News Briefs: Housing, Health Insurance, Paid Sick Days, and Shark Science

Dr. James Sulikowski, a marine biologist and professor at the University of New England. Dr. James Sulikowski, a marine biologist and professor at the University of New England.

In 2018, just two health insurances offered in Maine

Last week Anthem announced that it’s leaving Maine’s insurance marketplace.

Currently, Anthem covers about 28,700 people in Maine. Starting next year it will reduce its offerings to just one off-exchange plans available only in Aroostook, Hancock, and Washington counties.

Under Maine law, existing individual members will be able to renew their current health plan in 2018, but these plans will be offered off exchange and will not be eligible to receive financial assistance or subsidies.

According to Colin Manning, a spokesperson for Anthem, Anthem pulled out because of “volatility and uncertainty in the marketplace.”

“While we are pleased that some steps have been taken to address the long-term challenges all health plans serving the individual market are facing, the market remains volatile,” said Manning in a written statement. “A stable insurance market is dependent on products that create value for consumers through the broad spreading of risk and a known set of conditions upon which rates can be developed. Today, planning and pricing for ACA-compliant health plans has become increasingly difficult due to a shrinking and deteriorating individual market, as well as continual changes and uncertainty in federal operations, rules and guidance, including the restoration of the health insurance tax on fully insured coverage and continued uncertainty around the future of cost-sharing reduction subsidies.”

Manning also said that as the marketplace continues to evolve and adjust to changing regulatory requirements and marketplace conditions, Anthem will reevaluate whether a more robust presence in the exchange is appropriate in the future.

Governor Paul LePage criticized Senators Angus King and Susan Collins for refusing to support the Republican's health care reform bill, which was dead on arrival. He then blamed Anthem’s departure on the Affordable Care Act itself.

“Obamacare is continuing to implode and cause significant hardships for Maine’s people,” said LePage in a press release. “The loss of yet another insurer on the exchange leaves Mainers with few alternatives to pay for healthcare. Even though ObamaCare is collapsing around them, Maine Senators Collins and King still refused to support a bill that would have sent 44 percent more healthcare funding to help struggling Mainers pay for health insurance. Instead of seeking national headlines, they should have been working to help the people who elected them.”

Senator Collins supports the idea of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, as evidenced by this statement from her a couple months ago: “The system created by the law is under tremendous financial stress. The Obamacare exchanges are on the verge of collapse in many States. The reality is that significant changes must be made; doing nothing is not an option. We must fix the Affordable Care Act and provide reforms at nearly the same time that we repeal the law.”

But Collins still voted against the Graham-Cassidy reform bill, after voicing concerns about the Congressional Budget Office’s report that found it would leave 24 million Americans uninsured.

Now there are just two providers offering policies in Maine, Harvard Pilgrim and Community Health Options.


Business owners throw support for paid sick days in Portland

Two prominent local business owners in Portland publicly stated their support for mandatory paid sick days, by writing a letter to the City Council urging they pass the ordinance around the issue.

Mary Allen Lindemann of Coffee By Design and Patrick Roche of Think Tank Coworking wrote on how missing even just one day of work because of an illness can be devastating for low-income earning families.

“This is not just a workforce issue; it's a public health issue,” Lindemann writes. “Many of the jobs that don’t offer paid sick leave are in the food, hospitality, and healthcare industries. 65 percent of workers who lack sick days say they go to work when they have the flu.”

Lindemann also mentioned that giving workers paid sick leave is actually in the best interest of the employer, citing studies from San Francisco and Connecticut, where similar ordinances improve employee productivity.

According to the Southern Maine Workers' Center, the organization that first proposed the mandate alongside the Maine Women’s Lobby, about 20,000 workers in the area don’t have paid sick days. They are proposing an ordinance that allows workers to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours of work, capping at six days a year.

Mayor Ethan Strimling — as well as many activists — have come out in support of this initiative since it was first launched this past Labor Day. Opponents of the measure include the Maine Restaurant Association and the Maine Innkeepers Association.

The issue was discussed by the Portland City Council on September 18, where it was determined it would be sent to the city’s Health and Human Services Committee.

City sells crucial land parcels in Bayside, hope to revitalize the neighborhood

Last Monday the Portland City council voted to sell four parcels of land in Bayside, a neighborhood that's been the focal point of local conversations around gentrification and affordable housing. 

Only one of the parcels (178 Kennebec St.) is being considered for affordable housing; Ross Furman, a developer that owns adjacent properties, will likely buy it and pitched development of 50 units of housing there, 32 of which would be geared toward for low-income earners. 

The other parcels will be sold to developers for a total of four million. The other buyers, Tom Watson, Jack Soley, and Barret Made, have other projects in mind that include: a 20-bench "makerspace" for craftspeople that sign up as members, rooftop decks and other open spaces for public use, an office building, and a four-story condo geared at middle-income earners. 

City councilors hope the mixed-use intentions behind the sold spaces will help transform the neighborhood, and make it more attractive for people interested in moving to it. 

"Housing was a priority, but we also were looking for imaginative solutions for mixed uses, as that was what we had heard from the residents in the neighborhood," said David Brenerman, the chair of the city's Economic Development Committee. "The Council’s action is a milestone for Bayside, creating a new multi-use neighborhood in this industrial section, with the potential to build more than 100 units of housing, and over 20 units in the Parkside neighborhood, as well as bringing the development of maker space to add to our creative economy and new business incubators, and open space."


UNE unveils new research vessel, dubbed Sharkology

Marine science students at the University of New England will have a chance to study sharks in their natural habitat, thanks to a new research vessel that was revealed last week, aptly named Sharkology.

Sharkology is a 35-foot 350 Marlin FM boat that will be used to transport students and faculty offshore as part of the University’s “Apex Predator” class, a course that teaches the biology of sharks and marine mammals.  

“The donation of this research vessel provides UNE with an opportunity to fill a unique niche in New England by providing a platform to study sharks, tuna, whales and other charismatic, high-profile, and often endangered or threatened species,” said Professor James Sulikowski, who teaches the course. “By studying such species and how they interact with their environment, we can educate the community, inspire conservation, and challenge scientific paradigms while training future marine scientists.”

According to Sulikowski who heads his own Shark and Fish Research Lab, his students will be studying movement patterns, growth rates, reproductive biology, resiliency to climate change and fishing pressure, and exploring ways to more effectively manage, conserve and utilize fish populations.

Shark species present in the Gulf of Maine include: the spiny dogfish, blue shark, basking shark, shortfin mako, porbeagle, thresher, sand tiger shark, and occasional great white.

Last modified onWednesday, 04 October 2017 15:37