Wall Street Analysts Predict Rate Shock in Exchanges and Ripple Effects on Hospitals

CQ HEALTHBEAT NEWS
Dec. 19, 2012 – 4:57 p.m.

Wall Street Analysts Predict Rate Shock in Exchanges and Ripple Effects on Hospitals

By John Reichard, CQ HealthBeat Editor

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services officials will have a busy 2013 figuring out how to creatively use their regulatory powers to lessen rate shock in the new health insurance exchanges set to begin enrolling people next fall, Wall Street analysts predicted Wednesday.

Ways to forestall such increases include postponing the movement of enrollees in the state Preexisting Condition Insurance Plan into the exchanges and slowing the implementation of a “rating band” requirement that will sharply increase prices for the young, suggested Wall Street analysts who follow the private health insurance industry.

The forum was the annual Wall Street Comes to Washington Conference sponsored by the nonpartisan Center for Studying Health System Change.

Carl McDonald of Citi Investment Research and Analysis said he agreed with the recent Aetna executive’s prediction that consumers in the individual and small-group market will see hefty premium increases because of the requirements in the health care overhaul law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152).

“I think he’s right. I think if you’re looking at the individual market, somewhere between 20 and 30 percent average increases in 2014.”

McDonald and other analysts said those relatively high prices mean insurers are unlikely to pay hospitals the relatively attractive payment rates that commercial insurers pay.

McDonald broke down the 20 percent to 30 percent increase in premiums in 2014 because of the health care law. He said that even without the law, there would be a 5 percent base premium increase. Add to that a 3.5 percent per-member fee that insurers will have to pay to fund exchange operations. Then include an additional 2.5 percent for fees that insurers must pay to help fund the health care law and another 2.5 percent charge for a reinsurance pool the law creates to cushion insurers financially if they have unusually costly enrollees. That’s 13 percent.

But that’s not all. On average, individual insurance plans now have leaner benefits than they’ll be required to offer in the exchanges. That could push the increase “into the mid-20s,” McDonald said.

“You’re going to have situations where some people are faced with 100 percent plus rate increases in ‘14 … and you’re going to have some people who actually see rate decreases” such as “people who are 64 and sick.”

McDonald said that range of effects stems from the rating band requirement that says premiums can vary based on age by no more than a factor of 3-to-1. Now in many markets older people pay an average of six times more than younger people.

“The practical implications of 3 to 1 are that you’ve got to raise your prices on the young and healthy people very significantly so you can charge your oldest and sickest people enough.” McDonald added that “I think the result of that is that over the course of ’13 there’s going to be a long discussion among regulators about ‘how do we prevent this from happening.’

“CMS has suggested one solution, which is keep the high-risk pools intact in 2014,’’ he said. That means the high-cost people now in the high-risk pools wouldn’t get coverage through the exchanges in 2014, he explained. “If that happens, plans don’t have to price for it.”

How quickly the age bands are implemented could also be reconsidered. “Do we have to go to 3-to-1 in 2014?” McDonald said. “Or can we phase it in – 5-to-1 in 2014 and 3-to-1 by 2017?”

Size of Penalties Pressure Premiums

Deutsche Bank analyst Scott Fidel added that the age rating requirement intersects with the relatively weak financial penalties for not buying coverage in a way that puts upward pressure on premiums.

Faced with relatively high premiums, the young will pay a relatively modest penalty if they don’t buy coverage. “One month’s premium increase for them will be more than what the penalty would cost for the entire year,” he said. As a result, they could drop out, leaving plans with sicker and older enrollees and higher premiums as a result.

The structural elements of the health care law designed to bring down premiums for the older and sick “is one of the most challenging elements of the ACA,” Fidel added.

Urban Institute analyst Robert Berenson, a top Medicare official in the Clinton administration, agreed with the analysts. He noted that problems with higher premiums could be particularly great in states that are cool to the health care law and don’t actively try to get the young to buy coverage in exchanges.

