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Sunday
Jun032018

Medicare Recipients Can Save Money by Paying Cash at Pharmacy

Medicare officials say it's "unacceptable" for insurers to put "gag orders" in pharmacy contracts, keeping pharmacists from alerting seniors about when they could save money by paying cash — rather than using insurance — for their prescriptions.

The agency is warning that such provisions run counter to President Donald Trump's mission to bring down prescription drug costs and promote transparency about drug prices. Yet, it has stopped short of requiring insurers to lift such restrictions on pharmacists. 

That doesn't mean people with Medicare drug coverage are destined to overpay for prescriptions. Under a little-known Medicare rule, they can pay a lower cash price for prescriptions instead of using their insurance. But first, they must ask the pharmacist about that option, said Julie Carter, federal policy associate at the Medicare Rights Center, a patient advocacy group. 

"If they bring it up, then we can inform them of those prices," said Nick Newman, a pharmacist and the manager at Essentra Pharmacy in rural Marengo, Ohio. "It's a moral dilemma for the pharmacist, knowing what would be best for the patient but not being able to help them and hoping they will ask you about the comparison." 

A simple question could unlock some savings for millions of beneficiaries. 

But details may be hard to find: Medicare's website and annual handbook don't mention it. 

"If you don't know that there are a bunch of different prices that could be available at any given pharmacy, you don't know what you don't know," said Leigh Purvis, the AARP Public Policy Institute's director of health services research. 

Researchers analyzing 9.5 million Part D prescription claims reported in a letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association in March that a patient's copayment was higher than the cash price for nearly 1 in 4 drugs purchased in 2013. For 12 of the 20 most commonly prescribed drugs, patients overpaid by more than 33%. 

Although the study found that the average overpayment for a single prescription was relatively small, Newman said he had seen consumers pay as much as $30 more than the cash price. 

And many beneficiaries may not know that if they pay a lower cash price for a covered drug at a pharmacy that participates in their insurance plan and then submit the proper documentation, insurers must count it toward their out-of-pocket expenses. The total of those expenses can trigger the drug coverage gap, commonly called the doughnut hole. (This year, the gap begins after the plan and beneficiary spend $3,750 and ends once the beneficiary has spent a total of $5,000.) 

Daniel Nam, executive director of federal programs at America's Health Insurance Plans, a trade group, agreed that "patients should have access to the lowest price possible at the pharmacy." 

But he said Medicare's warning, contained in a letter this month, takes aim at an increasingly rare occurrence. Gag order clauses are "not something they are incorporating into their contracts," he said. 

UnitedHealthcare (UNH), whose popular prescription drug plans dominate the market, does not include them in any of its Medicare, Medicaid or commercial insurance contracts, said Matt Burns, a company spokesman. 

Pharmacy benefit managers also said gag orders are not typical. "If it is happening, it is very much an outlier," said Mark Merritt, president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, the industry's lobbying group.

Sunday
Jun032018

County Council to Vote on Budget Tuesday

Anderson County Council will vote on second reading a proposal on the 2018-2019 fiscal year budget Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. in the historic courthouse downtown.

Full Agenda Here

The county Planning and Public Works Committee will meet Tuesday at noon. The agenda is here.

Sunday
Jun032018

Ruling May End Protection for 170 S.C. Confederate Memorials

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Lawyers for the state of South Carolina say about 170 Confederate monuments may have lost state protection because of a judge's decision allowing racial references to be removed from a World War I monument that lists fallen soldiers as "white" or "colored."

The state is asking Circuit Judge Frank Addy to reconsider his ruling that allows the town of Greenwood to remove the racial references from a private monument there.

The state's Heritage Act prevents changes to public monuments honoring the Confederacy and other historical events and figures without a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.

In the Greenwood case, Addy said monuments owned by private groups on public lands aren't bound by the Heritage Act, allowing the town to change the plaques on the monument. State lawyers disagree.

Friday
Jun012018

Fast Water Cancels Saluda River Rally

The 9th Annual Saluda River rally has been cancelled due to river conditions. The recent rains and the release of water has created conditions too hazardous for the kayak event.

