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Fate of health co-ops questioned after collapse of provider in Iowa


January 19th, 2015 by Ric Hanson

Iowa’s insurance commissioner says it’s too early to make predictions about the fate of health co-ops set up under the Affordable Care Act, but thousands of Iowans are scrambling to find a new insurer after one of those co-ops essentially collapsed last month. Nick Gerhart was recently assigned management of the nonprofit insurance provider CoOportunity. The leaders of CoOportunity initially thought they would enroll about 12,000 people in Iowa and Nebraska, but they got about ten times that, according to Gerhart.

David Fairchild and Clara Peterson own a small cleaning business in Iowa. The couple had health insurance via CoOportunity Health before the co-op faltered.

David Fairchild and Clara Peterson own a small cleaning business in Iowa. The couple had health insurance via CoOportunity Health before the co-op faltered.

“Ours was the second largest (health co-op) in the country, so you’ve got to look at it that way.” Gerhart says. “If the second largest can’t make it, how viable are the other ones? I don’t know. But at the end of the day they didn’t have enough capital to support 120,000 members.” CoOportunity hit a kind of perfect storm, according to Peter Damiano, director of the University of Iowa’s public policy center. First, the co-op had to pay a lot more medical bills than those in charge expected.

“CoOportunity Health’s pool of people was larger than expected and was sicker than expected,” Damiano says. “So their risk became much greater than the funds that were available.” The reason the co-op’s customers were sicker has a lot to do with what the insurance market looked like in Iowa before Obamacare.

The largest insurer by far in the state was and still is Wellmark. But Wellmark decided not to offer any plans on Iowa’s health exchange, leaving just CoOportunity and one other insurer – Coventry – offering plans on the exchange throughout the state. Gerhart says, the co-op thought it was going to get more federal money, but learned on December 16 that financing wasn’t being extended. Gerhart says even though CoOportunity is not officially dead yet, customers should switch insurers.

David Fairchild and his wife, Clara Peterson, own a small cleaning business in Ames. David has chronic leukemia but treats it with expensive medicine. Last year, the couple saved hundreds of dollars switching from the insurer Wellmark to a plan run by CoOportunity Health. For the first time in a long time, Fairchild said, they felt like they had room to breathe. “Basically it covered our office visits; covered exams, it covered all but $40 of the medicine every four weeks. It was just marvelous. It probably was too good to be true,” Fairchild said.

Fairchild and his wife have already applied through healthcare.gov to switch to Coventry. In a written statement, Dr. Martin Hickey, chairman of the board of the National Alliance of State Health Co-Ops, said, “The news about CoOportunity Health is not a statement on the health insurance co-op program or the co-op concept. It’s a reflection on the fact that all insurers – not just co-ops – are operating in unique markets with unique business plans and varying state regulations. The circumstances for CoOportunity Health in Iowa are not the same as those in the 23 other states in which co-ops are currently operating.”

(Radio Iowa/Iowa Public Radio)

Paddle fish season returning to western Iowa rivers

Ag/Outdoor, News, Sports

January 19th, 2015 by Ric Hanson

One of the stranger looking fish in Iowa waterways will once again be a target of anglers in March on the Missouri and Big Sioux Rivers in western Iowa. D-N-R fisheries biologist, Van Sterner, says it will be the first time you can legally go after paddlefish on those two rivers since 1986 when fishing was cut off out of concern for their survival.  “The Missouri River has undergone a lot of changes over the last several decades with the channelization for commercial barge traffic, the construction of the reservoirs.

The river experienced some very dramatic habitat loses and changes in habitat diversity and that sort of thing,” Sterner says. “So, the thinking back then was the paddlefish population would have difficulty, was in jeopardy, because of these changes.” The fish has a flat front that looks kind of like a paddle. They are referred to by many as a spoonbill, it’s got a long nose or rostrum that measures out to 15 inches sometimes, it’s a scaleless it actually has not bones as well, it’s skeletal system is all cartilage. So it is a unique looking fish,” Sterner explains.