“The people who we know will get in are those with high health care needs. This is a very good deal for a 64-year-old with health care problems,” Berenson said.

“States that sort of don’t want to do this and don’t want to actively implement the ACA are probably the states that are going to suffer the worst from the rate shock and need to sort of understand that and try to really be actively bringing in the relatively healthy subsidized population,” he said.

The analysts predicted many insurers will be drawn to the exchange market because their customer base isn’t growing and the health care law creates about 30 million potential new customers.

Big national companies and regional Blues plans will be among the companies offering coverage in the market, they predicted. But they expressed doubt that any insurer is going to come in and try to grab market share right away. That suggests no one is going to come in with aggressively lower rates to win more customers and help exchanges with their sticker shock problem.

The exchange market is a new one for insurers, and they won’t want to dive in and get socked with high costs and then raise prices and lose customers, analysts said. Compared to plans coming into the market for Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage in 2006, insurers are “going to be a lot more conservative and a lot more measured,” CRT Capital Group analyst Sheryl Skolnick said.

A major topic at the forum was how hospitals would be affected by the competitive pressures on health plans in the exchanges. Would plans competing in exchanges pay hospitals low Medicaid rates, higher Medicare rates, or, highest of all, commercial insurer rates? Skolnick observed that if plans paid close to commercial insurer rates, a significant cloud hanging over the future of the hospital industry would be lifted. But the analysts doubted that would happen because plans already face upward pressure on premiums they will charge in exchanges.

Fidel said he doesn’t see how health plans in exchanges could be affordable if they pay close to commercial rates. Lisa Goldstein, managing director of Moody’s Investors Service, said her company does not expect insurers in exchanges to pay close to the rates that commercial insurers pay.

Source: CQ Online News

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WSJ: Hospital Systems Branch Out as Insurers

Hospital Systems Branch Out as Insurers

By ANNA WILDE MATHEWS

A growing number of hospital systems are moving to start their own insurance plans, aiming to broaden their roles and prepare for the changes coming under the federal health-care overhaul.

Piedmont Healthcare and WellStar Health System, both in the Atlanta area, are set to announce a jointly owned insurance arm, with the goal of marketing coverage to employers and Medicare recipients in 2014. They also will consider selling coverage on a health exchange, one of the online insurance marketplaces required in each state by the health-overhaul law.

Piedmont and WellStar said their health plan would be built largely around their 10 hospitals and hundreds of affiliated doctors, and they will offer a competitive premium. "We’re broadening the reach of our delivery system," said Gregory A. Hurst, Piedmont’s interim chief operating officer, who added that he expects the strategy to "clearly have a positive impact on the quality of care."

In recent months, northern California’s Sutter Health and New York’s North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System have said they would start selling health plans. A 2011 survey of 100 hospital leaders by health research firm Advisory Board Co. found that 20% of them intended to market an insurance plan. In 2010, around 10% of community hospitals owned, or were part of systems that owned, health plans, according to the American Hospital Association.

Typically, the new entrants will offer health-maintenance-organization-style plans that allow patients limited access to doctors and hospitals outside their network.

Some systems that have had limited insurance operations are expanding, including MedStar Health in the Baltimore-Washington area, which will add Medicare plans next year and is likely to have a plan on the Maryland health exchange, and Indiana University Health, which expects to start offering health plans to employers in 2013.

The moves reflect a broader blurring of the lines between those who provide health care and those who pay for it, as both sides increasingly aim to provide more efficient, seamless care. The hospital systems themselves are the product of a consolidation that brought together many hospitals and doctors.

Driving the trend is the mounting pressure to reduce costs, as well as the changes set to be unleashed by the health-care overhaul. In addition to adding coverage for millions of people, partly by expanding Medicaid, the federal-state health program for low-income Americans, the law will cut back on hospital payments by Medicare, the federal insurance program for the elderly. Some hospitals are starting their own plans for Medicaid recipients.