The organizers of the event had anticipated a fast river with a water flow of 1,300-1,500 cubit feet per second. The river was flowing at 3,000 cubit feet per second earlier today, prompting safety concerns for the event. 

The River Rally traditionally welcomes kayakers of all skill levels, thus increasing the risk of holding an countywide event in such rapid water. This year's event will not be rescheduled.

The non-kayaking portion of the event, including food and entertainment, will go on as scheduled from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. The Saluda River Grill will be open for lunch, local exhibitors and Greyhound Band will provide riverside entertainment. Though the river events have been canceled the river view and white capping from dam will be quite spectacular.

Dolly Cooper Park will be also be open for overnight camping on Friday and Saturday.

Refunds for kayakers will be issued. For additional information or inquiries, please contact Matt Schell at 864-760-5948 or mschell@andersoncountysc.org.

Friday
Jun012018

S.C. Boeing Works Vote to Unionize

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - Flight-line employees at Boeing Co.'s South Carolina plant have voted to unionize in a rare victory for organized labor in the South.

News outlets report 104 of the 169 workers who cast ballots Thursday voted to have the International Association of Machinists represent them in collective bargaining. The same union failed to attract enough support to represent all of the plant's hourly workers last year.

The aerospace giant campaigned against the organizers, losing a last-minute request to delay the election after an anti-union social media campaign. Company spokesman Victor Scott says Boeing believes the "micro-unit" is illegal, and will appeal.

IAM lead organizer commended the workers for standing up to "Goliath" amid a "nasty campaign."

Thursday
May312018

Downtown Anderson Mellow Mushroom Closes

The Mellow Mushroom in downtown Anderson is no more.

After multiple reports of payroll checks bouncing and a mass exodus of employees over the past few weeks, the Anderson Observer reached out to owner Mark Johnson last week and was assured those reports were the results of accounting mistakes and that the pizzaria was not closing.

Johnson said he was hiring new management and staff and the Anderson Mellow Mushroom location was not in jeopardy of closing. He also said all employees whose checks did not clear had been reimbursed for their wages and any charges. This information is unconfirmed and it at odds with what many former employees are saying. 

Attempts to reach Johnson today have failed.

In an email sent out today, the Mellow Mushroom wrote:

"We regret that as of today, the Mellow Mushroom Anderson, SC location has been closed permanently."

The email also announced plans to open a new Mellow Mushroom location in Clemson this summer. 

Devleoping.

Thursday
May312018

S.C. Drought Free Statewide for First Time in Two Years

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A special state committee says South Carolina is drought free for the first time in nearly two years.

The South Carolina Drought Response Committee voted earlier this week to remove 13 mostly western counties from incipient, which is the first level of drought. It's the first time the state has been drought free since July 2016.

State Climatologist Hope Mizzell says most of South Carolina has seen above normal rainfall through the winter and spring. Some areas have seen up to 12 inches (30 centimeters) of rain in the past two weeks.

Officials say the rain has filled lakes, kept streams and rivers flowing and reduced the fire danger in South Carolina.

There has been a downside. Some farmers say their fields have been too wet to plant crops.

Thursday
May312018

Sears Anderson Store to Close in September

The list of store closings was announced Thursday which includes the store in the Anderson Mall. Sears said it identified 100 non-profitable Sears and Kmart stores and picked 63 for closure "in the near future." 

The company closed nearly 400 stores during the past 12 months, and now has a total of 894 left, including the 63 slated for closure. The two chains had a total of 3,500 US stores between them when they merged in 2005. 

The company initially announced plans Thursday to close 72 stores, but pulled back slightly and released a list of only 63 stores slated for closing - 48 Sears stores and 15 Kmart stores, spread across 29 states. The company said the nine additional stores that it initially planned to announce would close will be evaluated further. 

Sears lists the 63 stores it's closing

Sears said overall revenue fell 31% in the three months ending May 5. While most of that decline was due to previous store closings, sales fell 12% at the stores that remained open. 

