CityBeat Blogs - Health care http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-34-225.html <![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Gov. John Kasich’s administration in 2012 privately discussed a public relations campaign to help bring fracking to three state parks. The plan was apparently abandoned. But ProgressOhio, which released documents showing the discussions, says the plan highlights a trend in the Kasich administration of looking out for business interests first. Fracking is a drilling technique in which millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to unlock oil and gas reserves. In the past couple years, the technique has been credited with bringing about a natural gas production boom in much of the United States, including Ohio. But environmentalists worry the poorly regulated practice contaminates air and water. CityBeat covered fracking in greater detail here.

Mayor John Cranley and Enroll America today plan to announce a partnership to get people enrolled in Obamacare. The goal is to fill the insurance pool with healthier, younger enrollees, many of whom qualify for financial assistance through HealthCare.gov, to help keep costs down. CityBeat previously interviewed Trey Daly, Ohio director of Enroll America, about the outreach efforts here.

The two Republicans in charge of City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee want to know why the city decertified a flood levee surrounding Lunken Airport, instead of bringing it up to federal standards, without consulting City Council. The decertification forced property owners around the airport to buy costly flood insurance. City officials say they made the decision because the city did not have the $20-$100 million it would cost to bring the levee up to standards.

The W. Va. chemical spill cost Greater Cincinnati Water Works about $26,000 in treatment chemicals, or about 11 cents per customer.

Getting ex-prisoners enrolled in Medicaid as they are released could save Ohio nearly $18 million this year, according to state officials.

Duke Energy plans to sell 13 power plants, including 11 in Ohio. The company says the move is necessary because of the state’s increasingly unpredictable regulatory environment for electricity generators. Last week, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio rejected Duke’s request for a $729 million rate increase.

With algorithms now capable of breaking CAPTCHA 90 percent of the time, companies might need to find other anti-spam protections.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

State Rep. Peter Beck, a Republican from Mason, now faces 69 felony counts and increasing pressure to resign. Beck is accused of helping mislead investors into putting hundreds of thousands of dollars into an insolvent West Chester startup company and putting some of the funds from the company into his own campaign. Beck says he's innocent, but that hasn't stopped top Ohio Republicans from calling for him to resign to avoid a potential scandal and losing a seat in the Ohio legislature.

Ohio ranked No. 8 in the nation for solar jobs in 2013, with solar employment growing by roughly 31 percent over the year, according to the latest census from the Solar Foundation. The report found that U.S. solar jobs grew 10 times faster than overall employment across the country. Environment Ohio applauded the numbers, praising Cincinnati in particular for its own solar-friendly efforts. But the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate is looking into ways to weaken or undo the law that makes many solar projects possible across the state. A report from the Ohio State University and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy indicates that repealing the law could end up costing Ohioans $3.65 billion on their electricity bills between 2014 and 2025.

The federal government reported slightly better enrollment numbers in January for Obamacare's once-troubled website, but Ohio and the nation still fell short of key demographic roles previously perpetuated by the federal government. Specifically, monthly enrollment actually beat projections for the first time since HealthCare.gov launched. But the cumulative amount of young adults signing up through January only reached 25 percent in the country and 21 percent in Ohio — far below the 39 percent goal the White House previously deemed necessary to avoid filling the insurance pool with older, less healthy enrollees who tend to use more resources and drive up costs.

With Obamacare's online marketplaces mostly fixed, some groups are now doubling efforts to get the uninsured, particularly young adults, enrolled. CityBeat interviewed Trey Daly, Ohio state director of one of those groups, here.

Explainer: Everything you need to know about responsible bidder.

Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine rejected a Democrat-backed petition that would create a statewide ballot initiative for a Voter Bill of Rights, but proponents of the initiative say they'll come back with tweaked language. In a statement, DeWine said the proposal ran afoul of federal law in two places. Even if DeWine approved the language from a legal standpoint, supporters would still need to gather roughly 385,000 valid signatures before a July deadline to get the issue on the ballot in November. CityBeat covered the Voter Bill of Rights in greater detail here.

Following the large amount of charter school closures last year, State Auditor Dave Yost is launching an investigation into three Ohio charter school sponsors and the Ohio Department of Education.

