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Tuesday
Jan142014

Health Care Will Likely Need Government Bailout

A government bailout of the health insurance industry looks increasingly likely as too few young, healthy people have signed up for insurance on the Affordable Care Act's, or "Obamacare's," new health insurance exchanges.

For the health insurance exchanges to be financially viable, a sizable portion of its enrollees (the Obama administration estimates 38 percent), need to be in the 18 to 35 age range. Without a sufficient number of enrollees from that low-health-costs age group, industry payments to health providers will be higher than expected.

Those higher costs could lead to higher premiums, which could lead to fewer enrollments, which could lead to even higher premiums, and so on. This is known as the "death spiral."

To prevent this "death spiral," a provision was added to the ACA that would bail out the insurance companies who participate in the exchanges if they do not get enough young enrollees.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday that 2,153,421 people had picked out a plan on the ACA exchanges through Dec. 28. About one in four, 24 percent, were in the 18 to 34 range. HHS did not announce, though, how many of those had actually completed the transaction by purchasing the plan.

According to a Reuters analysis of the seven states and the District of Columbia which have data available, only about 22 percent of enrollees are 18 to 34, 13 percentage points less than what the administration says is needed. And that number could be higher than the national average because of the young congressional staffers who are required to enroll in the D.C. exchange.

Tuesday
Jan142014

Obamacare Unlikely to Ease Americans' Medical Debt

Millions of Americans will get health insurance through the Affordable Care Act that will protect them from potentially ruinous medical expenses, but a new USA TODAY analysis shows the health plans they can choose still leave them vulnerable to thousands in deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs each year.

Medical insurance deductibles for plans on the federal exchange covering 34 states average $3,000, and those for the least expensive, bronze-level plans average $5,082, according to the USA TODAY analysis of deductible data for HealthCare.gov. Those costs, according to a recent study, may still be more than many people can afford.

The USA TODAY analysis also found the lowest out-of-pocket limits on HealthCare.gov plans were $4,350 for individuals on bronze plans and $8,700 for families, although these were not the norm and are likely paired with high premiums.

Even relatively modest cost sharing can prove unaffordable because expenses are often unexpected, and most Americans have less than $3,000 to cover such costs, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation report on medical debt among the insured concludes.

The new health care law requires consumers' portions of health care expenses — known as cost sharing — to be capped at $6,350 for individuals and $12,700 for families.

Many plans have lower limits on out-of-pocket costs than the federal limit, but the plans increasingly also have separate deductibles for prescription drugs. And expenses for drugs that aren't covered by plans or for out-of-network physicians aren't applied against limits.

Tuesday
Jan142014

S.C. Legislators to Face Health Care Protests

At noon Tuesday – as House and Senate leaders bang their gavels for the first time in 2014 – S.C. progressive leaders will place a coffin on the State House steps, representing the 1,400 people who they say will die this year because South Carolina did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Meanwhile, several hundred conservative activists are expected to cram the State House lobby to pressure state senators to pass a law that would restrict the “horrors of Obamacare,” as state Sen. Lee Bright puts it. 

While the federal Affordable Care Act is the law of the land – having survived a Supreme Court challenge and massive technical glitches that marred its October rollout – the battle over its implementation still is raging at the State House, where lawmakers return for what is expected to be an emotional, contentious session preceding next fall’s elections. 

That emotion will be on display with a pair of competing State House rallies that will feature two politicians running for the U.S. Senate: Bright, who is challenging U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in June’s Republican primary, and Jay Stamper, a Democrat running for Graham’s seat.

“Both groups want the same exact thing: We want the best health care for South Carolinians and the cheapest, the most affordable and the most quality care,” said Jesse Graston, a conservative activist helping organize the anti-Obamacare rally. “We part from there on how to achieve that. They advocate taking from others to take care of the poor, and we believe in taking responsibility for yourself to take care of others.” 

Progressive activists from across the state will hold what they hope is the first of several “Truthful Tuesday” rallies, modeled after the “Moral Monday” protests in North Carolina that garnered national attention last year after the GOP takeover of that state’s General Assembly. More than 900 protesters were arrested over several months. 

“Whatever North Carolina has done in terms of advocating for moral and ethical laws, our state needs to do the same thing,” said the Rev. Brenda Kneece, executive minister of the S.C. Christian Action Council, which represents 16 denominations and 4,000 congregations. “This rally on Tuesday ... is the opening day of the (legislative session), and we want on that day to speak truth to power.”

