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15 posts from December 12, 2013

December 12, 2013

Crist: Scott's disclosure of website issues is "outright deception"

It's been remarked before about how the troubles with the state's new $63-million unemployment website resemble those of the federal healthcare.gov website

Charlie Crist, Rick Scott's opponent in the 2014 gubernatorial race, spotlighted that comparison on Thursday in an interview with the Times/Herald and said it's much worse in Florida.

"What I see from the Obama administration is an acknowledgment of a problem," Crist said. "What I see here in Florida is a pattern of non-transparency and outright deception. It's night and day, with the Obama administration being the day and the Scott administration being night. It's the people's right to know what's going on."

Since the launch of the CONNECT website, thousands of recipients have complained about glitches and delayed processing in claims. While state officials say that the technical issues are getting resolved, they acknowledge problems persist.

Meanwhile, the agency that oversees the website has hardly been forthcoming. An internal memo leaked to the Times/Herald in October instructed Department of Economic Opportunity employees not to talk to reporters or "convey the wrong message to the public, so please do not advise claimants that the system is down unless official word from management is received." When asked days after the troubled launch of the website if the contractor, Deloitte Consulting, had been put on notice for non-performance, a DEO spokeswoman, Jessica Sims, replied back with a non-answer to the question. Later, the Times/Herald discovered she also didn't disclose the letter from DEO to Deloitte that in fact put it on notice for non-performance.

Another DEO spokeswoman, Monica Russell, later apologized for the non-disclosure.

In public records requests, the DEO has repeatedly charged the Times/Herald hefty sums of money that Crist says are hard to believe.

For instance, in October, the Times/Herald requested the emails of four DEO employees involved in the website project. Although the DEO initially estimated the cost of the request to be $157, it later upped the amount another $900.72.

Crist couldn't believe the DEO was charging $1,057.

"That's insane," Crist said. "Those emails belong to the people of Florida."

To him, however, it was emblamatic of how Scott is handling the issue. 

"The Scott administration won't answer questions," Crist said. 

When asked for a response to Crist, the governor's office referred the Times/Herald to a DEO statement from Wednesday.

"I will not rest until our contractor, Deloitte Consulting, has delivered the system Floridians were promised," said DEO executive director, Jesse Panuccio, in a statement.

Since mid-October, the Times/Herald has asked repeatedly for the number of claimants who have been unable to receive benefits because of problems with CONNECT. On Thursday, Russell said there's no way to differentiate those from people who are ineligible.

In other words, who knows?


'Piece of Mind' typo? Nah. White House soft-launches new headbanger-Obamacare plan


Picture 20The conservative opinionati lit up Thursday when it looked as if President Obama's administration committed yet another Affordable Care Act blunder.

This time it was all about grammar, specifically a  Tweet from @WhiteHouse that contained a picture of a name tag that said: "#GetCovered Because it'll give your mom piece of mind."

Said Twitchy: ‘No wonder the website sucks’: WH’s cringeworthy O-care typo does Common Core proud.

Town Hall led with the more anodyne: New White House Push: Sign Up For Obamacare Because It Will Give Your Mother "Piece of Mind."


It's all part of the plan.

It's clearly the soft launch of yet another demographic targeting effort. This one aims at aging headbangers who loved "Piece of Mind," the pièce de résistance fourth album of the heavy metal group Iron Maiden. The story behind the band's mascot, Eddie: He was born with just a head -- a pre-existing condition if ever there were one. It fits perfectly with the core mission of Obamacare.

On the Piece of Mind album, Eddie also had a lobotomy, a condition that sums up the copy editing of whoever pushed this out on @WhiteHouse.


AP: Coral Springs man missing in Iran was CIA spy

via @AP's Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman

WASHINGTON (AP) — An American who vanished nearly seven years ago in Iran was working for the CIA on an unapproved intelligence-gathering mission that, when it came to light inside the government, produced one of the most serious scandals in the recent history of the CIA — but all in secret, an Associated Press investigation found.

The CIA paid Robert Levinson's family $2.5 million to head off a revealing lawsuit. Three veteran analysts were forced out of the agency and seven others were disciplined.

The U.S. publicly has described Levinson as a private citizen.

"Robert Levinson went missing during a business trip to Kish Island, Iran," the White House said last month.

That was just a cover story. In an extraordinary breach of the most basic CIA rules, a team of analysts — with no authority to run spy operations — paid Levinson to gather intelligence from some of the world's darkest corners. He vanished while investigating the Iranian regime for the U.S. government.

