by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: News
at 11:06 AM | Permalink
Sittenfeld eyes Senate; Christ Hospital fights lawsuit; Shocker: Congress mostly male, mostly white
Hey all. Hope your morning commute was safe and warm amidst the cold, nasty dusting of snow we got last night. I’m still glued to my space heater here at home, so I’ve yet to venture out into the grossness. Here’s what’s up today:It looks as if Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is seriously checking out a run for U.S. Senate. Sources close to Sittenfeld told the Cincinnati Enquirer that the 30-year-old Democrat has begun raising money for a bid at Republican Sen. Rob Portman’s seat. It’s a big jump from councilman to senator, and Sittenfeld may have some more experienced competition for the nod as the Democratic candidate. Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland has shown signs that he may be interested in running, as have former Ohio Congressional delegates Betty Sutton and Tim Ryan. However, Sittenfeld has laid some groundwork for a run, visiting all corners of the state in the past year on issues of taxes and the economy. He also has a number of Senate-themed website names on lockdown, including pgforsenate.com, sittenfeldforsenate.com, and surelysittenfeldsoundssenatorialsam.com (I made that last one up). He hasn’t made it official yet, and there’s no telling if he would stay in the race should someone more experienced like Strickland officially throw his hat in the ring. But party leaders like Hamilton County Democratic Party chair Tim Burke and Ohio Democratic Party head David Pepper say he could be a serious contender depending upon how things shake out ahead of 2016.• Mount Auburn-based Christ Hospital is fighting a lawsuit claiming the health organization submitted $28 million in claims to Medicare that cannot be proven. The hospital claims the money was used to train doctors rotating into the hospital from other health organizations between 2007 and 2012, but former employee Glenda Overton says in her lawsuit that the claims the hospital filed were not documented in accordance with federal law. The lawsuit was originally filed in 2013, but federal judge Timothy Black just struck down the hospital’s request to dismiss the case Dec. 31. The hospital could be on the hook for more than $90 million in damages if a jury finds it is guilty of misrepresenting claims. • One of Mayor John Cranley’s staff members made a pretty prestigious list this week. Daniel Rajaiah, Cranley’s director of external affairs and the head of the mayor’s immigration task force, appeared on Forbes magazine’s 30 under 30 list in policy and politics. Rajaiah has been at City Hall just over a year, but then, he hasn’t been out of college much longer than that. Rajaiah graduated from the University of Dayton in 2013. While at UD, he led the College Democrats of Ohio for a year. The magazine highlights his work on the immigration task force as well as his time at his college post, where he helped get 43,000 people registered to vote. • Meet the new bosses, who look very much the same as the old bosses. As Congress prepares to start a new session today, let’s look at how representative our representatives are. Four out of five members of Congress are male, and four out of five are white. Women make up just 19 percent of the House of Representatives and 20 percent of the Senate, despite, you know, being half of the general population. Meanwhile, blacks make up just 10 percent of the House and a whole 2 percent of the Senate, despite representing 14 percent of the U.S. population. People of Hispanic origin make up just 8 percent of the House and 3 percent of the Senate. They account for 18 percent of the general population. Only three of Ohio’s 16 reps are women. Only two are black. The saddest part? What I just described to you is the most diverse Congress in history. America!• Finally, remember how much of a fight it was to get a few miles of those streetcar tracks in the ground? I put forward this next bit of news only to demonstrate conclusively that we live in an entirely different dimension than some other parts of the country. Officials broke ground today on a high-speed rail project that could eventually shuttle people between Los Angeles and San Francisco at 220 mph. That means you could escape the hellish traffic hole that is the city of angels for the bay area, which is rapidly becoming one big Google campus, in just over two hours. Amazing. Sorry, LA and SF. I'm just kidding. I love you and your lack of below-freezing temperatures. Hit me with your news tips, heckling and/or chili recipes: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @nswartsell.
by German Lopez
Gay marriages recognized, facial recognition panel appointed, drug testing for welfare fails
The federal government announced yesterday that same-sex
marriages will be recognized for federal tax and Medicare purposes even
if the marriage is considered illegal in the state where the couple
resides. That means gay Ohioans could get married in a state
where it’s legal, such as Massachusetts or California, and have their
marriages recognized by the federal government even if the couple
lives in Ohio. The change does not apply to Social Security,
which will continue basing benefits on where couples live, not where
they got married. The changes also won’t apply to taxes at the local and
state level until those governments legalize same-sex marriage for
themselves. Freedom Ohio is currently working to get same-sex marriage
on Ohio’s ballot in 2014, as CityBeat covered in further detail here.