One of the “truths” Kneece and others will tout is a Harvard School of Public Health study that concluded one death could be prevented for every 176 people covered by Medicaid. Using that study, Robert Oldendick – executive director of the USC Institute for Public Service and Policy Research – said expanding Medicaid in South Carolina would have prevented or delayed about 1,400 deaths a year.

“People who need care can’t get care,” said state Rep. Joe Neal, D-Richland. “Guess what? They die.”

But Tony Keck, director of South Carolina’s Medicaid program, said the study is “often misread,” adding, “Only one of the three (states, New York, that researchers looked at) had a statistically significant reduction in mortality. So, actually, two states had no change. ... 

“There are many, many things that help improve lives,” said Keck, an appointee of Republican Gov. Nikki Haley. “The question is: Where do you spend your money? If what drives health the most in a state is income, education, personal choices – and you’re spending more money on health-care services than you are on these other things, you get in this spiral.”

Bright, who is running for the U.S. Senate, is one of the featured speakers for the “Choose Freedom, Stop Obamacare” rally, scheduled for 10 a.m. on the State House’s north steps. 

He dismissed Neal’s concerns about people dying because South Carolina did not expand Medicaid.

“All the Democrat Party really has to promote is fear. They’ve been promoting it since Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty. It, obviously, accomplished nothing,” Bright said. “If we would let the doctors and patients interact more and take the government out of the equation, I think doctors and patients in South Carolina would be better off.”

Tuesday
Jan142014

Congress Unveils $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill

Negotiators in the U.S. Congress on Monday unveiled a $1.1 trillion spending bill that aims to prevent another government shutdown while boosting funding levels slightly for military and domestic programs - but not for "Obamacare" health reforms.

With a deadline looming at midnight Wednesday for new spending authority, lawmakers will still need a three-day stop-gap funding extension to ensure enough time for passage of the spending bill this week.

The measure eases across-the-board spending cuts by providing an extra $45 billion for military and domestic discretionary programs for fiscal 2014, to a total of $1.012 trillion. It also provides an additional $85.2 billion for Afghanistan war funding that is typically handled off-budget.

The spending measure fills in the details of a budget agreement passed in December in the aftermath of a 16-day shutdown of many government agencies in October. The shutdown was prompted largely by disputes over funding for "Obamacare" health insurance reforms.

Although many programs will get a slight increase over 2013 levels and avoid steep cuts previously slated for this year, the proposed bill does not provide any increase for implementation of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama's signature healthcare reform law.

Full Story Here

Tuesday
Jan142014

Atlantic: S.C. Lawmakers Ignored Mentally Ill Inmates

In two months, America will observe the 50th anniversary of one of its most dubious moments. On March 13, 1964, Catherine "Kitty" Genovese was brutally murdered in Queens, New York. What made her case infamous—legendary, even—was that nobody responded to her cries for help. "Please help me, please help me!" she cried, over and over, and at least 38 people in her neighborhood who heard those cries did nothing to help her. They did not call the police. They did not come to comfort her. They did not, they later said, want to get involved. "When good people do nothing" is a timeless moral question, indeed.

One could say the same thing about the citizens of the state of South Carolina, who stand condemned today by one of their own. On Wednesday, in one of the most wrenching opinions you will ever read, a state judge in Columbia ruled that South Carolina prison officials were culpable of pervasive, systemic, unremitting violations of the state's constitution by abusing and neglecting mentally ill inmates. The judge, Michael Baxley, a decorated former legislator, called it the "most troubling" case he ever had seen and I cannot disagree. Read the ruling. It's heartbreaking.

The evidence is now sadly familiar to anyone who follows these cases: South Carolina today mistreats these ill people without any evident traces of remorse.  Even though there are few disputed material issues of law or fact in the case, even though the judge implored the state to take responsibility for its conduct, South Carolina declared before the sun had set Wednesday that it would appeal the ruling—and thus likely doom the inmates to years more abuse and neglect. That's not just "deliberate indifference," the applicable legal standard in these prison abuse cases. That is immoral.

But what makes this ruling different from all the rest—and why it deserves to become a topic of national conversation—is the emphasis Judge Baxley placed upon the failure of the good people of South Carolina to remedy what they have known was terribly wrong since at least 2000. Where was the state's medical community while the reports piled up chronicling the mistreatment of these prisoners? Where was the state's legal community as government lawyers walked into court year after year with frivolous defenses for prison policies? Where were the religious leaders, the ones who preach peace and goodwill?

