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Health Insurance Enrollment, The Minimum Wage, Baltimore’s “Taxi Tax,” and “The Magic Pill”

Alex Proimos / Flickr / Creative Commons

Just 1284 Marylanders signed up for health insurance using the state’s online exchange in October. Montgomery County Exec Leggett backs upping the minimum wage in his county. Plus, backlash over Baltimore’s taxi tax, Annapolis Alderman Arnett faces recall effort, “The Magic Pill,” and more.

Health Insurance Enrollment: The online health exchanges created through the Affordable Care Act have been up and running since the beginning of October. And during the first month of operation, just 1284 Marylanders signed up for health insurance using the state exchange -- that’s a tiny fraction of the approximately 800-thousand people in our state who are uninsured. State officials tell the Baltimore Sun that the first month of enrollment did see more than 33-hundred additional Marylanders enroll in Medicaid. And more than 10-thousand people have completed online applications but haven’t chosen a health plan yet. State officials say they expect enrollment numbers to grow – and that ongoing fixes to the website will make that possible. In the meantime, the Maryland health exchange’s customer support center has been busy, averaging 2-thousand calls a day. The Baltimore Business Journal reports that the center has fielded more than 50-thousand calls since the exchange opened.

Minimum Wage: Legislation that would raise Maryland’s minimum wage will likely be a focus of next year’s General Assembly session… the idea has the support of Governor Martin O’Malley and the three Democrats looking to be the state’s next governor. But Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett tells the Washington Post that he sees no guarantee that the state legislature will take action on the minimum wage next year “or in the foreseeable future.” Leggett is now backing a plan to raise the minimum wage in his county to $11.50, phased in over a three year period. Maryland’s minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour.

Baltimore’s Taxi Tax: A new per passenger tax in Baltimore is not sitting well with the city’s limousine and cab drivers – many of whom say they will refuse to pay it. The tax is a quarter per passenger; city officials say it could bring in $1.3-million a year. The first payments of the tax are due on November 25th. Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke tells WJZ that she wants to put the tax on hold for six months so cab and limo companies are able to comply. But a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake tells the Baltimore Sun that the city has every intention of collecting the tax this month… and adds that companies failing to comply could face legal action.

Magic Pill, Part 4: Is Anybody Out There? Earlier in our weeklong series The Magic Pill: Will The Affordable Care Act Fix Mental Health Care?, WYPR’s Mary Rose Madden reported on the overall shortage of mental health professionals as well as the shortage of those who accept insurance. Today, she tells us about so-called “ghost rolls.”

Mayor Right To Stick With Hilton: Baltimore’s struggles to balance its budget are likely to produce controversial results. But WYPR Senior News Analyst Fraser Smith says standing pat will mean moving backward. Fraser comments in his weekly essay.

Possible Workers Strike: A workers strike could be coming to Giant Food and Safeway supermarkets in Maryland, as well as in neighboring Virginia and Washington DC. Yesterday, members of the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 400 voted in favor of authorizing a strike. The Baltimore Sun reports that the vote doesn’t mean a strike will happen… it’s meant to send a signal to the store chains’ management. The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 and Local 27 have been in joint negotiations over a contract since early September; they unions represent some 28-thousand workers. Their old contract expired in October and has been extended twice. Union officials say that the impact of the new federal healthcare law on workers’ coverage has played a major role in the difficulties of reaching an agreement. The Washington Post notes that all parties are set to continue negotiations next week and into December. There’s more here from the Baltimore Business Journal.

Arnett Faces Recall Effort: The Annapolis alderman who called for stripping powers from the office of mayor is facing more backlash. Some residents of Democrat Ross Arnett's district have launched a petition drive seeking to recall him from office. Arnett says he has always supported a change to a council-city manager form of government, and regrets the timing of his comments, which were made right after a close mayoral election – in which Republican Mike Pantelides won. Pantelides tells the Baltimore Sun that he’s talked about the issue with Arnett and that they’re on good terms; he adds that he thinks the Alderman can be an ally on upcoming budget battles.

Back River Runoff Reduction: Baltimore County officials have completed work on a $2-million project aimed at stopping runoff stormwater pollution from getting into the Back River. The Baltimore News Journal reports that Impervious surfaces at nine sites on both sides of the river have been replaced with vegetation, tree buffers and other stormwater treatment measures. In addition to the Essex Park & Ride lot, the project involved work at the Back River Community Center and seven public school locations.

Winter Preparedness: Baltimore City is ready to do battle with winter weather – when it eventually shows. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says the city has a $2.7-million snow removal budget for the season. WJZ reports that, in the event of snow, the city and has 300 workers at the ready, 150 pieces of equipment and 15-thousand tons of salt to treat roads. Rawlings-Blake is asking residents to be prepared with emergency kits, including fresh batteries, flashlights, radios and bottled water. Recent forecasts don’t put snow on the horizon anytime soon.

WYPR's Morning Edition news anchor Ashley Sterner serves up the latest Maryland news and weather every weekday morning, delightfully interspersed with the occasional snarky comment.