Attorney General Mike DeWine on Thursday appointed the panel
that will review the state’s facial recognition program. It includes
Democrats, Republicans, judges, law enforcement and prosecutors, but not
civil liberties groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union,
that asked to be involved. Shortly after the program was formally
unveiled on Monday, the ACLU asked DeWine to shut it down
until proper protocols are put in place to protect Ohioans’ rights to
privacy. 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
A Republican state senator is introducing legislation that
would attach drug testing to welfare benefits in Ohio, but similar
measures have failed in other states.
Under the proposal, welfare recipients in three counties would be
required to take a drug test if they admit in a questionnaire to using
drugs in the past six months. In Utah, the state government spent more
than $30,000 screening welfare applicants, but only 12 people tested
positive, according to Deseret News.
The policy has also faced legal troubles, particularly in Florida, but
since the Ohio proposal only requires drug testing after information is
solicited through a questionnaire, it’s unclear whether privacy concerns
will hold up in court.
Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann, a Republican, is speaking out against a $300 million light rail project
that would run from downtown Cincinnati to Milford, Ohio. Hartmann says
he’s concerned ridership numbers will be low and costs will be too
high. County commissioners are involved with the project through the
Hamilton County Transportation Improvement District.
Ex-Councilman John Cranley continues to outraise and outspend Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls in the mayoral race. But money rarely matters in political campaigns, according to research and Cincinnati’s mayoral history.
The conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) is asking the city solicitor
to force Councilman Chris Seelbach to repay the city for his trip to
Washington, D.C., where Seelbach, Cincinnati’s first openly gay council
member, received the White House’s Champion of Change Award. Seelbach
says the trip served a public purpose; mainly, the trip allowed him and
his staff to spend time with other award recipients to learn how to
better deal with LGBT issues.
Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble announced it backs legislation that would prevent employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Ohio currently has no such law.
Ohio’s prison population is growing again,
which has spurred further calls from state officials to continue
pursuing sentencing reform. The state government in 2012 passed some
reform that weakened sentences and made it easier for convicts to have their records expunged, but Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director
Gary Mohr says more needs to be done.
Ohio gun owners are gathering in Columbus today to call on
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) to support comprehensive background checks
for firearms, according to a press release from Mayors Against Illegal
Guns. Polling data released by the group found 83 percent of Ohioans
support comprehensive background checks.
A Democratic state representative is asking Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, to explain why he’s accused of forcing the Ohio EPA’s top water watchdog to resign,
but Kasich’s people don’t seem to be taking the concern too seriously.
Kasich spokesperson Rob Nichols responded to the demands by telling The Columbus Dispatch,
“If she had her way, we’d all be living on a collective farm cooking
organic quinoa over a dung fire. So I think we’ll take her views in
context.” George Elmaraghy, chief of the Ohio EPA’s surface-water
division, was allegedly asked to step down by Kasich after Elmaraghy
claimed Ohio coal companies want water-pollution permits “that may have a
negative impact on Ohio’s streams and wetlands and violate state and
federal laws.” Republican lawmakers are notoriously friendly with oil,
gas and coal companies.
Two more are being investigated by the Hamilton County Board of Elections for illegally voting in Ohio while living in other states.
Gas prices are rising in time for Labor Day weekend, but they should be cheaper than last year.
The famous “47 percent” is now down to 43 percent.
The Tax Policy Center says the change is driven by the recovering
economy, rising incomes and cuts to federal assistance programs.
Antarctica appears to be bleeding in a phenomenon that shows life can exist without sunlight or oxygen.
Popular Science has an explainer for cruise missiles, the weapon that soon may be deployed against Syria.
by German Lopez
Council combats human trafficking, Medicare reveals price data, Duke tops 'Dirty Dozen'
With a set of initiatives unanimously approved last week, City Council is looking to join the state in combating Cincinnati’s human trafficking problem.
The initiatives would evaluate local courts’ practices in human
trafficking and prostitution cases and study the need for more
surveillance cameras and streetlights at West McMicken Avenue, a
notorious prostitution hotspot. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, who
spearheaded the initiatives, says the West McMicken Avenue study will
serve as a pilot program that could eventually branch out to other
prostitution hotspots in Cincinnati, including Lower Price Hill and Camp
Medicare data released yesterday revealed charges and payments can vary by thousands of dollars
depending on the hospital, including in Cincinnati. Health care
advocates and experts attribute the price disparity to the lack of
transparency in the health care system, which allows hospitals to set
prices without worrying about typical market checks. CityBeat previously covered the lack of health care price transparency in Ohio here.