The hospitals expect to get a shrinking slice of reimbursements from the fees insurers and others pay for specific services. That payment system has been blamed for fueling rising health costs. Providers who depend solely on fee-for-service revenue "will eventually have a slow death," said Michael J. Dowling, chief executive of North Shore-Long Island Jewish.

He said his hospital system intended to offer its own exchange plan, perhaps in 2014, the first year the health exchanges are supposed to be running. "I want to go upstream as much as possible and take the premium dollar at the source," he said.

Because insurers pay claims for all doctor visits, lab tests and other care, they get a full view of their members. Hospital systems say they need direct access to that data, which they can get by offering their own plans, to manage patients better, avoiding duplication and detecting and treating problems early to head off pricey procedures later.

"It’s so much better for us to have, at least for a slice of our business, a total picture as to what’s going on," said Peter Anderson, a senior vice president at Sutter Health.

Still, most hospital systems have been stopping short of getting an insurance license, often taking more limited steps like striking reimbursement deals with insurers that reward them for providing more efficient care. Some are also forging partnerships with insurers that sometimes involve jointly selling a health plan built around the system.

Some hospital operators, including the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Intermountain Healthcare in Utah, long have had health plans. Others, including some health systems considering them now, have tried and failed with them in the past. The failures in part reflect the difficulties of reconciling conflicting interests: Hospitals typically make money when they fill their beds with patients, and health plans pay the bills for those admissions.

Another factor: Patients revolted against HMOs in the 1990s, when they were popular with employers, because they felt that HMOs limited their choices of providers and access to care.

The hospital systems may also create new fault lines as they compete against the other insurance companies that pay them, though their size and market power will make it tough for insurers to shut them out.

Aetna Inc.’s partnerships are "lower cost, more flexible and more scalable" for systems than building health plans from scratch, said Charles Kennedy, chief executive of Aetna’s Accountable Care Solutions business. Aetna’s network includes providers who operate their own networks, but if a system became a significant competitor, "competitive dynamics might push us…in a direction where we might not want to contract with them in a preferred state," or favor the system in Aetna’s own plan designs.

"Many of [the hospital systems] are also folks we do business with," said Juan Davila, Blue Shield of California’s senior vice president for network management. "There’s a potential for that to be difficult."

Like insurers, which are building lower-cost "narrow network" plans for the exchanges, the hospital systems are betting that consumers will be willing to accept a smaller choice of health-care providers in return for the promise of smoothly integrated care and premiums that are likely to be lower. The hospital systems plan to build their coverage around their own networks, but may fill them out with other providers as well.

Hospital systems say their focus is on providing high-quality care, and they think that the better technology that helps them closely track patients will ensure they avoid some of the financial pitfalls of decades ago. Also, today "there is financial urgency," said Frank Williams, chief executive of Evolent Health, which is advising many hospital systems pursuing integrated operations, including Piedmont.

Piedmont and WellStar together have about 30% of the inpatient market share in the Atlanta area. Working together will spread out the fixed costs of starting a health plan, as well as offer greater reach in the combined network, said Reynold J. Jennings, chief executive of WellStar.

Write to Anna Wilde Mathews at anna.mathews

A version of this article appeared December 17, 2012, on page B1 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Hospital Systems Branch Out As Insurers.

Democrats pick Bonds for D.C. Council

Democrats pick Bonds for D.C. Council

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post, Published: December 10

To fill a vacant seat on the D.C. Council, local Democratic activists overwhelmingly elected their own leader Monday night.

Anita D. Bonds, 67, will fill the at-large seat vacated when Phil Mendelson was elevated in November to chairman. Bonds, long active in city and national Democratic politics, will serve pending a citywide special election set for April 23.

Seventy-one members of the D.C. Democratic State Committee voted at a party conclave held in a Catholic University auditorium. Bonds easily defeated John Capozzi, 56, a former “shadow” U.S. representative, and Douglass Sloan, 41, a public affairs consultant, winning 55 votes on the first ballot.

