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AP News in Brief at 8:58 p.m. EST

Monday, January 13, 2014

Question of the Day

What has been the biggest debacle on Obama's watch?

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Older adults, more expensive to cover, outnumber young people so far in health care signups

WASHINGTON (AP) - It's an older, costlier crowd that's signing up so far for health insurance under President Barack Obama's law, according to government figures released Monday. Enrollments are lower for the healthy, younger Americans who will be needed to keep premiums from rising.

Young adults from 18 to 34 are only 24 percent of total enrollment, the administration said in its first signup figures broken down for age, gender and other details. With the HealthCare.gov website now working, the figures cover the more than 2 million Americans who had signed up for government-subsidized private insurance through the end of December in new federal and state markets.

Enrolling young and healthy people is important because they generally pay more into the system than they take out, subsidizing older adults. While 24 percent is not a bad start, say independent experts, it should be closer to 40 percent to help keep premiums down.

Adults ages 55-64 were the most heavily represented in the signups, accounting for 33 percent of the total. Overall, the premiums paid by people in that demographic don't fully cover their medical expenses. Some are in the waiting room for Medicare; that coverage starts at age 65.

Some questions remained unanswered.

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Facility where chemicals spilled into W.Va. river flew under state, federal regulatory radar

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The facility whose chemical spill contaminated the water supply for 300,000 West Virginia residents was barely scrutinized, flying largely under the radar of government regulators who viewed it as a low-risk operation - but in reality, a problem at a key holding wall went undetected and unreported at Freedom Industries Inc.

The chemicals stored at Freedom's facility near the Elk River are not considered hazardous enough by regulators to prompt routine inspections. On a normal day, it never created chemical waste that went into the environment. As a result, the chemical storage terminal was a low priority for regulators, who must pick and choose how to allocate scarce manpower when enforcing environmental laws.

"I think that the loophole that this facility fell into is because it was not a hazardous material, it flew under the radar," said Randy Huffman, cabinet secretary of West Virginia's Department of Environmental Protection, which enforces environmental laws.

Freedom's storage terminal holds millions of pounds of chemicals - including some used in coal processing - just a mile and a half upstream from pipes that take in water for a public drinking supply. The distance left little opportunity for chemicals to dilute in the event of a spill.

And those chemicals were stored behind a brick-and-concrete block dike that seems to have had structural problems - an issue the company apparently was aware of. A state official says the president of Freedom told regulators that $1 million had been put into an escrow account to fix the wall that ultimately failed to hold Thursday's spill, which resulted in a five-day ban on tap water. The ban was lifted for some areas Monday afternoon.

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Supreme Court appears likely to limit president's use of recess appointments

WASHINGTON (AP) - Just back from their own long break, Supreme Court justices set out Monday to resolve a politically charged fight over when the Senate's absence gives the president the power to make temporary appointments to high-level positions without senators' approval.

The legal battle is the outgrowth of partisan rancor over presidential appointees that has characterized Washington over the past 20 years, and especially since President Barack Obama took office in 2009.

Recess appointments have divided Democrats and Republicans, with views changing depending on which party holds the White House. But during more than 90 minutes of arguments Monday, the Obama administration was hard pressed to find support for its stand in favor of recess appointments from justices named by Republicans and Democrats alike - including Obama.

Justice Elena Kagan, an Obama nominee, seized on the political dispute to make the point to Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. that "congressional intransigence" to Obama nominees may not be enough to win the court fight.

Kagan, Verrilli's predecessor as Obama's top Supreme Court lawyer, suggested that it "is the Senate's role to determine whether they're in recess."

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Blockade of rebel-held Palestinian area of Damascus causes death of at least 40

BEIRUT (AP) - Children, the elderly and others displaced by Syria's civil war are starving to death in a besieged camp where women brave sniper fire to forage for food just minutes from the relative prosperity of Damascus.

The dire conditions at the Yarmouk camp are a striking example of the catastrophe unfolding in rebel-held areas blockaded by the Syrian government. U.S. and Russian diplomats said Monday the warring sides are considering opening humanitarian corridors to let in aid and build confidence ahead of an international peace conference on Syria.

Interviews with residents and U.N. officials, as well as photos and videos provided to The Associated Press, reveal an unfolding tragedy in the sprawling camp, where tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees and displaced Syrians are trapped under an intensifying yearlong blockade.

Forty-six people have died since October of starvation, illnesses exacerbated by hunger or because they couldn't obtain medical aid, residents said.

"There are no more people in Yarmouk, only skeletons with yellow skin," said 27-year-old resident Umm Hassan, the mother of two toddlers.

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Federal forces to take over security in part of western Mexico as vigilantes clash with cartel

APATZINGAN, Mexico (AP) - Federal forces will take over security in a large swath of a western Mexico state where firefights between vigilante groups and drug traffickers erupted over the weekend, a top Mexican official announced Monday.

Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said federal forces with support from Michoacan state police will patrol an area in the state known as Tierra Caliente, the home base of the Knights Templar drug cartel.

