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Susan Smith-Harmon

Susan Smith-Harmon

Texas abortion case could impact Missouri

Monday, 04 November 2013 02:34 Published in Local News

   JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - The outcome of a Texas abortion dispute could have an impact on Missouri.

   A federal appeals court is considering a challenge to a new Texas law that requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic.

   Missouri has a similar law that has been in place since 2005.

   A federal judge originally issued a temporary restraining order against the Missouri law after it was challenged by a Springfield abortion clinic. But that clinic later dropped its lawsuit and closed, and the law has remained in effect since then.

   The Missouri law is cited by both abortion providers and opponents as one of the reasons why the state has few abortion clinics.

 

Gunman in LAX shooting told police he acted alone

Monday, 04 November 2013 02:15 Published in National News

   LOS ANGELES (AP) — The gunman accused of shooting employees and terrorizing travelers at Los Angeles International Airport accomplished two of his goals: kill a Transportation Security Administration officer and show how easy it is to get a gun into an airport.

   Paul Ciancia's deadly rampage left investigators to piece together what motivated his hatred toward the agency formed to make air travel safer after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, but could ultimately lead to changes in the way airports are patrolled.

   Ciancia was shot four times by airport police, including in the mouth, and remains heavily sedated and under 24-hour armed guard at the hospital, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press on Sunday. The official was not authorized to speak publicly on the case and requested anonymity.

   The FBI said he had a handwritten letter, stating that he made the conscious decision to try to kill multiple TSA officers and "instill fear in your traitorous minds."

   The unemployed motorcycle mechanic who recently moved to Los Angeles from the small, blue-collar town of Pennsville, N.J., had a friend drop him at LAX on Friday just moments before he pulled a .223-caliber assault rifle from his duffel bag and opened fire, killing one TSA officer and wounding three other people, including two more TSA workers.

   Officials do not believe that the friend knew of the shooter's plans. Ciancia arrived at the airport in a black Hyundai and was not a ticketed passenger.

   Ciancia is facing charges of murder of a federal officer and committing violence at an international airport. The charges could qualify him for the death penalty. It was not immediately clear when he would make a first court appearance given his medical condition.

   In court documents and interviews, authorities spelled out a chilling chain of events, saying Ciancia walked into the airport's Terminal 3, pulled the assault rifle from his duffel bag and fired repeatedly at 39-year-old TSA officer Gerardo I. Hernandez. He went up an escalator, turned back to see Hernandez move and returned to shoot him again, according to surveillance video reviewed by investigators.

   He then fired on two other uniformed TSA employees and an airline passenger, who all were wounded, as he moved methodically through the security checkpoint to the passenger gate area before airport police shot him as panicked travelers hid in stores and restaurants.

   It wasn't clear why Ciancia targeted TSA officers, but what he left behind indicated he was willing to kill any of them that crossed his path, authorities revealed.

   The letter in his duffel bag refers to how Ciancia believed his constitutional rights were being violated by TSA searches and that he's a "pissed-off patriot" upset at former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

   "Black, white, yellow, brown, I don't discriminate," the note read, according to a paraphrase by a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

   The screed also mentioned "fiat currency" and "NWO," possible references to the New World Order, a conspiracy theory that foresees a totalitarian one-world government.

   The letter also talked about "how easy it is to get a gun into the airport," the law enforcement official said.

   When searched, the suspect had five 30-round magazines, and his bag contained hundreds more rounds in boxes.

   U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said on CNN's State of the Union on Sunday that Ciancia's actions show how difficult it is to protect travelers at a massive airport such as LAX.

   The terminals are open and easily accessible to thousands of people who arrive at large sliding glass doors via a broad ring road that fronts the facility and is designed to move people along quickly.

   "It's like a shopping mall outside the perimeter, it's almost like an open shopping mall," McCaul said.

   TSA Administrator John Pistole said the agency will need to work with each airport's police agency "to see how we'll go about in providing the best possible security."

   The FBI has served a search warrant on a Sun Valley residence where Ciancia lived, Ari Dekofsky, a spokeswoman for the FBI's Los Angeles field office, said Sunday. Agents are still interviewing people, she said.

   Authorities believe the rifle used in the shooting was purchased in Los Angeles. Ciancia also had two additional handguns that he purchased in Los Angeles, but which weren't at the crime scene, a law enforcement official said. The official, who has been briefed on the investigation, was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.

   The purchases themselves appeared legal, although authorities were still tracing them, and it's unclear if the shooter used his own identification or someone else's, the official said.

   "He didn't buy them on the street. He didn't buy them on the Internet," the official said. "He bought them from a licensed gun dealer — the rifle and the two handguns."

   Hernandez, a three-year veteran of the TSA, moved to the U.S. from El Salvador at age 15, married his sweetheart, Ana, on Valentine's Day in 1998 and had two children.

   The TSA said the other two officers wounded in the attack — James Speer, 54, and Tony Grigsby, 36 — were released from the hospital.

   Brian Ludmer, a Calabasas High School teacher, remained in fair condition at Ronald Regan UCLA Medical Center and will need surgery for a gunshot wound to the leg. Two other people suffered injuries trying to evade the gunman, but weren't shot.

   The FBI was still looking into Ciancia's past, but investigators said they had not found evidence of previous crimes or any run-ins with the TSA. They said he had never applied for a job with the agency.

Obama's health law finally gets real for America

Monday, 04 November 2013 02:08 Published in National News

   WASHINGTON (AP) — Now is when Americans start figuring out that President Barack Obama's health care law goes beyond political talk, and really does affect them and people they know.

   With a cranky federal website complicating access to new coverage and some consumers being notified their existing plans are going away, the potential for winners and losers is creating anxiety and confusion.

