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Friday, April 16, 2021

How Much Would You Pay to Escape Your Kids for a Week After a Year of the Pandemic? Ohio Parents Say At Least $585

Posted By on Fri, Apr 16, 2021 at 2:21 PM

Want to get away? - COLUMBIA PICTURES
  • Columbia Pictures
  • Want to get away?

Parents who want to escape their families are understandably willing to shell out big bucks for the respite after a year in close quarters.

During the Indoor Times, family members have been pushed together for longer than most people normally can tolerate, and everyone wants a break.

Real estate service surveyed more than 3,000 people in February to find out how much parents would be willing to pay for some time away from home.

Apparently, they’re ready to fork over some serious moolah. Parents in Ohio told ISoldMyHouse they’d spend $585.31 to leave their partner and kids for a week. Folks in Kentucky are a little less spendy, forking over just $453.75. Both are below the national average of $873.

But our surrounding states are even more desperate for an escape, it turns out. Pennsylvania parents are willing to spend $890.05 for a week of alone time, while those in Indiana would cough up $661.67, and adults in Michigan would spend $592.17.

And in West Virginia, burned-out parents are willing to spend a whopping $2,448 to get away from it all for a week — the highest in the country.

Parents also understandably are up for spending money on ways to make the Indoor Times more tolerable. A third of survey respondents say they want a home gym, while 23% wish for an adult’s-only retreat, according to an emailed press release. Nearly half say that their next home must include COVID-friendly amenities like a dedicated space where they can work from home.

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Amtrak Station at Tower City? Awwww Hell Yeah!

Posted By on Fri, Apr 16, 2021 at 10:58 AM

  • Courtesy All Aboard Ohio
The board of directors at the nonprofit passenger rail advocacy group All Aboard Ohio (AAO) has voted that Tower City should be the site of Cleveland's  new Amtrak hub, given the significant increase in daily train departures proposed by Amtrak with funding from the Biden administration.

In Amtrak's vision, Cleveland would see 22 departures every day, including an intrastate route connecting Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati. All Aboard Ohio says moving the train hub back to Tower City, where the Cleveland Union Terminal was built in 1929 and located until the 70s, "finally makes sense."

“It didn’t make sense with Amtrak running just one or two trains each day in the middle of the night," said Ken Prendergast, AAO's Public Affairs Director, in a press release. "But it does make sense for Amtrak’s proposed Cleveland mini-hub in bringing significant new passenger traffic and business activity to downtown Cleveland.”

Amtrak currently operates out of its "Lakeshore Station" off the Shoreway near E. 9th, and Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson has said that he'd like to incorporate an expanded Lakeshore Station into a comprehensive lakefront development plan that includes a new land bridge.

AAO says it would not oppose expansion at the existing site, but that Tower City would offer considerably more multi-modal connections, as Tower City represents Cleveland's central bus and rapid transit hub and could offer additional connectivity with the expansion of the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and a relocated Greyhound bus hub. AAO says that Greyhound, which currently sees five times more yearly passengers than Amtrak, "would likely follow" Amtrak to a new hub.

Furthermore, unlike a lakeshore hub, a Tower City station would not have to contend with freight train traffic. (An Amtrak spokesperson, for the record, told that the agency would welcome a community conversation about "improving or relocating" the Amtrak station.)

The Tower City hub would be an expensive endeavor. Prendergast told Scene in a follow-up conversation that a new station could cost something like $400 million, which would include the construction of the station itself, a parking deck and significant track work to reconnect linkages that were severed after the Union Terminal closed in 1977.

"But the point to make is that this going to cost a lot of money regardless of location," Prendergast said. "Look at what the city's trying to do with the land bridge. That's a couple hundred million. And rerouting the 70-plus freight trains per day would cost another couple hundred million. This is a big slice of pie. But Cleveland is the mini-hub that Amtrak wants between Chicago and the East Coast. People have to understand: We'd be busier than Seattle or Milwaukee or St. Louis, all of which have anywhere from 500,ooo to 1 million passengers per year."

Prendergast said the good news is that Sherwin-Williams has donated to the City of Cleveland the riverfront property on which its current research and development facility sits. That could be demolished, and the western portion of a new station could be build around the Federal courthouse. 

"I hate to see them go to Brecksville," Prendergast said of Sherwin's R&D staff, "but they're vacating that site, and this is really Cleveland's last chance of doing something at that location."

Prendergast moonlights as the city's most well-connected real estate blogger. He said that Dan Gilbert's Bedrock Detroit, which owns the Avenue at Tower City, is currently considering building an office for Rocket Mortgage connected to Tower City, or another repurposing of the property which could impinge on a potential new station. 

"Something's cooking down there," Prendergast said. "And if Bedrock builds something without a 25-foot clearance for trains, we're done."

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The P.1 Coronavirus Variant is Twice as Transmissible as Earlier Strains

Posted By on Fri, Apr 16, 2021 at 6:48 AM

The Wolstein center mass vaccination site - COURTESY FEMA
  • Courtesy FEMA
  • The Wolstein center mass vaccination site

The P.1 coronavirus variant first identified in Brazil may be twice as transmissible as earlier strains and may evade up to nearly half of immune defenses built during previous infections, a new study suggests.

