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Archive for May, 2014

Civics for Kids

From StlToday.com:

Illinois flip-flops on ‘cupcake’ bill, pleasing a 12-year-old Troy girl

 Chloe Stirling, 11, poses for a photo on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014 at her home in Troy, Ill. Stirling had a thriving cupcake business out of her home until the Madison County Health Department told her to stop. Photo by Huy Mach, hmach@post-dispatch.com

SPRINGFIELD, Ill.  — Illinois lawmakers have revived a so-called “cupcake bill” introduced after a young girl’s home baking operation was shut down.

The Senate on Tuesday initially defeated the measure, which paves the way for home kitchen businesses making less than $1,000 per month.

But hours later, lawmakers moved to reconsider it and a controversial amendment was withdrawn. Legislators then voted 57-0 to approve the bill.

“Let them eat cupcakes,” said Sen. Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat.

The legislation, which now goes to Gov. Pat Quinn, was introduced after the Madison County Health Department shut down 12-year-old Chloe Stirling’s cupcake business in Troy.

 

After the initial vote, the girl said she was “kind of surprised … I learned that probably you don’t get what you want all the time, but it’s good to still try.”

Her mother, Heather Stirling, said Chloe learned a lot but called the outcome ridiculous and disappointing.

“We’re in the exact same spot that started this mess,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Among the bill’s opponents during the Senate’s first vote was Republican state Sen. Jim Oberweis, a dairy magnate who is running for U.S. Senate. He and other critics said the amendment — which was later withdrawn — imposed overly burdensome regulations.

Oberweis said the proposed rules would have sidetracked his own entrepreneurial spirit at a young age.

“This may sound like a silly thing known as the ‘cupcake girl’ bill, but this goes to the heart of what goes on in Springfield,” Oberweis said. “It’s an example of how we are Illinois-ing — killing — entrepreneurship among kids.”

The measure as approved requires sellers to tell consumers the product was made in a home.

___

The bill is HB5354.

Online: http://www.ilga.gov

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 
 
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Women, Unions and Choice

I have blogged for the last couple of years about the need to put job creation ahead of social issues and to agree to disagree on abortion because, at the end of the day, most people have their minds made up about their personal views on the issue. I have acknowledged that abortion is not something the average woman is thinking about as she goes about her day. Instead her thoughts are usually on her household budget and other matters related to the economy. I could vote Republican because I honestly believed no one would try to overturn a women’s right to choose. Not 40 years after women were protected in this way. 

But we women in Missouri cannot look the other way when we are being used as bargaining chips in showdowns between the state legislators and the unions. Female union members, of which I am one (Sag/Aftra), need to meet the obligation that goes with those automatic paycheck deductions, approved just this week. If a teacher or any other female union member is going to have money automatically deducted from her paycheck to pay for a union’s political activities, she should have a say in how those monies are spent. My guess is a lot of these women don’t realize what just happened. Hopefully, when they discover that Missouri is now the 3rd most restrictive state in the country when it comes to protecting choice, they will step up and let their leadership know how they feel.  We’re being asked to wear pink Converse sneakers as a form of protest. I encourage women across the state to join in bringing attention to this matter by doing the same. 

A little background is in order. The unions have been fighting Right to Work legislation. They were not working to restrict women’s access or increase it. But an extreme faction within the Republican party is aware of what a divisive and powerful wedge issue abortion still is and so, they were willing to give up paycheck protection in exchange for making it harder for women to get legal reproductive services at the sole provider remaining in this state. Why? Because it will motivate the far right in an election year. 

22 male state senators voted earlier this week to allow unions to deduct fees for political efforts from employees’ paychecks in exchange for a 3 day waiting period for a safe, legal abortion. They decided to back off on a Right to Work issue in exchanged for being allowed to limit women’s access. One Republican legislator admitted the goal is to stop abortion altogether in this state. And our GOP party chairman has repeatedly called the Republican Party of Missouri, the “Right to Life” party.

Many women, like myself, want a reason to vote Republican but it is an ultra conservative wing within our male leadership (not all but a loud and mighty few) that are driving them into the Democrat’s tent. They continue to co-mingle religion and politics as a means to promote their extreme right agenda. This is yet another example. 

I’ve always said when asked about unions and politics that it isn’t up to government to decide whether unions are doing their jobs. It is up to union members. After all, unions are their own form of governance. And in this case, female union members will have to decide where they fit in and if those automatic paycheck deductions are being used the way they would like. Are pro-choice women in Missouri being adequately represented by their union leadership?   

