jails for five years, which means the jails could be breaking minimum standards set by the state without anyone knowing. The inspections were supposed to occur each year, but a lack of resources, which left only one inspector in the department, forced the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) to stop the practice and instead ask jails to inspect themselves — with limited checks on jails fabricating claims. The inspections are starting back up now that ODRC has a second jail inspector on its staff, but the inspections are announced beforehand, meaning jails can plan for them, and the punishment for failing to meet standards is historically unenforced.

State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, says he will introduce two amendments to walk back controversial provisions of an even more controversial bill that weakens Ohio’s renewable energy and efficiency standards. Critics say the bill would water down and effectively eliminate Ohio’s cost-saving energy standards, but Seitz, who has ties to a national conservative group that opposes energy standards, argues the rules impose too many costs on utility companies. A previous study from Ohio State University and Ohio Advanced Energy Economy found repealing the standards would increase Ohioans’ electricity bills by $3.65 billion over the next 12 years. CityBeat covered Seitz’s proposal and the controversy surrounding it in further detail here.

City Solicitor John Curp and Ohio Ethics Commission Executive Director Paul Nick said in an Oct. 22 email exchange that it was ethically OK for Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls to retain her job as a realtor and vote in support of the streetcar project, even though the project could indirectly benefit Qualls by increasing property values — and therefore her compensation as a realtor — along the route. The exchange was provided to CityBeat and various media outlets after mayoral candidate John Cranley criticized Qualls, who is also running for mayor, for the alleged ethical violation at an Oct. 22 press conference. But Curp and Nick, who cited two previous opinions from the Ohio Ethics Commission, agreed that Qualls’ financial connection to property values was too indirect and speculative because she only picks up a flat fee for the “arms-length transactions between private parties.” Curp also noted that Qualls had asked about the potential ethical conflict two times before.

A state prison in Toledo is no longer accepting new inmates after reports of increasing violence. The goal is to cut down on the amount of prisoners sharing a cell, ODRC spokeswoman JoEllen Smith told The Associated Press. Smith said the change was already in the works before a recent bout of killings. The facility holds roughly 1,300 prisoners, which is close to capacity.

Former Ohio State University President Gordon Gee is heading a state committee created by Gov. Kasich that’s trying to figure out how to curb college costs while improving quality.

Gallup says a majority of Americans now favor legalizing marijuana. CityBeat previously covered legalization and how it could affect Ohio in further detail here.

Women’s breasts apparently age more quickly than the rest of their bodies, according to a new study.

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days are extended.

On Oct. 29, local residents will be able to give feedback to Cincinnati officials about the city budget — and also nab some free pizza. The open budgeting event is from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 29 at 1115 Bates Ave., Cincinnati.

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by German Lopez 10.22.2013
Posted In: News, Courts, Health care, LGBT at 09:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

Medicaid expansion approved, local LGBT rights champion dies, judge's victory costs county

A seven-member legislative board yesterday accepted federal funding made available through Obamacare to expand Ohio’s Medicaid program to cover more low-income Ohioans for the next two years. Gov. John Kasich went through the Controlling Board, an obscure panel that typically handles less contentious budget issues, to get the federally funded Medicaid expansion after months of failing to convince his fellow Republicans to back the policy in the Ohio House and Senate. Most Republican state representatives, including local Reps. Lou Terhar, Louis Blessing and Peter Stautberg, signed a letter in protest of the tactic, and some groups are already discussing lawsuits. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would insure between 300,000 and 400,000 Ohioans through fiscal year 2015. If legislators approve the expansion beyond that, the institute says it would generate $1.8 billion for Ohio and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade.

John Arthur, the Cincinnati man who helped lead a legal battle for same-sex marriage in Ohio, died today at the age of 48. Arthur was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 2011, and the fatal neurodegenerative disease pushed Arthur and his partner Jim Obergefell to hasten their battle for LGBT equality and recognition in the eyes of the law. After the couple married in Maryland, they sued the state to recognize their marriage on Arthur’s death certificate — a request granted in July by U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Black, less than one month after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which previously barred same-sex marriages at the federal level.

The 18-month legal battle over the 2010 juvenile court election between Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter and the Hamilton County Board of Elections will cost the county more than $920,000. Hunter, a Democrat, ultimately won the lawsuit and recount. Her 2010 opponent, Republican John Williams, eventually got another seat in the juvenile court through an appointment and subsequent election.

Teen drivers remain one of Ohio’s most at-risk groups for traffic accidents, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP). Between 2010 and 2012, teen drivers were at fault for nearly 101,000 accidents resulting in more than 44,000 injuries and 299 deaths. In total, teens were responsible for roughly 10 percent of fatal crashes. To address the issue, OSHP is advising teen drivers and their parents on safety basics, such as following the speed limit and wearing a seatbelt, and promising to encourage better behavior through enforcement.

