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PERSISTENT BELOW-ZERO TEMPS VISIT MIDWEST AGAIN

Monday, 27 January 2014 10:46 Published in National News

CHICAGO (AP) -- Another winter day, another below-zero high for many parts of the Midwest.

The deep freeze that hit earlier this month has returned, bringing with it wind chills ranging from the negative teens to 40s, cancelations of schools, trains, flights and signs of resignation from parents forced to bring kids to work and residents who are tired of bundling up.

"We had two (employees) call in because they couldn't come to work because of the school closings and another called in sick," said Kristelle Brister, the manager of a downtown Chicago Starbucks who had to bring her 9-year-old son into the store because his school was closed. "It's hard."

A persistent weather pattern that's driving Arctic air south was forecast to force temperatures to plummet for about 2 1/2 days, starting overnight Sunday. Actual temperatures will range from the teens in northern Kentucky to double-digits below zero in Minnesota, but even colder wind chills were expected - minus 43 in Minneapolis; minus 18 in Dayton, Ohio; minus 14 in Kansas City, Mo.; and minus 3 in Louisville, Ky.

By sunrise Monday, weather forecasters in Chicago were telling viewers that the high temperature for the day had already come and gone and that the low may reach minus 4 degrees with wind chills at 40 below.

"I'm moving to Alaska where it's warmer," joked Kathy Berg, a 48-year-old medical assistant who arrived by train for her job in downtown Chicago wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt, sweatshirt, polar fleece hoodie, winter coat, knit cap, two scarves and two pair of gloves.

Meanwhile, at Donutville U.S.A. in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, a couple of guys said they weren't going to let a little cold keep them from their morning cruller.

"We're here every day - we never miss," said Angelo Barile, a 72-year-old retired owner of an Italian bakery.

At Chicago's Union Station, several people hoping to take trains early Monday were told there would be no service until the afternoon. Homeless people, looking for places to stay warm, kept a watchful eye for security, knowing if they stayed in one place too long they would be kicked out.

"You have to keep moving around," said Von Khan, 67, who carried big shopping bags in each hand and a backpack slung over his shoulder.

Frigid temperatures are expected to hold into Tuesday. If Chicago makes it to 60 straight hours below zero, it will be the longest stretch since 1983 - when it was below zero for 98 hours - and the third longest in 80 years.

Chicago Public Schools called off Monday's classes for its nearly 400,000 students, as did suburban districts. Earlier this month, when it was below zero for 36 straight hours, CPS closed for two days. And just as earlier this month, when airlines canceled more than a 1,000 flights over a two-day period, by early Monday morning the airlines at the city's two major airports had already canceled more than 500 flights.

In the northern U.S., North Dakota and South Dakota residents dealt with dangerous cold and wind gusts Sunday that reached up to 60 mph - blowing snow to the point where it was nearly impossible to travel in some spots. On Monday, snow drifts kept Interstate 29 closed from Sioux Falls to the Canadian border before reopening in the morning. In Indiana, where 50 mph gusts were recorded early Monday, officials recommended only essential travel in more than half of its counties.

In Windom, southwestern Minnesota, drifting snow and whiteout conditions closed several highways Sunday, stranding about 70 people, including a bus full of hockey players, at a recreation center for the night.

The surprise guests included three dogs.

"You can't very well keep your dogs out in the car," said Greg Warner, manager of the Business Arts and Recreation Center.

And speaking of cars, the bitterly cold weather has been good for business at the Batteries Plus store in northwest Omaha, where employee Scott Miller, 33, said "it's been hard to keep stock in car batteries."

In Michigan, which has in parts experienced its snowiest January on record, expressways closed as snow and subfreezing temperatures played a role in multiple crashes Sunday; at least three people died over the weekend because of weather-related accidents.

Business is far from usual this winter for Alex Alfidi, manager at Leo's Coney Island restaurant in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham. His 24-hour restaurant been getting some carryout patrons, but the casual walk-in customers have stayed away.

"We slowed down big time," said Alfidi, 39. He said he's logged some challenging winters in his 15 years in Michigan.

"This is the biggest one," he said.

---

Associated Press writers Nelson Lampe in Omaha, Neb.; David Runk in Detroit; James MacPherson and Blake Nicholson in Bismarck, N.D.; Ashley Heher and Erica Hunzinger in Chicago; and Gretchen Ehlke and Dinesh Ramde in Milwaukee contributed to this report.

© 2014 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.

HEALTH LAW TRICKY FOR PARENTS OF MEDICAID KIDS

Monday, 27 January 2014 10:44 Published in Health & Fitness

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) -- Families shopping for health insurance through the new federal marketplace are running into trouble getting everyone covered when children are eligible for Medicaid but their parents are not.

Children who qualify for Medicaid, the safety-net program for the poor and disabled, can't be included on subsidized family plans purchased through the federal marketplace, a fact that is taking many parents by surprise and leaving some kids stuck without coverage.