The Cincinnati area could get 2 inches of snow.

A Ky. auditor says the former finance director of Covington stole nearly $800,000.

Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes posted pictures of downtown Cincinnati circa 1968 here.

Sam Adams is pouring millions into a Cincinnati brewery.

Grizzly bears could offer a better solution for weight loss.

Watch Dale Hansen, a Texas sports anchor, take on the NFL and Michael Sam’s anti-gay haters:

Video | News | Weather | Sports

Mon Feb 10 20:43:08 PST 2014

Hansen Unplugged: Celebrating our differences

Michael Sam would be the first openly gay player in the NFL; says he knows there will be problems... and they’ve already started. view full article

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

In the third month of open enrollment, Obamacare failed to hit key demographic targets for young adults in Ohio and across the nation. White House officials say about about 39 percent of those who sign up for health insurance through HealthCare.gov and state-run marketplaces must be young adults. The idea is to get enough young, healthy enrollees to hold down costs as an older, sicker population signs up for health insurance made more easily available through Obamacare’s systems and regulations. But in December, only 19 percent of signups in Ohio and 24 percent of signups nationwide were young adults.

The Ohio Department of Education will recalculate report card data and investigate whether to punish staff after Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) and six other Ohio school districts that scrubbed student attendance data. By manipulating the data, schools can appear to be performing better, but the actions obviously jeopardize the authenticity of Ohio’s school accountability system. CPS says its internal investigations found no evidence of deliberate manipulation and the data errors shouldn’t be enough to alter the school’s standing in state report cards. For CPS and the six other school districts, the issues began after the state auditor in 2012 launched an investigation into school data scrubbing.

To avoid contamination from a W. Va. chemical spill, Cincinnati Water Works will shut down its water intake system along the Ohio River and instead rely on the water intake system at the groundwater treatment facility in Fairfield. Mayor John Cranley said the shutdown will last two days, or more than twice the roughly 20 hours required for the chemical slick to pass by. Consumers shouldn’t notice a difference, according to Water Works officials.

In the coming weeks, the U.S. Coast Guard will decide whether to allow fracking wastewater to travel along the Ohio River and other federal waterways and how strictly regulated the shipments should be. Fracking is a drilling technique in which millions of gallons of water are pumped underground to unlock oil and gas reserves, but the process produces a lot of wastewater as a result. CityBeat previously covered fracking and the controversy surrounding it in further detail here.

With legislation repealing Ohio’s energy rules now stalled, Champaign County residents are challenging the constitutionality of Ohio’s in-state renewable energy requirements in court. Supporters of the law claim the rules help foster a green energy sector in the state, while opponents argue the rules increase costs for businesses and consumers. CityBeat previously covered State Sen. Bill Seitz’s legislative attempts to repeal the rules here.

Another tea party-backed candidate might challenge Gov. John Kasich in the Republican primary. The reveal comes just days after a tea party leader abruptly dropped his challenge against the incumbent governor.

If state legislators approve, Gov. Kasich will hold his state of the state address this year at Medina, Ohio, on Feb. 24.

Three judges will cover for Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter while she fights felony charges in court.

State Rep. Pete Beck of Mason, who was indicted on 16 felony counts for alleged fraud and theft, is facing a primary challenger.

Cincinnati repaved 130 lane miles of road in 2013, according to city officials.

Duke Energy cut a check for the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority today to help redevelop Bond Hill and Queensgate.

A blind student is suing Miami University for alleged discrimination that prevented her from completing coursework.

One vote made the difference in 43 of Ohio’s 2013 elections, according to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.

Ky. developers are still pursuing the Noah’s Ark theme park, despite troubles raising funds for the project.

Today is the last day to vote for the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards.

An infection can turn swarming locusts into solitary grasshoppers, a study found.

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<![CDATA[Obamacare Misses Demographic Target in Ohio]]> In the third month of open enrollment, Obamacare failed to meet crucial demographic goals for young adults in Ohio and across the nation.

Prior to the launch of HealthCare.gov, the Obama administration said it needs to enroll about 2.7 million young adults out of 7 million projected enrollees — nearly 39 percent of all signups — for the law to succeed.

