Birth control: Trump expands opt-out for workplace insurance

Published: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 11:21 AM
Updated: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 11:19 AM


            In this July 24, 2017 photo, President Donald Trump speaks about healthcare in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington. Trump is allowing more employers to opt out of providing no-cost birth control to women by claiming religious or moral objections, issuing new rules Friday that take another step in rolling back the Obama health care law. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
In this July 24, 2017 photo, President Donald Trump speaks about healthcare in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington. Trump is allowing more employers to opt out of providing no-cost birth control to women by claiming religious or moral objections, issuing new rules Friday that take another step in rolling back the Obama health care law. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Donald Trump is allowing more employers to opt out of providing no-cost birth control to women by claiming religious or moral objections, issuing new rules Friday that take another step in rolling back the Obama health care law.

Employers with religious or moral qualms will also be able to cover some birth control methods, and not others. Experts said that could interfere with efforts to promote modern long-acting implantable contraceptives, such as IUDs, which are more expensive.

The new policy was a long-anticipated revision to Affordable Care Act requirements that most companies cover birth control as preventive care for women, at no additional cost. That Obama-era requirement applies to all FDA-approved methods, including the morning-after pill, which some religious conservatives call an abortion drug, though scientists say it has no effect on women who are already pregnant.

As a result of the ACA, most women no longer pay for contraceptives. Several advocacy groups immediately announced plans to try to block the Trump administration rule. "We are preparing to see the government in court," said Brigitte Amiri, a senior attorney for the ACLU.

Catholic bishops called the administration's move a "return to common sense."

Trump's religious and moral exemption is expected to galvanize both his opponents and religious conservatives who back him, but it seems unlikely to have a major impact on America's largely secular workplaces.

"I can't imagine that many employers are going to be willing to certify that they have a moral objection to standard birth control methods," said Dan Mendelson, president of the consulting firm Avalere Health.

That said, Mendelson said he worries the new rule will set a precedent for weakening ACA requirements that basic benefits be covered. "If you look at it as a public health issue, it is a step in the wrong direction, and it weakens the protections of the ACA," he said.

Tens of thousands of women could be affected by Trump's policy, but the vast majority of companies have no qualms about offering birth control benefits through their health plans. Human resource managers recognize that employers get an economic benefit from helping women space out their pregnancies, since female workers are central to most enterprises.

The administration estimated that some 200 employers who have already voiced objections to the Obama-era policy would qualify for the expanded opt-out, and that 120,000 women would be affected.

However, it's unclear how major religion-affiliated employers such as Catholic hospitals and universities will respond. Many Catholic hospitals now rely on an Obama-era workaround under which the government pays for the cost of birth control coverage. That workaround can continue under the new rules.

Since contraception became a covered preventive benefit, the share of women employees paying with their own money for birth control pills has plunged to 3 percent, from 21 percent, according to the latest Kaiser Family Foundation figures.

"It was really important for women to have a choice of the full range of contraceptive methods that were FDA-approved," said Alina Salganicoff, director of women's health policy for the Kaiser foundation. "This will now make it up to the employer whether or not to cover contraception, and whether to cover all methods."

Salganicoff said she's concerned about coverage for implantable devices that are more expensive but also much more effective. "It opens up a lot of opportunities for employers to make choices about the coverage that women have right now," she said.

The Trump administration's revision broadens a religious exemption that previously applied to houses of worship, religion-affiliated nonprofit groups and closely held private companies. Administration officials said the new policy defends religious freedom. In addition to nonprofits, privately held businesses will be able to seek an exemption on religious or moral grounds, while publicly traded companies can seek an exemption due to religious objections.

"No American should be forced to violate his or her own conscience in order to abide by the laws and regulations governing our health care system," Health and Human Services spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said in a statement.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops welcomed the administration's decision.

"Such an exemption is no innovation, but instead a return to common sense, long-standing federal practice, and peaceful coexistence between church and state," Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, the group's president, said in a joint statement with Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, head of its religious liberty committee.

Officials also said the administration is tightening oversight of how plans sold under the health law cover abortion. With limited exceptions, abortions can only be paid for through a separate premium collected from enrollees.