Duke Energy is the No. 1 utility company polluter
in the nation, according to new rankings from Pear Energy. The rankings
looked at carbon dioxide emissions, which directly contribute to global
warming. Pear Energy is a solar and wind energy company that competes
with utility companies like Duke Energy, but the methodology behind the
rankings was fairly transparent and based on U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency data.
Commentary: “Republicans Continue Voter Suppression Tactics.”
City Council approved form-based code yesterday, which
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls has been working on for years. In a statement,
Qualls’ office called form-based code an “innovative alternative to conventional
zoning” that will spur development. “Cincinnati now joins hundreds of
cities that are using form-based code to build and reinforce walkable
places that create value, preserve character and are the bedrock of
Cincinnati neighborhoods’ competitive advantage,” Qualls said in the statement.
State Sen. Peggy Lehner is looking to amend the Ohio budget bill to add a $100 million voucher program
that would cover preschool for three- and four-year-olds. The details
of the program are so far unclear, but Lehner said she might put most of
the funding on the second year of the biennium budget to give the state
time to prepare proper preschool programs. If the amendment proceeded,
it would join recent efforts in Cincinnati to open up early education
programs to low- and middle-income families. CityBeat covered the local efforts and many benefits of quality preschool here.
Gov. John Kasich says he would back a ballot initiative for a mostly federally funded Medicaid expansion,
which the Health Policy Institute of Ohio says would insure nearly half
a million Ohioans and save the state hundreds of thousands of dollars
in the next decade. CityBeat covered the Medicaid expansion in further detail here.
Policy Matters Ohio released a lengthy report
yesterday detailing how the state could move towards clean energy and
electric cars and calling for more state incentives for clean energy.
The report praises Cincinnati in particular for using municipal policies
to build local clean energy and keep energy jobs in the city.
The last tenant at Tower Place Mall is moving out.
Scientists are working on a microchip that could be implanted into the brain to restore memories.
They also found proof that seafloor bacteria ate radioactive supernova dust.
by German Lopez
Charges and payments can differ by thousands of dollars
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) unveiled price data
today for more than 3,000 U.S. hospitals, revealing large price
variations between hospitals around the nation, including in Cincinnati.
For treating chest pain, charges from three Cincinnati
hospitals varied by thousands of dollars: Bethesda North charged on
average $17,696, Christ Hospital charged $12,000 and University Hospital
But the initial charge seems to have little relation to
what Medicare ultimately paid out. In the three cases for chest pain,
Medicare on average paid $3,242 to Bethesda North, $3,657 to Christ
Hospital and $5,463 to University Hospital.
In other words, University Hospital charged about 57
percent of what Bethesda North charged, but University Hospital was
ultimately paid 68 percent more.
The price variation wasn’t exclusive to chest pain,
either. For major joint replacement or reattachment of a lower extremity
without major complications, Bethesda North charged $61,947 and was
paid $12,712 on average, Jewish Hospital charged $38,465 and was paid
$14,069 on average and University Hospital charged $46,463 and was paid
$20,116 on average.
In fact, all of the 100 metrics tracked by CMS had at
least some degree of variation in charges and payments. Whether it was
chest pain, joint replacement, diabetes or cardiovascular complications,
prices always varied between hospitals — sometimes greatly, other times
by a little.
The data from fiscal year 2011 shows how much hospitals initially charged
Medicare for the 100 most frequently billed
discharges and how much Medicare ultimately paid out. The difference
between charges and payments is usually large because Medicare
negotiates prices down.
CMS says the price discrepancy is happening at hospitals
all around the nation: “As part of the Obama administration’s work to
make our health care system more affordable and accountable, data are
being released that show significant variation across the country and
within communities in what hospitals charge for common inpatient
Still, some health care advocacy groups say Ohio is doing worse than other states. A study from Catalyst for Payment Reform
and the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute gave Ohio and six
other states a “D” for health care price transparency, based on the states’ laws and regulations. That was actually
better than 29 other states, which flat-out flunked with an “F.” Only New Hampshire and Massachusetts received an “A,” the
highest grade possible.
Even then, the Catalyst for Payment Reform and the Health
Care Incentives Improvement Institute cautioned in the study that their
grades were given on a curve, which means all states would likely fare worse if the organizations measured them based on ideals instead of
Many health care experts and advocacy groups claim the
price variation is caused by a lack of transparency in the health care
system, which gives hospitals free reign to charge without typical
market checks (“Healthy Discussion,” issue of April 10).
by German Lopez
CPS helps rework school funding, cuts mean less teachers, judges against double-dipping
Cincinnati Public Schools seems to be playing a big role in reforming Ohio’s school funding formula.
