89.3 WFPL http://wfpl.org Louisville's NPR® News Station Wed, 17 Dec 2014 21:54:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 100,000-Plus Kentuckians Signed Up For Health Insurance Via Kynect http://wfpl.org/100000-plus-kentuckians-signed-health-insurance-via-kynect/ http://wfpl.org/100000-plus-kentuckians-signed-health-insurance-via-kynect/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 21:38:31 +0000 http://wfpl.org/?p=28340 More than 100,000 Kentuckians have renewed or enrolled in health care coverage through Kynect since open enrollment began Nov. 15, said Carrie Banahan, executive director of the state’s health care exchange. Kentucky has had 25,354 new enrollees, Banahan said during a conference … Read Story

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More than 100,000 Kentuckians have renewed or enrolled in health care coverage through Kynect since open enrollment began Nov. 15, said Carrie Banahan, executive director of the state’s health care exchange.

Kentucky has had 25,354 new enrollees, Banahan said during a conference call Wednesday with health care exchange directors from New York, California and Washington state.

Of those about 9,200 have enrolled in a qualified health plan and 6,000 are eligible for a federal tax credit to help cover their health care costs.

Kentucky had 40,572 new enrollees in the first five weeks of the 2013 open enrollment, according to a news release issued last year by the governor’s office. Of those 7,011 enrolled in a qualified health plan and 16,425 had been identified as eligible for a subsidy to purchase a qualified health plan.

Banahan said about 75,700 people passively renewed coverage and more than 16,000 people have been enrolled in Medicaid, which accounts for 65 percent of new enrollees.

And 21,456 people made some type of change to their qualified health plan, which may include picking another insurer, reporting a change in income, or adding a household member, she said.

The Kynect retail store at Fayette Mall in Lexington has seen 4,256 visitors since its opening last month. The shop has taken 2,343 applications.

Banahan said it’s too early to determine the demographics of new enrollees.

About 12,000 Kentucky residents aren’t getting a cost-sharing reduction they’re qualified for through the exchange’s “Silver” plan because they enrolled in other plans, she said.

“We’ll be working with their agent or their Kynector, if they have one, to reach out to that individual to advise them that enrolling in a Silver plan with the cost-sharing reduction could possibly be cheaper,” she said.

Banahan said the a change this year to allow consumers to see their expected actual out-of-pocket expenses while shopping has gotten positive feedback.

Banahan said state officials don’t have projections for enrollment through the Feb. 15 deadline, but their goal is to enroll as many people as possible.

“We know that we’re going to enroll thousands of more people in the next two months,” she said.

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Obama Unveils ‘New Approach’ On Cuba As Former Foes Chart New Course http://wfpl.org/obama-unveils-new-approach-on-cuba-as-former-foes-chart-new-course/ http://wfpl.org/obama-unveils-new-approach-on-cuba-as-former-foes-chart-new-course/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 14:04:00 +0000 http://wfpl.org?p=28318&preview_id=28318 The U.S. and Cuba will start talks on normalizing relations and discuss opening a U.S. Embassy in Havana. Also today, Cuba freed USAID contractor Alan Gross on humanitarian grounds. Read Story

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Updated at 12:20 p.m. ET

President Obama announced today the most significant change in U.S. policy toward Cuba in more than 50 years, paving the way for the normalization of relations and the opening of a U.S. Embassy in Havana.

Obama said “we will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries.”

He added: “These 50 years have shown, isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.”

Obama said as these changes unfold, he will talk to Congress about lifting the embargo on Cuba. The U.S. severed diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961, shortly after Fidel Castro and his communist rebels ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista.

In a nationally televised address that coincided with Obama’s remarks, Cuban President Raul Castro called on the United States to “remove any obstacles that hinder ties between our two countries.”

“This decision by president Obama deserves the respect and recognition of our people,” Castro said. However, he added, this “does not mean that the most important issue has been resolved. The embargo on our country … has to end.”

Despite “profound differences,” Castro said, Cuba is willing to talk to the United States about thorny subjects including human rights and democracy.

Today’s developments come hours after news emerged that Alan Gross, the American contractor who spent five years in a Cuban jail, had been freed on humanitarian grounds. Gross has since arrived in the U.S.

The U.S. will start talks with Cuba on normalizing relations and on opening an embassy in Havana, senior administration officials said. The move would mark the resumption of diplomatic relations that were severed in 1961, shortly after Fidel Castro came to power.