According to data collected in Manaus, Brazil, P.1 probably arose in mid-November 2020 in the city, researchers report April 14 in Science. The variant quickly rose to prominence there and spread to the rest of Brazil and at least 37 other countries, including the United States.

Earlier examinations of the variant’s genetic makeup have shown that P.1 contains many differences from earlier strains, including 10 amino acid changes in the spike protein, which helps the virus infect cells. Three of those spike protein changes are of concern because they are the same mutations that allow other worrisome variants to bind more tightly to human proteins or to evade antibodies (SN: 2/5/21). Simulations of P.1’s properties suggest that the variant is 1.7 to 2.4 times more transmissible than the previous SARS-CoV-2 strain. It is not clear whether that increase in transmissibility is because people produce more of the virus or have longer infections.

Some studies have hinted that people who previously had COVID-19 can get infected with P.1. The new study suggests that people who had earlier infections have about 54 percent to 79 percent of the protection against P.1 as they do against other local strains. That partial immunity may leave people vulnerable to reinfection with the variant.

Whether the virus makes people sicker or is more deadly than other strains is not clear. The researchers estimate that coronavirus infections were 1.2 to 1.9 times more likely to result in death after P.1 emerged than before. But Manaus’ health care system has been under strain, so the increase in deaths may be due to overburdened hospitals.

Originally published by Science News, a nonprofit newsroom. Republished here with permission.

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Ohio Hires Medicaid Prescription Drug Watchdog as it Undertakes Reforms

Posted By on Fri, Apr 16, 2021 at 6:43 AM

Ohio's Medicaid reforms get a review - AJAY_SURESH/FLICKRCC
  • ajay_suresh/FlickrCC
  • Ohio's Medicaid reforms get a review

As it makes sweeping reforms to the way it handles managed care for the state’s $24 billion Medicaid program, Ohio on Wednesday announced that it had hired a company to monitor its progress.

The Department of Medicaid announced that it had hired the Medicaid and Medicare auditing firm Myers and Stauffer to be its pharmacy pricing and auditing consultant.

The topic might sound dry as dust, but huge amounts of money are at stake, and those dollars are meant to provide health care to the poorest 25% of Ohioans.

“Ohio Medicaid will work hand-in-hand with Myers and Stauffer to create rigorous checks and balances needed to make sure we are using dollars wisely,” Ohio Medicaid Director Maureen Corcoran said in a statement.

Those rigorous checks and balances don’t seem to have always been in place.

Until this year, five managed-care organizations contracted with the state to handle the Medicaid benefit. The organizations, in turn, contracted with middlemen called “pharmacy benefit managers” to administer billions in prescription-drug benefits.

The pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, worked behind a veil of secrecy to determine how much they would bill taxpayers for drugs and how much they would reimburse the pharmacists who had bought and dispensed them.

Ohio’s community pharmacists found one arrangement particularly suspicious. CVS Caremark was determining the pharmacists’ reimbursements as PBM to four of the five Medicaid managed-care plans. At the same time, the company’s retail pharmacies were in direct competition with them.

In late 2017, many Ohio pharmacies reported that their CVS Caremark reimbursements had dropped so low that they were losing money. Then the retail branch of CVS sent them letters bemoaning declining reimbursements and saying that “mounting challenges like these make selling your store to CVS Pharmacy an attractive and practical option.”

CVS denied that it was trying to drive out retail competition, but skeptical pharmacists dubbed the tactic they believed CVS was employing “squeeze and buy.”

Later in 2018, an analysis of reimbursement data commissioned by the Medicaid department determined that in 2017 CVS Caremark and OptumRx — UnitedHealth’s PBM — billed the state almost a quarter-billion dollars more for generic drugs than they paid the pharmacists who dispensed them.

In its statement Wednesday, the Medicaid department said those payments “could not be verified or accounted for.”

Also stemming from the 2018 data analysis were revelations that PBMs under one managed-care organization might be double-billing the state for $20 million in pharmacy services. The companies involved have denied that was the case, but Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost last month sued healthcare giant Centene in connection with the matter.

The Medicaid department made some major reforms in response to the problems.

Last week, when it announced that it had re-procured managed-care contracts, it left Centene’s managed-care company off the list because the state is suing Centene.

And early this year, the Medicaid department hired Gainwell Technologies to function as the state’s only PBM. And because the company is contracting directly with the state, it will have to give the Medicaid department access to its data — instead of hiding behind its contract with a managed-care organization to keep it secret as PBMs have done in the past.

That’s where the contract announced Wednesday comes in. Myers and Stauffer will function as the Medicaid department’s watchdog.

The company will work with the department “to establish pharmacy prices and conduct fiscal oversight of the single pharmacy benefit manager,” the Medicaid department said. The “oversight is designed to eliminate potential… conflicts of interest, prevent prescription drug steerage, and guard against other potential financial mechanisms that could reduce public confidence, increase cost, and obscure visibility into the operations of the program.”

