City expands partnership with Weight Watchers

A city partnership with Weight Watchers has expanded, providing low-cost access to weight loss assistance to more of Baltimore’s low-income population.

Baltimore was one of three cities — Racine, Wis., and York, Pa., are the others — selected as a grant recipient in the Weight Watchers and U.S. Conference of Mayors Health Communities Grant Program. The total value of the subsidized memberships is $1 million across the three cities, plus $25,000 each straight from Weight Watchers.

The grant will fund an expansion of the B’More Fit for Healthy Babies program, which provides Weight Watchers memberships and exercise classes to low-income mothers with at least one child under age 2.

Thanks to the expansion, the program will now serve men and seniors as well at a the Zeta Center for Healthy and Active Aging in Park Heights. It was previously available only to women at weekly meeting sites in Druid Hill and Patterson Park.

The expanded program will allow low-income residents of Baltimore to get heavily-subsidized memberships to Weight Watchers, as well as fitness instruction. To qualify, residents must have a body mass index of 25 or higher (classified as “overweight”) and must receive assistance from a federally subsidized program like WIC or Medicaid.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Weight Watchers celebrity spokesperson Jennifer Hudson celebrated the launch of the expansion Tuesday at the Zeta Center.

Rawlings-Blake has personal experience with weight loss, having undergone a transformation during her time as mayor. She mentioned her decision to lose weight at Tuesday’s announcement, and a Weight Watchers leader she has worked with spoke as well.

Never a dull moment for the health exchange

Enrollment on Maryland’s health exchange ticked up over the past week — a total of 22,512 people had bought private plans as of Jan. 11, up from 20,358 as of Jan. 4.

Friday’s enrollment report also includes more detailed enrollment data from the federal government. This information is released monthly, whereas the state’s data is released weekly.

As of Dec. 28, a total of 18,257 Marylanders had enrolled in a private plan via Maryland Health Connection. According to the feds’ newly released info, more older people enrolled than younger people, “silver-level” plans were bought most frequently and 55 percent of enrollees were women.

Here are the enrollment numbers, broken down by age:

Younger than 18 years:  922 enrollees

Ages 18 – 25:  1,562 enrollees

                Ages 26 – 34:  3,359 enrollees

                Ages 35 – 44:  3,016 enrollees

                Ages 45 – 54:  4,188 enrollees

Ages 55 – 64:  4,994 enrollees

                65 or older:  216 enrollees

The age breakdown is important because in order to keep premiums down, the exchanges must enroll enough healthy people — they pay more into the system than they take out. And obviously, younger people tend to be healthier than older people.

The report also mentions the latest policy change/update/amendment — whatever you want to call it — to the exchange, which is expected to affect the numbers.

Officials have announced two options for providing retroactive coverage to the hundreds or thousands of people who tried but were unable to secure health insurance through the exchange. If and when those options go into effect, the enrollment numbers could jump, but it’s unclear how much.

The first option for providing bridge coverage is a piece of legislation — which has not yet been voted on in the General Assembly — that would temporarily enroll those individuals in a state insurance program, the Maryland Health Insurance Plan, until they are able to squirm their way into a private plan.

The second option is an agreement with the four insurance companies that offer private plans on the exchange. The companies agreed to provide coverage (retroactive to Jan. 1) to people who can demonstrate that they tried enrolling in a plan by Dec. 31 but were stymied by technical problems on the exchange. The companies will allow those people to sign up in the plan of their choice — but they have to take action soon. The deadline to register for retroactive coverage is this coming Tuesday at 5 p.m. People in this situation should contact the Customer Call Center at 1-855-642-8572.

This option is expected to cover the majority of the 200 to 5,000 people who are in this situation. But because some people will surely slip through the cracks, Gov. Martin O’Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown say it’s still crucial to pass the MHIP option so that those voters — ahem, I mean residents — won’t be left out.

First job fair for new Baltimore casino to be held Feb. 5

The first job fair for the new Horseshoe Casino Baltimore will be held Feb. 5 at a Baltimore community center, a City Council member announced Friday.

Construction of the Horseshoe Casino Baltimore. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz).

The five-hour event will be hosted by City Councilman Carl Stokes and is set to begin at 9 a.m. at the Oliver Community Association, located at 1400 E. Federal St.

The $400 million casino will be run by Caesars Entertainment. It is expected to open by mid-summer and employ 1,700 workers in the 122,000 square foot gaming, retail and entertainment space now under construction on Russell Street near M&T Bank Stadium.

Stokes said Caesars employees will attend the job fair to take applications.

