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Environmental Roundup

State Moves to Reduce Methane Leaks that Fuel Climate Change

A new rule from the California Public Utilities Commission will require more inspections of gas distribution systems in order to reduce leaks. (Wikimedia Commons)

A new rule from the California Public Utilities Commission will require more inspections of gas distribution systems in order to reduce leaks. (Wikimedia Commons)

October 12, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO – The state's gas utility companies are going to have to spend about $300 million over the next three years to find, fix and prevent leaks of methane gas in their distribution systems – the result of a decision made by the California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday. 

Methane is a pollutant and a potent greenhouse gas, linked to climate change. Tim O'Connor, senior director of the energy program in California for the Environmental Defense Fund, says right now the utilities leak or vent about 6 billion cubic feet of gas a year into the atmosphere – more than that massive blowout in Southern California almost three years ago.

"Every single year, we are leaking more gas than what was emitted during the Aliso Canyon disaster,” says O'Connor. “And so, these new sets of rules are going to reduce the leakage across the board."

O'Connor says before, utilities only had to fix the types of leaks that are a threat to public safety – and now, they'll also need to handle those that contribute to climate change. 

Consumer groups have complained that the utilities will be allowed to pass their costs on to ratepayers, but O'Connor says the change to people's gas bills will be imperceptible once it is spread out over 40 million residents.

O'Connor says California is the first state to take this kind of comprehensive legal approach.

"We're going to see a reduction in methane leakage from our natural gas of 40 percent between now and 2030, and it's going to make our system environmentally safer and it's going to make it safer for the public,” says O'Connor.

He adds the system will be safer because additional inspections are designed to prevent catastrophic gas leaks and the resulting fires that have leveled entire neighborhoods in recent years.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA


Health and Wellness Roundup

Medicare: It's Time to Select a Plan for 2019

An estimated 1.3 million people in Indiana are eligible for Medicare. (Twenty20.com)

An estimated 1.3 million people in Indiana are eligible for Medicare. (Twenty20.com)

October 15, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS — Hoosiers ages 65-plus have about seven weeks to select a Medicare health insurance plan. Open enrollment for the federal health insurance program begins today and runs through December 7. 

CEO of Medicare and Retirement for United Healthcare in Indiana Charlotte MacBeth said premiums and plan coverage can change from year to year, so she recommends even those who were happy with their 2018 Medicare coverage review their choices. She said one important element to understand is the maximum out-of-pocket expenses.

"One of the things that Medicare Advantage enables a person to do is to provide protection around the maximum out-of-pocket expenditures that you have in a year's period. And that will vary from plan to plan,” MacBeth said. “But in a Medicare Advantage Plan, you have a cap on your expenditures."

Other elements to consider when choosing a plan are whether it includes your current doctor or medical provider, if you need vision or hearing services, and if you want additional perks such as fitness memberships or discounts on hearing aids. There are about 1.3 million people in Indiana who are eligible for Medicare, and nearly 1-in-4 was enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan in 2018.

When selecting a Medicare plan, MacBeth said changes that are unique to your own health and lifestyle are most important to consider.

"If you have a change in income year over year or a change in health-care needs year over year, those are the ones that will dictate how you might want to look at a plan,” she said; “not necessarily changes in Medicare, because those are pretty stable from year to year."

She also noted those who need help with the cost of medication should select either a Part D plan or a Medicare Advantage plan with prescription coverage, since original Medicare doesn't cover those costs. More information on Medicare plans is available online at medicare.gov and at UHC.com.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IN


Social Issues Roundup

Enrolling in Medicare? Help is Available

Medicare supplemental plans cover prescriptions and services not covered by original Medicare. (Hayleybarcar/pixabay)

Medicare supplemental plans cover prescriptions and services not covered by original Medicare. (Hayleybarcar/pixabay)

October 15, 2018

CONCORD, N.H. — Monday is the first day of the open-enrollment period for Medicare, and there's help for anyone signing up for the first time or making changes. 

With mailboxes filled with ads for prescription drug plans and supplemental coverage, picking the right Medicare plans can be confusing. But it doesn't have to be. AARP New Hampshire is offering a free two-part webinar this week to help answer questions about which options are right for you. 

Todd Fahey, state director for AARP New Hampshire, said choosing the right plans can make a big difference.

"The webinar will help people make informed decisions including when they should take this, maybe why they should take it and help them navigate the complexities of this,” Fahey said. “It is not a simple process and it will require a bit of work."

The webinars are scheduled for 7 p.m. this Tuesday and Thursday, October 16 and 18. Registration is available online through the AARP New Hampshire web page. The open enrollment period for coverage year 2019 ends on December 7.

The open-enrollment period is the only time of the year when you can make changes to the coverage you have. As Fahey pointed out, if you're already enrolled in supplemental Medicare, it may be time to consider switching plans.

"It's important because sometimes people's health needs change and so can the plans,” he said; “and it's important during this time to make sure the Medicare coverage selected still works for you."

Medicare Part C plans cover some services not included in original Medicare, and Part D helps pay for prescription drugs.

Fahey added it's important to remember you've been paying for Medicare your entire working life through federal payroll deductions. So once you're eligible, it just makes sense to enroll.

"Medicare has been around for decades. It's an earned benefit and it's something that people should definitely take advantage of to make sure they have the supplemental coverage to make sure their health needs are met,” he said.

For those who miss the webinars, help is still available through Medicare.gov/find-a-plan and AARP.org/Medicare.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NH

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