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WHITE HOUSE DELAYS KEY ELEMENT OF HEALTH CARE LAW

Wednesday, 03 July 2013 09:11 Published in National News

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's health care law, hailed as his most significant legislative achievement, seems to be losing much of its sweep.

On Tuesday, the administration unexpectedly announced a one-year delay, until after the 2014 elections, in a central requirement of the law that medium and large companies provide coverage for their workers or face fines.

Separately, opposition in the states from Republican governors and legislators has steadily undermined a Medicaid expansion that had been expected to provide coverage to some 15 million low-income people.

Tuesday's move — which caught administration allies and adversaries by surprise — sacrificed timely implementation of Obama's signature legislation but might help Democrats politically by blunting an election-year line of attack Republicans were planning to use. The employer requirements are among the most complex parts of the health care law, designed to expand coverage for uninsured Americans.

"We have heard concerns about the complexity of the requirements and the need for more time to implement them effectively," Treasury Assistant Secretary Mark Mazur said in a blog post. "We have listened to your feedback and we are taking action."

Business groups were jubilant. "A pleasant surprise," said Randy Johnson, senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. There was no inkling in advance of the administration's action, he said.

"We commend the administration's wise move," said Neil Trautwein, a vice president of the National Retail Federation. It "will provide employers and businesses more time to update their health care coverage without threat of arbitrary punishment."

But the delay could also whittle away at the law's main goal of covering the nearly 50 million Americans without health insurance.

Liberals immediately raised concerns. Will employees be able to get taxpayer-subsidized individual coverage through new health insurance markets if their company does not offer medical benefits? Uninsured people can start signing up Oct. 1 for the new individual policies.

"If the administration is going to give employers a break, it should not do that at the expense of millions of uninsured or underinsured workers who have been looking to have health insurance available to them on Jan. 1, 2014," said Richard Kirsch, a senior fellow with the Roosevelt Institute in New York, a think tank dedicated to promoting progressive policies.

Under the health law, companies with 50 or more workers must provide affordable coverage to their full-time employees or risk a series of escalating tax penalties if just one worker ends up getting government-subsidized insurance. Originally, that requirement was supposed to take effect Jan. 1, 2014. It will now be delayed to 2015.

Most medium-sized and large business already offer health insurance and the mandate was expected to have the biggest consequences for major chain hotels, restaurants and retail stores that employ many low-wage workers. Some had threatened to cut workers' hours, and others said they were putting off hiring.

Business groups have complained since the law passed that the provision was too complicated. For instance, it created a new definition of full-time workers, those putting in 30 hours or more. It also actually included two separate requirements, one to provide coverage and another that it be deemed "affordable" under the law. Violations of either one exposed employers to fines. But such complaints until now seemed to be going unheeded.

There is no coverage requirement — or penalty — for smaller businesses. Also, for businesses of any size, there is no penalty if their workers are poor enough to be eligible for Medicaid.

The delay in the employer requirement does not affect a provision in the law that requires individuals to carry health insurance starting next year or face fines. That so-called individual mandate was challenged all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled last year that the individual requirement was constitutional since the penalty would be collected by the Internal Revenue Service and amounted to a tax.

Tuesday's action could provide cover for Democratic candidates in next year's congressional elections.

The move undercuts Republican efforts to make the overhaul and the costs associated with new requirements a major issue in congressional races. Democrats are defending 21 Senate seats to the Republicans' 14, and the GOP already had begun to excoriate Senate Democrats who had voted for the health law in 2009.

Senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett cast the decision as part of an effort to simplify data reporting requirements.

She said since enforcing the coverage mandate depends on businesses reporting about their workers' access to insurance, the administration decided to postpone the reporting requirement, and with it, the mandate to provide coverage.

"We have and will continue to make changes as needed," Jarrett wrote in a White House blog post. "In our ongoing discussions with businesses we have heard that you need the time to get this right. We are listening."

Republicans called it a validation of their belief that the law is unworkable and should be repealed.

"The president's health care law is already raising costs and costing jobs. This announcement means even the Obama administration knows the 'train wreck' will only get worse," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in an email. "This is a clear acknowledgment that the law is unworkable, and it underscores the need to repeal the law and replace it with effective, patient-centered reforms."