Myers and Stauffer also “will be responsible for determining reimbursement methodologies, conducting dispensing and ingredient acquisition assessments, and maintaining accurate and up-to-date pharmacy rates,” the statement said.

The plan “is designed for transparency and accountability,” Corcoran said. Myers and Stauffer “will bring visibility to the financial influences and levers associated with pharmacy administration, strengthening Ohio’s ability to fully leverage the pharmacy benefit program for the good of the people we serve and the financial best interest of the state.”

Originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal. Republished here with permission.

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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Bearded J.D. Vance Tells Buddies He's Running for Senate, Cage Match for Portman's Seat Intensifies

Posted By on Thu, Apr 15, 2021 at 4:08 PM

Vance at the City Club in 2017. - CITY CLUB OF CLEVELAND
  • City Club of Cleveland
  • Vance at the City Club in 2017.

Hillbilly Elegy author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance has told friends and associates that he intends to enter the race for U.S. Senate in Ohio, Axios has reported. Vance has been expected to don his spandex and enter the cage match to replace Rob Portman for weeks, at least since tech billionaire Peter Thiel threw $10 million into a political action committee supporting him.

Vance will join a psychotic band of Republican hopefuls that now officially includes former state GOP chairwoman Jane Timken, car salesman Bernie Moreno, businessman Mike Gibbons and balls-to-the-wall Trump flunky Josh Mandel, all of whom are prepared to debase themselves as necessary to secure the endorsement of Donald Trump.

The Yale-educated Vance, who went to Yale, has weirdly assumed a populist anti-big-tech posture as he's made the media rounds in recent days. (He is now sporting a full Midwestern beard.) The reason that's weird is because Vance is a venture capitalist getting paid by Silicon Valley execs, and his campaign is more or less exclusively financed by a tech billionaire.

As Axios predicted, Vance will have a hard time "out-Trumping" Mandel, and thus will likely bill himself as a tamer option for the business class, a so-called "bridge between Trump and moderate Republicans." But he'll have to withstand the mockery of his opponents, who will be keen to point out the hypocrisies and contradictions that he exemplifies. It remains to be seen how central "cancel culture" rhetoric will be to Vance's campaign, who has historically been more of a "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" guy.

Vance was born in Middletown, Ohio. His memoir Hillbilly Elegy was a New York Times bestseller and was, last year, adapted into a Netflix film starring Glenn Close and Amy Adams, both of whom acquitted themselves honorably given the low-watt source material. Its most significant accomplishment was inspiring a much better book: What You are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, by Elizabeth Catte.   

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Ashley Evans Launches Candidacy for City Council in Ken Johnson's Ward 4

Posted By on Thu, Apr 15, 2021 at 1:29 PM

Since his arrest on corruption charges in February, Ward 4 Cleveland City Councilman Ken Johnson has yet to resign or be forced to step down from his post. In fact, according to the 2021 candidates' list at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, Johnson has pulled petitions and intends to run for the seat again.

Twelve candidates have now pulled petitions to run in Ward 4, more than in any other Cleveland ward. One of them, Ashley Evans, is a lifelong resident of the ward who has worked for Policy Bridge and Ridall Green Partnership. She formally launched her campaign Thursday.

"I am running because I believe Ward 4 needs new and innovative servant leadership," she said, in materials sent to the press. "I know that Ward 4 deserves conscientious and active representation. We are a community in distress because of the neglectful actions of those who we trusted to be stewards of the area. I am committed to working with you, the individuals who make Ward 4 a community."

Evans attended Kent State University for her undergraduate degree and then both Cleveland State University's Levin College and Ashland University for graduate degrees, in urban studies and business administration, respectively.

She said that as a city council representative, she wants to ensure that all residents have access to reliable city services. She wants to improve health outcomes and make Ward 4, which includes portions of Buckeye-Shaker, Kinsman, Mt. Pleasant and Union-Miles, a more attractive area for commercial and residential development.

Among her policy priorities, she said, was ensuring that residents have opportunities to engage with City Hall via public comment at City Council meetings.

Without mentioning Ken Johnson's name or the alleged financial crimes which led to his recent arrest, Evans painted herself as the antithesis of the incumbent.

"I'm committed to lead our community with integrity, compassion, and faithfulness," she said. "Along my path, I have learned two things. First, the education I received in the classroom is second only to the lessons I learned growing up in Ward 4 and secondly, service is the most authentic example of love, and I genuinely love our home here in Ward 4."

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Brothers Osborne To Perform at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica in September

Posted By on Thu, Apr 15, 2021 at 12:45 PM

  • Courtesy of Universal Music Group Nashville
  • Brothers Osborne.
The Nashville-based country act Brothers Osborne just announced the dates of its upcoming We're Not for Everyone tour, which is set to stop in nearly 50 markets this fall. The jaunt supports the group's third studio album, Skeletons.

The duo will perform on Sept. 2 at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica.

Singer-songwriters Travis Denning and Tenille Townes will serve as alternating opening acts.

A special fan club presale for the We're Not for Everyone tour launches at 10 a.m. on April 20. Tickets go on sale to the general public on April 23.

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