TIME Healthcare

Nonprofit Hospitals Seize Low-Income Patients’ Wages

An investigation reveals the ongoing struggles of people too poor to afford health insurance but no poor enough to qualify for Medicaid

Many hospitals in the U.S. receive tax breaks in exchange for the community service of providing care to those who cannot afford to pay. But hospitals in at least five states employ aggressive debt collectors to garnish the wages of low-income patients with unpaid debts, a ProPublica/NPR investigation revealed Friday.

Hospitals in Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Alabama and Missouri pass debts along to for-profit collection agencies. People affected tend to be those who earn too much to qualify for assistance in states that rejected the Medicaid expansion in President Barack Obama’s health care law, but not enough to purchase health care on their own. The cost of health care services for the uninsured tend to be significantly higher than for people with health insurance.

Read more at ProPublica

TIME Law

Nebraska and Oklahoma Are Trying to Kill Colorado’s Buzz

By suing over Colorado's legalization of marijuana

Two neighbors of Colorado filed suit against the state on Thursday, claiming its legalization of marijuana has pushed some of the drug over state lines and asking the Supreme Court to strike the law down.

Attorneys general in Nebraska and Oklahoma allege that Colorado’s legalization violates the Supremacy clause of the constitution, which specifies that federal law takes precedence over state law. “Marijuana flows from this gap into neighboring states, undermining Plaintiff States’ own marijuana bans, draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems,” the suit alleges, according to the Denver Post.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning said at a news conference that pot from Colorado has been turning up at Nebraska’s border, which has led to an increase in arrest and prosecutions. “Nebraska taxpayers have to bear the cost,” Bruning said, according to the Omaha World-Herald, adding that “federal law undisputedly prohibits the production and sale of marijuana.”

Kevin A. Sabet, President of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a bipartisan organization made up of mental and public health professionals, supports the lawsuit. “We support this action by the attorneys general of Oklahoma and Nebraska because Colorado’s decisions regarding marijuana are not without consequences to neighboring states, and indeed all Americans,” Sabet said said. “The legalization of marijuana is clearly in violation of the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and is not implemented in a vacuum.” Smart Approaches to Marijuana, or SAM, seeks a “middle road between incarceration and legalization” in dealing with pot offenses.

Colorado Attorney General John W. Suthers said in a statement that he plans to defend the state’s marijuana laws in court. “It appears the plaintiffs’ primary grievance stems from non-enforcement of federal laws regarding marijuana, as opposed to choices made by the voters of Colorado,” he said. “We believe this suit is without merit and we will vigorously defend against it in the U.S. Supreme Court.”

TIME executions

Oklahoma Inmate Felt ‘Liquid Fire’ During Execution, Doctor Says

Clayton Lockett
Doctors testified on Wednesday that Clayton Lockett, a death row inmate seen here in this June 29, 2011, file photo, likely suffered during his prolonged execution on April 29, 2014. AP

Expert says Clayton Lockett likely suffered on the execution table

An Oklahoma inmate whose prolonged execution triggered a statewide moratorium on executions likely suffered excruciating pain akin to “liquid fire” throughout his lethal injection last April.

That’s how one doctor assessed what Clayton Lockett experienced as he was put to death, in a federal court hearing Wednesday that will determine whether the state can once again resume executions in January.

Lockett, a convicted murderer who shot a 19-year-old woman and had her buried alive, was put to death with a three-drug combination on April 29. He reportedly writhed on the execution table and appeared to speak and regain consciousness during the process.

Since then, several grisly details have emerged about what went wrong, problems that likely arose due to poorly trained executioners and the use of a sedative that may not adequately put inmates to sleep.

(MORE: Report: Executioner Errors Led to Botched Execution)

On Wednesday, anesthesiologist David Lubarsky testified that midazolam, a sedative increasingly used by states as other drug sources have dried up, should not be used on inmates because it doesn’t render them fully unconscious. Lubarsky said the injection of vecuronium bromide, a muscle relaxer, would’ve likely felt like “liquid fire” because Lockett wasn’t properly knocked out.

