In 2015, motorcycle crashes helped drive highway death toll to highest level in years

By Paul Feldman, FairWarning cyclecrash

Last year was a bad one for motorcyclists, with a new estimate showing that 5,010 bikers were killed in crashes nationwide, the worst death toll in seven years.

Florida led the nation with an estimated 550 motorcyclist fatalities in 2015 amid the largest year-to-year surge in such deaths of any state, according to an analysis by the Governors Highway Safety Association. The grim new count pushed the Sunshine State well past last year’s leader, California. (more…)

Auditors: feds failed to rein in billions over-billed by Medicare Advantage plans

By Fred Schulte, Center for Public Integrity 

Carol Berman, of West Palm Beach speaks with pedestrians about the need for policymakers to protect Medicare Advantage benefits during the Coalition for Medicare Choices' Medicare Advantage Food Truck stop on North Capitol Street in Washington on Monday, March 9, 2015. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Carol Berman, of West Palm Beach speaks with pedestrians about the need for policymakers to protect Medicare Advantage benefits during the Coalition for Medicare Choices’ Medicare Advantage Food Truck stop on North Capitol Street in Washington on Monday, March 9, 2015. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Private Medicare Advantage plans treating the elderly have over-billed the government by billions of dollars, but rarely been forced to repay the money or face other consequences for their actions, according to a new Congressional audit.

In a sharply critical report made public Monday, the Government Accountability Office called for “fundamental improvements” to curb overbilling by the health plans, which are paid more than $160 billion annually. The privately run plans, an alternative to traditional fee-for-service Medicare,  have proven popular with seniors and have enrolled more than 17 million people. The plans, which were the subject of a Center for Public Integrity investigation, also enjoy strong support in Congress. (more…)

9/11 Commission lawyers wanted to probe possible Saudi Royal family ties to hijackers

By Brian P. McGlinchey, 28pages.org georgewbushkingabdullah

As President Obama prepares to visit Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, his administration is under increasing pressure to declassify 28 pages that, according to many who’ve read them, illustrate financial links between the Saudi government and the 9/11 hijackers.

Meanwhile, a far lesser-known document from the files of the 9/11 Commission—written by the same principal authors as the 28 pages and declassified last summer without publicity and without media analysis—indicates investigators proposed exploring to what extent “political, economic and other considerations” affected U.S. government investigations of links between Saudi Arabia and 9/11. (more…)

Evidence mounts of distraction risks from digital billboards along roadways

By Paul Feldman, FairWarning 

A digital billboard in Sarasota. Photo: Scenic America

A digital billboard in Sarasota. Photo: Scenic America

Digital billboards clearly catch the eye of passing motorists. But what is also increasingly clear is that such distractions can heighten safety risks in heavy traffic and other complex driving conditions, a long-time roadway researcher says.

That conclusion by Jerry Wachtel, a traffic safety consultant and one-time Federal Highway Administration staffer, came from his recent review of billboard distraction studies conducted everywhere from Denmark to South Dakota. (more…)

Regulators, automakers urged to warn parents about flawed seats

By Myron Levin, FairWarning 

Kayla Davidson and her son, Maxx, who was four-years-old when he died in a rear-end collision in Memphis in April, 2014.

Kayla Davidson and her son, Maxx, who was four-years-old when he died in a rear-end collision in Memphis in April, 2014.

Freakish as it may have seemed, the accident that killed 13-month-old Weston Kingsley was hardly unforeseeable.

On the day he died in February 2014, he was buckled into his car seat behind his father, Jonathon Kingsley, who was at the wheel of the family minivan. Jonathon and his wife, Kelsey, of Old Fort, N.C., were driving the older of their two boys to Sunday school.

As they waited to turn left into the church parking lot, a pickup rammed their 2003 Dodge Caravan from behind, according to court papers. The impact caused Jonathon Kingsley’s seat to collapse backward. Weston was bashed in the head and his skull was fractured–by the seatback, the headrest or Jonathon’s head. The toddler died a few hours later. (more…)

South Florida whistleblower alleges Medicare Advantage fraud

 By Fred Schulte, Center for Public Integrity 
The entrance to the Humana headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky.

The entrance to the Humana headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky.

 

Insurance giant Humana Inc., which operates some of the nation’s largest private Medicare health plans, knew for years of billing fraud at some South Florida clinics, but did little to curb the practice even though it could harm patients, a doctor alleges in a newly unsealed whistleblower lawsuit.

The suit was filed by Boynton Beach physician Mario M. Baez. It accuses Humana, and his former business partner, Dr. Isaac K. Thompson, of engaging in a lucrative billing fraud scheme that lasted years. The suit also names three other Palm Beach County doctors, two medical clinics and a doctors’ practice group as defendants. The suit was filed in October 2012, but remained under a federal court seal until Feb. 26. (more…)

Thousands of drones fill the skies, raising fears of midair collisions

By Rick Schmitt and Stuart Silverstein, FairWarning 

Owen Ouyang

Owen Ouyang

On a Saturday night in early December, while relaxing at his Martinez, Calif., home, Chinese exchange student Owen Ouyang decided to have some fun. He went out to the front yard and launched a sleek new drone he had recently purchased online for about $1,000.

The 2.8-pound drone, advertised as “easy to fly,” proved anything but. Soon after takeoff, the drone veered dangerously toward a power line. It then climbed more than 700 feet – right into the path of a California Highway Patrol helicopter. A head-on collision was averted only after the chopper’s crew made a sharp right-hand turn at the last moment. (more…)

Doubts raised about chemical stew in fragrances used in commercial products

scientistsBy Brian Joseph, FairWarning 

For Joyce Miller, one sniff of scented laundry detergent can trigger an asthma attack.

“What happens is I feel like someone is standing on my chest,” says the 57-year-old professor of library science in upstate New York. “It’s almost like a choking feeling – pressure and choking. And then the coughing starts,” she said. (more…)

Unrestrained: Profit and abuse at Florida group homes for the profoundly disabled

By Heather Vogell, ProPublica 

Carlton Palms Educational Center in Mount Dora

Carlton Palms Educational Center in Mount Dora

Three years ago, it looked like the Florida agency that oversees care for children and adults with disabilities had finally had enough.

It filed a legal complaint that outlined horrific abuse at Carlton Palms, a rambling campus of group homes and classrooms near the small town of Mount Dora. (more…)

Lawmakers protect title loan firms while borrowers pay sky-high interest rates

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