Speaking to investors on Friday, Caesar’s Entertainment, the operator of Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino, disclosed the details of a federal money-laundering investigation and said it previously withdrew a request for a gaming license in Massachusetts after investigators there questioned past business practices. Ohio officials reportedly told WCPO they’re reviewing the investigations.

In September, Cincinnati year-over-year home sales increased for the 27th consecutive month.

Cincinnati’s Spring Grove Cemetery removed a SpongeBob SquarePants headstone for an Iraq War veteran because officials deemed it inappropriate.

The Cincinnati Reds will replace former manager Dusty Baker with pitching coach Bryan Price, reports The Cincinnati Enquirer.

A new study found no known species matches the expected profile of a shared ancestor for humans and Neanderthals.

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days are extended.

On Oct. 29, local residents will be able to give feedback to Cincinnati officials about the city budget — and also nab some free pizza. The open budgeting event is from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 29 at 1115 Bates Ave., Cincinnati.

Follow CityBeat on Twitter:
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by German Lopez 10.21.2013
Posted In: News, Governor, Health care at 04:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
kasich_2

Board Expands Medicaid Without Legislature’s Approval

Republican governor bypasses GOP-controlled legislature for cornerstone of Obamacare

A seven-member legislative board on Monday accepted federal funding to expand Ohio’s Medicaid program to cover more low-income Ohioans for the next two years.

Republican Gov. John Kasich originally attempted to get the Medicaid expansion through the General Assembly, but he ultimately bypassed the legislature after months of unsuccessfully wrangling with members of his own political party to embrace the expansion.

Kasich instead opted to go through the Controlling Board, an obscure panel that typically handles less contentious budget issues that keep with legislative intent.

Most Republican state representatives, including local Reps. Lou Terhar, Louis Blessing and Peter Stautberg, signed a letter in protest of the tactic. The letter invokes legal arguments against the governor’s decision and could be the basis for a lawsuit in the future.

“Our protest is not about the merits or lack of merit in expanding Medicaid,” the letter states. “Our protest goes to the fundamental form of government upon which our country was founded — a Republic of checks and balances and separation of powers.”

Republican legislators say they’re concerned about the government’s involvement in the health care system and whether the federal government can afford to pay for the Medicaid expansion. They argue it would be better to pursue Medicaid reforms instead of expanding the program.

On the other side, Democrats, in a rare alliance with a Republican governor, applauded Kasich for embracing a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

Under Obamacare, the federal government asked states to expand their Medicaid programs to cover anyone at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or individuals with an annual income of $15,856.20 or less. If states accept, the federal government pays for the full expansion through fiscal year 2016, and then gradually phases down its payments to an indefinite 90 percent of the expansion’s costs.

In comparison, the Kaiser Family Foundation found the federal government paid for nearly 64 percent of Ohio’s Medicaid program in fiscal year 2013.

The expansion is necessary to fill a so-called “coverage gap” under Obamacare and Ohio law. Without the expansion, parents with incomes between 90 percent and 100 percent of the federal poverty level and childless adults with incomes below 100 percent of the federal poverty level don’t qualify for either Obamacare’s tax credits or Medicaid.

The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would insure between 300,000 and 400,000 Ohioans through fiscal year 2015. If legislators approve the expansion beyond that, the institute says it would generate $1.8 billion for Ohio and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade.

The federally funded expansion is set to begin in 2014. It will cost the federal government nearly $2.6 billion, according to the Ohio Department of Medicaid.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.21.2013
Posted In: News, Parking, Commissioners, Health care at 08:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_parkingmeters

Morning News and Stuff

Port advances parking plan, board could expand Medicaid, county to gauge tourist revenues

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days are extended.

On Oct. 29, local residents will be able to give feedback to Cincinnati officials about the city budget — and also nab some free pizza. The open budgeting event is from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 29 at 1115 Bates Ave., Cincinnati.

The Greater Cincinnati Port Authority on Saturday approved bond sales and contract agreements for the controversial parking plan. The approval is the final major step necessary for the Port Authority and its private partners to take over Cincinnati’s parking meters, lots and garages after the city leased the assets to the nonprofit development agency earlier in the year. The deal is supposed to raise $85 million in upfront funds and at least $3 million in annual payments for the city, which the city administration previously planned to use for development projects and operating budget gaps. But opponents of the deal say the city is giving up far too much control over its parking assets, which they argue could cause parking rates to skyrocket as private operators attempt to maximize profits.

Ohio’s Controlling Board, a seven-member legislative panel, is expected to decide today whether it will use federal funds to expand the state’s Medicaid program to more low-income Ohioans. Gov. John Kasich opted to bypass the legislature and put the decision to the Controlling Board after months of failing to convince his fellow Republicans in the Ohio House and Senate to take up the expansion. But critics of the expansion have threatened to sue the Kasich administration if it bypasses the legislature. Under Obamacare, the federal government will pay for the full expansion for the two years being considered; if Ohio ends up accepting the expansion beyond that, the federal government will pay for the entire expansion through 2016 then phase down its payments to an indefinite 90 percent of the expansion’s cost. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would generate $1.8 billion for the state and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade.