Joseph Cohen, a forensic pathologist hired by Lockett’s lawyers to perform an autopsy following the lethal injection, also testified that he believed Lockett was conscious during the execution and confirmed that he found multiple puncture wounds on Lockett’s body where executioners attempted to insert IV lines.

Death row inmates in Oklahoma are seeking a federal court ruling to delay their upcoming executions, arguing in part that the state’s three-drug protocol used on Lockett violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Oklahoma’s next execution is scheduled for Jan. 15, 2015.

TIME Capital Punishment

U.S. Executions Reach a 20-Year Low

An independent autopsy of death row inmate Clayton Lockett, who was executed in April at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Okla., ruled that Lockett died as a result from the drugs administered to him by prison officials and not from a heart attack. AP

It has been a tortured year for capital punishment in the U.S., with multiple botched executions, last-minute stays, and exonerations raising questions about the nation's ability to constitutionally met out the punishment

Amidst a nationwide reflection on the future of the death penalty in the U.S., the nation in 2014 reached a 20-year low in carried-out executions, the Death Penalty Information Center said in its annual report.

Seven states executed 35 people this year, the lowest number since 1994, said the think tank, which does not have a position on whether capital punishment should be banned. The number of executed prisoners nationwide has been in decline since 1999, when 98 death sentences were carried out.

Meanwhile, the number of people sentenced to death also dropped to a 40-year low of 72 people, the report found. There are 30 executions scheduled for 2015.

The center said that three botched executions, including the 43-minute ordeal of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma, where all executions are now on hiatus, prompted a national re-examination of the death penalty and led to delays. In each of those bungled executions, the state relied on lethal injection drugs it sourced from providers it refused to name, as well as mixed in untested cocktails, according to the report.

Also at issue in a re-evaluation of capital punishment are inexact or violated protocols for measuring prisoners’ mental competence and eligibility for execution, as well as the threat of executing an innocent person, the center said. Seven death row inmates were exonerated this year, according to the center.

TIME weather

Tornadoes at a Record, Unexplained Low in U.S.

Double Tornadoes, Pilger, Nebraska, Weather
A pair of tornadoes barrel toward Pilger, Neb., on June 16. The twisters uprooted trees and flattened houses across the tiny village (pop. 352). Two residents, including a 5-year-old girl, died as a result of the storm. Eric Anderson—AP

Fewer twisters than in any three-year period since records began

The United States has seen a major lull in the number of tornadoes to strike in each of the past three years, fewer than any three-year period since accurate record-keeping commenced in the 1950s.

Tornadoes are rated EF-0, weakest, to EF-5, the strongest.

In an average year the U.S. sees roughly 500 tornadoes rated EF-1 or stronger. According to data from the Storm Prediction Center reported by USA Today, so far this year the country has seen just 348 EF-1 tornadoes. In 2012 there were 364 EF-1 or stronger tornadoes and 404 tornadoes of that strength or greater in 2013.

Scientists say there’s no consistent reason year to year for this stretch of calm but point to a similarly calm period in the 1980s.

Despite the decline in the number of tornadoes, deaths from the storms remain roughly around the annual average of 60 year on year—many fewer than the unusually high number of deaths from tornadoes in 2011: 553.

[USA Today]

MONEY Gas

Gas Under $2 a Gallon as Gas Stations Launch Price Wars

A sign displays the price for E-10 gasoline for $1.99 at the OnCue convenience store and gas station, Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014, in Oklahoma City.
A sign displays the price for E-10 gasoline for $1.99 at the OnCue convenience store and gas station, Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014, in Oklahoma City. Paul B. Southerland—AP

Gas station price wars have pushed the cost of a gallon of regular below $2 in one U.S. city, and similar price wars are expected in other metro areas around the country.

Less than a week ago, gas price analysts were forecasting that gas stations in some part(s) of the country would probably drop prices below $2 per gallon sometime in the near future—most likely “by Christmas.” Turns out it didn’t take nearly that long to dip under the $2 mark.

