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3 years ago

Alabama’s ObamaCare health insurance exchange prices set to skyrocket

ObamaCare
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Alabama health insurance providers who offer plans on the ObamaCare exchange are seeking significant price increases this year, after healthcare costs took a sharp upward turn.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama is reportedly requesting an average of a 28 percent increase for its individual plans, as well as a 73 percent increase for its platinum plan. Small group plans could also increase by nearly 14 percent.

UnitedHealthcare is seeking a 24.5 percent increase for its 2016 rates.

Several other states are also experiencing severe rate increase requests, with rate hikes of up to 51 percent in New Mexico and more than 30 percent in Tennessee and Maryland.

The rate increase requests must be reviewed by federal agencies before being approved. Tuesday is the deadline for filing rate increase requests.

These rate hikes well outpace the rate of inflation and wage growth, making health care more and more expensive for Alabamians.

One researcher from the Heritage Foundation said these large price increases were to be expected because insurers underpriced for the first several years of the exchanges.

“This is going to be a phenomenon of insurers that priced more optimistically instead of defensively,” said Ed Haislmaier, a senior research fellow in health policy studies at The Heritage Foundation.

“Insurers that were more optimistic in setting their premiums wound up having to play catch up. On one level, it’s completely ObamaCare. It’s catch-up by the ones who underpriced. The ones who had higher rates had realistic responses to ObamaCare, and the others are playing catch up.”

All this occurs as the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) is poised to make a decision on whether the federally-run healthcare exchanges are permissible under the law. If SCOTUS rules against ObamaCare, it could effectively hobble the President’s namesake legislation by shutting down exchanges in 34 states.


46 mins ago

Federal lawyers say 14-year-old oil leak is getting worse in Gulf of Mexico

Federal government lawyers say a 14-year-old leak is releasing much more oil each day into the Gulf of Mexico than officials previously claimed, and it may be getting worse.

A Friday court filing in a case involving Taylor Energy Co. says 10,000 to 30,000 gallons (37,000 to 113,000 liters) daily is leaking from multiple wells around a drilling platform toppled by 2004’s Hurricane Ivan.

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That estimate is far above the 16,000 gallons (60,500 liters) of oil that the U.S. Coast Guard estimated in 2015 had been spotted in slicks over seven months.

The government cites a report it commissioned from a scientist who has studied satellite images of persistent oil slicks and sampled floating oil at the site about 10 miles (16 kilometers) offshore.

That report also suggests that while the amount of leaking oil decreased after some wells were plugged in 2011, the leak may be getting bigger again.

“There has been an uptrend of the areas of the slick during the last two years,” wrote Oscar Pineda-Garcia, who runs a company that maps oil spills and is an adjunct professor at Florida State University.

New Orleans-based Taylor said only two to three gallons was leaking daily out of mud on the seafloor.

Spokesman Todd Ragusa said the company disputes the government’s new estimate and will respond in court.

“The government’s recent filing is completely contrary to the comprehensive, sound science acquired by world-renowned experts, including those regularly relied upon by the government,” Ragusa wrote in an email to The Associated Press.

A 2015 AP investigation revealed evidence that the leak was worse than the company, or government, had publicly reported during their secretive response.

Presented with AP’s findings that year, the Coast Guard provided a new leak estimate that was about 20 times larger than one cited by the company in a 2015 court filing.

Friday’s court filing also says Taylor and the Coast Guard met in August and discussed plugging more wells as part of an effort to eliminate the persistent oil sheen seen at the site.

The wellheads are more than 400 feet (120 meters) underwater and buried under 60 to 100 feet (20 to 30 meters) of mud.

Taylor sued the government in January 2016 to recover millions of dollars it set aside for work to end the leak.

The suit claims regulators violated a 2008 agreement requiring the company to deposit approximately $666 million in a trust to pay for leak response work.

The company argued the government must return the remaining $423 million.

The government’s lawyers disagree, though, saying no change to the agreement has been made and the money should remain on deposit until the work is done.

“The trust requires — and has always required — that Taylor complete all of its decommissioning obligations before the trust can terminate.

The United States’ denial of Taylor’s request for a release from its existing obligations does not constitute an imposition of a new obligation,” the lawyers wrote.

Waves whipped up by Ivan triggered an underwater mudslide that buried a cluster of oil wells under treacherous mounds of sediment.

In 2011, the company finished drilling a series of “intervention wells” to plug nine of the wells.

Using Coast Guard pollution reports, West Virginia-based watchdog group SkyTruth estimated in December that between roughly 855,000 gallons (3.2 million liters) and nearly 4 million gallons (15.1 million liters) of oil spilled from the site between 2004 and 2017.