Doctors' groups that were instrumental in derailing Republican plans to repeal the health law expressed their dismay.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said the new policy could reverse progress in lowering the nation's rate of unintended pregnancies.

"HHS leaders under the current administration are focused on turning back the clock on women's health," said the organization's president, Dr. Haywood Brown.

The new rules take effect right away.

___

Crary reported from New York. AP Religion Writer Rachel Zoll contributed to this report.

Photos show suspected poaching ring gloating over illegal kills; now they face nearly 200 charges

Published: Saturday, October 21, 2017 @ 7:16 PM

Case files and criminal charges show the extent of a poaching case in Washington and Oregon where dozens of bears, elk, and bobcats were killed. (Photo: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)
Case files and criminal charges show the extent of a poaching case in Washington and Oregon where dozens of bears, elk, and bobcats were killed. (Photo: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Newly obtained case files and criminal charges show the extent of a poaching case in Washington and Oregon where dozens of bears, elk and bobcats were killed for the thrill of it. 

KIRO 7 News reported in September that as many as 23 people possibly took part in the poaching ring breaking virtually every hunting law and regulation in Washington and Oregon. The suspects' photos of them gloating over their kills were used against as evidence by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. 

>> Read more trending news

Seven people — six adults, some of whom have previously been targeted in poaching investigations, and one juvenile — have been charged so far. 

Documents from the Skamania County clerk show at least five of those suspects are collectively facing 189 charges related to illegal hunting with aid of dogs, unlawful hunting of big game, and wasting fish and wildlife. 

Here are the suspects named in Skamania County case summaries:

• Joseph Dills, 64 charges

• Bryan Tretiak, 10 charges

• Eddy Dills, 26 charges

• Erick Martin, 28 charges

• William Haynes, 61 counts

Joseph and Eddy Dills were scheduled for arraignment hearings earlier this month.

Investigators said they linked the suspected ring through text messages and cellphone records allegedly showing the group coordinating illegal kills, which authorities say began in 2015.

Their alleged killing sprees focused on areas near Skamania County, where Gifford Pinchot National Forest is located, and near The Dalles in Oregon. 
Here’s what some of the video and images documented:

• Cougar chased up a tree by hounds before being shot and killed.

• Several bears treed by dogs, then shot and killed. 

• Elk killed in areas where hunting was not permitted. 

• A bobcat, along with deer, and elk shot illegally before being beheaded to take antlers and skulls as trophies. 

• Bones discovered months later in areas animals were killed. 

Investigators said the suspected poachers often left the carcasses of the slaughtered animals behind to rot in the woods. Additionally, the suspects shot animals in places where it was not allowed or the suspects did not have correct permits, according to WDFW. 

And in at least one case, the suspected poachers’ dogs were also apparently injured.

WDFW obtained one a series of text messages in their investigation. Authorities said this one was sent from a suspect to his girlfriend. 

“I'm done hunting already. I killed a huge bear about 400 pounds this morning about two feet from the ground. Now we are headed to Joe’s to drop the dogs off except for Jip and Stormy. Jip has about a 10-inch gash on her back leg and [Stormy’s] stiches pulled out so we're headed to get them fixed.”

Phone photos and videos dated back to August 2015, show bears illegally killed and hound hunting activity. Investigators said they were able to identify specific areas the suspected poachers went to over the last two years by photo-embedded GPS coordinates. 

Here’s how the investigation began: 

The investigation began with Oregon State Police troopers who were looking into poaching in The Dalles, charging papers filed in Skamania County Superior Court say.

Last December, the troopers contacted and interviewed two Longview, Washington, men, Haynes and Martin, who, the troopers said, confessed to illegally killing deer in Oregon and bringing their heads and antlers back to Washington.

The troopers contacted authorities in Washington, who recovered 27 deer heads and a bull elk unlawfully possessed by Haynes and a co-defendant, the charging papers say.

In executing search warrants for the suspects’ cellphones, the documents say, investigators found pictures, text messages and videos linking several other people to the poaching.

“The bears really suffered the brunt of this,” Fish and Wildlife Sgt. Brad Rhoden said. “They were just killed and left.”

More charges are expected in both Oregon and Washington state.

The Associated Press contributed to this report .