The reasoning: Because young adults tend to be healthier, they can keep premiums down as sicker, older people claim health insurance after the law opens up the health insurance market to more Americans.

But the numbers released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Monday — the first time the agency provided demographic information — show the law missing the target both nationally and in Ohio.

Roughly 19 percent of nearly 40,000 Ohioans who signed up for Obamacare were young adults between the ages of 18 and 34, according to the report. Not only does that fall below the 39 percent goal, but it also lags behind the national average of 24 percent.

In defense of the demographic numbers, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote in a blog post Monday that enrollments are demographically on pace with the 2007 experience of Massachusett, where state officials implemented health care reforms and systems similar to Obamacare through Romneycare.

Indeed, a report from The New Republic found just 22.6 percent of enrollees through the third month of Romneycare were young adults. That number rose to 31.7 percent by the end of the laws first year.


If Obamacare ends up at Massachusetts’ year-end rate, it will still fall behind goals established by the White House. Still, Obamacare would be in a considerably better place than it finds itself today.

The disappointing demographic figure comes after months of technical issues snared HealthCare.gov’s launch. Most of the issues were fixed in December, which allowed Obamacare to report considerably better enrollment numbers by the end of the year.

But the enrollment numbers — nearly 2.2 million selected a plan between Oct. 1 to Dec. 28 — still fall below the administration’s projections to enroll 3.3 million by the end of December.

It’s also unclear how many of those signing up for Obamacare actually paid for their first premium, which is the final step to becoming enrolled in a health insurance plan.

Given how Romneycare worked out in Massachusetts, it’s possible signups for Obamacare could pick up before open enrollment closes at the end of March. Based on previous statements from the White House, Obamacare’s success could depend on it.

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City Council yesterday decided Cincinnati will get a streetcar after all. After securing the six votes necessary to overturn a mayoral veto, Mayor John Cranley conceded that the $132.8 million streetcar project will restart following a two-week pause. It was a surprising journey for the project, which largely seemed like the underdog ever since the new mayor and council took office earlier in the month. In the end, the project gained its sixth vote from Councilman Kevin Flynn after the philanthropic Haile Foundation signed onto contributing $900,000 a year for 10 years to help underwrite part of the streetcar’s annual operating costs.

Advocacy group FreedomOhio yesterday announced it has enough signatures to place same-sex marriage on Ohio’s 2014 ballot. The group declined to tell Cleveland.com exactly how many signatures it had collected so far, but the organization says it’s aiming to collect 1 million before the July filing deadline. At the same time, FreedomOhio released a poll that found Ohioans are still split on the issue of same-sex marriage. But the poll also found that a good majority of Ohioans support FreedomOhio’s gay marriage legalization amendment, which provides exemptions for religious groups.

Gov. John Kasich yesterday signed a bipartisan Medicaid overhaul bill that seeks to control costs by establishing an oversight commission and a target for spending growth. The legislation also sets a focus on health care outcomes to ensure quality standards in the government-run program. Both parties pursued the bill to tamp down on health care costs that have been taking up more of the state’s budget in the past few years.

A new report from the state attorney general’s office found nearly half the businesses who received state aid in 2012 did not fulfill their end of the deal in terms of producing new jobs and other promises.

Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped to 7.4 percent in November, down from 7.5 percent the month before. But the number was well above the 6.8 percent rate from November 2012, indicating a decline in job growth in the past year.

Police arrested the mother of a 3-year-old for falsification and the mother’s boyfriend for accidentally shooting the child on Tuesday.

Today is Homeless Memorial Day, a day meant to commemorate those who died in 2013 while experiencing homelessness. The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition is gathering at 5:30 p.m. at the corner of 14th and Elm streets to honor the occasion.

Bike Share plans to come to Cincinnati next summer and allow residents to rent out bikes around multiple parts of town.

Miami University is the second most efficient university in the nation in terms of delivering a good education for relatively low cost, according to a study from U.S. News and World Report.

Cincinnati’s housing market marked 29 consecutive months of increased sales last month with a 5-percent rise. The measure indicates the local economy is recovering after the Great Recession crippled housing markets around the nation.

A new product that claims to translate dogs’ thoughts to human speech is bogus.