Details of the disappearance were described in documents obtained or reviewed by the AP, plus interviews over several years with dozens of current and former U.S. and foreign officials close to the search for Levinson. Nearly all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the sensitive case.

More here.

Miami's homeless may lose some rights if federal judge agrees to settlement


Miami’s homeless, who since 1998 have benefitted from special life-sustaining privileges not afforded most residents, will lose some of those exceptions if a federal judge signs off on an agreement reached by the city of Miami and the American Civil Liberties Union.

No longer will the homeless be allowed to set fires in parks to cook, or to build make-shift tents to sleep on public property.

The homeless would still be allowed to sleep on sidewalks, but only if they don’t obstruct the right-of-way of pedestrians. They would still be permitted to be naked in public to cleanse themselves or go to the bathroom, but only out of sight of the general public, and not if they are within a quarter mile of a public restroom.

And convicted, homeless sex offenders would no longer receive the same life-sustaining benefits as other homeless people.

The agreement, reached late Wednesday after two days of intense shuttle-door diplomacy, was delivered Thursday afternoon to U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno. The judge can accept it, reject it, or order more negotiations between the two sides.

More here.

Pinecrest mayor chided as 'haughty' to residents

By Brittny C. Valdes

A Pinecrest council member wants Mayor Cindy Lerner to cut village residents some more slack when they address the board.

“We simply can’t afford to present ourselves to the public as haughty, aloof and all-knowing,” Bob Ross told the mayor after midnight Wednesday, at the end of a five-hour council meeting that began Tuesday.

He used an example of an incident last month, when a resident was addressing concerns about the future restaurant at Pinecrest Gardens and Mayor Lerner accused her of “red-herrings” in the middle of her speaking time.

“Our responsibility is to listen courteously and respectfully,” Ross said. “It’s inappropriate for us to challenge residents regarding their beliefs or interrupt their presentations with provocations about red-herrings, or vilify them as members of an angry mob.”

Lerner acknowledged that she was in the wrong last month, and she said she should have waited for the woman to sit down.

“I was talking to everybody, not just her,” Lerner said, adding that because she is a lawyer, she is compelled to set the record straight whenever a resident speaks with misinformation.

The mayor then pointed the finger back at Ross by bringing up past incidents when she said he, too, was rude to residents.


Embattled Doral mayor launches namesake app


For those looking for a one-stop information source about Doral Mayor Luigi Boria, there’s an app for that.

Suffering after a wave of negative attention during the past few months in the wake of political disagreements with his fellow council members and the city manager, the embattled mayor said he’s focusing on opening a direct line of communication with residents through the app. “Luigi Boria.”

“It’s personal,” he said. “I want to keep the people that follow me informed, in the same way like Facebook and Instagram and Twitter.”

The app, available for free on iPhones and Android phones, was launched a few weeks ago and is not an official city project. Boria commissioned it himself through a local company, Way Out Mobile Solutions. Doral already has an official iPhone app.

More here.

Senate president says bipartisan "initiative" aimed at sexual violent predators on the way

A bipartisan Senate initiative aimed at a “broad range” of issues related to violent sexual predators and the Department of Children & Families is expected to be announced by Christmas, Senate President Don Gaetz said Thursday.

“I think you will see in the next few days a bipartisan initiative in the Senate to address the issue of sexually violent predators and the broader issues associated with foster children and related issues in DCF,” Gaetz, R-Niceville, said at a breakfast with reporters.

While he didn’t outline specifics, Gaetz said that Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, and other senators have been working on these issues over the summer.

The violent sexual predator initiative would involve “a criminal justice element” that affects the jurisdiction of Senators Greg Evers, R-Baker, and Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island; a human services element that impacts Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring; and Sobel who “is right at Ground Zero,” Gaetz said.

He also discussed concerns about DCF. Gaetz, who attended part of a Senate Committee meeting on Children, Families and Elder Affairs Tuesday, said that policy changes should become part of the law. “I don’t think we can rely upon who’s in charge," Gaetz said. "I think we have to make some changes in statute."

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Miami-Dade lawmakers fight to keep prepaid dental health plan for children

Two Miami-Dade lawmakers and a coalition of dentists are pushing back against a proposal to eliminate the state's prepaid dental health plan for children. 