Superintendent Mary Ronan got a call from Gov. John
Kasich’s office about the per-pupil funding formula CPS uses to
distribute funds to its schools. It seems the state might adopt a similar
method, but Ronan is cautious: “I do think it's one of the ways you
could do it, a per-pupil funding, but I have to say, we were always
tweaking every year ... because sometimes those formulas can be a bit off
and any time we saw one school getting a lot more than another ... we
tried to refine it every year over probably the 15 years we have used
it.” She also notes schools are getting “bare minimum” funding right
now. CityBeat covered budget problems at CPS here.
In general, state budget cuts have led to fewer teachers in Ohio schools. Gov. Kasich previously urged schools to focus on classroom instruction, but it seems the words aren't being followed up with proper funding.
Southwestern Ohio judges are clashing over double-dipping.
The practice involves government workers retiring and getting rehired
so they can collect pensions and a paycheck at the same time. At a
meeting, Hamilton County Judge Melba Marsh said she wants to allow
Magistrate Michael Bachman to retire and then be rehired so he doesn't
lose a 3-percent increase to his retirement, which is otherwise being
eliminated by the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System after 2012.
But the move has been met with resistance from other judges.
For Cincinnati hospitals, Medicare changes mean some loss and some gain.
The online campaign urging Macy’s to dump Donald Trump circled a “Dump Trump” billboard around Macy’s headquarters. The anti-Trump movement has gained about 680,000 signatures since it started.
On Christmas Eve, some spent time with family, while Butler County Deputy David Runnells helped deliver a baby in the back of a car during an emergency call.
Ohio will use $20 million out of $200 million in casino funds to train incumbent workers. Gov. Kasich says the program could help avoid layoffs.
It seems Mitt Romney's presidential campaign really thought they were going to win.
In campaign memos leading up to the election, campaign staff said the
race was “unmistakably moving in Mitt Romney’s direction,” and the
campaign ridiculed the possibility of losing Ohio due to the Romney
campaign’s “better ground game.” But President Barack Obama had a much larger
ground game for one-on-one interaction, which is one of the factors
former Romney staff now say led to their demise. But whatever. Romney didn't want to be president, anyway, says son Tagg Romney: “He wanted to be president less than anyone I’ve met in my life. He had no desire to ... run.”
Fiscal cliff talks aren’t going well. President Obama cut his vacation early to work out negotiations.
If Republicans and Democrats can’t work out their problems, a series of
spending cuts and tax hikes dubbed the “fiscal cliff” will kick in
throughout 2013. But it’s looking more and more likely the nation will head
off the cliff, considering U.S. Speaker John Boehner can’t even pass tax hikes on people making more than $1 million a year.
Ever wonder what dinosaur meat would taste like? Well, Popular Science has that covered.
0 Comments · Tuesday, November 20, 2012
With tax hikes and spending cuts known
as the “fiscal cliff” on the horizon and a Congress that has been
unwilling to meet under the mistletoe to decide how they will rear the
2013 New Year’s Budget-Baby, it seems that we as citizens need to
provide our elected officials an example of how to kiss and make up this
2 Comments · Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Sometime in the next 10 weeks or so, U.S. citizens will learn whether the Supreme Court will uphold the first significant health care reform in nearly a half-century. It doesn’t matter if you’re interested in
politics or couldn’t give a hoot, the decision will directly impact
you, your family and your friends for years to come.
0 Comments · Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Did you notice how little supposition infected reporting from Norway after the downtown bomb explosion and island massacre? There was no rush to blame Arabs or Muslims nor pogroms against immigrants. There were questions but little blame-casting about police response times to the island.
The man responsible for the bomb and the murders was Norway’s version of Timothy McVeigh, not some dark-skinned foreigner or mixed-race child of an immigrant and Norwegian.
Steve Driehaus counts banking, health care reform and advocacy for Cincinnati as major accomplishments in his first term
3 Comments · Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Steve Driehaus was one of many Democratic challengers to grab Barack Obama's coattails in 2008 and sweep into Washington, D.C., handing the party large majorities in both houses of Congress. As he points out, 2008 wasn't a great time to begin your Congressional career ... unless you were interested in solving huge problems. Driehaus speaks with CityBeat about his first term in the House of Representatives; his advocacy for local companies and projects in Washington; his frustrations with the current political climate; his positions on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and other military issues; and his reelection battle against Steve Chabot.
0 Comments · Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Don't listen to what the squeaky wheels on the far right are yelling this week: Most Americans will support the health care reform bill passed by the House once they see what's included in it. In fact, the first major poll taken after the March 21 vote suggests a much different picture than what's being touted by the Tea Party and GOP "leaders."