Hamilton County commissioners could consider today whether to use excess tourist tax revenues on more funding for tourism-related infrastructure projects. The tourist tax was previously used to help build the Cincinnati and Sharonville convention centers and fund the Convention and Visitors Bureau, but the county administrator intends to lay out more options in his meeting with commissioners.

In the mayoral race between Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and ex-Councilman John Cranley, black voters could make the big decision.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine on Friday warned about so-called sweetheart scams in which a con artist develops a relationship with a victim, typically through the Internet, before asking for money. The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Section has received about 70 complaints involving the scams since October 2011, resulting in an average loss of more than $14,000 with the highest reported loss coming in at $210,000, according to the attorney general.

Ohio’s school chief ordered two Columbus charter schools to shut down for health and safety reasons and inadequate staffing.

Findlay Market is tapping into crowdsourcing to decide three new storefronts.

Ohio gas prices increased for the second week in a row.

A thermal wristband promises to keep the user’s body at the perfect temperature.

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by German Lopez 10.16.2013
Posted In: News, Streetcar, Homelessness, Health care at 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

First streetcar tracks set, homeless to sue county, Medicaid expansion expected to pass

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.

Cincinnati yesterday laid down the first two streetcar tracks, putting the project on a clear path to completion after years of financial and political hurdles. The $133 million project is now expected to continue its construction phase over the next three years, with a goal of opening to the public on Sept. 15, 2016. City officials, including Mayor Mark Mallory and City Manager Milton Dohoney, celebrated the milestone and thanked supporters for remaining committed to the project. Meanwhile, former Councilman John Cranley, a streetcar opponent who’s running for mayor against streetcar supporter Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, criticized the city for laying down the tracks instead of delaying the project until a new mayor takes office in December. Cranley insists that he’ll cancel the project if he takes office, even though roughly half a mile of track will be laid out by then and, because of contractual obligations and federal money tied to the project, canceling the project at this point could cost millions more than completing it.

The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition yesterday announced it’s suing the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department over a new policy that attempts to remove homeless people from courthouse steps with the threat of arrest. The sheriff’s office says it still intends to redirect homeless people to housing and other services, but it told WVXU that clearing out the courthouse is necessary to invoke a “type of immediacy” to encourage homeless residents “to seek housing and a better situation.” Advocates call the policy dangerous and unfair. A press conference will be held later today to discuss the lawsuit.

State Senate President Keith Faber says he expects Gov. John Kasich’s proposal for a two-year, federally funded Medicaid expansion to gain approval from a seven-member legislative oversight panel known as the Controlling Board. Faber, a Republican who opposes the expansion, says it’s now time for the legislature to consider broader reforms for Medicaid, which provides health insurance to low-income and disabled Ohioans. After months of wrangling with legislators in his own political party to approve the expansion, Kasich, a Republican, on Friday announced he would bypass the legislature and instead ask the Controlling Board to approve federal funds to expand Medicaid eligibility to more low-income Ohioans for two years. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would generate $1.8 billion for Ohio and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade.

Mayor Mallory says the Millenium Hotel’s owners agreed to conduct a feasibility study to see what kind of renovations the market will support for the hotel. Mallory told The Cincinnati Enquirer that the agreement is the first sign of progress since discussions about overhauling the shabby hotel began.

To tackle concerns about second-hand smoking, one state senator proposed a bill that would ban smoking in a car when a young child is present. It’s the second time in two years State Sen. Charleta Tavares (D-Columbus) introduced the bill.

Allegiant Air will offer low fares to fly to Florida from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG), ending months of speculation over whether the airline would pick CVG or Lunken Airport.

A state audit released on Tuesday found a local water worker was paid $437 in 2001 for work that wasn’t done.

Cincinnati’s 21c Museum Hotel was named the No. 1 hotel in the country and tied for No. 11 in the world in Conde Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards.

Scientists found a way to block the dopamine rush associated with THC and make marijuana un-fun to help people with a psychological dependence on the drug.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.14.2013
Posted In: News, 2013 Election, Health care, Commissioners at 08:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

Governor bypasses legislature, voter turnout historically low, museum price tag criticized

Gov. John Kasich will not look to the full legislature to expand Medicaid and is instead asking a seven-member legislative oversight panel to consider using federal funds for the next two years to expand Medicaid eligibility to more low-income Ohioans. The Controlling Board, which is made up of one Kasich appointee, four Republican legislators and two Democratic legislators, will make its decision on Oct. 21. The expansion would allow Medicaid, the government-run health insurance program, to cover all Ohioans up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or individuals with an annual income of $15,856.20 or less. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would generate $1.8 billion for Ohio and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade.