The lower sales resulted in a $424 million loss for Sears Holdings (SHLD), the holding company that owns by Sears and Kmart. The company has lost more than $11.2 billion since 2010, its last profitable year. 

Sears is looking to sell its Kenmore appliance brand in an effort to raise cash, after selling off its Craftsman tool brand a year ago. 

Shares of Sears tumbled another 13% on the results in afternoon trading.

Thursday
May312018

Big Farms Win S.C. High Court Battle Over Water Use

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The South Carolina Supreme Court has refused to change a decision last year that allows big farms to use billions of gallons of water.

The court said Wednesday it will not change its ruling upholding a 2010 law that allows large farms to take river water without obtaining a permit from the state.

Residents in Bamberg, Darlington and Greenville counties had said the law favors large farms over the needs of others.

The court had said last year the law had not hurt anyone by depriving them of water.

An attorney representing the residents, Amy Armstrong, said she was disappointed with the ruling.

Large farm operators say the law is not depleting rivers.

Wednesday
May302018

Supreme Court Limits Warrantless Search of Vehicles

In a decision that’s been hailed as a big win for privacy rights, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that police officers must generally have a warrant before searching vehicles parked at a private home or on its surrounding property.

It’s the second time this month that the country’s highest federal court has set new limits on police searches of vehicles. On May 14, the Supreme Court ruled that unauthorized drivers of rental cars, whose names are not on the rental agreement, should generally be afforded the same privacy protections as authorized drivers. 

In Tuesday’s 8-1 ruling, the court sided with Ryan Collins, a Virginia man who accused police of impinging upon his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure when an officer walked onto his girlfriend’s driveway in 2013 and pulled back a tarp covering his motorcycle. The officer, who did not have a warrant, ran a search of the license plate on the bike and discovered it was stolen. Collins was arrested and later convicted of possessing stolen property.

Collins, however, accused the officer of improperly searching the motorcycle, which was parked a few feet away from his girlfriend’s home. His attorneys argued that the Fourth Amendment applies to private homes and also to areas surrounding them ― known in legalese as “curtilage” ― and the officer violated this right in his search. 

If law enforcement officers can search vehicles inside the curtilage without a warrant, then “any vehicle with probable cause could be searched anywhere, any time,” Collins’ lawyers wrote in their Supreme Court petition, according to Vice News. “Officers could creep into garages and carports at night, removing tarps, rummaging for contraband in glove boxes. If officers can intrude upon curtilage to search a vehicle, there is no reason why they could not walk through a house to reach a car in the backyard.”

Writing on behalf of the eight justices who ruled in Collins’ favor, Justice Sonia Sotomayor agreed that “searching a vehicle parked in the curtilage involves not only the invasion of the Fourth Amendment interest in the vehicle but also an invasion of the sanctity of the curtilage.”

She pushed back at a suggestion by Virginia officials that a distinction should be made between “fixed structures” like garages and other areas around a home. Sotomayor said such a “bright-line rule” would “automatically ... grant constitutional rights to those persons with the financial means to afford residences with garages but deprive those persons without such resources of any individualized consideration as to whether the areas in which they store their vehicles qualify as curtilage.”

Wednesday
May302018

Some S.C. Gubernatorial Candidates Still Flush with Cash

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - One of Gov. Henry McMaster's Republican challengers has more than $1 million on hand heading into the final two weeks of the primary campaign.

That's according to filings posted this week by former state public health director Catherine Templeton. State Ethics Commission records show McMaster has $770,000 on hand.

The governor outraised Templeton during the second-quarter filing period, bringing in more than $300,000. Templeton reported raising more than $243,000 since April. Both campaigns have been running television ads in heavy rotation.

John Warren, another of McMaster's challengers, had more than $704,000 cash on hand. The Greenville businessman has contributed several million dollars to his own campaign.

None of the three Democratic candidates have filed second-quarter numbers yet.

Wednesday
May302018

Former Anderson Educator to Head Rome County, Ga., Schools

Former Anderson County Educator Jeff Wilson has been named the new superintendent of the Floyd County School system in Georgia. Wilson, an Anderson native, is currently superintedent of White County, Georgia schools. Wilson previosly served as assistant superintendent of curriculum at Anderosn County School District Five.