   "I've had questions like, 'Are they going to put me in jail if I don't buy insurance? Because nobody will sell it to me,'" said Bonnie Burns, a longtime community-level insurance counselor from California. "We have family members who are violently opposed to 'Obamacare' and they are on Medicaid — they don't understand that they're already covered by taxpayer benefits.

   "And then there is a young man with lupus who would have never been insurable," Burns continued. "He is on his parents' plan, and he'll be able to buy his own coverage. They are very relieved."

   A poll just out from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation documents shifts in the country in the month since insurance sign-ups began.

   Fifty-five percent now say they have enough information to understand the law's impact on their family, up 8 percentage points in just one month. Part of the reason is that advertising about how to get coverage is beginning to register.

   "The law is getting more and more real for people," said Drew Altman, the foundation's president. "A lot of this will turn on whether there's a perception that there have been more winners than losers. ... It's not whether an expert thinks something is a better insurance policy, it's whether people perceive it that way."

   The administration is continuing its efforts to influence those perceptions. On Wednesday, Obama will meet with volunteers in Dallas who are helping people enroll in health insurance plans. Cabinet officials are also expected to make stops around the country in the coming weeks to encourage people to sign up for insurance even as the website problems persist.

   A look at three groups impacted by the law's rollout:

   ___

   LOSING CURRENT PLAN

   The Obama administration insists nobody will lose coverage as a result of cancellation notices going out to millions of people. At least 3.5 million Americans have been issued cancellations, but the exact number is unclear. Associated Press checks find that data is unavailable in a half the states.

   Mainly they are people who buy directly from an insurer, instead of having workplace coverage. Officials say these consumers aren't getting "canceled" but "transitioned" or "migrated" to better plans because their current coverage doesn't meet minimum standards. They won't have to go uninsured, and some could save a lot if they qualify for the law's tax credits.

   Speaking in Boston's historic Faneuil Hall this past week, Obama said the problem is limited to fewer than 5 percent of Americans "who've got cut-rate plans that don't offer real financial protection in the event of a serious illness or an accident."

   But in a nation of more than 300 million, 5 percent is a big number — about 15 million people. Among them are Ian and Sara Hodge of Lancaster, Pa., in their early 60s and paying $1,041 a month for a policy.

   After insurer Highmark Inc., sent the Hodges a cancellation notice, the cheapest rate they say they've been able to find is $1,400 for a comparable plan. Ian is worried they may not qualify for tax credits and doesn't trust that the federal website is secure enough to enter personal financial information in order to find out.

   "We feel like we're being punished for doing the right thing," he said.

   Their policy may not have met the government's standards, "but it certainly met our minimum standards," Hodge added.

   "The main thing that upsets us is the president ... said over and over and over again: If you like your health plan, you will be able to keep your health plan, guaranteed."

   There's a chance the number of people getting unwanted terminations may grow. In 2015, the law's requirement that larger companies provide health insurance will take effect. It's expected that a small share of firms will drop coverage, deciding that it's cheaper to pay fines imposed under the law.

   ___

   GAINING COVERAGE

   Before the law's online health care markets launched Oct. 1, the administration estimated nearly 500,000 people would enroll for subsidized private insurance within the first month. Despite high consumer interest, a computer system beset by gremlins has kept most from doing so.

   The administration refuses to release enrollment numbers until mid-November, when a crash program of computer fixes may be showing results. The numbers are expected to be disappointingly low; officials acknowledge as much.

   A different prong of Obama's coverage expansion seems to be doing fairly well. It's an expanded version of Medicaid, embraced so far by 25 states and the District of Columbia. An informal survey of 14 of those states by The Associated Press shows that at least 240,000 people had enrolled in or applied for the expanded safety-net program as of the third week of October.

   Private coverage is what interests Cecilia Fontenot of Houston, a part-time accountant in her early 60s. She has diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Though she manages well, she has been unable to find affordable insurance. Under Obama's law, insurers will not be able to turn away people with medical problems or charge them more.

   Fontenot gave up on HealthCare.gov and instead applied through a call center on Oct. 19.

   "They said it may take a while because so many people had called in," Fontenot explained. "I'm a very patient person, and I'm looking forward to getting that insurance."

   She wants a plan that covers a better diabetes drug than the one she can afford now by paying out of pocket. Her doctor has also recommended a high-tech imaging test for a breast lump.

   ___

   WONDERING WHETHER COVERAGE WILL CHANGE

   Americans are still divided over the Affordable Care Act, with negative views outweighing positives. But they also lean against repealing it. The final judgment may be in the hands of people who now have employer-provided health insurance. They're about half the population, and they've noted Obama's assurances that their coverage won't be disrupted.

   Up to now, the changes for employer plans have been incremental. They tend to expand benefits, not take things away.

   For example, young adults can stay on a parent's coverage until they turn 26. Employers cover women's birth control as a preventive service, free of charge. Screening tests such as colonoscopies are also free.

   But cost control provisions, mainly a tax on expensive insurance plans that starts in 2018, are converging with the long-standing push by employers to tame health costs. Some companies have raised deductibles and copayments for employees, saying they need to scale back to avoid tangling with the coming tax. Others are giving employees a fixed amount of money to shop in private health insurance markets that resemble those created by the law.

   Expect cutbacks to be blamed on the law. Sorting out whether that's warranted may be difficult.

   "What the Affordable Care Act did was give companies a very convenient excuse to say 'Oh, gosh, we really have to get serious about insurance costs,'" said Paul Keckley, an independent health benefits consultant. "I think there's a bit of a bob and weave. The ACA was a convenient excuse for doing what (corporate) human resources departments have been calculating to do for years."

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