Roundup: Implementing Obamacare

Obamacare in eastern Kentucky • Funding rural safety programs in Oregon • Minnesota looks at runoff rules • Heroin problems growing in Alaska • Colorado to ease some reporting requirements for rural schools • Updating telco infrastructure in Vermont • Landmark fracking settlement for north Texas family

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A joint reporting effort by USA Today and the Louisville, Kentucky, Courier-Journal looks at the complicated effect Obamacare is (or isn’t) having on the health of Kentuckians in the poorest parts of the state. Some are excited about the chance to get healthcare after years of doing without, while others don’t trust the government enough to sign up. Eula Hall, who opened a health clinic in Grethel, Kentucky, isn’t sure how well people will take to the new law.

"I'm glad people without insurance are getting it, but I'm a skeptic," she says of the law. "I can't have high hopes." Hall, a beloved figure who has tended the poorest of the sick at the Mud Creek Clinic for four decades, says "We'll have to wait and see.''

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Rural law enforcement officials in Oregon are holding the third in a series of summits today on the problem of funding criminal justice services in smaller communities, reports the Oregonian.

Rural counties face twin forces squeezing their finances and forcing cuts in public safety. Federal payments to make up for lost timber taxes have declined and remain uncertain. And voters have proven so far generally unwilling to dig deeper into their own pockets to make up the difference. …

Across the state, counties already have pared back. Some have cut patrols and eliminated detective crews. Others have whittled away at the staffing for district attorneys or juvenile departments.

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A study of Minnesota cropland found widespread violation of a rule designed to prevent pollution of the state’s waterways, according an Environmental Working Group study. The state is one of the few that requires a vegetation strip along stream banks to prevent runoff. But the rule isn’t being enforced uniformly around the state, the report says. Others challenge the report, saying its focus on just cropland, and not all land, skews the data.

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Heroin deaths and arrests are increasing in rural Alaska, reports Devin Kelly in the Anchorage Daily News.

In the past four years, state investigators said, the drug has been more common in all parts of Alaska including rural villages. Drug investigators say its use crosses socioeconomic boundaries.

In 2012 and 2013, the state's annual drug reports observed an increase in the drug's availability throughout Alaska and concluded that "it is no longer isolated to urban areas."

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The Colorado Legislature has approved a bill to ease some reporting requirements for small and primarily rural school districts. The bill would raise the enrollment threshold for schools to qualify for the reduced reporting requirements to 1,200 students. The current cap is 1,000 students. The bill awaits a signature from Gov. John Hickenlooper. “Estimates vary on the number of reports required, somewhere between 160 and 500 every year,” reports the Sterling Journal-Advocate.

Also in Colorado, the Legislature has passed a bill redirecting some universal service funding from old telephone technology to subsidize broadband build outs. Among the communities that hope to benefit from the change: Marble, where a school administrator travels out of town once a week to email reports to the Colorado Department of Education. (The story from the Aspen Daily News contains specific details of how lack of broadband affects small rural communities like Marble.)

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Vermont residents may get better cell service from a Vermont Telecommunications Authority project to install new transmitters and receivers along 450 miles of rural roads. In 2011 the state identified corridors where commercial cell service wasn’t reaching rural customers. The state is helping expand infrastructure in those areas. The new project will expand service to about half the areas identified as insufficient in the 2011 study.

"It's a pretty significant step toward achieving those goals," said Christopher Campbell, executive director of the authority.

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A northern Texas couple has won a nearly $3 million settlement from a natural gas company after claiming fracking near their home caused illness and hardship. The jury settlement is the first of its kind.

"I am just overwhelmed," said Lisa Parr. "I feel like I am just this little bitty girl, this little family who just beat the biggest, most powerful industry in the world."

 

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