After today, Morning News and Stuff will take a vacation until Dec. 26. Happy holidays!

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<![CDATA[Bill Would Stop Insurers From Offering Abortion Coverage]]> Union Township Rep. John Becker doesn't exactly have a history of standing up for causes CityBeat agrees with, and this week we're seeing more of the same.

He's the voice behind another Republican-backed bill introduced Nov. 14, that, if passed, would introduce regulations that would ban most public and private health insurance policies, including Medicaid, from covering abortion care and several common methods of contraception.

According to a press release from NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, H.B. 351 would manipulate language on the Ohio Revised Code to redefine abortion services and restrict public hospitals from performing abortions — even on women whose lives are at risk due to the pregnancy or who have been victims of rape.

NARAL Executive Director Kellie Copeland commented, "Imagine facing a life-threatening pregnancy complication and being told that your insurance won’t cover the procedure because Ohio politicians banned that coverage. Imagine becoming pregnant as the result of a rape, and having to cover the cost of an abortion out of pocket because this bill became law. It’s unthinkable."

Also introduced on Wednesday to U.S. Congress was the Women's Health Protection Act, what supporters are calling a historic pro-choice bill that would outlaw states' authority to limit women's reproductive rights by prohibiting states from passing Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws, which impose extra regulations on doctors who operate in medical practices that perform abortions. The bill, which will likely face harsh odds in the U.S.'s conservative-dominated House, wouldn't completely diminish states' existing anti-abortion laws, although it require judges to be more carefully reconsider cases that challenge the legality of already-existing laws.

Becker's bill has yet to be assigned to a committee. Here's the bill in full.

As one of the self-proclaimed "most conservative" members of his party, he's also a cosponsor of the state's Heartbeat Bill and once called the proposal of a needle-exchange program, which could reduce the spread of infectious bloodborne diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C, the product of a "liberal media agenda."

In August, Becker introduced a bill that would kick a large chunk of pregnant women and low-income parents off of Medicaid by grossly lowering the entry eligibility.

Becker also recently lobbied for the impeachment of the judge who allowed the state to legally recognize the marriage of Jim Obergefell and his 20-year partner, John Arthur, who recently passed away from Lou Gehrig's disease, for his decision.
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CityBeat is participating in a City Council candidate forum on Oct. 5. Have any questions you would like to ask candidates? Submit them here.

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.

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<![CDATA[Obamacare Prices Lower than Expected]]>

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.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

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.

CityBeat commentaries:
“Republican Prudes Hold Down Ohio’s Economy.”
“Poor Jenny, Poor Cincinnati.”

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.

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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.

Cincinnati’s newest police chief will be sworn in on Sept. 30. The city manager on Friday officially picked Jeffrey Blackwell, deputy chief of the Columbus Division of Police.

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.

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<![CDATA[National Organization Targets LGBT Population for Obamacare]]>

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.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

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.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

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 projects 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.

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<![CDATA[Medicaid Expansion Could Help Thousands in Hamilton County]]>

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 Childrens 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.

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<![CDATA[Obamacare to Lower Ohioans’ Health Care Costs]]>

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.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Republican lawmakers say they won’t hold any votes on the Medicaid expansion until October or later, even though state officials say the expansion must be approved by October to have it in place by 2014. Implementing the expansion at the start of 2014 would coincide with the implementation of other major programs in Obamacare. Gov. John Kasich supports the expansion, but he’s had trouble convincing his fellow Republicans to join him. The expansion would be mostly funded by the federal government, which would pay for the entire policy for the first three years then phase down to indefinitely paying for 90 percent of the 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. Michigan, which is also dominated by Republicans, on Tuesday approved its own Medicaid expansion.

An internal audit found the city of Cincinnati has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have gone toward improving the city-owned Lunken Airport through poor management and technology problems. In response, Councilman Chris Seelbach wrote on Twitter, “Lunken oversights completely unacceptable. Meeting w/ City & Lunken Mngr to work on detailed correction plan later this week.” The city is planning on making changes that should avoid losing revenue in the future.