Garcia writes in his report that the oil is thick enough that people need to wear respirators because of fumes.

He says bubbles of not just oil, but natural gas is reaching the surface, while his report shows pictures of thick, brown oil emulsions in some places.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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1 hour ago

Alabama Ethics Commission director responds to Secretary of State Merrill’s op-ed criticizing their ‘ethical political leadership’

After Secretary of State John Merrill wrote an op-ed last week strongly criticizing the Alabama Ethics Commission, the commission’s director, Tom Albritton, appeared on Capitol Journal to push back and give their side of the story, saying, “We did our job.”

Merrill opened his piece by lamenting having “to ask what purpose the Alabama Ethics Commission serves to the people of this state.” He added, “To whom are the elected officials or those seeking public office to look to for ethical political leadership? The people of Alabama need an Ethics Commission that will enforce the laws and regulations it is charged with enforcing, with consistency.”

The dispute centers on the Ethics Commission’s handling of appeals of fines levied by the Secretary of State’s office on campaigns that filed their mandatory financial disclosures late. When fined, campaigns have 14 days under state law to appeal. When a campaign chooses to do so, the secretary of state’s office sends the appeal to the Commission to decide whether the penalty is upheld or not.

Earlier this year, the commission overturned fines even though the appeals were made outside of the allowed 14-day window. However, at the beginning of this month, the commission refused to rule on tardy appeals, saying they do not have jurisdiction after the window closes.

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Even though Merrill’s argument in the op-ed was titled “The people of Alabama need an Ethics Commission that will enforce the laws,” the issue at hand is actually that the commission did enforce the law this time but not in previous times.

This disconnect, and the op-ed itself, led Albritton to say, “We did our job. The op-ed piece was a little bit confusing to me in terms of exactly where the criticism is … If the point was that we hadn’t enforced the law, that’s what I don’t understand, because that’s specifically, exactly, what my commissioners did – was enforce it.”

He also voiced his displeasure that Merrill chose to write an op-ed – which said, in part, “without communication and cooperation between our agencies … the [law] does not work” –  instead of continuing dialogue directly between the commission and the secretary of state’s office on the issue.

“Well, to be completely honest with you, I was a little bit disappointed in the manner in which that was handled,” Albritton told host Don Dailey.

In the latest batch of appeals sent to the Commission by Merrill’s office, “there were a number of files where their office knew that they were filed well after the 14 days, yet they instructed the filers to go ahead and appeal, which is not supported by the language of the code,” Albritton added.

He continued, “So, we wrote their office and asked if they disagreed that we didn’t have jurisdiction [on the late appeals]. And instead, the op-ed piece was filed.”

Albritton reiterated that the Ethics Commission enforced the law this time, yet was criticized for it.

“[W]hat the Commission did, was simply looked at that group of files and found that there were a number that were simply filed too late, so we affirmed the fines that had been imposed by [Merrill’s] office. And now, it is their obligation to go enforce those fines by collecting on them,” Albritton explained.

Merrill argued in his op-ed, “[W]hy have they just now become aware of these appeal date issues? Each appeal delivered to the Alabama Ethics Commission is delivered as a file which includes each file that was not timely filed and a copy of the date the appeal was filed.”

The Ethics Commission director admitted that his office had made mistakes in ruling on late appeals earlier this year.

“Look, I’ll be the first one if we made a mistake to admit that we made a mistake,” Albritton said. “And in that earlier group of files, the 14 days … is something that my office did not pick up [on].”

However, while admitting the Commission’s role in these previous mistakes, Albritton also questioned why Merrill’s office had knowingly sent them appeals that were late.

“Now, again, we are dependent on [the secretary of state’s office] to point out to us if someone has filed outside of the 14 days, and in a way that it is very clear that that’s what happened. The preference would be that they not send over things that the law says that we have no jurisdiction over,” Albritton emphasized.

He reiterated that hearing the late appeals previously “was an oversight by my group,” adding “I’m not sure what my commissioners will want to do” with those corresponding fines that were overturned.

Merrill wants these fines reimposed since the commission did not have jurisdiction at the time they ruled.

“It’s the position of the secretary of state’s Office that these specific matters were improperly set aside and should be reinstated by the commission,” Merrill wrote about the fines that were improperly overturned earlier this year.

Watch, starting at the 50:35 mark:

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

Steve Marshall partners with White House to recognize ICE & border patrol agents

While ICE & CBP agents are defending themselves against partisan political rhetoric from the left, Attorney General Steve Marshall is working to highlight the important role they play in defending the rule of law and thus, securing our borders.

Last month, Marshall accepted an invitation to speak on a select White House Panel discussion on border security and how border crime and illegal immigration affect the citizens of Alabama.