“Applicants are encouraged to bring your resume, references and your confidence,” an announcement of the job fair from Stokes office said. Job opportunities include gaming employees, restaurant workers and guest services, Stokes’ office said Friday.

“My office has been inundated with phone calls, emails and resumes of people who are unemployed and want to be able to be productive and take care of their families,” Stokes said, in a statement.

“The recession has radically changed the economic forecast for the city. Long-term unemployment is experienced disproportionately by the young, the old and less educated.”

Cleaning up Ocean City?

Ocean City is considering putting up signs on the Boardwalk in an effort to clean up the language.boardwalk

Ocean City Council Secretary Mary Knight said she will propose “No Profanity Please” signs. Though the O.C. police wouldn’t be enforcing any ban on potty mouths, the idea first must be approved by the police commission and then the council.

“Usually young people, especially on Senior Week, people are cursing each other, but it happens all summer,” Yadigar Karsali, who owns a Boardwalk lemonade stand, told WBOC.com.

However, here’s something to look forward to this summer if the signs go up: Photos posted on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere online showing a “No Profanity Please” notice adjacent to a Boardwalk shop displaying T-shirts with various four-letter messages.

(Photo: Bill Price III)

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Mixed bag for docs, students

The $39 billion budget proposal unveiled today by Gov. Martin O’Malley includes some good news for Maryland’s physicians and students but also some slaps in the face.

The most obvious stinger is the 3 percent tuition hike at the 12 colleges in the University System of Maryland. (For one tongue-in-cheek solution to this predicament, see my blog post from yesterday about “Sugar Scholarships.”)

At Morgan State University and St. Mary’s College, tuition would be frozen.

Despite the tuition increase, O’Malley emphasized that the cost of college is higher — and growing faster — in other states than in Maryland. His budget uses those tuition dollars to invest more money in the state’s community colleges and its public universities (including the two that weren’t given tuition increases).

O’Malley’s budget proposal also includes new money for public school construction ($286 million) and pre-kindergarten programs ($4.3 million).

The budget, which includes $457 in net spending reductions, also limits rate increases for most health and human service providers, and it defers some rate increases by six months. That saves $61 million.

However, the budget did allocate $42 million to increase the rates the state will pay to primary care physicians and psychiatrists who treat Medicaid patients. The Medicaid reimbursement rates were increased to match the Medicare reimbursement rates (as a way to encourage docs to accept Medicaid patients).

Also, because Maryland chose to expand the Medicaid program and cover more people (it was given the option to do so under the Affordable Care Act), spending on the program would increase by $8.9 billion in 2015, a 22 percent increase over fiscal 2014. Medicaid makes up 71 percent of the health department’s budget.

The budget would also funnel more money to state health departments than in fiscal 2014.

O’Malley’s budget sets aside $11.4 billion for the Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene, a 9.7 percent increase from fiscal 2014. Health accounts for 29 percent of total expenditures, the largest portion of the budget, which also allocates $5.9 billion to higher education, an increase of 3 percent year-over-year. Higher education is the third largest chunk of spending.

Related: Mission Failure: O’Malley budget won’t erase structural deficit

Mayor draws the line: No Schmoking

She won’t wave the “Schmoke flag.”

Former Baltimore mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. (Image from www.howard.edu)

That’s how Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake responded Wednesday to a question about her stance on a budding debate in the General Assembly over decriminalizing marijuana in Maryland.

The mayor said she wants the emphasis on arresting “violent offenders that create havoc in our communities” and sending people to drug treatment programs rather than a push to legalize pot use. She reached nearly three decades into the city’s past by drawing a comparison to the national stance of a former mayor, Kurt L. Schmoke, who advocated decriminalization and taxation of drugs back in the eighties.

“I don’t think it serves anybody’s purpose to clog up the system with this type of offense, but I’m not going to be waiving the Schmoke flag of legalization,” the mayor said. “I don’t want to be distracted from what the real work is.”

Data presented at a hearing in Annapolis this week showed that African Americans accounted for 92 percent of all marijuana arrests in Baltimore last year. Rawlings-Blake said marijuana users would be better served by going to diversion programs than being locked up for possession.

“I think diversion programs work when it comes to marijuana arrests and my hope is that more people would participate so they wouldn’t find themselves being arrested,” Rawlings-Blake said. “Successful participation in diversion programs — that’s my goal.”

The Sugar Lifestyle 101

If you enjoyed my earlier post about SugarDaddyForMe.com, here’s another gem for you.

Moms and dads might want to proceed with caution, particularly those with a daughter attending college in-state.

SeekingArrangement.com — another website that helps gold-digging Sugar Babies hook up with deep-pocketed Sugar Daddies — has released its annual “Top 20 Fastest Growing Sugar Baby Schools” list, and Towson University clocked in at No. 44, while the University of Maryland, College Park, placed No. 71.