Cincinnati’s 2013 mayoral and City Council elections may be on track for the lowest ever voter turnout. As of Friday, the Hamilton County Board of Elections had processed 3,173 absentee ballot applications in Cincinnati. At the same point in 2011, the board had processed 8,964 applications in the city. The numbers come just one month after a measly 5.68 percent of voters cast a ballot in the mayoral primary election, much lower than the mayoral primaries held on Sept. 11, 2001, the day of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and 2005.

Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann acknowledges Union Terminal is in need of repairs, but he says the Museum Center must lower the estimated $180 million price tag on the project. “These are great facilities, but we don't have an unlimited amount of dollars, and I think taxpayers expect us to view their tax dollars in that way. I think that number for the Museum Center is too high right now. I've encouraged them to bring that number way down for (county commissioners) to consider having the property tax payers of this county pay for it,” Hartmann said.

Hamilton County judges say witness intimidation is on the rise, which could be making it more difficult to put criminals in prison. Judges are so concerned that they banned cellphones from their courtrooms after some residents used the devices to take pictures of witnesses and showed the photos in neighborhoods as an intimidation tactic, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Now, some witnesses are refusing to testify even when threatened with jail. To them, the threat of violent crime is so real that some jail time makes more sense in comparison.

City officials plan to break ground today for a new police station for District 3 on the west side of Cincinnati. The district serves East Price Hill, East Westwood, English Woods, Lower Price Hill, Millvale, North Fairmount, Riverside, Roll Hill, Sayler Park, Sedamsville, South Cumminsville, South Fairmount, West Price Hill and Westwood.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asked the Ohio EPA to explain in writing why a proposed permit for Murray Energy’s coal slurry project doesn’t include certain pollution limits. Without the restrictions on specific toxic gases, the U.S. EPA could reject the project’s permit. Former Ohio EPA Surface Water Division Chief George Elmaraghy previously said his call to adhere to pollution limits for coal companies led the Kasich administration to fire him.

Part of Ohio’s electronic food stamp system temporarily shut down on Saturday after a glitch cropped up at Xerox, the company that handles the electronic benefit system. The partial shutdown affected 16 other states as well.

StateImpact Ohio recommends “eight must-read posts” on Ohio’s new Common Core education standards.

Ohio gas prices increased this week, edging toward the U.S. average.

Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble appeared in Reuters’ list of top 100 innovators for the third year in a row.

Popular Science hosts an in-depth look at what it will take to find life outside of Earth. Hint: It requires more funding and public support.

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.11.2013
Posted In: News, Health care at 12:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Governor Bypasses Legislature for Medicaid Expansion

Legislative panel to consider expanding eligibility

After months of wrangling with legislators from his own political party to support the federally funded Medicaid expansion, Republican Gov. John Kasich decided to bypass the legislature and instead ask a seven-member legislative oversight panel to consider expanding Medicaid eligibility to more low-income Ohioans.

Kasich’s decision to go through the Controlling Board means he no longer requires a vote in the Ohio House and Senate to take on the expansion. The choice is instead left to the seven members of the panel: one Kasich appointee, four Republican legislators and two Democratic legislators.

For most of the year, Kasich has been lobbying Republican legislators, who control both chambers of the General Assembly, to approve the expansion. But Republican legislators refused, citing concerns about the federal government’s involvement in the health care system and fears that the federal government can’t afford the expansion.

Meanwhile, Democrats, in a rare alliance with a Republican governor, applauded Kasich for taking up a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

Kasich’s administration initiated the alternative route to expansion on Sept. 26, when Ohio’s Medicaid director submitted a plan to the federal government to expand Medicaid eligibility. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Thursday approved the plan.

Following federal approval, Ohio’s Medicaid director on Friday submitted a request to the Controlling Board to take up the expansion for two years. The board will make its decision on Oct. 21.

The expansion would allow Medicaid, the government-run health insurance program, to cover anyone up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or individuals with an annual income of $15,856.20 or less.

The expansion is necessary to fill what officials call a “coverage gap.” Currently, parents with incomes between 90 percent and 100 percent of the federal poverty level and childless adults with incomes below 100 percent of the federal poverty level don’t qualify for either Obamacare’s tax credits or Medicaid.

The expansion would be financed with mostly federal funds. Under Obamacare, the federal government pays for the entire expansion through 2016. Afterward, the federal contribution is phased down and indefinitely held at 90 percent of the expansion’s total costs.

In comparison, the federal government’s 2013 contribution to Ohio’s Medicaid program was nearly 64 percent, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would generate $1.8 billion for Ohio and insure nearly half a million Ohioans throughout the next decade.

This story was updated with more information.

 
 
 
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