He says the fish now found in the Missouri River will range between 15 and 20 pounds at a length of 30 to 40 inches. There is a length limit on the fish. Fish between 35 and 45 inches have to be immediately released to protect their ability to reproduce. Sterner can’t say how the fish uses its unique nose. “Nobody knows for sure. There’s been some things speculated that it has something to do with finding prey species, speculation that it gives the younger fish some protection from predation by making them appear larger than they are, but nobody is certain,” Sterner says. He says there should be some good areas of habitat for the fish.

Sterner says the fish seek out deep and slow waters as they strain plankton from the water and often can be found in the calmer water behind the many wing dikes that line the Missouri River. It’s a unique fish and it’s not caught in the standard method of baiting a hook and tossing it in the water to wait for the fish to bite. “The method is actually snagging, where you pull a treble hook through the water hoping to actually snag the fish in the body, hoping to retrieve it that way,” Sterner says. He says those who find a keeper paddlefish will enjoy a good meal.

“They’re very good to eat, a good firm white flesh,” Sterner says. “When you clean this fish, there will be a little bit of red meat right below the skin, and you’ll want to trim that off and get down to the good white stuff.” A special license is required for the paddlefish on the Missouri and Big Sioux rivers, but they can be caught on the Mississippi and Des Moines rivers without a license. Sterner says they learned some things about the fish through a program that tags some of the western Iowa fish.

“We put that into the lower jaw…part of it is for a mark and recapture population estimate, so recovering those tags is important for us actually getting a population estimate, it also gives us interesting information on movement. We’ve had tagged fish recovered down in Memphis, and also up in South Dakota. It’s a highly mobile, migratory fish,” Sterner says. He asks anyone who catches a fish with a tag to report it to the D-N-R.

(Radio Iowa)

Females escape from Clarinda Academy Sunday night


January 19th, 2015 by Ric Hanson

(Update 7:45-a.m. Mon., 1/19/15- Escapees have been captured)

Three females escaped Sunday night from the Clarinda Academy. Clarinda Police Chief Keith Brothers says the teens ages 14, 15, & 17., left at around 6:45-p.m. and allegedly stole a gray, 2012 Hyundai Sonata gray that was owned by an Academy employee. The vehicle has Iowa license 155-SMH.

The teens, two white females, one black female took off in an unknown direction of travel. Two of the females are from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The third female is from Texas.

Offutt Air Force Base cancels this year’s air show


January 19th, 2015 by Ric Hanson

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The annual air show at Offutt Air Force Base won’t be held this year because of planned construction. The Omaha World-Herald reports that air show fans in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa will have to drive several hours to find one in 2015.

Maj. James Lee with the 55th Wing says the air show is being cancelled because Congress approved funding for a taxiway project at Offutt this year. The Air Force plans to spend roughly $7 million to repave part of a taxiway that’s normally used for static displays and spectators at the air show. The Air Force Thunderbirds were expected to headline this year’s show.

Lee said he expects the air show to return in 2016.

Iowa early News Headlines: Mon., Jan. 19th 2015


January 19th, 2015 by Ric Hanson

Here is the latest Iowa news from The Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The afterglow of Governor Terry Branstad’s sixth inauguration is still hanging in the air, but Iowa Republicans are already speculating about the political future for Branstad’s faithful Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds. The 55-year-old serving her second term as Branstad’s second-in-command, is widely viewed as a likely candidate for governor in 2018, if Branstad steps aside.

MANNING, Iowa (AP) — Veterinarians are working hard to monitor a virus that killed millions of baby pigs in the United States last year. The Sioux City Journal reports Iowa veterinarian Michelle Sprague is president of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians. Sprague says keeping track of the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus means more paperwork for veterinarians and more testing.

MASON CITY, Iowa (AP) — More than 300 people came out this weekend to say goodbye to a northern Iowa elementary school that is scheduled to be demolished this year. The Mason City Globe-Gazette reports the Mason City district held an open house Saturday for the former Madison School. Twenty-five-year-old Lorra Sappenfield got emotional as she walked through the 91-year-old building because she says the teachers there changed her life.

MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa (AP) — Authorities are searching for a 19-year-old man they believe is responsible for the shooting death of a 20-year-old Marshalltown man. The Times-Republican reports the fatal shooting was reported after 11 p.m. Saturday. The victim was rushed to a local hospital where he died shortly after midnight Sunday. His identity wasn’t immediately released.