In brief remarks before the vote, Bonds said her background in politics would help her get things done.

“I’m a doer,” she said. “I am someone who can pull things through.”

Bonds, in a previous interview, said she plans to focus on neighborhood quality-of-life issues, as well as jobs, fiscal oversight and education.

But Sloan suggested Bonds was not the best Democrat to win the special election, alluding to her age and long association with D.C. political figures including Marion Barry, a Ward 8 council member and former mayor.

“Given today’s political climate, with all the scandals that we’ve seen over the past year, I think it is critical to appoint someone who can provide a strong, ethical voice for good government and progressive change on the city council,” he said.

The last two Democratic interim appointees — Arrington Dixon in 1997 and Sekou Biddle in 2011 — failed to win their subsequent special elections.

Sloan named a potential “young Republican” candidate, Patrick D. Mara, who finished second in the last at-large special election, in April 2011. “I’m still young,” Sloan said. “I’ve got good knees.”

Mara said Monday that he’s “strongly considering” entering the race. Capozzi and five other candidates have picked up nominating petitions; candidates must collect 3,000 voter signatures by Jan. 23 to appear on the ballot.

But Sloan’s warning and Capozzi’s questioning of the appointment process did not make much of an impression on committee members, who said they were comfortable with Bonds’s leadership and savvy.

“Anita’s got a real level head, she knows all the players and she stands on her own two feet,” said Barrie Daneker, a committee member and former Advisory Neighborhood Commission colleague of Bonds.

The scene Monday was much different than the last time the Democrats filled an at-large vacancy, in 2011.

In that closely contested race between former council member Vincent B. Orange and Biddle, a former State Board of Education member, the race went to multiple ballots as the candidates wheeled and dealed with committee members.

Biddle won after then-Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown intervened with several committee members on his behalf. He then proceeded to lose to Orange in the special election.

The voting Monday was significantly less dramatic. Bonds, who has chaired the party committee since 2006, won the necessary majority on the first ballot.

Bonds will be sworn in Tuesday morning, in time for her to cast votes in the last legislative meeting of the current session, Dec. 18.

Mendelson suggested last week that it might not be wise for a member who has not been involved in the legislative process to be voting. “How much can they participate knowledgeably, given the dozens of matters coming up for second reading?” he asked. But he also acknowledged that the member will be legally entitled to be sworn in.

Once Bonds is sworn, the council will have a full complement of 13 members for the first time since Brown resigned in June, a day before pleading guilty to a felony bank fraud charge.

Tim Craig contributed to this report.

Kevin Wrege, Esq.

Founder & President

Pulse Issues & Advocacy LLC

Office: 202-625-1787

Mobile: 202-253-4929

4410 Massachusetts Ave., NW, #150

Washington, DC 20016

DC Lottery Contract Is Subject Of Federal Probe

DC Lottery Contract Is Subject Of Federal Probe

by The Associated Press

WASHINGTON December 10, 2012, 05:17 am ET

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal grand jury is investigating the awarding of the $38 million contract to run the District of Columbia lottery, a process that raises further questions about corruption in a city government already beleaguered by criminal prosecutions.

Although no one has yet been charged in the lottery probe, authorities are looking for evidence of crimes including bribery and illegal steering of contracts, and numerous officials are under scrutiny, according to several people familiar with the probe. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they’ve been instructed not to impede the ongoing investigation.

Regardless of the outcome of the probe, the awarding of the lottery contract — which went to Greek gaming company Intralot in 2009 — illustrates systemic problems that open the door for elected officials to play politics with the contracting process and influence who wins.

The lottery investigation increases the scrutiny on a city government already reeling from unrelated prosecutions that targeted several of the district’s elected officials and their aides. Three aides to Mayor Vincent Gray’s 2010 campaign have pleaded guilty to federal crimes, and the mayor’s campaign remains under investigation. Meanwhile, two councilmembers have resigned in the past year after pleading guilty to felonies — one of which involved stealing city money earmarked for youth sports.