A California man says he was given false assurances that his children could be covered by the same plan he picked for his wife and himself, and a Florida father says his daughter is going without coverage while he waits for answers.

And in New Hampshire, some parents who've enrolled in private plans for themselves alone are finding out later that their children aren't eligible for Medicaid after all, leaving their kids with no options.

"The children are getting stuck in this spot where we've enrolled the parent, but we can't bring the children back on the family plan," Maria Proulx, senior legal counsel for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Hampshire, told a state advisory board panel this month.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services declined to say how the system is supposed to work for families and what problems have emerged. But a regional manager for CMS acknowledged the problem at the same New Hampshire meeting and said the agency is working on it, as did Proulx in a later interview.

"This is an important issue, and we're not taking it lightly," she said. "Even if this impacts only one family ... it's a big deal and we want to get it resolved as quickly as possible."

The federal government sets minimum guidelines for Medicaid eligibility, but states can choose to expand coverage beyond that. In some states, parents must have significantly lower incomes to gain Medicaid coverage for themselves than they would to get coverage for just their children, either through Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program - also known as CHIP - the low-income health insurance program for children who don't qualify for Medicaid.

In North Port, Fla., Russell Clouden was thrilled to find a better, cheaper family plan through the new marketplace, then stunned to realize his 14-year-old daughter wouldn't be enrolled because she might qualify for Florida Healthy Kids, the state's version of CHIP. The federal government still hasn't transferred roughly 90,000 Medicaid files over to Florida officials, including Clouden's daughter's, so she still doesn't have insurance.

"Based on your income, they'll separate your kids from your primary policy and they shift them off to Medicaid or Healthy Kids and there's no way you can bring them back," said Clouden, whose daughter is an accomplished equestrian jumper.

"I'm kind of in limbo with her because I'm just hoping she doesn't get injured or sick," said Clouden, 53, who runs a restaurant franchise. "Without insurance, you've kind of got a knot in your stomach watching her jumping."

Insurance broker Matthew Dinkel in Fort Myers, Fla., said he has about 15 clients in Clouden's position.

"I have worried parents literally calling and texting me every day asking for an update," said Dinkel. "They canceled their old plans that covered their entire family and now they have coverage but their kids don't."

Jessica Waltman of the National Association of Health Underwriters said her group has raised the problem, and others, with federal officials and asked for a dedicated hotline or email address for insurance brokers to get answers.

"It's a nationwide issue that we've heard time and again, and it could have very significant coverage issues for families," she said.

Marc Jobin, a construction consultant in southern New Hampshire, said the process has been so confusing, he's put off a decision for himself, his wife and their two children, even though he's seen premiums that are significantly lower than what they pay now.

"We've been hesitating for two months now because the information is not clear," he said. "Around the holidays, we were thinking, `let's do this, let's sign up,' and then the latest problem is now our children will probably be thrown into the state health care system, but nobody knows what that means."

Mary Ann Cooney, associate commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, urged those awaiting Medicaid decisions to call their state offices directly. She said her office has been getting incomplete application information from the federal government, making it harder to contact people to determine their Medicaid eligibility, but situations are improving and the office is reaching out to hundreds of people each day.

"There's a real light at the end of the tunnel," she said.

But in the meantime, children are going without coverage. In California, Robert Clark said when he applied by phone through the Covered California marketplace, he was assured that his two children would be on the plan he picked. But he later got separate notices from the insurance company and Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program.

He called Covered California again and was told the person he'd previously talked to there was wrong and that his children had to be enrolled in Medi-Cal. Clark, the president of a Menlo Park technology company, doesn't like that prospect because the doctors his children have seen since their births don't take Medicaid.

"It's pretty frustrating," he said. "We've probably spent several days' worth of time on hold."

Instead, he's exploring whether he can enroll his children in individual, unsubsidized plans through Covered California. He recently found out his original application was "hung up," so he plans to resubmit a fresh application, but in the meantime has lost out on coverage for January.

"My daughter is in gymnastics," he said. "If she falls on her head, we need to be covered."

---

Associated Press Writer Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., contributed to this report.

© 2014 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.

 

 

Sun may be setting on Missouri State solar project

Monday, 27 January 2014 09:38 Published in Local News
 SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) - Some Missouri State University students who worked for more than a year on a solar project are disappointed that school officials have stalled the project.
The students spent 18 months devising a way to put solar panels on top of Meyer Library on the Springfield campus. It was approved by student groups and was to be paid for with funds from a $2 per semester student sustainability fee.
The Springfield News-Leader reports the school's Planning, Design and Construction Department stopped the project by making changes that greatly increased the cost. The main disagreement was over how to install the panels to the library's roof.
One of the students, Shane Franklin, plans to meet with the university's architect in February to see if the project can revived.
 

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