In 2013, 71 Towson University students signed up on SeekingArrangement.com, bringing the school’s total membership to 85 students, according to the website’s communications team. At UMCP, 48 new students signed up last year for a total of 153 registered student-users.

University of Central Florida came in at No. 1, with FOUR HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-FOUR new sign-ups last year!

College students are the most-represented demographic on the site, accounting for 42 percent of overall Sugar Baby membership, according to a press release. Overall, “the dating site” saw a 54 percent increase in the number of college students who sought “financial aid from wealthy benefactors in 2013.”

If you come to find out your daughter is among those new sign-ups, take solace in the fact that you are not alone. The site boasts that about 1 million students worldwide logged onto SeekingArrangement.com last year in search of a so-called benefactor, with the average haul being $3,000 per month.

The membership spikes are no surprise, according to Brandon Wade, the site’s founder and CEO.

As the cost of a college education continues to climb and financial aid programs become more competitive, it only makes sense for students to seek alternative funding sources, Wade said in a statement.

Really, they’re being fiscally responsible — student loans are so 2012. Plus, having to repay loans would mean having to find a job. It’s far easier to market your body — that counts as entrepreneurship, right?

Now, if you think the website might be sending the wrong message to our country’s young ladies, it gets better.

“As an incentive, SeekingArrangement offers free premium memberships to students who register using their .edu email accounts,” the press release says.

Don’t worry, there’s more:

“SeekingArrangement is rolling out a number of ads and promotions marketed towards college students. These include: a scholarship contest, free premium membership, and a commercial enticing students to seek a Sugar Daddy for all their financial needs.

The rare opportunity to finish college debt-free is made possible by the increasing popularity of the sugar lifestyle. Within this network of sugar seekers, students are getting their college debt compensated by fostering real connections on SeekingArrangement.com.”

“Why hope for financial aid when you can guarantee it with a Sugar Daddy?” Wade said in the statement. “Student loans lead to endless debt, which amounts to more than a new graduate can handle. Sugar Scholarships provide real solutions to the problem of student debts.”

Sugar seekers? The sugar lifestyle?! Sugar scholarships?! I simply can’t make this stuff up.

 

By the way, Brandon Wade is an entrepreneur if there ever was one. In addition to launching SeekingArrangement.com in 2006, Wade also launched these sites:

SeekingMillionaire.com — matching millionaires with fellow millionaires

MissTravel.com — “the only travel dating website where beautiful people travel free”

WhatsYourPrice.com — the site where singles can buy and sell first dates

And last but not least, CarrotDating.com — “the world’s first bribe-for-a-date app”

Noxzema takes its place in the sun

The Baltimore Museum of Industry is set to make a silky smooth acquisition.

The BMI announced Monday that it will receive from Unilever a significant collection of historical documents, photos, jars and packaging for Noxzema.

Baltimore Museum of IndustryBaltimore pharmacist George A. Bunting created the skincare product in the early 1900s as a remedy for sunburn. Over time, it became used as a general facial cleanser, and to treat eczema, acne and other skin conditions.

Bunting later on expanded his product line beyond the cold cream, making shaving cream and launching Covergirl cosmetics. The company changed its name in 1966 from Noxzema Chemical Company to Noxell, which was acquired by Procter & Gamble in 1989.

In 2010, Unilever bought the Noxzema brand from Procter & Gamble for $81 million.

Noxzema products are no longer created in Maryland, but Procter & Gamble continues to use its Hunt Valley location to make Cover Girl, Max Factor and Olay products.

Some of the Noxzema artifacts are on display in the BMI pharmacy exhibit, and the rest are catalogued in the museum archives for historians and researchers to access.

So here’s to Bunting, whose easy, breezy, beautiful innovations brought business to Baltimore.

Enrollment back to a trickle

The number of new enrollments on Maryland Health Connection declined over the past week “as expected,” officials said in their Friday enrollment report.

Health CareThe report said 20,358 Marylanders had enrolled in private health plans via the exchange as of Jan. 4. That’s a weekly increase of 2,101.

As of Dec. 28, a total of 18,257 Marylanders had enrolled in a private health plan from the exchange, a jump of 6,542 people since Dec. 21.

As for Medicaid, 50,522 people had been found eligible for a medical assistance program as of Jan. 4, but as of Jan. 6, only 26,500 of those people had actually been enrolled.

To make up for the shoddy performance of the website during the first few months of open enrollment, Gov. Martin O’Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown introduced legislation that would provide gap coverage for people who tried to sign up for insurance but were unable to do so.