The lottery probe has the potential to be the most sweeping of them all because of the number of people being investigated. The awarding of the contract was a bruising, years-long fight that left no one completely satisfied — including the winning bidders.

Key stumbling blocks with the district’s contracting system include the include the ability of the D.C. Council to block contracts worth more than $1 million and the de facto requirement that major contractors have a local partner, even if that partner has no expertise in the service being provided.

"This is one of the worst processes, if not the worst, that I’ve seen in 45 years of government service, both federal and local," said Doug Patton, a lobbyist and former deputy mayor who was involved in a losing bid for the lottery. "The quicker they get to the bottom of this, the better."

The process began in 2007, when the district’s Office of the Chief Financial Officer solicited bids for a new lottery operator. By the end, significant questions were raised about why one seemingly surefire bid was rejected by the council, the qualifications of local partner eventually included in the contract and the unusual circumstances surrounding the authorization of online gambling. These are among the issues federal authorities are investigating.

Only a handful of large firms have the technology to operate state-level lottery systems. But district contracting rules make it all but impossible to win a major contract without a local partner that’s been certified as a disadvantaged local business. The program grew out of minority set-asides implemented under former Mayor Marion Barry.

Intralot partnered with real estate developer Warren Williams Jr. to submit the winning bid. The CFO’s office informed the council that the new partnership would provide better technology than the previous lottery vendor and save the city about $5 million a year. Yet the council was cool to the prospect of approving the contract, in part because of Williams’ political connections. He was a friend and supporter of then-mayor Adrian Fenty.

For months, Gray — who would later run against Fenty and accuse the mayor of giving contracts to his cronies — refused to bring the contract up for a vote. Behind the scenes, according to court papers filed in a civil lawsuit, Gray was pressuring Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi to get rid of Williams. The chief contracting officer for the CFO’s office alleges in the lawsuit that he was pressured to rebid the contract, and when he refused — insisting it would be illegal — he was demoted and fired.

Investigators have been asking about the motivation behind Gray’s and Gandhi’s actions during this period, according to people familiar with the probe. Gray’s attorney, Robert Bennett, declined to comment on the investigation. Gandhi declined to be interviewed. His spokesman, David Umansky, said Gandhi "never lobbied for or against any bidder."

Meanwhile, councilman Jim Graham inserted himself into the process. During a meeting with Williams and his partners, Graham made an offer: He would support Williams’ lottery bid if Williams withdrew from a development deal around a Metro subway station, according to emails between participants in the meeting. Graham also served on the Metro board at the time, and Williams and his attorney refused, describing it as potentially illegal meddling in the contracting process.

The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office have been asking about Graham’s actions, according to people with knowledge of the probe. An investigation conducted by a law firm for Metro determined that Graham acted improperly but was not motivated by any financial interest. Graham does not deny making the offer but insists he has committed no crimes.

Councilwoman Yvette Alexander has also been tied to a questionable offer to Williams, according to people familiar with the investigation. Two staffers for Alexander asked Williams for money to prove his loyalty to the councilmember, with one putting the price tag at $20,000, according to people familiar with the probe. Investigators are aware of the request and have asked about it, according to a person they have interviewed. Alexander told AP she made no such offer and that she doesn’t take the allegations seriously.

In December 2008, the council voted 8-5 to reject the Williams-Intralot partnership.

The CFO’s office solicited new bids, and Intralot won again, this time without a local partner. But its representatives and lobbyists became convinced they could not gain the council’s support without one.

Enter local businessman Emmanuel Bailey. A friend of Intralot lobbyist and former councilmember Kevin Chavous — who had introduced him to Gray during the first round of bidding — Bailey was brought on as a subcontractor with a 51 percent stake. Because he entered the contract after the procurement process, he didn’t get the same level of scrutiny from the CFO’s office before the council voted to approve the contract.