Funeral held for soldier at center of Trump rift

Published: Saturday, October 21, 2017 @ 6:30 PM

VIDEO: Sgt. La David Johnson Laid to Rest

Before Sgt. La David Johnson joined the Army, he was known as “Wheelie King.”

He would remove the front tire from his bicycle and ride to Walmart where he worked in the produce department.

>> Read more trending news

“Once you feel that you are comfortable, you could just ride all day,” he said in a 2013 interview featuring his wheelie skills.

Johnson, 25, joined the Army in 2014, becoming a member of the Special Forces and was awarded leadership, achievement and marksmanship accommodations, according to his obituary.

Johnson and three other soldiers, as well as five Nigerian soldiers, died Oct. 4 in Niger when they were attacked by militants tied to the Islamic State. His death became the center of a dispute between President Donald Trump and U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla.

About 1,200 mourners gathered Saturday at Christ the Rock Church to remember Johnson before he was laid to rest. Johnson’s family asked reporters to stay outside during the service.

HOLLYWOOD, FL - OCTOBER 21: U.S. Military honor guards carry the casket of U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson during his burial service at the Memorial Gardens East cemetery on October 21, 2017 in Hollywood, Florida. Sgt. Johnson and three other American soldiers were killed in an ambush in Niger on Oct. 4. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Portraits of his three comrades killed in action -- Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Washington; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Georgia -- joined his on the stage as the pastor, family and Wilson spoke.

Johnson's pregnant widow, Myeshia, held the arm of an Army officer as she led the couple’s children Ah'Leeysa, 6, La David Jr., 2.

HOLLYWOOD, FL - OCTOBER 21: Myeshia Johnson kisses the casket of her husband U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson during his burial service at the Memorial Gardens East cemetery on October 21, 2017 in Hollywood, Florida. Sgt. Johnson and three other American soldiers were killed in an ambush in Niger on Oct. 4. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

La David and Myeshia were high school sweethearts. She is due to have a daughter, La’Shee, in January. An online fundraiser has raised more than $600,000 to pay for the children's education.

Johnson's sister, Angela Ghent, said his loss doesn’t feel real.

"It hasn't hit me yet,” Ghent said. “I haven't had time to grieve.”

Mourners said the fight between Trump and Wilson was never mentioned during the service.

The war of words between the president and Wilson began Tuesday when she said Trump told Johnson’s widow in a phone call that her husband "knew what he signed up for" and didn't appear to know his name, a version later backed up by Johnson's aunt.

The dispute has continued through the weekend with Trump tweeting: "I hope the Fake News Media keeps talking about Wacky Congresswoman Wilson in that she, as a representative, is killing the Democrat Party!"

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

'She is going to get it,’ woman said before attacking teacher, police say

Published: Saturday, October 21, 2017 @ 6:49 PM

Daishonta Williams. (Photo: WPXI.com)
Daishonta Williams. (Photo: WPXI.com)

A woman who admitted to attacking her daughter’s teacher was arraigned Thursday night, and new details of what led up to the attack have been revealed in a criminal complaint.

>> Read more trending news

Police said Daishonta Williams went to King pre-K-8 on Wednesday for a conference about an incident involving her daughter.

The teacher, Janice Watkins, told police that the girl bit her after an altercation over a cellphone.

According to the criminal complaint, Williams was upset with how the school was handling the incident. Her daughter accused Watkins of choking her during the altercation.

As Williams left the school, she allegedly said, “She is going to get it later,” referring to Watkins, the complaint stated.

Williams previously told Channel 11 News that she followed Watkins as she left the school and approached her as she sat in her car near the West End Bridge.

Watkins told investigators that Williams threw a brick at her through the driver’s side window, which was rolled down. Williams then opened the door, pulled Watkins from the vehicle and began punching and kicking her, according to the complaint.

“I did get out and I did hit her, but I did not throw a brick through the window as they say I did,” Williams told Channel 11 News. “I did not. I punched her in her face.”

A man was with Williams during the assault. Williams identified him as her boyfriend.

Police caught up with Williams outside a home on North Charles Street and asked her about the assault.

“I ain't gonna lie, I did it,” Williams told officers. But she said she only used her fist, according to the complaint.

Police also spoke with Williams’ boyfriend, who said he witnessed the assault. He told officers that he was not involved and attempted to break up the fight.

