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FEDERAL DATA SHOW HEALTH DISPARITIES AMONG STATES

Thursday, 12 December 2013 07:24 Published in Health & Fitness

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The slow rollout of a new federal health insurance marketplace may be deepening differences in health coverage among Americans, with residents in some states gaining insurance at a far greater rate than others.

The demarcation may be as simple as Democrat and Republican.

Newly released federal figures show more people are picking private insurance plans or being routed to Medicaid programs in states with Democratic leaders who have fully embraced the federal health care law than in states where Republican elected officials have derisively rejected what they call "Obamacare."

On one side of the political divide are a dozen mostly Democratic leaning states, including California, Minnesota and New York. They have both expanded Medicaid for lower-income adults and started their own health insurance exchanges for people to shop for federally subsidized private insurance.

On the other side are two dozen conservative states, such as Texas, Florida and Missouri. They have both rejected the Medicaid expansion and refused any role in running an online insurance exchange, leaving that entirely to the federal government.

The new federal figures, providing a state-by-state breakdown of enrollment in the new health care program through November, showed that the political differences among leaders over the initiative are turning into differences in participation among the uninsured.

Even though many conservative states have higher levels of poverty and more people without health coverage, fewer of them may receive new insurance, said Dylan Roby, an assistant public health professor at the Center for Health Policy Research at the University of California, Los Angeles.

With the patchwork implementation of the federal health care law, "the gap will exacerbate," Roby said

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department reported this week that 364,682 people had signed up for private coverage through the new health insurance marketplaces as of Nov. 30 and an additional 803,077 had been determined eligible for Medicaid.

But the rate of residents gaining health coverage was more than three times as great in the states embracing the federal health care law than in those whose leaders have resisted it.

In the dozen states embracing the overhaul, more than 50 percent of those who applied for coverage picked an insurance plan or were eligible for Medicaid. That rate was barely 15 percent in the two dozen states that aren't cooperating in the implementation of the federal health care law.

"It's very frustrating," said U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who voted for the federal law only to see it twice rebuffed in a statewide vote and repeatedly rejected by her home state's Republican-led state Legislature.

"The political point has trumped the services that Missourians need," McCaskill said.

In Texas, which has the highest rate of uninsured residents in the U.S., the GOP-controlled state Legislature opted not to create a state-run insurance marketplace and Republican Gov. Rick Perry also declined to expand Medicaid to cover more of the working poor. As of the end of November, just 14,000 Texans had signed up for insurance through the federally run marketplace and fewer than 17,000 of the nearly 245,000 applicants on the exchange had been determined to be eligible for Medicaid.

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a Democrat from San Antonio who chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said he nonetheless remains optimistic about the meager numbers.

"To know that there are people who, despite those odds, are still enrolling is encouraging," Fischer said.

In California, which also has a high uninsured rate, more than 107,000 people had picked an insurance plan through the state-run marketplace as of the end of November, and nearly 182,000 others had been determined eligible for Medicaid. That means nearly two-thirds of the 448,133 individuals who applied through the insurance exchange could gain some sort of coverage.

Federal grants in California have helped finance TV and radio commercials, billboards, bus signs and town hall meetings encouraging people to participate in the new health insurance marketplace.

That sort of promotion has been lacking in many of the states that have refused to run their own insurance marketplaces.

In Missouri, where a law forbids the government from implementing an insurance exchange, a coalition supporting the marketplace delayed its promotional campaign because of the technical troubles that marred the launch of the federal website.

"We didn't want to drive people to a frustrating experience," said Thomas McAuliffe, a policy analyst at the nonprofit Missouri Foundation for Health.

Now, advocates for the federal law face a steep challenge to implore people to sign up by Dec. 23, which is the deadline to be covered by health insurance policies that take effect in January.

"When we look at enrollment numbers, we're obviously going to lag behind, because in many parts of the state there's still a sense that Obamacare is not going to help me - even by the people it's going to help the most," McAuliffe said.

Heather McCabe, an assistant professor of social work at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, said the low enrollment numbers in many states raise questions about whether people are turned off by the problematic website, don't know they're eligible to use the exchange or have found the policies unaffordable.

"If the answer is that people still don't understand what the exchange is and how to use it, then the answer is we need to do education and help people better access the system," she said. "But if the answer is that the premiums are too high, then we have an issue that's a little more difficult to deal with."

---

Associated Press writers Will Weissert in Austin, Texas, and Rick Callahan in Indianapolis contributed to this report.

© 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.

Unclaimed property can convert to charitable donations

Wednesday, 11 December 2013 11:35 Published in Local News

State Treasurer Clint Zweifel has announced a new program allowing Missourians to donate their Unclaimed Property to charity.

Treasurer Zweifel currently holds more than $810 million in Unclaimed Property belonging to 4.7 million account owners.

Under the new program, Missourians may choose from 20 charitable organizations in the state to which they may donate, part or all, of their Unclaimed Property. These organizations support vital medical research, children’s needs, military families and more.

Missouri is the second state in the nation to provide this option and provides the most charities from which account owners can choose.

"These charities provide invaluable services to the people of Missouri and now, with this program, we have created a simple way to give back to citizens in our state,” Treasurer Zweifel said. “This new program was created in response to requests from constituents to donate their Unclaimed Property. I am proud of the good it can do for our communities at no cost to taxpayers.”  

The average return on a claim is $300. Many accounts are worth just a few dollars, but those donations can add up quickly to make a big difference.

More than half of all account owners will be able to search for, claim and donate their Unclaimed Property entirely online.

The list of charities eligible to accept Unclaimed Property donations include: After-School Retreat Reading and Assessment Grant Program Fund, American Cancer Society Heartland Division, Inc., American Diabetes Association Gateway Area, American Heart Association, American Lung Association of Missouri, American Red Cross, ALS Association, Arthritis Foundation, Childhood Lead Testing Fund, Children’s Trust Fund, CureSearch for Children’s Cancer, Foster Care and Adoptive Parents Recruitment and Retention Fund, March of Dimes, Missouri Military Family Relief Fund, Missouri National Guard Trust, Muscular Dystrophy Association, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Organ Donor Program Fund, Veterans Trust Fund, and Workers’ Memorial Fund.

Since January 2009, Treasurer Zweifel has returned $176 million to Unclaimed Property owners from more than 605,000 accounts.

Individuals may check for Unclaimed Property 24 hours-a-day, sign up for email alerts or email search results to family and friends at www.ShowMeMoney.com.

Monks to continue making famous fruitcakes

Wednesday, 11 December 2013 09:48 Published in Local News

 AVA, Mo. (AP) - A southwest Missouri abbey famous for its Christmas fruitcakes was in danger of closing because the Trappist monks who live there are aging and no other monks have moved in to take their place.

But that will soon change, when four monks from Vietnam arrive to live at the Assumption Abbey in Ava. Four more are expected to arrive next year at the Abbey which is about four hours southeast of Kansas City.

The Kansas City Star reports that sometime in the next decade Assumption will change from the Trappist to Cistercian order. The Trappist order is a reform version of Cistercian.

The Vietnamese monks plan to carry on the tradition of making fruitcakes, which are sold across the country and help finance the Abbey.

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