Less than one month after the national average dropped below $3 per gallon, a gas station in Oklahoma City apparently became the first in the country to plunge beneath $2. It happened sometime on Wednesday, and as Bloomberg News reported, within a few hours several other gas stations in the Oklahoma City area had engaged in a price war, with per-gallon costs falling from $2.11, to $2.03, to $1.99, to $1.98, and at least one reaching $1.95. As of Thursday morning, drivers in the Oklahoma City area are reporting four gas stations where a gallon of regular starts under $2, according to GasBuddy.

This doesn’t mean that all drivers in Oklahoma, or even in the capital city area, can expect to see such low gas prices. According to AAA, the statewide average in Oklahoma is $2.51, and GasBuddy estimates the average in greater Oklahoma City is around $2.42. It’s just that some stations are being particularly aggressive on pricing in order to attract drivers. They’re not making much if any money on sub-$2 gas, but the stations hope that customers grab coffee, snacks, and other purchases while they’re filling up.

Meanwhile, the latest press release from AAA notes that gas prices nationally have dropped 69 days in a row and have fallen nearly $1 from the 2014 high in late April, when the average was $3.70.

Based on the way things are going, prices at the pump should only get cheaper, indefinitely. “The holiday joy should continue as gas prices drop even further in the weeks ahead,” AAA spokesperson Avery Ash noted in the release. “We could see prices drop to the lowest levels since the Great Recession if the cost of crude oil continues to set multi-year lows.”

Another likely prediction is that Oklahoma City won’t be the only metro area where drivers will enjoy the financial benefits of gas price wars. Look for similar pricing competitions at a gas station near you, coming soon.

TIME Crime

Anti-Bullying Campaign for High School Rape Victims Goes Viral With #YesAllDaughters

Oklahoma School-Rape Allegations
Students and parents holds up a sign during protest outside Norman High School, Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, in Norman, Okla. Jay Chilton—AP

Students leave class to protest handling of alleged rape cases

Hundreds of students at an Oklahoma high school walked out of their classes Monday to protest the school’s alleged mishandling of bullying directed toward three teenage rape victims, and the Twitter hashtag is bringing national attention to their efforts.

The #YesAllDaughters campaign—inspired by this spring’s viral #YesAllWomen movement—took flight after three teenage girls told administrators that they were all raped by the same classmate at Norman High School. (Jezebel published audio of the alleged perpetrator describing one of the assaults.)

Although the alleged assailant was quickly suspended for the school year and is under police investigation, the three victims say the school did not take proper action to stop bullying that followed. One victim was suspended after hitting a boy with her bag after he told her “I hear you love being raped,” Jezebel reports.

The school said in a letter last week that it “advocates for the safety” of its students and hasn’t “and would never discipline a victim for being a victim.”

All three victims have reportedly left the school by choice due to bullying.

Student activists created the #YesAllDaughters Facebook page to list demands and organize the walkout.

“The idea is that it could be anyone’s daughter, that these girls are all our daughters,” student organizer Danielle Brown’s aunt, Stacey Wright, said at a news conference.

The hashtag has resonated with a national audience.

Although schools superintendent Joe Siano sent a letter home urging parents to encourage their children not to walk out of class but rather “wear stickers and ribbons in support of victims of sexual assault and bullying” during class, the school reports that 639 out of 1,992 students were absent from their first period class.

TIME Crime

Missouri Just Tied its Lethal Injection Record

Missouri Execution Taylor
Leon Taylor, sentenced to death in the killing of a gas station attendant, was executed by lethal injection early Wednesday morning. AP

Leon Taylor's lethal injection is the state's ninth this year

Missouri executed a convicted murderer, Leon Taylor, early Wednesday morning, the state’s ninth lethal injection this year and the most since Missouri’s record-setting pace in 1999.

Taylor, convicted of killing a Kansas City gas station attendant in 1994 in front of the worker’s 8-year-old stepdaughter, was executed with a single dose of pentobarbital. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declined to grant Taylor clemency, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied hearing the inmate’s appeals to halt his execution.

According to witnesses and prison officials, the execution went off without problems. Several prolonged lethal injections in Ohio, Oklahoma and Arizona earlier this year were widely considered to have been botched.

Missouri’s pace of executions this year is now second only to Texas, which has carried out 10 lethal injections in 2014 so far. According to experts, Missouri is executing inmates at a higher rate in part because it seems to have an adequate supply of the sedative pentobarbital, allowing Missouri to execute a number of inmates who have been waiting on death row for years.

TIME energy

A Brief Guide to the Keystone XL Pipeline Debate

Construction Along The Keystone XL Pipeline
Workers move a section of pipe during construction of the Gulf Coast Project pipeline, part of the Keystone XL Pipeline Project, in Atoka, Okla. on March 11, 2013. Daniel Acker—Bloomberg/Getty Images

A handy explainer

What is the Keystone XL Pipeline?

It is a proposed extension of a pipeline that transports oil from Alberta, Canada to a major petroleum exchange in Cushing, Okla., and from there to the Gulf of Mexico. The existing smaller pipeline takes a more circuitous route. The Canadian company TransCanada’s solution is to build a larger-capacity, more direct link from Alberta to the existing pipeline. That project is known as Keystone XL.

Why is Obama involved?

Because the Keystone XL link would cross an international boundary between the U.S. and Canada, the project requires presidential approval. Proponents say Keystone XL will reduce the need to move oil by freight train—which can lead to potentially dangerous accidents—and create perhaps tens of thousands of jobs. President Obama, who has not taken a public position on the project, has cited a State Department analysis that concludes the pipeline will create only about 2,000 jobs during construction and 50 around permanent jobs once it’s complete.

Why is it controversial?

Climate activists have rallied around the Keystone XL pipeline as an environmental litmus test. They worry that it will intrude on property rights—courts have allowed TransCanada to run sections of the pipeline over private land, despite objections from the property owners –and warn that it could be vulnerable to environmentally dangerous leaks along its proposed 1,700 mile route. But their primary objection is that the project will encourage the burning of fossil fuels and worsen climate change. The oil shipped through the new pipe would come from Canada’s so-called tar sands, which climate activists say is dirtier and worse for the environment than regular oil.

A State Department review released in January found that Keystone XL would have little effect on the planet’s environmental health because the oil in Canada’s tar sands will be extracted and sold through another avenue if the project is blocked.

What happens next?

The southern portion of the Keystone pipeline connecting Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico will open for business in 2015. The northern extension—the one everyone’s arguing about—has yet to be approved. But the Dec. 6 runoff for the Louisiana Senate seat of Democrat Mary Landrieu gave the project a jolt in Washington, as Landrieu and her Republican challenger, Rep. Bill Cassidy, jockey to claim credit for getting it built. The House passed legislation sponsored by Cassidy allowing Keystone XL on Nov. 14 and the Senate votes on a similar measure backed by Landrieu on Nov. 18. President Obama has signaled that he may veto the legislation, but he has not taken a public stance. No matter what happens at the federal level, Keystone XL is likely to face court battles in states through which it passes.

TIME Religion

Secret Service Arrests Ten Commandments Statue Smasher

State workers for the Office of Management and Enterprise Services remove the damaged remains of a Ten Commandments monument from the Oklahoma State Capitol grounds on Oct. 24, 2014 in Oklahoma City.
State workers for the Office of Management and Enterprise Services remove the damaged remains of a Ten Commandments monument from the Oklahoma State Capitol grounds on Oct. 24, 2014 in Oklahoma City. Sean Murphy—AP

The assailant told authorities that Satan made him do it

Secret Service have arrested a man who allegedly slammed his car Thursday night into a controversial Ten Commandments monument near the state capital building in Oklahoma City. The statue is now smashed to pieces.

Officials said the suspect, whose name has not been released, ran his car into the monument at about 9:00 p.m. Thursday night, reportedly saying that Satan made him do it. Oklahoma City’s KOCO news station reported that the suspect also threatened to kill President Barack Obama and said he urinated on the monument before knocking it over.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which has sued to have the monument removed, condemned the desecration of the statue. No evidence suggests there is a connection between this incident and a Satanic group wishing to install a monument to Satan alongside the Ten Commandments.

The vehicle involved in the incident was left at the scene and has been impounded.

[KOCO]

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