Bailey’s company operated out of his mother’s home. When city inspectors visited it, they found two desks, two computers and a printer in a family room. They found no company letterhead or business cards. Inspectors wrote in their report that the company should find a suitable office space before being considered for certification as a legitimate local business.

Two days later, Bailey’s company was certified, an action the city’s inspector general later found was improper. A local firm involved in a competing bid was denied certification — and the inspector general said that move was improper as well. The inspector general’s report gave ammunition to critics of the lottery deal, but the office has no enforcement authority.

The contract awarded to Intralot and Bailey included a potentially lucrative option to operate an online gambling system if online gambling were legalized in the district. Councilmember Michael A. Brown worked to make that happen — but not by introducing a standalone bill. Instead, he inserted language into a budget bill that was initially circulated at 2:17 a.m.

Several of Brown’s colleagues have said they did not realize they were voting to authorize online gambling — which Brown disputes. But the council ultimately voted to repeal it amid criticism about lack of transparency.

The effort took its toll on Brown, who lost his bid for re-election. Federal investigators are examining his actions and his employment with a lobbying firm that has a gaming practice, according to the people familiar with the probe. Brown no longer works for the firm and says there was no conflict of interest.

Brown says he has not been contacted by investigators and has no reason to believe he is a target of the probe. He is also friends with Bailey, who has made campaign contributions to the outgoing councilmember.

The defeat of online gambling was a financial blow to Intralot and Bailey, but they continue to hold the lottery contract, and the CFO’s office has not reported any problems with their performance.

___

Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter at http://twitter.com/APBenNuckols .

Kevin Wrege, Esq.

Founder & President

Pulse Issues & Advocacy LLC

Office: 202-625-1787

Mobile: 202-253-4929

4410 Massachusetts Ave., NW, #150

Washington, DC 20016

D.C. offers new plan to divert storm runoff before it floods Bloomingdale, LeDroit Park

D.C. offers new plan to divert storm runoff before it floods Bloomingdale, LeDroit Park

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post, Published: December 6

D.C. Water and city government officials are proposing to divert runoff from severe storms into holding facilities before it threatens to inundate the Bloomingdale and LeDroit Park neighborhoods of Northwest Washington in response to flash floods last summer.

The work, estimated to cost as much as $40 million more than previous flood-relief plans, would involve converting facilities on the former McMillan sand filtration site into storage tanks capable of holding 3 million gallons of runoff each. Meanwhile, D.C. Water crews would immediately begin digging a six-block-long, Metro-size tunnel under First Street, which could store 6 million gallons of stormwater and sewage.

The McMillan storage tanks could be finished as soon as spring 2014, said George S. Hawkins, the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority’s general manager, and the First Street tunnel could be completed two years later. Engineers estimate the projects could reduce flooding depths by 20 inches.

Under previous time lines, the affected neighborhoods would not have seen significant relief until 2025.

Hawkins presented an outline of the plans to D.C. Water’s board of directors during a Thursday morning meeting. More details were discussed at an afternoon meeting of a flooding task force appointed by Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D).

“It looks like we’re getting there, like we’re almost there,” City Administrator Allen Y. Lew said before briefing task force members. “Not 100 percent, but a substantial, significant portion of the problem this area has experienced going back years.”

The area affected by the flash floods is an anomaly of geography and infrastructure. Low-lying to begin with, it is also a place where three major storm sewers’ draining points to the north and west converge into a single line that runs south under First Street to a trunk sewer running along Florida Avenue.

Floods have plagued the area intermittently for generations, but this year’s deluges were unprecedented. Four times, brief but intense storms caused significant flooding in the blocks surrounding Rhode Island Avenue and First Street. Sewage backed up into the basements or flowed from street level into about 200 households. Standing water approached two feet deep on some streets.

Storing runoff at the McMillan site, where much of the city’s drinking water was filtered and treated until 1985, is expected to relieve pressure on the First Street line during intense rains. The tunnel will provide additional relief — enough that the water from last summer’s most severe storm would have barely lapped the top of street curbs. But a full solution is not expected until the completion of a 23-foot-wide, east-west trunk sewer that would drain the First Street bore.