No one in power came forward. Even as the evidence became more clear and compelling that something horrible was happening inside those prisons. The most telling reaction to Judge Baxley's ruling came from State Senator Mike Fair, who chairs the Senate Corrections and Penology Committee. On Wednesday, after the ruling, he said: "I didn't know that we had a problem with any particular aspect of mistreating or not treating inmates who have a diagnosis of mental illness." But Senator Fair knew. His fellow lawmakers knew. Yet like Kitty Genovese's neighbors, they did nothing, even as the cries for help became louder.

Full Story Here

Tuesday
Jan142014

Study: Coffee May Enhance Memory

Swarms of morning commuters clutch cups of coffee to kick-start the workday. But a new study suggests caffeine might do more for the brain than boost alertness — it may help memory too.

 Researchers from Johns Hopkins University looked at caffeine’s impact on memory while excluding its other brain-enhancing factors. The study showed that caffeine enhances certain memories for up to 24 hours after it’s consumed.

“The finding that caffeine has an effect on this process in humans — the process of making memories more permanent, less forgettable — was one of the big novelties,” said study author Michael Yassa, an assistant professor of neurobiology and behavior at the University of California, Irvine.

The study included more than 100 participants who were “caffeine naive,” meaning they were not big coffee, tea or cola drinkers, Yassa said.

“We picked people who were getting less than 500 milligrams of caffeine a week,” he said. “Most weren’t coffee drinkers. Most had a soda once or twice a week.”

Coffee’s caffeine content varies greatly. Most average-size cups contain 160 milligrams. But a 16-ounce cup of Starbucks coffee packs 330 milligrams of caffeine.

A dose of at least 200 milligrams of caffeine was needed to enhance memory consolidation, the researchers said.

Full Story Here

Tuesday
Jan142014

Target Offers Year of Free Credit Monitoring to Customers

After a data breach potentially compromised the personal information of some 70 million people, Target's promised free credit monitoring to customers went live Monday.

Fallout from Target's pre-Christmas security breach is likely to affect the company's sales and profits well into the new year.

Guests have until April 23, 2014 to take advantage of one free year of credit monitoring by signing up at creditmonitoring.target.com.

Those seeking the protection must provide Target with their full name and email address. The company will then send an activation code within one to five days.

After receiving an activation code, guests may visit www.protectmyid.com/targetto enroll.

The service is offered to anyone who has shopped at Target stores, not just during the timeframe when they believe the hack happened between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15, when the company says they discovered the breach.

Target says information taken included names, addresses, phone numbers and emails, but that there is no indication social security numbers were taken.

Just because a customer shopped at Target during that timeframe does not automatically mean their information was taken. Customers are urged to monitor statements and report any suspicious activity immediately.

For more information, visit target.com/databreach

Tuesday
Jan142014

Candidates Finding GOP Voters Don't Care About Poverty

Some conservative leaders and Republican politicians want the GOP to focus on an anti-poverty agenda. Republican voters, though, have shown little interest in the topic. One of their biggest challenges, therefore, will be to convince Republican voters that tackling poverty should be at the top of their political agenda.

A group of conservative thinkers have been urging Republican politicians to take the lead on fighting poverty. These thinkers, dubbed "new populists" by The Christian Post last summer (see The New Populists part 1 here, and The New Populists part 2 here) include Tim Carney, a Washington Examiner columnist and American Enterprise Institute fellow, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, conservative writer Ben Domenech, and AEI President Arthur Brooks.

Brooks, for instance, has argued that Republicans need to place the poverty issue out front. Rather than discuss how certain conservative policies or principles can help the poor as an addendum or side benefit, Republicans need to lead with the poverty issue by pointing out how the poor are harmed by certain government policies and how their reform proposals can help.

A few Republican politicians appear to have been listening. At a November "Antipoverty Forum" hosted by The Heritage Foundation, for instance, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) argued that President Lyndon B. Johnson's "War on Poverty" was a failure and a renewed conservative movement needs to take the lead in fighting poverty.

More recently, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) marked last week's 50th anniversary of the "War on Poverty" with a speech announcing his anti-poverty reform proposals. Rubio, the son of poor immigrants, has long made poverty a central issue in his election campaigns. He is now finding more allies with his message. Brooks introduced him at the event.