Williams was arrested Thursday. She is charged with aggravated assault.

The teachers union completely supports Watkins, a representative said, and is meeting with Dr. Anthony Hamlet, the district’s superintendent, next week.

Channel 11 has learned that Hamlet will be at King soon to hear teacher concerns.

The union also has been in contact with the chief of Pittsburgh Public Schools police. Extra officers have been at King since the attack.

The union is ".asking for extra support for schools like Pittsburgh King that are experiencing difficulties ... ."

Watkins' family has created a GoFundMe account for her.

Walmart sets its sights on shopping via virtual reality

Published: Thursday, October 19, 2017 @ 4:36 PM

More Than 55 Stores Will Be Closed On Thanksgiving Day 2017

Walmart has spent billions buying up websites like Jet.com and ModCloth, and investing in new technology as it goes head-to-head with Amazon.com. Now, the world's largest retailer is setting its sights on virtual reality.

Imagine this, says Katie Finnegan, who heads Walmart's tech incubator: You need a tent for your next camping trip. If all goes to plan, you could one day virtually swoop in to your campsite and see any given tent in action. "You could unzip it, lay down, look left and right, and say 'Oh, this is supposed to be a two-person tent? It's kind of tight,' " she said.

And then you could move on to the next tent - without leaving your couch.

"There is a lot of technology we're excited about," she said, "but virtual reality in particular offers an opportunity top actually experience products and items in an immersive way."

>> Sorry, parents, one of this year’s hottest toys for Christmas is already selling out

The technology has yet to catch on with the mainstream, so such concepts are still very much in the gee-whiz stage with no guarantee of actually boosting sales. But this summer, the company put out an open call for technology firms, venture capitalists and other entrepreneurs to submit their ideas. A panel of five judges-including Arianna Huffington, founder of Thrive Global, and Marc Lore, head of Walmart's U.S. ecommerce operations. - whittled down the 200 applicants to five winners. They then spent about two months at Walmart's technology incubator, called Store No 8, coming up with new shopping-centric applications for virtual reality.

Walmart has been experimenting with virtual reality to help train its employees for busy shopping days like Black Friday. It is also testing a program that would allow delivery drivers to walk into customers' homes and deliver groceries straight to their refrigerators.

>> Black Friday 2017: Macy’s, Big Lots, GameStop to open on Thanksgiving

Here are the five ideas the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company says could be making their way online as early as next year:

1. 3-D holograms at Bonobos.com, the male clothing site Walmart acquired this year for $310 million, that would make it possible for shoppers to try on virtual clothing for fit and style. According to Walmart, the technology would allow customers "to view how the fabric moves and get a sense of sizing, allowing for more realistic shopping previews and reviews." (The idea was proposed by 8i, a New Zealand-based maker of virtual reality software.)

2. Over at ModCloth, the womens' clothing site Walmart took over in March, customers may one day be able to take 3-D photos of themselves using just their smartphones, and use those images to get an idea of how something might look on them. That way, executives say, shoppers could "experience the realistic feel of an item before they purchase without having to physically go in-store." (A concept offered by Fyusion, a San Francisco-based company that develops technology for processing 3D scans.)

>> 56 stores confirm they will be closed Thanksgiving Day 2017

3. An "interactive virtual store" for designer Rebecca Minkoff, whose items are sold at Walmart.com, would allow customers to sit in on fashion shows and shop directly from the runway. The technology, the company said, would effectively allow it to create a virtual store-within-a-store. (Developed by Obsess VR, a New York-based technology firm that specializes in 360-degree shopping sites.)

4. Tired of shopping online alone? If Walmart gets its way, you may soon be interacting with other shoppers and experts as you pick out items for your virtual cart. Need help picking out a pair of jeans? A virtual fashion assistant may be able to help. Trying to figure out why your nightstand is lopsided? An employee could tell you which screws are loose. (A concept from Nurulize, a Los Angeles-based virtual reality software developer.)

5. Electric outlets, stove tops and door handles can all be child safety hazards - and soon, an online tool could peek inside your home and tell you where the biggest risks are lurking. The site could also give product recommendations and allow customers to test out items virtually before buying them. (Piloted by Specular Theory, a Venice Beach, California, company that specializes in immersive content.)