While introducing himself to principals and administrators Tuesday morning after being voted in as the new superintendent for Floyd County Schools, Dr Wilson made it clear to all in the room relationships are the core of everything a school system does.

“I think it begins and ends with relationships and I’m looking forward to having those relationships with you,” Wilson said after introducing himself following the board’s vote.

Wilson, who has been the superintendent of White County Schools for the last seven years, was the only superintendent finalist from outside the system. The other two finalists were Deputy Superintendent April Childers and Director of Student Services Glenn White.

The hiring of Wilson concludes a three-month long search by the board for the person to replace the retiring Superintendent John Jackson, who plans to leave June 30. Wilson said he tentatively plans to start his new role July 1, but he still has to handle the move from Cleveland with his wife, he said.

“The board felt any of these three candidates would be great in leading Floyd County Schools,” Board Chairman Chip Hood said before making a motion to hire Wilson.

Board member Melinda Jeffers said the final decision was a challenging one for board members and they had to go into it with an open mind. She said Childers and White are extremely valued by the system. Ultimately, she said Wilson made an immediate connection with board members, and his success in leading a charter school system with a 95 percent graduation rate and a top 15 CCRPI rating spoke for itself.

“I feel like I’ve known him for a long time,” Jeffers said, adding his “out-of-the-box thinking” is a definite asset for the continued progress in the system.

“This was not a decision we took lightly,” Board Vice Chairman Tony Daniel said, after speaking to the 30-plus candidates of varied experience who applied.  “We definitely had the system in our hearts.”

Wilson was drawn to Floyd County through its reputation for having a dedicated and student-focused staff.

“It’s a good system with potential to be great,” he said.

Wilson extended his appreciation for White County Schools, but said he made the move to pursue a new challenge in his 30-plus years in education — and hopefully his final one.

“I hope to finish my career here,” he said.

From an example of his philosophy in White County Schools, Wilson said the aim of any system he leads is on student achievement and growth. This growth is rooted in fostering the relationship students and parents have with their school, he explained.

“We really focus on what we need to do to ensure that every child, whether they are severe and profound special ed or the brightest kids we have, is showing growth,” he said.

Wednesday
May302018

Tougher State DUI Laws Save Lives

TUESDAY, May 29, 2018 -- States that get tough on drunk driving see drops in alcohol-related car crash deaths, new research shows.

About 30 percent of deaths in car crashes occur when one or more drivers has a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher -- the legal definition of driving while impaired in the United States, the investigators explained. An additional 20 percent of deaths involve alcohol among those whose blood alcohol level is below the legal limit.

"Given the risks involved with alcohol use, strengthening alcohol control policies could help prevent many crash deaths, including the 40 percent of deaths that affect victims who are not themselves driving while intoxicated," said lead study author Dr. Timothy Naimi. He's a physician at the Grayken Center for Addiction at Boston Medical Center.

For the study, Naimi and his colleagues used data on crash deaths from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. In addition, state alcohol policies were gathered using the Alcohol Policy Scale, a tool developed at the center that analyzes an alcohol policy environment based on 29 alcohol control policies.

The investigators found that in states with more restrictive alcohol policies, the likelihood of alcohol-related crash deaths decreased.

For example, a 1 percent increase in restrictive policies led to a 1 percent drop in the likelihood that a crash was alcohol-related. Across all states, a 10 percent increase in the restrictiveness of policies would translate into about 800 fewer deaths annually, Naimi's team reported.

Moreover, stronger policies also reduced deaths in crashes that involved drivers whose blood alcohol level was below the legal limit.

"Although not reflected in our current laws, the risk of crashes starts to increase at blood alcohol levels well below 0.08 percent, so stronger policies offer a way to reduce those deaths as well," Naimi said in a medical center news release.

Most developed nations have limits for blood alcohol of 0.05 percent or less, and recently the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and the National Academies of Sciences have called for lowering drinking limits for driving in the United States, the researchers said.

The report was published online May 29 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

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