These conservatives will face many challenges in convincing Republicans to make poverty a central issue. Among them will be convincing Republican voters that poverty is an important issue, Patrick Egan, a New York University political scientist, points out for The Monkey Cage, a political science blog hosted by The Washington Post.

Full Story Here

Monday
Jan132014

State Newspaper: 24,000 in S.C. Signed Up for Obamacare

About 24,000 South Carolinians signed up for plans on the new Health Insurance Marketplace in the first three months, and they were older, poorer and more likely to be female than the national average of applicants.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released statistics for the marketplace’s first three months – Oct. 1 through Dec. 28 — on Monday.

Federal officials said they were pleased with the overall demographics of the newcomers to the marketplace, though they plan to continue outreach efforts to draw in more young people and more males. More young people, who generally are healthier, help create an insurance pool that can keep prices lower for insurance companies and premiums lower for customers.

The much-publicized problems with the healthcare.gov website have state and national applications lagging behind original projections. Nationally, 2.15 million people have selected plans. Obama administration officials had hoped that nearly 7 million would sign up by the end of March. In South Carolina, the newly insured barely puts a dent in the estimated 750,000 without health insurance last year.

Registration through healthcare.gov continues through March 31.

Here are the South Carolina statistics:

•  While applications were completed for 86,371 people, only 74,162 of those were eligible to enroll in plans and only 35,842 were eligible for federal financial assistance with those plans. People with existing plans through their jobs weren’t eligible for the marketplace. The income range for financial assistance goes from about $11,500 for an individual to $94,200 for a family of four. Those with higher income get less assistance.

•  24,116 people in the state selected insurance plans. That means more than 10,000 people eligible for assistance either plan not to take advantage of that help or decided to wait until after the start of 2014 to select a plan.

•  10,793 who applied were determined to be eligible for Medicaid. Those people were referred to the state Medicaid agency.

•  28 percent of those who selected plans in South Carolina were younger than 35, compared to 30 percent in all other states.

•  81 percent of those who selected plans in South Carolina received financial assistance, compared to 79 percent nationwide.

•  64 percent of those who selected plans in South Carolina went with a silver-level plan, compared to 60 percent nationwide. Because tax subsidies were greater at the silver level, people were more likely to pick those plans than the bronze plans (which had lower cost but covered less) or gold plans (which had higher costs and covered more). In South Carolina, 17 percent went with bronze plans, 19 percent with gold and 1 percent with catastrophic plans available only to those younger than 30.

Under the Affordable Care Act, most Americans will be required to have health insurance beginning this year or face a tax penalty of $95 or 1 percent of their income, whichever is higher. The law allows for a three-month window of not being covered, so people can avoid the penalty by getting insurance before April 1.

To sign up for policies on the Health Insurance Marketplace, here are the options:

•  Go online to healthcare.gov.

•  Get assistance from the various Navigator groups in the Midlands: The Cooperative Ministry (803) 799-3853, Greater Columbia Community Relations Council (803) 733-1129, the S.C. Progressive Network (803) 445-1921 and the Benefit Bank of S.C. (800) 726-8774.

•  Contact one of the companies offering plans: BlueCross BlueShield of S.C., BlueChoice HealthPlan, Coventry One and Consumers’ Choice Health Plan. You’ll find company employees very helpful in the process, but remember they will steer you toward their company’s policies. There are differences in cost and coverage between the companies’ plans.

•  Contact an independent insurance agent certified to help with Health Insurance Marketplace plans.

Monday
Jan132014

Museum Winter Gala Set for Jan. 24

The Friends Board of the Anderson County Museum (ACM) will hold their annual Winter Night Gala on Jan. 24.  Tickets are available for the event , which is being held in partnership with the Anderson International Festival (AIF) which will celebrate Japanese culture. Proceeds from the gala benefit Phase II and III of “Routes of History,” the museum’s new permanent exhibit on transportation.

Featuring a live band, food, and cold beverages set among museum exhibits, the Winter Night Gala continues to be a well-attended event. Branded by patrons as the “Best Party in Anderson,” attendees will dance the night away with Those Guys, playing beach music and top 40. Individual tickets can be purchased by calling the Anderson County Museum at 864-260-4737. Patron tickets are $70 each and non-patron tickets $80 each.