U.S. officials also said three Cuban spies, part of the so-called Cuban Five spy ring, will be released in exchange for an unnamed U.S. intelligence asset jailed in Cuba for 20 years. That individual, U.S. officials said, identified the Cuban Five, Cuban intelligence agents in the U.S. who were caught in the 1990s. He also identified former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Ana Belen Montes and former State Department official Kendall Myers and his wife, Gwendolyn, as Cuban agents. Castro, in his news conference, said the man was a Cuban national.

U.S. officials said the two countries will also normalize banking and trade relations. They said the U.S. expects to have differences with Cuba on issues such as democracy and human rights, but the move toward normalization is a “better way of advancing our interests and our values.”

Obama, the officials said, approved high-level talks with Cuba over the spring, and meetings were held in Canada. The Vatican also played an important role, the officials said, with Pope Francis appealing for Gross’ release in letters to both leaders.

The officials said the U.S. will also move to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Cuba has been on the list since 1982. Obama has asked Secretary of State John Kerry to give him within six months a review of Cuba’s support for terrorism.

Officials said that, among other steps, the U.S. will also ease travel and remittance policies; expand commercial sales and exports; and ease imports, including of tobacco products and alcohol. The U.S. will expand Cubans’ access to the Internet and telecommunications.

The U.S. and Cuba will both participate in the Summit of the Americas in Panama next year, but the U.S. said “Cuban civil society must be allowed to participate.”

Separately, Cuba also agreed to release 53 detainees whom the U.S. regards as political prisoners.

As we previously reported, Gross, a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, had been working on a program to improve Internet access for Jewish Cubans. During several trips to Cuba he had covertly distributed laptops. A Cuban court found him guilty of crimes against the state in 2011, and sentenced him to 15 years in prison.

In December 2013, Peter Wallsten of The Washington Post told NPR Gross was being detained in a 10-by-12-foot room with two other prisoners.

This month, Gross’ wife, Judy, said her husband had lost more than 100 pounds during his detention. “He can barely walk due to chronic pain, and he has lost five teeth and much of the sight in his right eye,” she said in a statement.

In an interview in June with NPR, Judy Gross said her husband was “despondent and very hopeless.” She warned that he had said he would “take drastic measures if he’s not out very shortly.”

Gross had staged a nine-day hunger strike earlier this year.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., welcomed Gross’ release, but told Fox News, “I’m not in favor of the process by which his release was acquired, because I think it does set a very dangerous precedent.”

He noted that Obama’s expected announcement will do “nothing” to further democracy in Cuba.

“It’s part of a long record of coddling dictators, and tyrants, that this administration has established,” he said.

The steps announced today are likely to be closely watched in Miami, which is home to a large Cuban-American community. As NPR’s Eyder Peralta notes:

The assumption is that Cuban-Americans support punitive policies against Cuba, but over the years, polls show that attitude has changed significantly even among older Cuba-Americans.

As we reported back in June, most Cuban-Americans oppose the embargo.

Foreign policy experts welcomed the U.S. move.

Christopher Sabatini, a professor at Columbia University’s School of International & Public Affairs, called the move “profound.”

Michael Desch, a professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, called it a “long overdue step.”

“We have resisted normalizing relations with Cuba to this point largely because of the domestic Cuban-American lobby which has held that normalization would bolster the Castro regime,” he said. “That logic is flawed: The more Cubans are exposed to American culture, politics, and our economy, the weaker the hold of the Castroites on power.”

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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United Healthcare Medical Director Discusses Kentucky’s Health Rankings http://wfpl.org/medical-director-discusses-kentuckys-health-rankings/ http://wfpl.org/medical-director-discusses-kentuckys-health-rankings/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 12:01:01 +0000 http://wfpl.org/?p=28247 Kentucky was recently ranked as the 47th healthiest state in the U.S. The state’s low marks were attributed to a high prevalence of smoking, a high percentage of childhood poverty and a high rate of preventable hospitalizations, the report by the … Read Story

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Kentucky was recently ranked as the 47th healthiest state in the U.S.

The state’s low marks were attributed to a high prevalence of smoking, a high percentage of childhood poverty and a high rate of preventable hospitalizations, the report by the United Health Foundation said.

Kentucky’s ranking fell from the year before—the state ranked 45th last year, according to United Health Foundation, a non-profit focused on the health workforce and the wellbeing of communities.