The proposal, in part, represents an acceleration of existing plans to build relief sewers, previously expected to be completed in 2025. Rather than wait to build the First Street tunnel, D.C. Water wants to start tunneling immediately, using the 19-foot bore to store runoff while the trunk line is built from the east.

Under the new plan, the entire project would be completed by 2022, three years earlier than previously contemplated.

Building the McMillan tanks is estimated to cost $15 million, and the First Street tunnel is expected to cost $130 million. Most of the latter figure is budgeted for as part of D.C. Water’s $2.6 billion Clean Rivers Project, which involves building massive tunnels to relieve sewage overflows into the Potomac and Anacostia rivers.

About $40 million remains to be funded. D.C. Water has been in talks with the Gray administration about covering that cost through the city budget, but District officials said Thursday that no final agreement has been reached. Hawkins told the D.C. Water board he expected the cost-sharing plan to “be consistent with what the board will approve, as well as the city.”

Complicating the relief plans is an effort to redevelop the McMillan site into a new neighborhood of residences, shops and offices. Recently, Gray issued an economic development plan that proposed a medical hub for the site, tying into the three hospitals immediately to the north.

Officials think that the flood-relief plan will not significantly alter the development plans. One filtration cell on the site’s northeast corner would capture flow from a storm sewer running along North Capitol Street; on the site’s western edge, another cell will be used to capture flow headed down First Street. Three acres at the southwest corner would be used for the tunnel-boring operation.

After the First Street tunnel is completed in 2016, the boring site would be available for development, except for a small area containing a maintenance shaft. The storage tanks could be dismantled and developed once the trunk sewer is completed.

Representatives of the development team tasked with preparing the site were skeptical of the flood-relief plan when it was floated in September, citing the fact that the 27-acre McMillan site is a protected historic landmark. But city officials think converting the old filtration tanks to hold stormwater is compatible with its historic use.

“They will be used for their original purpose, except they won’t be cleaning the water, they’ll just be holding it,” Hawkins said.

Although the sewers in Bloomingdale and LeDroit Park generally carry combined sanitary and storm sewage, the McMillan tanks would hold only storm runoff, he added. Retrofitting the tanks would involve removing the filtering sand and installing a flexible plastic liner and pump facilities.

Aside from the new infrastructure, Hawkins said, his agency will be redoubling efforts to encourage homeowners in the affected area to install backflow preventers, devices meant to prevent sewer overflows that threaten basements even if flooding never reaches street level.

The devices are crucial, he said, particularly because the larger-scale measures will not be in place before next year’s rainy season. “We are nervous about 2013,” Hawkins said. “We’ve got a year to get through.”

Only about two dozen of several hundred eligible households have applied to a rebate program thus far, Hawkins said. The program has been extended to March 31.

Teri Janine Quinn, a Bloomingdale community activist who serves on the flooding task force, said Thursday that she was “cautiously optimistic” about the proposal but was waiting to hear details on funding and implementation.

“But the key piece is, I am optimistic,” Quinn said before the task force met. “This is the closest thing to good news we’ve had in a while on this issue.” If the plan is viable, she said, “That would be a great Christmas present.”

Kevin Wrege, Esq.

Founder & President

Pulse Issues & Advocacy LLC

Office: 202-625-1787

Mobile: 202-253-4929

4410 Massachusetts Ave., NW, #150

Washington, DC 20016

D.C. elections chief has few answers on long voting lines

D.C. elections chief has few answers on long voting lines

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post, Updated: December 10, 2012

More than a month after some District residents waited in hours-long lines to cast ballots during early voting and on Election Day, D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) thought that by now the Board of Elections would have figured out what happened and developed a plan to fix it.

Not so much.