Also opening that evening is the latest temporary exhibit “Behind the Rising Sun.” The exhibit is in conjunction with the AIF and will explore the experiences of James and Marjorie Young in the early 1930s in Japan through artifacts and narratives. Intermixed in the exhibit will be an amazing sampling of Japanese art and clothing from people who have experienced Japanese culture. “Behind the Rising Sun” will be on display through June 1, 2014.

Phase I of Routes of History opened in May 2013 and told the story of the Anderson County Airport and the visit of Amelia Earhart in 1932. Phase II, opening this April will showcase the electric trolley in Anderson. Phase III will be the largest phase and open in the fall of 2015. It will tell the history of transportation by buggy, water, trains, and land.  

Monday
Jan132014

Most Americans Buying Health Insurance Over 45

More than half of the almost 2.2 million people who bought health insurance on federal and state exchanges in the past three months are older than 45, records released Monday show.

If that trend holds, it could skew the health insurance market as older policyholders that use more health care are not balanced by younger policyholders who tend to use less health care. In effect, the younger policyholders subsidize older ones.

Almost 1.2 million people have enrolled in private insurance through the federal health care exchange from Oct. 1 to Dec. 28, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, and more than 1 million signed up in December alone.

Another 956,000 people have signed up for private insurance through state-based exchanges between Oct. 1 and Dec. 28, HHS records show.

About 55% of the early enrollees, Sebelius and other officials said, are between the ages of 45 and 64.

Despite the large percentage of older Americans buying insurance, about 26% of those who enrolled are younger than 35, HHS officials said.

Monday
Jan132014

S.C. Attorney Urges Action Against "Patent Trolls"

Attorney General Alan Wilson has joined 43 other state attorneys general to encourage the Federal Trade Commission to act on patent trolls, which they describe as a growing consumer protection problem in the United States.

The FTC has said it wants to launch a study into businesses that regularly file lawsuits over patents after receiving a growing number of complaints about the issue. The attorneys general said in a letter they support the fact-finding study, saying regulators need more information to enforce consumer protection laws.

Complaints over patent lawsuits have been growing. The controversy surrounds companies that buy patents and then file lawsuits against companies they believe are violating the patent. Critics say the companies do not produce or create goods but only exist to make money through lawsuits.

“They patent this thing that is a concept and then extort small businesses who don’t have the finances to litigate it,” Wilson said.

The nickname “patent troll” is an unflattering description given to those companies by the tech industry. The FTC refers to them as “patent assertion entities.”

While Wilson and other top prosecutors want to regulate patent trolls, they also think patents serve a legitimate purpose in the American economy. Patents protect intellectual property and the hard work that goes into development, Wilson said.

Monday
Jan132014

Jellyfishing Could Mean Big Business for South Carolina

Cannonball jellyfish are bland at best. In China, where slivered, dry jellyfish are commonly served before banquets and strewn across salads, cooks don't use the cellophane-like strips without first dousing them in soy sauce or sesame oil.

Tabasco works too, said University of Georgia food safety professor Yao-Wen Huang, who in the 1980s earned the nickname "Cannonball King" for his work developing a jellyfish processing system.

According to Huang, the allure of jellyfish is its distinctive texture, suggestive of a cross between a potato chip and a stretched-out rubber band. "We call it crunchy-crispy," said Huang. "It's like when you eat chitterlings, you're not really hungry that you want food. You want that mouthfeel."

Desire for that mouthfeel is so intense in China, Japan and Thailand that an export market has cropped up in the Southeastern United States.

Processors in Florida and Georgia are now shipping millions of pounds of jellyfish to Asia, where environmental degradation and primitive processing techniques have conspired to tamp down supply.

Although the price jellyfish commands is contingent on quality, U.S. fishermen can typically sell their catch for nine or 10 cents a pound.

"As long as people want to buy it, Americans don't need to eat the stuff," Huang said.

The prospect of a new fishery is tantalizing to struggling shrimpers and entrepreneurs, including a Mount Pleasant man who's spearheading the first South Carolina foray into the jellyfish industry.

Assuming it gets the go-ahead from the Department of Health & Environmental Control and Beaufort County, Carolina Jelly Balls will begin harvesting Cannonball jellyfish in Seabrook next month.

"This new fishery can become the largest fishery in the state of South Carolina," said Carolina Jelly Balls' front man Steven Giese, who estimates that the project will create 250 to 375 new jobs.

Full Story Here