Dr. Guy Shrake, market medical director for the insurance company United Healthcare of Kentucky, spoke to WFPL News about the state’s rankings. Here’s what he had to say:

Listen

Kentucky came in as the 47th healthiest state in the country. Last year, the commonwealth came in at 45th. Why the decline?

In general some other states were able to bring themselves up a little bit more. There isn’t one particular thing that got worse that had Kentucky drop.

The United Health Foundation listed Kentucky as having the second highest smoking rate in the country. Why can’t Kentuckians seem to kick the habit? 

There are so many variables in the use of tobacco. A lot of it is that aha moment. Does a patient get to that ready to change moment in their life where they’re willing to tackle that  and stop smoking?

There are some folks who would talk about Kentucky as a tobacco growing state and whether that influences tobacco usage overall. That could be. But there are other things that Kentucky has done on the policy level in terms of smoking in public places. I think from the doctors and health insurance side there are certain pieces of support that comes into that, such as doctors counseling patients to stop smoking.

Does the organization have any recommendations for lowering the smoking rate?

There are certainly lots of options on the table. We want to support our physicians in our networks to make sure they counsel patients to stop smoking at every visit they make not just at their annual check-up.

At the community level there are certainly opportunities for educational campaigns. There could also be policy changes around smoking and different environments. The e-cigarettes are a potential area for legislation as well.

In general, every place can take a look at what incentives they have for stopping smoking. At the employer level there are many businesses that are now smoke-free and some employers have taken the path of putting in different levels of premiums for smokers and non-smokers.

Almost 32 percent of children in Kentucky live in poverty. What are the effects of economic hardships on children?

In general, when children are in poverty, there is less access to medical care and there may be less access to good nutrition. There may even be issues with getting adequate sleep and these things impact children across the board in all  levels of wellness—physical, mental and social.

To the extent that people recognize the amount of children in poverty, it is good to work on as many programs as possible to give those kids a leg up. As we all know there is no quick and easy answer to poverty. Health care reform … has at least shore up that one piece of that puzzle which is getting them adequate access to health care services when they’re sick as well as when they’re healthy in terms of vaccinations and anticipatory guidance or counseling on child development.

The state also has a high rate of preventable hospitalizations. What are Kentuckians going to the hospital for?

This is a pattern that we’ve found across the country. Old habits die hard. We’ve spent a lot of effort in this country over the last 30 years developing access to medical services at the doctor’s office and at the hospital level. What has happened along the way  is there has been a tendency to think that [going to the hospital] was the best and first place to receive care.

Preventable hospitalizations is really a look at what kind of illnesses are chronic in nature; that if they could get all of the attention they needed in an office or at home that they would not need to be in the hospital as often. The classic few examples might be diabetes, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma.

The obesity rate in Kentucky is the fifth highest in the nation, which is reflected by the state’s ranking for physical inactivity. What can Kentuckians do to get active?

Physical inactivity is not just a Kentucky problem, that is clearly one that is an issues across the country.  If you have a job that is sedentary, where you’re sitting most of the time; if you have chronic illnesses that prevent you from being as active you’d want to be or should be, both of those can really change the dynamic on the physical inactivity and therefore obesity in the community.

If you could stand for five minutes at work instead of sitting for the entire time. If you could take the stairs occasionally, if you’re able to do so. If you could park farther away and walk a little farther to the building you’re going to.

Any little thing can be the first step on the road to change. At the community level it becomes a matter of  opportunity. At a fundamental level you could talk about, “How are our communities? the violent crime statistics? Is it safe for people to just get out and just walk in their neighborhood?” How about sidewalks and parks and other places to take advantage of those abilities.

 Kentucky had a few positive rankings, too. There were low rankings for binge drinking and violence. Also, many children in the state have been immunized.

The important thing on those types of statistics is that there is more to health than just access to doctors. What are the behaviors that we all engage in that might influence our health? These are things that are actually worked on at the community level and are working pretty well.

What sorts of things need to be done to ensure healthy outcomes for Kentuckians?

We each need to start asking ourselves in that open and honest way, “What are we doing to improve our health?” We have to remember that health is  physical, mental and social. We have to look at those behaviors we all engage in whether it’s the smoking or binge drinking or physical inactivity that contributes so significantly to the obesity problem.

Our community leaders and our individuals in each community can take a look at these statistics and say we’re not happy with our 47 ranking, so we’re going to try the following and see what works.

 

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U.S. Ambassador to UN Samantha Power Will Speak At McConnell Center In January http://wfpl.org/u-s-ambassador-un-samantha-power-will-speak-mcconnell-center-january/ http://wfpl.org/u-s-ambassador-un-samantha-power-will-speak-mcconnell-center-january/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 21:52:46 +0000 http://wfpl.org/?p=28290 Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, will be in Louisville next month for the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center distinguished speaker series. “She is the first U.S. ambassador to the UN to speak on behalf of the McConnell … Read Story

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Samantha PowerUnited States Mission Geneva: Eric Bridiers

Samantha Power

Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, will be in Louisville next month for the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center distinguished speaker series.

“She is the first U.S. ambassador to the UN to speak on behalf of the McConnell Center,” said GlyptusAnn Grider Jones, the McConnell Center’s recruitment coordinator.

Prior to serving as a UN ambassador – a role she’s held since August 2013 – Power won a Pulitzer Prize for her book “A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.”

She is a former journalist who reported around the world and wrote regularly for The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic and The New Yorker.

She holds degrees from Yale and Harvard.

“Our speaker series started in 1993 and she will be the first in the new year 2015,” said Jones.

Power will speak on Jan. 12 at 9 a.m. in Bigelow Hall on U of L’s Belknap Campus. Tickets are required for the free event, click here.

U of L’s McConnell Center was established in 1991 and helps to prepare Kentucky’s top college undergraduates in leadership and civic engagement.

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Feds Plan to Revise Surface Mining Law to Ban Toxic Gas Clouds During Blasting http://wfpl.org/feds-plan-revise-surface-mining-law-ban-toxic-gas-clouds-blasting/ http://wfpl.org/feds-plan-revise-surface-mining-law-ban-toxic-gas-clouds-blasting/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 21:37:59 +0000 http://wfpl.org/?p=28285 The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement plans to clarify rules to protect coalfields communities from the toxic gases that are released when blasting on surface mines. The announcement was in response to a petition filed by the … Read Story

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The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement plans to clarify rules to protect coalfields communities from the toxic gases that are released when blasting on surface mines.

The announcement was in response to a petition filed by the western conservation Group WildEarth Guardians. The group asked the federal government to prohibit mine blasting that results in orange clouds of nitrogen oxide gas. OSMRE took public comments on the petition, and yesterday decided that some action was warranted.

What the government is proposing is a rule revision to clarify what the law is for coal mine operations that blast on any surface mine—whether that mine is in Wyoming or Kentucky. OSMRE spokesman Chris Holmes said these toxic clouds result when explosives are detonated improperly, and while some companies follow very strict practices while blasting, others don’t.

“And that places the companies that are obeying the rules in a very strict manner at a distinct competitive disadvantage because the companies that aren’t observing these strict rules can move faster, they don’t observe blast area and it costs less,” he said. “So this is an effort to make sure everybody plays on a level playing field and that everybody does what they’re supposed to do to keep people and property safe.”

Holmes said the agency is proposing clarifying in the federal surface mining law that toxic gases are one of the many side effects from mine blasting that can cause property damage—like flyrock and sonic vibrations.

In a letter to WildEarth Guardians, OSMRE Director Joe Pizarchik said:

“We intend to clarify our rules to make sure industry and regulators knows (sic) they have the obligation to protect people from harm that could result from toxic gases generated from blasting at coal mines. We intend to propose a definition for “blasting area” and to also make it clear toxic gases and fumes are one of the dangers posed by blasting which must be addressed in order to protect people. Such a rulemaking, if finalized, would help to ensure clarity and consistency in our nationwide regulatory approach regarding the protection of the public health, safety and property from toxic fumes related to blasting.”

The group had originally asked for regulations on nitrogen oxide emissions from blasting sites, but Pizarchik said the agency will address all “blast generated fumes and toxic gases.”

The issue is considered to be more common on surface mines in the Western United States, but Holmes said it happens in Appalachia, as well.

Greg Conrad is the executive director of the Interstate Mining Compact Commission, an organization that represents state environmental protection and natural resources agencies, including Kentucky’s. Conrad said the IMCC is tentatively supporting the clarification.

“From our perspective, if this indeed is a refinement and a clarification to the existing rules to address what has been identified as a critical concern from Wild Earth Guardian’s perspective, we would likely support what OSM is attempting to do here,” he said. “The danger is, anytime you open a rule of this magnitude, it could also lead to a much broader type of undertaking or application and we would have some concerns if it was something more than a clarification or refinement.”

OSMRE will propose the change to the rule soon; it’ll be open for public comment before any changes are made.

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