Streetcar supporters plan to hold a fundraiser today for mayoral candidate Roxanne Qualls and City Council candidate Wendell Young. The fundraiser shows the extra steps now being taken by streetcar supporters, who have been proudly flaunting their support every month through “streetcar socials,” the latest of which Mayor Mark Mallory attended. Ever since its inception, the streetcar has been mired in controversy and misrepresentations, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.

A central Ohio lawmaker is renewing a legislative push for attaching drug tests to welfare benefits. The measure is meant to lower costs and ensure welfare money isn’t going to drug dealers. As CityBeat previously covered, the testing requirement can actually increase the cost of welfare programs: In Florida, the state government’s program had a net loss of $45,780 after it reimbursed all falsely accused welfare recipients of their drug tests. Only 108 people out of the 4,086 accused, or 2.9 percent, tested positive, and most tested positive for marijuana, according to The Miami Herald.

Heavy construction and improvements that will modernize and widen Interstate 75 are expected to continue for the next decade. Much of the work is being funded by Kasich’s Ohio Turnpike plan, which sells bonds that will be repaid with excess Turnpike polls.

Jeff Ruby yesterday responded to a lawsuit filed on Monday against his restaurant chain. Ruby says his servers “are highly compensated — averaging $65,000 a year, with shifts that average seven hours a day.” The lawsuit alleges that management at Ruby’s restaurants took tips from three employees, which supposedly left them earning less than minimum wage.

United Way of Greater Cincinnati plans to raise $62.8 million with its campaign this year. The organization supports Cincinnati’s human services, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.

Google Glass could be used to improve surgeries in the future.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel was involved in two car crashes and reported neither, and one of the crashes may have violated federal campaign finance law. During a March accident, Mandel, a Republican, was riding in a vehicle owned by his 2012 U.S. Senate campaign months after he lost to Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown. Federal law states Senate campaign property can't be used for personal use or to campaign for a different office, such as state treasurer. Mandel’s state treasurer campaign says it rented out the car from the Senate campaign, but The Associated Press found the check didn’t clear out until June 30 — seven months after the Senate campaign and four months after the crash — and the rent wasn’t fully paid for until reporters started asking questions.

Republican state legislators are drafting a bill that would overhaul Ohio’s Medicaid program. The legislation isn’t the Medicaid expansion, which Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder now says isn’t a good idea. Instead, the upcoming bill would make changes to attempt to control Medicaid’s rising costs, which have put an increasing strain on the state budget in the past few years. Batchelder says the bill will be introduced in the fall and likely voted out of the House by the end of the year.

Mayoral candidates John Cranley and Roxanne Qualls are rolling out their latest endorsements. Yesterday, State Rep. Alicia Reece said she’s backing Cranley. On Friday, Qualls touted support from Equality Ohio, the Miami Group of the Sierra Club, the National Organization of Women Cincinnati, Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 392 and the Ohio-Kentucky Administrative District Council of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsworkers. Endorsements rarely influence the outcome of elections.

The Ohio Parole Board rejected a killer’s plea for mercy. Harry Mitts Jr. is scheduled to die by injection on Sept. 25 for killing two men, including a police officer, at an apartment. Court records claim Mitts uttered racial slurs before killing his first victim, who was black. Mitts’ defense says he was blacked out from alcohol the night of the slayings and didn’t know what he was doing. With the board’s rejection, Mitts’ fate is now up to Gov. John Kasich, who could commute the sentence to life in prison.

Susan Castellini, wife of the Cincinnati Reds CEO, will join the Cincinnati Parks Board after being appointed earlier in August by Mayor Mark Mallory and City Council.

Hospice of Cincinnati obtained a $2.3 million grant from from Bethesda Inc. and Catholic Health Initiatives to launch an initiative that will encourage doctors, terminally ill patients and their families to discuss end-of-life planning.

Three former employees are suing Cincinnati-based Jeff Ruby eateries for allegedly taking tips from staff, which supposedly caused employees to earn less than minimum wage.

Between Sept. 19 and Sept. 30, Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino will become the first venue in Ohio to host a World Series of Poker circuit event.