Clifford Tatum, the board’s executive director, arrived at a Monday oversight hearing with few ready answers for Bowser’s questions about long lines and other issues, except to acknowledge that there had been isolated “missteps” amid an otherwise “successful election.”

Bowser wasn’t happy: “You’ve provided absolutely no substantive information to the council,” she told him. “That’s totally disrespectful to the people who came down to testify.”

Tatum said the board’s postmortem process was still underway, with staff focused on counting provisional ballots until late last month and with a pair of advisory neighborhood commission recounts still underway. A fuller report, he said, would be ready by February.

But Bowser pressed Tatum on several issues, such as long lines, particularly at early voting locations, where residents waited for hours even as some machines went unused.

“You think the administration of early voting in the District of Columbia was successful?” Bowser asked.

Tatum said it was. “Could it have been better?” he added. “Absolutely.”

He suggested adding more than the current eight early voting centers, but Bowser pressed him on why ballots were split up by precinct among several machines, leaving those machines from faraway parts of the city going unused while nearby residents waited and waited. Tatum explained that because of an increase in advisory neighborhood commission seats, there was an increase in the number of “ballot styles” — the particular mix of races for a precinct or portion of a precinct — that meant the city’s touchscreen voting machines could no longer hold all of the city’s ballot styles on one machine.

“I just don’t buy that,” Bowser said, referring to the suggestion that a few extra ANC seats would have such a dramatic impact. The board, she added, “dropped the ball” in not anticipating the problem and finding an earlier solution.

“I don’t want to ever be in that position again, where voters are stacked up and there are machines that no one is using,” Bowser said.

Tatum also addressed criticism that the board failed to communicate effectively in the run-up to and on Election Day itself, particularly via its Twitter account. “Like radio silence,” Bowser called it.

Tatum countered that the board embarked on an “more assertive campaign” to inform voters via radio, cable TV and bus ads. As for Twitter, he acknowledged that the board has tweeted less since social-media-friendly public information officer Alysoun McLaughlin left in July for a deputy director job in Montgomery County.

After the personnel change and a September incident involving a partisan tweet from the board’s official account, Tatum said board members are ”looking at” the role of social media. ”Tweeting is not our official form of communication,” he said, “but we certainly recognize how social media plays into the process.”

© The Washington Post Company

Kevin Wrege, Esq.

Founder & President

Pulse Issues & Advocacy LLC

Office: 202-625-1787

Mobile: 202-253-4929

4410 Massachusetts Ave., NW, #150

Washington, DC 20016

D.C. parking summit: Residents share parking frustrations

D.C. parking summit: Residents share parking frustrations

By Tom Roussey, WJLA

December 4, 2012 – 11:12 pm

About a 100 people came out to a "parking summit" hosted by the District Department of Transportation Tuesday night, and many of them say the city is making it too hard to find street parking.

"The city is doing it everything it can to make sure people like us…no longer have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of living in the city," said Northwest resident Larry Werner.

Werner and a number of other people who came out feel the city is catering to newer, younger residents at the expense of longtime and older residents.

D.C.’s government is trying to encourage more people to walk, bike and take public transportation instead of drive.

Officials say the city is seeing 1,100 new residents a month, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to accommodate newcomers with cars.

"We can’t continue to grow and be successful as a city if everybody’s only option is to drive," said Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT’s Associate Director for Policy and Planning.

In some cases, the city has removed parking spaces, such as on a portion of L Street, NW. Many were taken away to create a bike lane.

In other cases, the district is making it harder to park in some neighborhoods without a residential parking permit sticker. But some visitors and residents complain that makes it tough to park and visit places like churches.

"It is not possible for everyone to ride bicycles," said Greater First Baptist Church member Jacqueline Paulletta McQuillar, who walks with a cane. "The Metro is not an option for many people who have handicaps."

City council is considering adding more meters for people with disabilities to park.

Read more: http://www.wjla.com/articles/2012/12/d-c-parking-summit-residents-share-parking-frustrations–82766.html#ixzz2EBn1EgTT