"Be certain we will contain the violence in Michoacan," Osorio Chong said.

He gave no details on what federal agencies would be involved or give numbers on planned forces. Some federal police and troops have been sent to the region in recent months because of the unrest, but have generally not intervened.

Osorio Chong made the announcement after a meeting called by Michoacan state Gov. Fausto Vallejo following a weekend of firefights between drug traffickers and some of the vigilante groups that have sprung up by the dozens over the past year to confront the gangs.

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University finds evidence that sperm mix-up resulted in fertility clinic worker fathering girl

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The University of Utah is investigating a complaint that a convicted felon working at a fertility clinic replaced a customer's sperm with his own, fathering a girl 21 years ago.

The mother of the girl, Pamela Branum, says she and her husband discovered a genetic mismatch in their daughter, and were able to trace her lineage with help from relatives of the now-deceased fertility clinic worker, Thomas Ray Lippert.

"I don't think we're the only ones," Branum told CBS affiliate KUTV in Salt Lake City. "We think we're one of many" victims who used a clinic that was operated by faculty members.

The University of Utah says there is "credible" evidence of semen tampering or mislabeling. On Friday, the university announced it was opening a hotline and offering paternity testing to anyone who used the clinic between 1988 and 1993.

"It was hard at first, to think, 'Who am I?'" the daughter told KUTV in San Antonio, where the family moved in 2003. "I thought I was this person (of) my mom and my dad. Now, my dad is not my biological father. Who am I?"

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2 children die after getting trapped inside hope chest in Mass. home in apparent accident

FRANKLIN, Mass. (AP) - A 7-year-old boy and his 8-year-old sister died after getting trapped in a hope chest in their home, authorities said Monday.

Family members found the children together inside the chest, which had a lid that could only be opened from the outside. Police responded to the Franklin home at about 8 p.m. Sunday, and the children were taken to hospitals but did not survive.

David Traub, a spokesman for Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey, said multiple family members, including an adult, were in the house at the time. He would not say whether the adult was a parent of the children.

A neighbor whose daughter was friends with the 8-year-old girl identified her as Lexi Munroe and said her 7-year-old brother, Sean Munroe, also died.

Dawn Powers, who lives a few doors down the street from the Munroe family, said the brother and sister were very well-behaved, "the type of kids you invite into your home."

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'Octomom' accused of failing to report income, charged with welfare fraud in California

LOS ANGELES (AP) - "Octomom" Nadya Suleman did porn films, boxed D-list celebrities, even endorsed birth control for dogs after giving birth in 2009 to eight babies after she received in vitro fertility treatments.

Through it all, she never ran afoul of the law. At least until now.

On Monday, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office announced Suleman has been charged with three counts of welfare fraud.

Authorities say the 38-year-old single mother of 14 children failed to report $30,000 she earned while collecting public assistance money.

Suleman, who was charged Jan. 6, was not immediately taken into custody but was ordered to appear in court on Friday. Prosecutors planned to ask that bail be set at $25,000.

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Bacon, Purefoy admits that Fox's creep 'The Following' gives them nightmares

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) - Anyone who gets nightmares from Fox's creepy thriller "The Following" isn't alone. The two stars say it happens to them, too.

Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy both said Monday they take work home with them sometimes. Bacon plays former FBI agent Ryan Hardy, who's on the trail of a sadistic serial killer played by Purefoy in the series, which attracted attention for violence in its debut season but also had strong ratings. "The Following" returns for its second season on Sunday.

"He's so profoundly dark," Purefoy said of his character, Joe Carroll. "Anybody who celebrates death and finds great beauty in it, absolutely, there are some fretful nights."

Jessica Stroup, who plays a police officer, said there was something so disturbing that happens to her character this season that it was hard to shake.

She can sleep soundly, but she's looking at her surroundings more carefully while awake, she said.

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A-Rod sues MLB, union after arbitrator finds 'clear and convincing' evidence of drug use

NEW YORK (AP) - Alex Rodriguez sued Major League Baseball and its players' union Monday, seeking to overturn a season-long suspension imposed by an arbitrator who ruled there was "clear and convincing evidence" the New York Yankees star used three banned substances and twice tried to obstruct the sport's drug investigation.

As part of the complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan, Rodriguez's lawyers made public Saturday's 34-page decision by arbitrator Fredric Horowitz, who shortened a penalty originally set at 211 games last August by baseball Commissioner Bud Selig for violations of the sport's drug agreement and labor contract.

Horowitz, a 65-year-old making his second decision as baseball's independent arbitrator, trimmed the discipline to 162 games, plus all postseason games in 2014.

"While this length of suspension may be unprecedented for a MLB player, so is the misconduct he committed," Horowitz wrote.

Horowitz concluded Rodriguez used testosterone, human growth hormone and Insulin-like growth factor-1 in 2010, 2011 and 2012 in violation of baseball's Joint Drug Agreement. He relied on evidence provided by the founder of the now-closed Biogenesis of America anti-aging clinic in Florida.

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