The Agency for Health Care Administration, or AHCA, has proposed having Medicaid plans take over dental services for children. It's part of a larger shift to a Statewide Medicaid Managed Care model.

But state Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, says Florida should keep its prepaid dental plan for kids.

"The fact is, we have a program in place right now that works," Flores said.

The prepaid dental health plan serves about 1.8 million children. It started in Miami-Dade County in 2004, and was expanded statewide last year.

State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, expressed concern that the $200 million Florida allocates for children's dental care benefits will soon be used to serve both children and adults. "I would compare this to taking from little Peter to give to Uncle Paul, Aunt Mary and neighbor Joe," he said.  

Diaz and Flores are sponsoring bills that would require AHCA to keep the prepaid dental program.

The Coalition for Independent Dentistry expressed its support for the plan Thursday in a letter to Gov. Rick Scott.

Dr. Jose Mellado, a dentist from Miami, pointed out that low-income children suffer from tooth decay twice as much as their more affluent peers. What's more, he said, cavities and gum disease have been linked to absences from school and low grades.  

AHCA spokeswoman Michelle Dahnke said the agency "feels strongly about not altering the method for providing dental services to children and adults as outlined in the Statewide Medicaid Managed Care program." She pointed out that the managed care plans in reform have outperformed a fee-for-service and a statewide prepaid plan.

What's more, Dahnke said, removing dental from the Statewide Medicaid Managed Care program could "jeopardize the successful implementation of the Managed Medical Assistance.

"Removing dental from the SMMC program would harm Medicaid recipients and taxpayers, and would potentially cut services to Medicaid recipients, particularly to vulnerable disabled adults," she wrote in an email to the Herald/Times. "As part of the procurement, the Agency negotiated for adult dental benefits valued at over $100 million over the life of the 5-year contract, all at no cost to taxpayers. To offer this, the plans in SMMC apparently intend to leverage their pediatric dental networks to provide this service to adults cost effectively. If pediatric dental is carved out, SMMC plans will no longer have existing dental networks to leverage and may have to curtail or drop their adult dental coverage."

She stressed that money would not be move from children to pay for adults.


Spiritual leaders to rally at Marco Rubio's office in support of Miami federal judge nominee


Spiritual leaders will rally Tuesday to urge U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Miami, to drop opposition to the appointment of Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Thomas to the federal bench.

President Barack Obama nominated Thomas for a federal judgeship over a year ago, a move that enjoys widespread support in South Florida’s legal community.

But Rubio, who originally recommended Thomas to the president, is now blocking the nomination, claiming that he has concerns about the judge’s temperament and qualifications.

Thomas’ supporters in the legal community say Rubio is unfairly distorting the judge’s record to pander to the Tea Party and other Republican right-wingers.

Thomas would be the first openly gay African-American federal judge.

Tuesday’s rally is being led by Rev. Carl Johnson, of Miami’s 93rd Street Baptist Church.

“He is well trained in the law. He has a good, honest and discerning character that makes him an outstanding judge,” Johnson said of Thomas, a longtime state court judge.

The group of between 30 and 40 supporters will rally Tuesday outside Rubio’s West Miami-Dade Office, 8669 NW 36th St., at 10:30 a.m.


Kathleen Sebelius to visit Miami again as part of ongoing healthcare law fallout tour


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has notified local politicians that Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will drop by Miami on Friday to continue trying to smooth over the troubled federal healthcare law rollout, the Miami Herald has learned.

The visit would be Sebelius' third in four months to promote the Affordable Care Act. Miami-Dade County has the highest number of uninsured residents in Florida, which in turn is the state with the second-highest number rate of uninsured residents in the nation.

Only about 3,500 people in Florida and about 106,000 across the country selected health plans using the federal online insurance exchange at healthcare.gov in October, a far lower number than proponents of the legislation hoped for amid the website's serious technological problems.

That rate more than quadrupled in November after some tech fixes had been made, HHS reported this week, with Florida leading in number of selected health plans out of the 36 states that rely on the federal insurance exchange. Sebelius is expected to tout those improvements Friday.

But it's unclear how many of those are uninsured people signing up -- as opposed to people with insurance simply switching over to a new plan.

Another potential problem for President Obama's administration: Hispanics, who are among the most likely demographic to be uninsured, are apparently not flocking to sign up. The Spanish-language version of healthcare.gov -- cuidadodesalud.gov -- was delayed because the site was not fully functional, and though it soft-launched over the weekend, the government still has to work on promoting it to users.