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“Due to our state’s proximity to Atlanta, a major distribution point for drugs, and to Texas, a border state, Alabama has become a prime transit point for drug trafficking. We see marijuana, cocaine, meth and now illicit fentanyl coming into our state as a result. The drug trade brings dangerous and violent illegal aliens into Alabama.

Just this summer, our state was rocked by the brutal murder of a special needs 13-year-old girl— killed by affiliates of the Mexican drug cartel. I am grateful to the president and the White House for allowing me to share the observations of Alabama law enforcement and our citizens.”

Marshall praised the White House and President Trump for acknowledging these agents and their contributions and dedication to the safety of U.S. citizens. He knows the importance of respecting our law enforcement, border security, and the law itself and is committed to working with all sectors of government to ensure our citizens are protected.

“We must secure our borders and we must restore respect for the rule of law throughout this country. The men and women of ICE and CBP are critical to securing our borders, and Attorneys General — I believe — must play a major role in restoring the rule of law.”

(Paid for by Steve Marshall for Alabama, P.O. Box 3537, Montgomery, AL 36109)

1 hour ago

Alabama lawmakers celebrate Decatur-based ULA’s latest rocket launch

After Saturday’s launching of the Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite-2 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Alabama lawmakers took to Twitter to celebrate the success ofUnited Launch Alliance (ULA)’s Delta II rocket, which was built at the company’s Decatur facility.

Fresh off of the historic launch of an Alabama-built rocket in August, NASA once again counted on Alabama craftsmanship to send its latest earth-studying satellite into space. The new satellite will have the capability of measuring the dimensions of ice and land masses within four millimeters.

The occasion also marked the end of an era in the rocket industry for the Delta II, which was first launched into service on February 14, 1989. This was the 155th and final flight of the Delta II. Missions will now shift to the newer Atlas V and Delta IV, also manufactured at the ULA facility in Decatur.

Alabama leaders applauded the made-in-Alabama rocket and the company’s tremendous success.

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Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

UAB archaeologist leads expedition to discover 800 Egyptian tombs

Dr. Sarah Parcak, an archaeology professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), recently led an expedition that discovered over 800 Egyptian tombs, according to a press release by the university.

The expedition, which was a joint venture between UAB and the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, revealed one of the largest sites of Middle Kingdom tombs in all of Egypt that dates back 4,000 years. The discovery was made at Lisht – the name of the ancient burial ground.

“We were able to gain insight into ancient Egyptian life from the tombs based on artifacts we found,” Parcak, a professor in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences, said. “The Middle Kingdoms artifacts were looted, much like other sites we have seen. However, we learned more about the underground network of tombs that connect individuals to the afterlife.”

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Lisht is part of a series of excavations documenting tombs and collecting images and GPS coordinates to assemble a regional database, which is partially funded by National Geographic and intended to answers questions about ancient Egyptian life.

Parcak will be presented the 2018 Lowell Thomas award at a dinner in October at The Museum of Science in Boston. This award recognizes Parcak’s groundbreaking discoveries as an Egyptologist, such as the Lisht ancient burial ground and others.

The UAB professor has been hailed as “Like a modern-day Indiana Jones” for her renowned use of satellite images to locate lost ancient sites. As a “space archaeologist,” Parcack analyzes the high-resolution imagery collected by satellites in order to identify subtle changes to the Earth’s surface that might signal man-made features hidden from view.

The winner of the 2016 Ted prize, Parcak’s techniques have helped locate 17 potential pyramids and more than 3,100 potential forgotten settlements in Egypt alone. She has also made important discoveries in the Viking world (as seen in the PBS Nova special, Vikings Unearthed) and across the Roman Empire (as shown in the BBC documentary, Rome’s Lost Empire).

In one of her several TED talks, Parcak recalled being asked about her favorite discovery.

“The answer’s easy: my husband, Greg,” she said.

Parcak outlined their story, “We met in Egypt on my first dig. It was my first lesson in finding unexpected, wonderful things. This began an incredible archaeological partnership. Years later, I proposed to him in front of our favorite pair statue of the Prince and Princess Rahotep and Nofret, in the Cairo Museum, dating to 4,600 years ago.”

She explained her choice in proposal locations, which has a powerful meaning behind it.

“I thought if I was going to ask Greg to spend the rest of this life with me, then I should ask him in front of two people who had pledged to be together for eternity,” Parcak said. “These symbols endure because when we look at them, we’re looking at mirrors. They are powerful reminders that our common humanity has not changed.”

She added, “Many archaeologists have devoted their lives to unraveling the mysteries of the past under hot suns and Arctic winds and in dense rainforests. Many seek. Some discover. All worship at the temple of possibility that one discovery might change history.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn