Kentucky Leads Nation In New Lung Cancer Cases  Wednesday, Nov 13 2019 

Kentucky has the nation’s worst rate of new lung cancer cases, according to a new report from the American Lung Association.

The state also has one of the lowest five-year survival rates after diagnosis: only 17.6 percent of Kentuckians diagnosed with lung cancer live for at least five years after their diagnosis. That means the majority of people die within five years.

Nationwide, lung cancer has the worst survival rates of all cancers. That’s in part because it often goes undetected until it’s in the advanced stages, and thus is less likely to be successfully treated.

Shannon Baker, the director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Kentucky, said one big factor contributing to Kentucky’s lung cancer rate is tobacco use.

“Tobacco use in Kentucky is right now the second highest in the nation, and oftentimes depending on when you look, the highest in the nation,” Baker said.

Though the state had bad lung cancer rates and survival outcomes, there were a couple of bright spots in the report. Kentucky ranked #4 in screening for lung cancer. Nationally, 4.2 percent of people at a high risk for lung cancer actually had an annual low-dose CT scan to detect the cancer. But in Kentucky, 10.3 percent of high-risk patients were screened.

Another positive: only 11.3 percent of Kentuckians diagnosed with lung cancer don’t receive treatment: lower than the 15.4 percent of patients nationwide that go untreated. Lung cancer can be treated with surgery if it’s caught early enough, and Kentucky ranks about average in the  lung cancer cases that are caught early and are good candidates for surgery.

Baker said there are a few things the Kentucky legislature could do to decrease Kentucky’s lung cancer rate, including considering a bill pre-filed by Rep. Jerry Miller to tax e-cigarettes and vapes at the same rate as traditional cigarettes. Though there’s no definitive research showing that vaping causes lung cancer, there is concern among advocates that it might. 

“The common misconception about e-cigarettes is that it is a harmless water vapor, and that is absolutely not true,” Baker said. “It is an aerosol laden with carcinogens, fine particles, lead and other compounds that we know create damage to the lung.”

She also said the Lung Association is working toward getting sponsors for one bill to increase funding for tobacco prevention efforts and another to raise the legal age to buy tobacco products to 21. 

 

Portal 31: How A Closed Mine Opened New Prospects For One Coal Town Monday, Nov 11 2019 

Portal 31Devin Mefford is sitting in the squat metal buggy of a modified mantrip, the train-like shuttle coal miners use to travel underground. Mefford is dressed for work, in a hardhat and a navy shirt and pants with lime green reflective stripes.

It’s a uniform his father and grandfather — both Kentucky coal miners — would be familiar with.

Mefford does go into a mine every day, but not for the coal. He’s the tour guide at Portal 31, a train ride through a once-operational coal mine in Harlan County.

“People are amazed,” the 21-year-old says, gesturing to the dark mine entrance behind him.

Brittany Patterson | Ohio Valley ReSource

Portal 31 tour guide Devin Mefford.

Portal 31 first opened in 1917. A subsidiary of U.S. Steel operated the mine and built the nearby community of Lynch, which was at the time the world’s largest coal camp. At its height, 10,000 people lived in the community, including a diverse immigrant population from more than 30 countries.

When it closed its doors in 1963, Portal 31 had produced more than 120 million tons of coal. More than 40 years later, in 2009, the mine reopened — this time to tourists.

For 35 minutes visitors ride the rail cars, often in pitch darkness, on a journey not just through the mine, but back in time. The drawling voice of an actor playing a miner named Mike Mackenzie, or Mac, narrates.

“We’re going to visit the miners and see how it’s changed over the years,” he says. “First stop, 1919.”

An animatronic miner materializes out of the darkness. Another actor gives voice to an Italian immigrant named Joseph, who recounts what it was like for the thousands of people who came to work in the mines in the early 1900s. Next to his lifelike form is a robotic mule and chirping canary.

“The mine she’s cool and safe,” he says. “You will see to that won’t you cantante. As long as I can hear your song I know I’m safe.”

Brittany Patterson | Ohio Valley ReSource

A scene from inside Portal 31.

Visitors hear what it was like to mine for coal before and after mechanization. They also learn about Harlan County’s bloody conflicts over union organizing.

“This is a story that never needs to die. It’s a story that needs to be told,” Nick Sturgill, director of Portal 31 said. “People need to understand what these guys went through, but they also need to understand how prosperous a place this was at one time — what coal not only did for this city, but for this region, for this country, for this entire world.”

He said about 5,000 visitors from around the world take the ride under Black Mountain each year. It’s a bright spot for Lynch, which today is home to just a few hundred residents.

Like many former mining communities, in recent years Lynch and neighboring towns have turned their sights on attracting tourists. It’s often a costly endeavor, but in recent years the federal government has expanded its support for repurposing old mine lands as new economic engines, including to draw new visitors.

Federal Role

Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

Portal 31 was part of that effort. In 2018, the attraction was awarded a $2.55 million Abandoned Mine Land Pilot grant. The funding will be used to update the ride as well as nearby historic buildings for use as retail and office space. Some of the money is slated to go to a new parking lot and scenic overlook at nearby Black Mountain.

“The main outlook on the AML grant is to really just be a shot in the arm for all of Lynch as well as Harlan County,” Sturgill said.

Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

Central Appalachia has thousands of acres of abandoned mine sites that can threaten local economies and people’s health and safety. In 1977, Congress created the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Program to clean them up. The funds come from fees paid by active coal mine operators on each ton of coal mined. The fee and authorization of the AML Program is set to expire in 2021 without Congressional action.

The AML Program chiefly provides funding for reclamation.  In the last five years, federal support has grown for a slightly different approach — going beyond merely sealing mine portals and treating polluted water to supporting projects that could grow local economies.

Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

The Appalachian Regional Commission in 2015 began investing in coal-impacted communities through Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization, or POWER Initiative. Congress appropriated money from the U.S. Treasury to create the AML Pilot program in 2016, aimed at not only boosting reclamation work in the highest-need Appalachian states, but promoting projects that spur economic development and growth on abandoned mine lands.

“There’s significant economic benefits that communities can get from embracing mine reclamation,” said Joey James, with the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition, which advocates for sustainable reclamation investment. “There’s also opportunities to repower some of these sites that were once the lifeblood of these communities.”

James, who is a senior strategist at West Virginia-based Downstream Strategies, said projects with federal backing can attract other investors looking to make an impact.

“While these federal programs are really, really important, and we need to have them, I think what the AML Pilot program does is it offers an opportunity to develop enterprises on former mine sites that might pull private capital and create models for redeveloping and reusing mine sites that won’t rely entirely on federal funding,” he said.

Brittany Patterson | Ohio Valley ReSource

The Portal 31 attraction takes visitors into an underground coal mine.

Another federal proposal, the RECLAIM Act, would accelerate reclamation of abandoned mine land by dispersing $1 billion of Abandoned Mine Land funds over a 5-year period with an eye toward economic development. That bill has not been passed by Congress despite bipartisan support.

Critics argue the millions poured into these programs have failed to produce the desired outcomes. Some efforts planting lavender or apple trees on old strip mines have floundered. James said it’s important to objectively assess the effectiveness of projects receiving federal funding.

“If states are investing in projects that aren’t providing that opportunity in the future, we need to think of how we can be better,” he said.

Growing Pride

Back inside Portal 31, the mantrip snakes its way back toward daylight.

A group of visitors from South Carolina is milling around in the small gift shop. They’re visiting the area on a mission trip. A gaggle of middle school-aged kids excitedly share what they learned.

“We learned how difficult it was and how dangerous it is for them,” one says. Another adds his amazement that Portal 31 holds the record for most coal mined in a single day — a record set in 1923.

Brittany Patterson | Ohio Valley ReSource

Devin Mefford emerges from Portal 31.

Mefford, the guide, takes questions at the end of the tour. He says the most common one he’s asked is if coal is coming back.

“In all honesty, coal mining is a thing of the past, and it’s sad to say that for small towns like mine,” he says.

But he adds that makes Portal 31, and federal investment into both preserving and showcasing Kentucky’s coal heritage, even more important.

“Every person in this community deserves to have something to be proud of, and that’s what we do here,” he said.

Holiday Bazaars and Craft Fairs around Louisville Wednesday, Nov 6 2019 

Holiday Bazaars in Louisville are a way to get a lot of shopping done at once and snag some handmade, locally made items. Finding that unique gift sometimes needs inspiration. And, many of these bazaars are fundraisers for good causes. Happy shopping!   November 9 Holiday Craft Expo – Trinity Church, New Albany, 9am – 3pm. Holiday Craft Fair – [...]

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Best List of Holiday & Christmas Events in Louisville Wednesday, Nov 6 2019 

*As we find more events we will update this list, so check back! ‘Tis the season for the awe of Holiday & Christmas events and activities in and around Louisville.  Looking for a way to celebrate or get into the spirit? We’ve got you covered! Holiday events, markets, tree-lighting, photos with Santa and more.  Read also: Holiday Events in Oldham County Holiday Bazaars [...]

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Perfect for Holiday Shopping – Shop Local! Sunday, Nov 3 2019 

Are you looking to shop local this holiday season? Here are some amazing places for shopping to support small businesses in Louisville!   We love all things local and know you do to. With the holiday’s rapidly approaching, we thought we would help guide you to some of our favorite local shops.   I usually start my Holiday shopping at [...]

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Free November Events Thursday, Oct 31 2019 

The leaves and the temperatures are falling, but the family fun continues with free November events. Louisville is filled with family fun in November and many of the events are free. We have selected a wide variety of events for the whole family, even teens! Grab a cup of hot cocoa, sit down beside the fire and mark your calendar [...]

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Analysts Say Humana Is Strong. Why Are 800 People Losing Their Jobs? Wednesday, Oct 30 2019 

Louisville-based insurer Humana will lay off around 800 employees nationwide by the end of the year. The company employs about 12,000 people in Louisville, according to Humana Spokeswoman Kate Marx. She didn’t disclose how many Louisville employees will lose their jobs, but said that some of the cuts will affect local workers. 

Stock analysts covering Humana say the change could be because of growing competition for new insurance enrollees, and a federal tax coming in 2020. But they also caution that the layoffs don’t likely signal a problem with the overall security of the company. Spokeswoman Marx spoke about the layoffs as positioning the company for long-term success.

“These measures are in alignment with broader efforts started earlier this year to evaluate the work and cost structure of the organization,” Marx said in a statement.

Next year, Humana and other insurers will start paying a federal tax, a possible reason for the layoffs. The tax equals about 2.4 percent of revenue from premiums, the amount charged to consumers and other entities for coverage. That tax was created as a condition of passage for the Affordable Care Act. Several taxes on different health care industry businesses were created as part of that legislation, to ensure Congress wouldn’t dip into the federal budget and increase the deficit.

Sarah James, an investor analyst with Piper Jaffray, said that tax could be behind the changes at Humana. “So that pressure increases insurance prices for consumers and also compresses the margin on some insurance products,” James said.

Humana administers and runs health plans for employer-sponsored coverage, state Medicaid programs and Medicare enrollees. Its biggest business is with Medicare, a federal program that covers people over age 65 and people with disabilities.

And that’s one reason Humana may be laying off employees: while Humana can pass on the cost of the tax to consumers in employer plans and to state Medicaid programs, it cannot do that for the Medicare plans it runs.

“That’s the product where it really impacts the insurance companies the most is Medicare,” James said. “And out of all the insurers that are public, Humana is the most exposed to Medicare. So they have pressures to be as efficient as possible. It could be one reason [for the layoffs].”

The layoffs will decrease Humana’s staff to around 41,000 people; the company is still the fifth-largest health insurer in the country. Frank Morgan, a managing director in equity research for RBC Capital Markets, said he sees the layoffs as part of the normal evolution of a large company.

“Relative to the size of the organization – and it’s always terrible when anybody lose a job – but in the scope of the employee base, it’s obviously a pretty small adjustment,” Morgan said. “It’s not large enough to be in response to any kind of major macro trend.”

The restructuring of employees could also be in part because of increased competition among insurers for Medicare enrollees. David Windley, a senior health care analyst for managed care at investment bank Jeffries said there are more insurance companies trying to get a bigger share of the Medicare market, also known as Medicare Advantage. 

“In order to defend its franchise in Medicare Advantage, Humana needs to continue to drive efficiency in an overhead cost structure, to then offer better and better benefits that they sell to, in turn, attract more members,” Windley said. 

Humana continues to add enrollees in Medicare plans; Medicare enrollee membership was up by 15 percent at the end of June 2019. 

“I suppose it is maybe more notable that it is happening at a company that is growing pretty aggressively, and you don’t normally see companies needing fewer staff when they’re growing,” Windley said. “But, at the end of the day, you’ve got a multi-billion dollar health insurer fee coming in next year. And they cut 2,700 employees about this time two years ago, and they’re cutting 800 this year. It’s a relatively small number.”

Employees who are affected will be able to stay on until the end of the year. Marx with Humana said there are about 2,000 open positions with the company across the country.

 

 

Trick-or-Treat times around Louisville Monday, Oct 21 2019 

What time is trick or treating in Louisville? Trick-or-treat times hours in Kentuckiana. Sunset in Louisville on Halloween 2019 will be at 6:44 pm. This may affect when you want to head out to trick or treat…… especially if you have little ones. And, despite it being a weekday school night, Louisvillians keep trick-or-treating to Halloween night. Of course, if [...]

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Top Ten Indoor Things to do in Winter or on a Rainy Day in Louisville with Kids Monday, Oct 21 2019 

Is it cold, rainy, or snowing? Indoor fun is here. There are nice family fun options in the great indoors.   You need indoor fun! Check out one of these great family-friendly activities the next time there’s a chill in the air.  Be sure to check out our calendar and sort by indoor options! Attention! We have newsletter-exclusive contests and great [...]

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Kids Eat Free on Halloween & other deals Friday, Oct 18 2019 

The kids are all decked out in their Halloween best, why not take them out for a kids eat free Halloween meal?!   Here are some local places we have found that are offering kids eat free deals on Halloween. We have included some other non-food deals we found! Drake’s St. Matthews and Drake’s Paddock Shops: All Day. Kids eat free at [...]

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