___ Associated Press writers Donna Cassata, Sam Hananel and Josh Lederman contributed to this report.

DUBLIN (AP) -- Ireland appeared on course to legalize abortion in limited circumstances as lawmakers voted Tuesday to support a bill that would permit a pregnancy to be terminated when deemed necessary to save a woman's life.

Catholic leaders warned that the proposed law, which faces potential amendments this week and a final vote next week, was a "Trojan horse" designed to permit widespread abortion access in Ireland. But Prime Minister Enda Kenny insisted Ireland's constitutional ban on abortion would remain unaffected, and his government's Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill won overwhelming backing in a 138-24 vote.

Ireland's 1986 constitutional ban on abortion commits the government to defend the life of the unborn and the mother equally. Ireland's abortion law has been muddled since 1992, when the Supreme Court ruled that this "ban" actually meant that terminations should be legal if doctors deem one essential to safeguard the life of the woman - including, most controversially, from her own suicide threats.

Six previous governments refused to pass a law in support of the Supreme Court judgment, citing its suicide-threat rule as open to abuse. This left Irish hospitals hesitant to provide any abortions except for the most clear-cut emergencies and spurred many pregnant women in medical or psychological crises to seek abortions in neighboring England, where the practice has been legal since 1967.

Kenny's government had been under pressure to pass a law on life-saving abortions ever since the European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2011 that Ireland's inaction forced women to face unnecessary medical dangers.

But the catalyst for change was Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old Indian dentist who died last year in a western Ireland hospital one week after being admitted in severe pain at the start of a miscarriage. Doctors cited Ireland's ill-defined and Catholic-influenced laws when denying her pleas for an abortion, even though her uterus had ruptured and exposed her to increased risk of blood poisoning.

By the time doctors authorized an abortion, Halappanavar had already been hospitalized for four days and the 17-week-old fetus was stillborn. She fell into a state of toxic shock, then into a coma, and died from massive organ failures three days later. Two fact-finding investigations since have found that an abortion one or two days before the fetus' death would have increased Halappanavar's chance of survival, but said the hospital was guilty of many other failures in her care.

In years past, a government that took on Catholic orthodoxy in Ireland would have feared damaging splits and electoral annihilation. But Tuesday's vote illustrates changed social mores and widespread disenchantment with Catholic leaders following two decades of revelations of the Irish church's role in protecting pedophile priests from public exposure and prosecution.

The most recent opinion poll found that 89 percent want abortions to be granted in cases where a woman's life is endangered by continued pregnancy. Some 83 percent also want abortion legalized in cases where the fetus could not survive at birth, 81 percent for cases of pregnancy caused by rape or incest, and 78 percent where a woman's health - not simply her life - was undermined by pregnancy. The government bill excludes those three scenarios. The June 13 poll in the Irish Times had an error margin of three percentage points.

Four anti-abortion lawmakers from Kenny's socially conservative Fine Gael party did vote against the bill, fewer than expected given the strong Catholic traditionalist wing in his party. They particularly opposed the bill's section authorizing abortions in cases where a panel of three doctors, including two psychiatrists, unanimously rules that a woman is likely to try to kill herself if denied one.

But Kenny, who since rising to power in 2011 has repeatedly clashed with Catholic Church attitudes, emphasized beforehand that he would tolerate no dissent and pointedly described himself as a prime minister "who happens to be Catholic" but has a public duty to separate church and state.

The four rebels were expected to be expelled from Fine Gael's voting group in parliament and, much more damagingly, be barred from seeking re-election as Fine Gael candidates. The move would not affect Kenny's commanding parliamentary majority.

Ireland's other traditional center-ground party, the opposition Fianna Fail, did not attempt to impose such discipline because it risked tearing apart the party. Thirteen Fianna Fail lawmakers voted against the bill, while only six supported it.

Kenny won strong support from the left-wing side of the house, both from his Labour Party coalition partners and opposition lawmakers including the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein. Only one of Sinn Fein's 14 lawmakers voted against the bill and he, too, faces expulsion from his voting bloc.

Hours before the vote, Cardinal Sean Brady, leader of Ireland's 4 million Catholics - two thirds of the island's population - appealed to Fine Gael lawmakers to rebel against Kenny. Previously some Catholic bishops have hinted that Kenny and other Catholic lawmakers who vote for the bill should be barred from receiving Communion at Mass, a traditional method of public shaming.