Granted, abortion is a last resort, “a tragedy best left up to women”, as Illinois businessman and gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner put it. It isn’t something anyone celebrates. But when there is only one safe, legal provider left in this state, it is critical that women not stand by passively while our rights are being chipped away at.  

Agreeing to disagree is very different from looking the other way when a woman’s dwindling rights are being further eroded. 

Ideally, states should be able to decide. But if you look at the demographics between the rural and urban populations in this state and consider the divergent views on guns and abortion, we need to reconsider the broad swath of political might that is being applied in negotiations like this week’s. The divide between urban and rural, which is much discussed in Missouri, is being aggravated by a divide between male and female leadership.  And we have seen no better example of how a dearth of women in leadership or negotiating roles for both unions and political office has led to this latest travesty.

 

 

The Home of the Brave

I just read today that Missouri is ground zero in the battle over centrist versus extreme right orthodoxy. Looking around town and hearing the conversations that are unfolding around and about this state, it is hard not to feel the initial ripples of change unfolding.  First of all, I saw online that Michael Sam’s rookie jersey is the second biggest seller in NFL history. Go Rams! Sam is the first openly gay rookie to be drafted in the NFL.

Then I opened the newspaper and saw an op-ed piece that points out that for the sake of our economy, the time has come to make discrimination against gays in the workplace illegal. “Research shows that municipalities and states that enact policies protecting gay and lesbian people are more attractive to young entrepreneurs – gay or straight – who are looking for an open, thriving creative place to locate or launch their businesses,” Senator John C. Danforth, a well-known moderate Republican, wrote.

It has occurred to me only recently that I live in a community that is clearly in the viewfinder of activists gathering information about discrimination against gays and other minorities. A friend told me she was approached by a St. Louis city school kid popping up outside a well-known supermarket in Ladue, asking for money and telling customers he was hungry. And I was in a favorite neighborhood market the other day, when a gay rights activist came in and was treated with the very same courtesy and respect those merchants have always shown me. It’s clear we are in an information gathering stage of activism. Honestly, it’s kind of exciting to think we are on the brink of change. I’m proud of the good people who are stepping up in this state or the ones who have always been good and are getting to show their true colors. 

And as I read the news out of the State Capitol today, where legislators are wrapping up the current session, you can see why we are being called Ground Zero for the battle between the center and the far right.  

Once again, Planned Parenthood is getting caught up in the politicking around economic issues like paycheck protection. Why 22 male Republican State Senators think it’s okay to offer up a 72 hour waiting period, tripling the waiting period and putting Missouri among the top 3 states in the country restricting access, when we only have one legal provider in the state, I cannot fathom. They did it in a compromise deal in which they agreed to back off of paycheck protection, a bill that would have required public sector unions to get an employee’s permission before his or her workplace earnings go to the union’s political efforts. One small step forward for the unions; one giant step backwards for reproductive rights. Where workers wind up remains to be seen. 

Every raw nerve between the parties is being tested in this session. 

An electric car company that wants to sell cars directly to consumers is being challenged by The Missouri Automobile Dealers Association.

The police chiefs of our state’s two biggest cities are urging lawmakers to consider the consequences of a bill named the Second Amendment Preservation Act. It would allow Missourians who are arrested for violating federal gun laws to sue federal law enforcement if the state’s laws differ. It isn’t any wonder the police chiefs are against it when you consider that it would also bar any federal law enforcement officer from applying for a state police job if he enforces federal gun laws in Missouri. The bill would also lower the conceal carry age, allow open carry even in municipalities where it is outlawed and permit teachers to carry guns in schools once they’ve been trained. 

In the city of St. Louis, changes to the school transfer law means for the first time, that law now mandates that public education dollars could be going to private schools in unaccredited districts. That means students are being put first. Students in unaccredited districts will get to choose to go to private schools if their own schools have failed them. And they have. The key here is public money will now be allocated for those transfers. 

A tax cut that the Governor vetoed has passed both houses, thanks to one Democrat who crossed over in the House. It could lead to a .5 reduction in the individual income rate as well as a 25% reduction on business income reported by individuals. A possible increase in the sales tax to fund transportation and other infrastructure improvements will be put to voters this Fall.  Critics say the most innovation is coming from states with some of the highest tax rates, like California while others are questioning whether Kansas’ tax reform has led to the growth it intended.

It’s an interesting week to dial in in Missouri. So, stay tuned. 

“It was a waste of money for me”

 

MIAMI • The first thing Michelle Pool did before picking a plan under President Barack Obama’s health insurance law was check whether her longtime primary care doctor was covered. Pool, a 60-year-old diabetic who has had back surgery and a hip replacement, purchased the plan only to find that the insurer was mistaken.

Pool’s $352 a month gold plan through Covered California’s exchange was cheaper than what she’d paid under her husband’s insurance and seemed like a good deal because of her numerous pre-existing conditions. But after her insurance card came in the mail, the Vista, Calif., resident learned her doctor wasn’t taking her new insurance.

“It’s not fun when you’ve had a doctor for years and years that you can confide in and he knows you,” Pool said. “I’m extremely discouraged. I’m stuck.”

Stories like Pool’s are emerging as more consumers realize they bought plans with limited doctor and hospital networks, some after websites that mistakenly said their doctors were included.

Before the law took effect, experts warned that narrow networks could impact patient’s access to care, especially in cheaper plans. But with insurance cards now in hand, consumers are finding their access limited across all price ranges.

 

The dilemma undercuts President Obama’s 2009 pledge that: “If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period.” Consumer frustration over losing doctors comes as the Obama administration is still celebrating a victory with more than 8 million enrollees in its first year.

Narrow networks are part of the economic trade-off for keeping premiums under control and preventing insurers from turning away those with pre-existing conditions. Even before the Affordable Care Act, doctors and hospitals would choose to leave a network — or be pushed out — over reimbursement issues as insurers tried to contain costs.

Insurance trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans says studies show the biggest factor influencing consumer choice is price. Insurers say that if consumers want low premiums, their choices may be limited.

Insurance companies also argue there’s wide variation in what doctors and hospitals charge, with some increasing prices every year. Insurers say there’s little evidence that higher-priced hospitals or doctors are actually delivering better care.

Insurance agents Craig Gussin in San Diego and Kelly Fristoe in Texas helped dozens of clients switch plans just before the enrollment deadline when clients realized their doctors weren’t covered. Now, they’re struggling to help clients who realized they were in that position after the March 31 enrollment deadline, when consumers are locked into plans for one year.

Gussin says that even after his mad-dash to make switches before the deadline, he still has a half-dozen clients who are stuck — and he expects the number to grow as more try to schedule with doctors. He and other agents fear it will be one of their most serious issues in 2014.

“Everybody I talk to is having the same issue. It’s probably the number one item that we’re seeing right now,” said Gussin, who is petitioning Covered California for special enrollment status to help clients change plans.

Health counselor Nathalie Milias, who helped enroll nearly 300 Miami-area residents in ACA plans, says most of them chose a plan with $0 monthly premiums and deductibles — but with much more limited choices. She says tax credits could have allowed them more robust plans if they were willing to spend more, but many are working poor who didn’t want to pay another bill.

Marie Bien-Aime, a 59-year-old cook at a Miami restaurant, enrolled in that plan to avoid a monthly payment, but she realized her longtime health clinic didn’t take the plan. Shortly before the enrollment deadline, Bien-Aime upgraded to a plan that costs $37 per month.

“Paying $37 isn’t good for me, but I had to do it because I wanted to keep my doctor because he’s so good,” said Bien-Aime, who was previously uninsured.

Many consumers are still learning. They hear “Obamacare” and think it’s free like Medicaid or Medicare, said John Foley, an attorney and navigator.

“They don’t expect to pay anything,” said Foley. “For a couple more dollars a month you can get a really good plan and they’re like, ‘This is free. I don’t want to pay for this.'”

Even with pricier plans, some consumers have access problems.

James Potts’ $647-per-month silver plan was issued by the same company that had insured him with a different plan cancelled under the Affordable Care Act. The 64-year-old property insurance agent assumed his doctors would remain the same under the insurer’s new plan, but didn’t double check.

When Potts got a nasty cold, he called three facilities near his home in Wichita Falls, Texas, and was shocked to find none took the insurance, including his primary care doctor.

“It was a waste of money for me,” he said. “I couldn’t find doctors that would talk to me.”

 

Crock Pot Lentil Soup with Kielbasa from Ivillage.com

 

by AMY FLANIGAN on FEBRUARY 11, 2013 · 44 COMMENTS

Ever since these (which I’ve made 3x now), I’ve sort of fallen back in love with kielbasa. Not that I ever fell out of love, but…well…I guess it just fell off my radar. Then those bites smacked me in the face, “Hello! Remember how awesome I am?!” 

This was a comforting, hearty soup that we all Paul, Haley, and I loved – I’ve decided Trevor’s opinion doesn’t count. I think I’m 2/50 on soups with him. Thank goodness he loves bread and butter.