Popular Science claims it met the world’s smartest dog.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

A federal judge ruled that a state death certificate must recognize the marriage of a newlywed same-sex couple, but the order only applies to James Obergefell and John Arthur. It’s the first time a same-sex marriage is recognized in Ohio. The two men had the case expedited because Arthur is suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a deadly neurological disease with no known cure. Al Gerhardstein, the attorney for the two husbands, says the ruling could be the beginning of legal challenges from gay couples inspired by the Supreme Court’s ruling against the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which could put further pressure on Ohio to legalize same-sex marriage. CityBeat covered ongoing efforts to legalize gay marriage in the state here, although the group in charge of the movement is now aiming to put the issue on the ballot in 2014, not 2013 as originally planned.

Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in a statement called the tea party-backed charter amendment that would revamp the city’s pension system “a wolf in sheep's clothing.” She is also requesting the city administration study the amendment’s consequences and report back to City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Aug. 5. The amendment would funnel new hires into a private retirement plan similar to what’s typically found in the private sector — except, unlike private-sector workers, city employees don’t pay into Social Security and don’t collect Social Security benefits from their years with the city. The amendment was announced less than a week after Moody’s, a credit ratings agency, downgraded Cincinnati’s bond rating in part because of the city’s increasing pension liability.

A poll analysis from the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati suggests more than 1.25 million Ohioans are uninsured, with about 17 percent of the working-age population lacking insurance. It also found that Ohioans are increasingly reliant on public programs to obtain health benefits. The analysis looked at the Health Foundation’s 2013 Ohio Health Issues Poll. The results could spur further efforts to expand Medicaid eligibility in the state, which the Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found would save the state money and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade. Republican legislators rejected the Medicaid expansion in the state budget, citing concerns that the federal government wouldn’t be able to uphold its 90-percent funding commitment.

Gov. John Kasich wants to fast track the I-71/MLK Interchange in part by using revenue from the Ohio Turnpike’s tolls. Kasich’s recommendations, which must be approved by the state’s Transportation Review Advisory Council, add up to $107.7 million in state funds.

State Rep. Peter Beck, a Mason Republican who’s facing 16 felony charges of fraud, won’t resign his seat.

Twenty-eight people have applied to become Cincinnati’s next police chief. With a recent uptick in violence, many have called on the city to expedite the process of replacing James Craig, the former police chief who left for Detroit earlier in the year.

Despite rising interest rates, Cincinnati-area home sales in June continued their strong trend up.

For-profit entities are opening more online schools in Ohio, with the process set by state legislators to shut out public educators. A previous investigation by CityBeat found online schools tend to do worse and cost more than their peers.

The city administration and social media network Nextdoor are partnering up to better link Cincinnati’s neighborhoods with the local government. The network will provide a free website for each of the city’s neighborhoods, which the city says will allow residents to “to get to know their neighbors, ask questions and exchange local advice and recommendations.” City officials plan to use the websites to regularly reach out to local citizens.

Computer software from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could make the Internet three times faster.

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<![CDATA[Report: Ubiquity of Healthy Food Directly Tied to Obesity Rates]]> A report conducted by researchers at East Carolina University in North Carolina, released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sheds some interesting light on patterns in the availability of healthy food in different geographic regions and concludes that amping up corner stores that traditionally peddle junk food could be key in improving public health and national obesity rates.

The study focused heavily on the availability of healthy foods such as fresh produce in corner stores across the state in urban, suburban and rural areas. The findings suggest that there are higher rates of obesity in rural areas of the United States than in urban or suburban areas, speculating that because rural residents tend to live farther from supermarkets, they may rely more on junk food from corner stores (like gas stations) or fast food. Where rural areas did have healthy food available, it tended to be of lower quality than other more populated areas.

People aren’t averse to healthy foods, according to the study. When researchers surveyed shoppers and management at rural corner stores, they found a dichotomy in the perception of demand for healthy foods between the two groups. Store managers said they’d be interested in stocking healthy foods, but didn’t think there was a high enough demand to do so; shoppers told researchers they’d be likely to buy produce at a corner store and attributed the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables in their diets to the lack of accessibility at the stores they frequented.

Obesity as a result of poor access to healthy food is not just a rural phenomenon, however. Some urban neighborhoods, particularly those that are low-income, also suffer from alarmingly high obesity rates. Avondale, which is considered a “food desert” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has long been dealing with a severe obesity problem, according to Avondale Community Council President Patricia Milton. CityBeat reported on Cincinnati’s efforts to eliminate food deserts and improve selections at corner stores here.

Obesity is a detrimental public health problem that costs the U.S. approximately $190 billion per year in health care expenses, according to a report from the Harvard School of Public Health. It’s directly associated with harmful health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, some cancers and overall reductions in life spans.

According to the Harvard researchers, if obesity trends continue, obesity-related medical costs could rise by up to $66 billion by 2030.

University of Cincinnati professor Michael Widener told CityBeat in June about his research to analyze the way a number of different economic and social factors play into eating habits in different geographical regions, which could eventually help paint a better picture of how to establish strong and healthy networks of groceries and possibly improve obesity rates and public health.

The Center for Closing the Health Gap (CCHG), a local nonprofit working toward health equality, is currently working on identifying grocery stores which may be eligible to receive incentivizing funds from the Cincinnati Fresh Food Retail Financing Fund, which could bring grocery stores to underserved neighborhoods such as Avondale.

CCHG is also working on the pilot phases of its Healthy Corner Store Initiative, which could provide corner store owners with the education and technical assistance to start selling more healthful foods.

To find out if where you're living qualifies as a "food desert," click here.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Following approval from the Republican-controlled General Assembly earlier in the week, Gov. John Kasich last night signed a $62 billion two-year state budget that makes sweeping changes to taxes and takes numerous anti-abortion measures. On the tax front, Policy Matters Ohio previously criticized the mix of income tax cuts and property and sales tax hikes for favoring the wealthy. Meanwhile, abortion-rights advocates say the budget will hurt women by limiting access to abortion, while Republicans say they’re trying to protect the “sanctity of human life.”

The budget also makes changes to the school funding formula that increases funding to schools by $700 million, but the funding is still $515 million less than Ohio schools got in 2009. Stephen Dyer, former Democratic state representative and education policy fellow at left-leaning think tank Innovation Ohio, says Republican legislators should have spent less time on tax reform and more on education. Although Dyer acknowledges the final education plan is more equitable than Kasich’s original proposal, he argues equity doesn’t matter much when schools are still underfunded.

One policy that didn’t make it into the final state budget: the Medicaid expansion. Kasich strongly backed the expansion throughout the budget process, but Republican concerns about federal funding ultimately won out and kept the Medicaid expansion from the final version of the budget. Col Owens, co-convener of the Southwest Ohio Medicaid Expansion Coalition, says the expansion’s absence is irresponsible, but he’s optimistic it will be passed in a stand-alone bill later on. Owens and other supporters of the expansion argue it will help insure hundreds of thousands of Ohioans and save the state money by placing more of the funding burden on the federal government.

One beneficiary of the state budget: low-rated charter schools.

Democratic State Sen. Nina Turner today announced her candidacy for Ohio secretary of state — a position she will attempt to take from Republican Jon Husted. Turner is a vocal critic of Republicans’ voting policies, which she says suppress voters, particularly minorities and low-income Ohioans.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine on Friday released the first Human Trafficking Statistics Report, which his office plans to release on an annual basis to continue spotlighting Ohio’s trafficking problem. Law enforcement identified 38 human trafficking victims in the last year, but that’s only a fraction of the estimated thousands of Ohioans, particularly youth and those “at risk,” who are reportedly trafficked and abused each year.

The Cincinnati Park Board won the National/Facility Park Design Award for Smale Riverfront Park. The award from the National Recreation and Park Association recognizes the park’s design, the inclusiveness of the design process and how the board met the local community’s needs for the park. This is just another major national award for The Banks; earlier in the year, the project won the American Planning Association’s 2013 National Planning Excellence Award for Implementation.

Some Republicans are not taking last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage well: State Rep. John Becker, a Republican from Clermont County, now says polygamy is inevitable.

Cincinnati is currently looking for a new police chief, and it already has 13 applications.

Ohio gas prices are down again this week.

Kasich says he’s not interested in running for president in 2016.

Apparently, the unmanned Voyager 1 spacecraft entered a scientifically funky region last summer.

Here is an explanation of what happens when stars collide.

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