"In practice, the right to life of the unborn child will no longer be treated as equal. The wording of this bill is so vague that ever wider access to abortion can be easily facilitated," Brady said in a statement. "This bill represents a legislative and political Trojan horse which heralds a much more liberal and aggressive abortion regime in Ireland."

© 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

Angels host Cardinals for 1st time, win 5-1

Wednesday, 03 July 2013 00:08 Published in Sports

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- Jered Weaver earned his second win of an injury-plagued season with help from a five-run second inning, and the Los Angeles Angels extended their winning streak to seven games Tuesday night with a 5-1 victory over St. Louis in the Cardinals' first game at Angel Stadium.

St. Louis was the only National League club that had never played at the "Big A," having hosted the three previous interleague series between the teams in 2002, 2007 and 2010.

Three-time NL MVP Albert Pujols, who spent his first 12 major league seasons with the Cardinals before signing a $240 million, 10-year contract with the Angels in December 2011 as a free agent, played his first game against his former club and was 0 for 3 with two strikeouts and a walk as the designated hitter while Mark Trumbo started at first base.

The first time Pujols came up, he tapped catcher Yadier Molina's shin guard with his bat and Molina tapped Pujols on the back of the helmet with his glove - a subtle but meaningful display of affection and respect between two All-Stars who were teammates for nine seasons and won two World Series rings together. Pujols then struck out, and Molina threw out J.B. Shuck at second for an inning-ending double play.

Weaver (2-4) allowed a run, six hits and no walks over seven innings. He struck out five in his ninth start of the year, working with runners on base in every inning but the seventh.

The All-Star right-hander, who became a 20-game winner for the first time last year before a broken bone in his non-pitching arm sidelined him for more than six weeks this season, ended a streak of five winless starts that began after his 3-1 victory against the Dodgers on May 29 at Angel Stadium - his first game back from the injury.

The Cardinals loaded the bases in the eighth against Kevin Jepsen. Scott Downs came in and struck out rookie Matt Adams before finishing a spectacular 3-6-1 double play, after Trumbo made a slick play in the hole on a hard-hit grounder by David Freese.

Lance Lynn (10-3) gave up five runs and nine hits in six innings, striking out eight. The 26-year-old right-hander, coming off a 4-3 loss last Wednesday at Houston, has dropped back-to-back outings for the first time in 1 1/2 big league seasons spanning 48 starts.

The Angels sent 10 batters to the plate in the second. Lynn gave up singles to six of his first seven hitters, including run-scoring hits by Trumbo, Alberto Callaspo, Erick Aybar and Shuck. Aybar scored when second baseman Matt Carpenter misplayed Mike Trout's grounder up the middle for an error with a chance to force Shuck. Lynn ended the inning by striking out Pujols and Josh Hamilton.

Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday was a late scratch because of tightness in his neck, hampering a lineup that had averaged a league-best 7.04 runs of support for Lynn in his other 16 starts this season. Molina was 2 for 4, raising his NL-leading average to .347.

The Cardinals got on the board in the fourth. Allen Craig reached on an infield single, was held up at third on a double by Adams and scored on a groundout by Freese.

NOTES: A ceremonial first pitch was thrown by Stan Musial's grandson, Brian Schwarze, with Pujols as his catcher. Musial, who died on Jan. 19 at age 92, was honored with a video tribute following the first inning. "Stan was my buddy," Pujols said. "I wish I would have had more opportunities to talk to him. When he walked into the clubhouse, it was like a light that was so bright. It was amazing. Everybody would stop what they were doing." ... Shortly after Pujols joined the Angels, he took offense to promotional billboards put up throughout Southern California that heralded him as "El Hombre" - or "The Man." Pujols requested they be taken down, saying that only Musial - whose moniker was "Stan The Man" - should ever be referred to in that manner. ... The Angels wore circular patches with Musial's name and No. 6 on the front of their jerseys, which they will do throughout this series. The idea for the unique tribute came during spring training. "It's out of the respect that everyone in baseball has for Stan Musial and his legacy, and obviously the connection with Albert," manager Mike Scioscia said. "We wanted to honor a great person and a great ballplayer in a very classy way, and we're proud to wear them." ... Former Angels Jim Edmonds, Scott Spiezio, David Eckstein and Jeff Weaver all played significant roles for the Cardinals during their 2006 championship season. Eckstein was the World Series MVP, and Weaver won the Series clincher against Detroit's Justin Verlander. ... The Cardinals won five of the nine meetings between the teams in St. Louis.

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