Even though you don’t need an immersion blender for this soup, it’s such a handy tool to own during the winter for all the other soups that call for it. And besides, I felt like giving something great away.

The Giveaway
1 lucky U.S. reader has a chance to win a Cuisinart Quick Prep Hand Blender.

There are three ways to enter: (1) leave a comment on the blog (2) go “like” us on Facebook or (3) Already a fan? Just leave a comment on The Wall. Want to increase your chances? You can leave a comment here and on Facebook.

THIS DRAWING IS NOW CLOSED. The very lucky winner is Amy Tong. Congrats to her and thank you to all who played!

Crock Pot Lentil Soup with Kielbasa
Serves 6
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 5 1/2 hours on low

Ingredients
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 3 medium carrots, chopped
• 1 small sweet onion, diced
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• dash of crushed red pepper flakes
• salt and pepper
• 2 cups dried red lentils, rinsed
• 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
• 6 ounces fully cooked polska kielbasa, cut into bite-sized pieces
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 tablespoon dried Italian herbs
• 2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

Directions
Coat a 6 quart crock pot with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large sauté pan, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes; sauté for 5-6 minutes. Season with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Add the mixture to the crock pot, along with the lentils, broth, kielbasa, and salt. Stir to combine, cover, and cook on low for 5 1/2 hours.

Stir in the herbs and lemon juice. Taste and add a touch more salt and pepper, if necessary.

NOTE: if you’re using smaller than a 6 quart crock, I would lesson the amount of broth by a cup. Also, this soup thickens the longer it cooks/sits, so if you decide to let it go for 7-8 hours, it will resemble oatmeal more than soup!

(adapted from Parents magazine)

Print this recipe • Save this recipe

 

The Mom Vivant / Debbie Baldwin of Ladue News

So this weekend was Mother’s Day. Personally I never held much stock in the event. It’s an overly involved brunch, some unwanted picture taking and a lot of beginner-level pottery. Now I’m not made of stone, an affectionate handmade card gets me every time, but the rest? Honestly, I would skip the holiday altogether if it meant eliminating the ads, commercials and hype. That being said, I did, purely for curiosity’s sake, browse the interweb to see what was trending for moms. These are the top 10 gifts virtual men have chosen for the moms in their lives:

Lipstick/makeup

Perfume

Gift Card

Sunglasses

Jewelry

Wine/chocolate

Bath products/lotions

Flowers

Tea/Coffee maker

Camera/tablet

Almost nothing with a cord, so we’re making progress…however. Don’t buy makeup for another person. Ever. If you buy different makeup than she usually wears, you are saying, You could look better; if you’re refilling her existing supply, you’re unimaginative. Perfume is touchy. Buying mom a bottle of the stuff she already wears is thoughtful but humdrum. Buying something new is monumentally risky, but worse, prompts a lot of questions.

Gift card…zzzzzzz, I’m sorry. I must have dropped off there for a minute.

Sunglasses are a good choice. Most people have more than one pair, so if they’re not exactly right, they can still work. Also, they are one size fits all, so no issue there. Thumbs up. Same is true for jewelry. Even if it’s hideous, it’s still jewelry.

As for wine, I would avoid anything she can throw in her grocery cart while zipping through Schnucks. As for chocolate, no one ever complained about a Teuscher Champagne truffle. Bath products will earn you a tight smile and snippy aloofness for the rest of the day. Flowers are fine. I love getting flowers actually, but put some thought into it. You don’t have to arrange a bouquet, but you also don’t need to clip a fistful of your neighbor’s hydrangeas.

As far as hot beverages go, I don’t care that the millionaire next door makes his own coffee, I’m going to Starbucks. Technology is a winner. It’s not around long enough for someone to be bothered by it and most of the time, it’s pretty nifty.

That’s my two cents. Honestly, the best Mother’s Day gift I ever got was when my husband took Cranky, Whiny and Punch away with him for the day, the whole day, as I lounged around my empty house doing absolutely nothing. The one thing a mother almost never has, is time to herself—well, that and the chocolate.

Hospitals see blue-red divide early into Obamacare’s coverage expansion

The Hospital Corporation of America, which has facilities in 20 states, reported a big gap in Medicaid and uninsured admissions between expansion and non-expansion states. In the four states it operates where Medicaid expanded under the ACA, the company saw a 22.3 percent growth in Medicaid admissions, compared to a 1.3 percent decline in non-expansion states. The company also had a 29 percent decline in uninsured admissions in the expansion states, while non-expansion states experienced 5.9 percent growth in uninsured admissions, chief financial officer William Rutherford said.

Community Health Systems, with facilities in 29 states, also noticed an expansion gap. In expansion states it serves, CHS said it saw self-pay admissions drop 28 percent while Medicaid admissions increased by 4 percent. Self-pay emergency room visits decreased 16 percent in expansion states, but they increased in non-expansion states, the company said in its earnings call last week.

Tenet Healthcare reported last week that it had a 17 percent increase in Medicaid inpatient visits while uninsured visits decreased 33 percent in the four expansion states where it operates. In non-expansion states, Medicaid admissions dropped 1 percent as uninsured care rose 2 percent. Tenet also said it’s seeing that emergency room visits are continuing to rise.

This is generally the kind of trend, though, that hospitals expected to see under the ACA and why they’re lobbying hard for the Medicaid expansion. They’re getting more patients with Medicaid coverage, which reimburses at rates lower than private coverage, but still pays better than no insurance. And it suggests that patients with new coverage are seeking care, which backs last week’s finding from the Bureau of Economic Analysis that health-care expenditures climbed 9.9 percent last quarter as coverage expanded.

How hospitals are — and aren’t — automatically enrolling Medicaid patients 

A few of the hospital systems also said there was a missed opportunity to help more people to enroll in new Medicaid coverage through something known as presumptive eligibility. The process essentially allows hospitals to enroll their patients in Medicaid right away if their household income appears to meet Medicaid eligibility requirements, and the state later processes the full application. The advantages of this process, as a recent Health Affairs article explains, are twofold: It allows people to get immediate care, and it puts them on a path to official coverage.

Before the health-care law, states were allowed to use presumptive eligibility in limited circumstances — as of last year, 33 states used it to enroll women and children in Medicaid coverage. A 2004 study of children’s coverage found presumptive eligibility would increase the probability of enrollment by 6.4 percent, according to the Health Affairs article.

The hospitals said, though, they were surprised at how slow many states have been to adopt a process for Obamacare’s much broader allowance of presumptive eligibility determinations. The ACA provision became effective in January, but states had until the end of March to submit a plan to the federal Medicaid agency explaining how they would implement it within their borders.

Community Health Systems said it’s doing presumptive eligibility in three of the 29 states where it operates — Alabama, New Mexico and Virginia. “[The states have] been a little slow, especially the, what would be called the red states,” said chief financial officer Larry Cash during the company’s earnings call.

LifePoint, in its call about two weeks ago, said presumptive eligibility was available in 10 of the 20 states in which the company provides care.

“I think surprising to me it’s not in place at this point in all 20,” said LifePoint chief financial officer Leif Murphy, according to a transcript of the call.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said it’s still reviewing state proposals for implementing the process, and all but three states have actually filed formal plans. State Medicaid directors say CMS has made presumptive eligibility a priority, so they would expect all the states to have it ready this year.

“There was a long ACA to-do list for all states,” said Andrea Maresca of the National Association of Medicaid Directors. “Medicaid agencies have been working with CMS on the many operational issues with hospital [presumptive eligibility] programs and will come into compliance as soon as practically possible.”

Top health policy reads from around the Web:

The first 2015 rates are in. “In the first look at how insurers plan to adjust prices in the second year under the federal health-care law, filings from Virginia carriers show they are opting for premium increases in 2015 that will pinch consumers’ pocketbooks but fall short of some bigger rate predictions. … The Virginia filings show other health plans proposing rate increases ranging from 3.3% for Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States, Inc., with around 10,000 members in the state, to 14.9% for CareFirst BlueChoice Inc., which said it had about 32,000 members.” Louise Radnofsky in the Wall Street Journal.

Failing state exchanges cost $474 million. “Nearly half a billion dollars in federal money has been spent developing four state Obamacare exchanges that are now in shambles — and the final price tag for salvaging them may go sharply higher. “Each of the states — Massachusetts, Oregon, Nevada and Maryland — embraced Obamacare, and each underperformed. All have come under scathing criticism and now face months of uncertainty as they rush to rebuild their systems or transition to the federal exchange.” Jennifer Haberkorn and Kyle Cheney in Politico.

Top Boehner aide lands a new health-care role. “Brendan Buck, who has served as one of Boehner’s top spokesmen for more than three years, will depart today to head up communications for America’s Health Insurance Plans, which represents thousands of health-care providers. … As the health-care law has been implemented, including since the opening of the new health exchanges last fall, AHIP has quietly pressed the administration for decisions that would be useful to the industry. But, publicly, the group and individual insurers have largely avoided criticizing the law.” Ed O’Keefe in the Washington Post.