Northwest Digest

Posted: Wednesday, February 07, 2007

State Medicaid report recommends reform

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JUNEAU - Tribal health care reform may be a key to controlling the mounting costs of Alaska's Medicaid program, according to a report commissioned by the Alaska Legislature.

The report, penned by the Pacific Health Policy Group and presented to House and Senate committees on Tuesday, offers recommendations that its authors say could save the state $80 million to $100 million a year while improving health care services to Alaska Natives and others.

Andrew Cohen, a director of the group, said Alaska Natives account for nearly 40 percent of the state's more than 100,000 Medicaid beneficiaries - by far the largest Native American segment of any state Medicaid program.

State lawmakers are increasingly worried about rising Medicaid costs, which have grown from less than 10 percent of the state's operating budget 10 years ago to 38 percent of this year's $3.6 billion budget.

Alaskans fear coal project could affect subsistence habitat

ANCHORAGE - A Canadian mining exploration company wants to drill for high-grade coal near a small Alaska community, a bid locals say could ultimately ruin habitat rich in moose, fish and other subsistence foods.

Full Metal Minerals has applied for a state exploration permit for the 21,000-acre area surrounding Chickaloon.

The president of the Vancouver, British Columbia-based company said that any actual mining would largely be underground with little impact on the terrain, rivers or Chickaloon's 250 residents. Any work beyond exploration would need further government authority.

Many residents don't believe their community can coexist with the venture, said Lisa Stevenson, who heads an opposition group called the Castle Mountain Coalition.

"It'll destroy the reason why all of us live here," Stevenson said. "It's beautiful here. It's quiet, it's clean. There are tons of subsistence resources right outside our doors. It really takes a huge investment to build a life here."

Three accused in large check-fraud ring

ANCHORAGE - Three people are accused of masterminding a large check-fraud ring that allegedly cost Anchorage businesses thousands of dollars, police said Monday.

Monique "Nick" Henderson, 33, faces 84 counts, including scheming to defraud, theft, forgery and solicitation to commit a crime. Tuisheka Hughes, 26, and Rashad Arnsworth, 28, are both wanted on similar charges, police and Alaska State Trooper investigators said. All three have criminal records.

The three generated and cashed fake paychecks from 44 businesses totalling close to $120,000, investigators said. More than 100 others were involved in cashing bad checks or allowing their checks to be copied, said detective Michele Logan.

Investigators said Henderson, Hughes and Arnsworth enlisted strangers willing to take money in exchange for cashing bad checks or making copies of their paychecks.

Investigators suspect that at least 130 people were involved. Recently, more than 20 check runners were arrested, many of whom authorities expect will testify. The investigation begn in 2005.

The trio steered clear of banks and focused on check-cashing places and stores, especially Wal-Mart and Fred Meyer, Logan said. The larger stores have a lot of checks and more staff with less training handling the transactions, making them easier targets, she said.

House subcommittee approves meth bill

WASHINGTON - A House subcommittee on Tuesday took a step toward helping Indian communities battle crisis levels of methamphetamine use.

A House Judiciary subcommittee passed legislation sponsored by New Mexico Rep. Tom Udall, a Democrat, that would allow territories and Indian tribes to receive law enforcement grants to battle meth use.

Udall said larger meth legislation passed by Congress last year "unintentionally left out" Indian tribes as possible applicants for some grant programs. This legislation would clarify that law so the tribes would be eligible.

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