Area school board meetings set for Monday evening


January 18th, 2015 by Ric Hanson

A trio of area school districts will hold their regular, separate monthly meetings Monday evening. In Griswold, the school board meeting begins at 5:45-p.m. New business and action items include: the FAT (Fully Automated Timing) System for track; a chemical bid for the lawn and athletic fields; the Parent/Teacher Conferences schedule, and setting the Long-term planning work session date.

The CAM school board meeting gets underway at 6:30-p.m. Monday, in Anita. Action items include: A 1:1 Laptop initiative Resolution; Initiation of bargaining with regard to the 2015-16 Master Contract; and  a revision to the board policy pertaining to a Tobacco Free Environment. The board will also hold a closed session for negotiations.

And in Elk Horn, the Exira-EHK School Board will meet at 7-p.m. and discuss the Exira-Elk Horn/Kimballton proposal with regard to contract negotiations. New business includes discussion about the school start date, summer projects, starting school at 8-a.m., and Summer Driver’s Education fees.

Atlantic Parks & Rec Board set to approve hiring of Asst. Director


January 18th, 2015 by Ric Hanson

The City of Atlantic’s Parks and Recreation Department Board of Directors will meet Monday evening at 5:15 in the Council’s Chambers at City Hall. During their session the Board is expected to formally approve the hiring of Seth Staashelm as Assistant Director of Parks and Recreation. He’s expected to begin the position on Feb. 2nd with a salary of $38,000 plus benefits. He’ll handle the Operations side of the Parks & Rec Department, while current Director Roger Herring handles more of the Administrative matters, such as writing grant applications.

The Parks Board will also act on approving office space and related matters for Staashelm, and on the purchase of a cell phone signal booster. In other business, the Board will: review the site plan prepared by Snyder and Associates, for replacement of the Kiddie Korral at Sunnyside Park; receive an update on the Bull Creek reconstruction and Buck Creek Dog Park projects; and an update on the Urban Forestry grant.

In his report to the Board, Director Roger Herring is expected to report that while the gates to Sunnyside park are closed for the season, the park is still open to anyone wanting to use it for family gatherings and recreational activities. He’ll also talk about new street signs that have been ordered for Sunnyside Park, as well as department safety and maintenance equipment matters

Police search for suspect in Marshalltown homicide


January 18th, 2015 by Ric Hanson

Authorities in central Iowa are searching for man wanted for Murder in the 1st degree and Going Armed with Intent. Marshalltown Police say 19-year old Jose Enrique Morales, of Marshalltown, is alleged have shot 20-year old Dedrikk Fisher at a residence in the 1200 block of West Church Street, in Marshalltown. The incident happened at around 11:10-p.m., Saturday.

Jose Morales

Jose Morales

Fisher was rushed to a local hospital where he died shortly after midnight Sunday. Marshalltown Police Chief Mike Tupper says an arrest warrant has been issued for Morales, who should be considered armed and dangerous.

Tupper says investigators believe the two men knew each other, but they’re not sure if the victim lived at the house where the shooting took place. The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation is helping with the case.

Bluffs Police investigate robbery


January 18th, 2015 by Ric Hanson

Police in Council Bluffs are investigating a robbery that took place at around 7:43-a.m., Sunday. Officials say a white male entered Cal’s Food & Gas Mart at 429 Veterans Memorial Highway, and pointed a handgun at the clerk demanding money from the cash register. After receiving an undetermined amount of money from the register the suspect exited the business and fled the area in an unknown direction.

Veterinarians monitor pig virus that killed millions in 2014

Ag/Outdoor, News

January 18th, 2015 by Ric Hanson

MANNING, Iowa (AP) — Veterinarians are working hard to monitor a virus that killed millions of baby pigs in the United States last year. The Sioux City Journal reports Iowa veterinarian Michelle Sprague is president of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians.

Sprague says keeping track of the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus means more paperwork for veterinarians and more testing. The number of cases of the virus is down this winter, but it is still early.

Sprague says the industry is better prepared to respond to the virus than it was when the disease first showed up.