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ERIN GRUGAN / Staff Photographer  

Carly Reighard fires a pass across the field for Ocean City during the state Group 3 semifinal at Toms River North Tuesday night. Allentown went on to defeat the Red Raiders 6-1. Tuesday, November 14


Breaking
Nearly 1.5M Obamacare signups surpass last year's numbers in first two weeks

UPDATE: Obamacare signups so far this year have eclipsed last year's numbers for the first two weeks of open enrollment, new data shows.

Nearly 1.5 million people have selected Affordable Care Act health coverage plans through HealthCare.gov, showing a 47 percent increase over 2016 week one and two selections even as members of the U.S. Congress continue to make efforts to repeal parts of the federal health care law.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released new enrollment data Wednesday that showed the majority of consumers who selected plans for 2018 coverage were returning customers. About 345,719 people signed up for coverage between Nov. 1 and 11 as new Obamacare consumers, a 40 percent increase from last year. 

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More than 600,000 people selected health insurance plans through the Affordable Care Act in the first week of open enrollment, according to a new federal report, showing a swift start for the federal program that has been a target for dismantling by President Donald Trump’s administration and the Republican Party.

Plan selections during the first four days of open enrollment, Nov. 1 to 4, have South Jersey experts optimistic that residents who need insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, will get signed up before the shortened six-week enrollment period ends Dec. 15.

“In response to the recent federal cuts to ACA funding and outreach, groups from all across the state have come together to ensure New Jerseyans have the information and resources they need to get enrolled,” Maura Collingsgru, health care program director for New Jersey Citizen Action, said in a statement.

Efforts in Congress to repeal Obamacare failed to pass before the open enrollment period for 2018 coverage began. The White House announced this summer it would cut the outreach and education budget for Obamacare by 90 percent, going from $100 million to $10 million.

The cuts prompted many experts to predict fewer marketplace signups this year.

More than 295,000 New Jersey residents selected Obamacare plans in 2016 during the three-month enrollment period, up nearly 6,500 plans from the previous year.

Paul Mesgleski, financial services manager at AtlantiCare, oversees enrollment services provided through the health network for Atlantic County residents.

He said enrollment counselors and call-in centers have been busy in previous years and predicted this year would be no different, but did note the number of callers and in-person enrollment appointments were not as high as the first year Obamacare was offered in New Jersey, 2013.

“It’s been a great experience seeing the changes we’ve been able to make in people’s lives,” Mesgleski said just before this year’s enrollment start. “Granted, the number of people we helped that first year is not the same, but that could be because people are re-enrolling by themselves. They are patients who’ve done this before.”

About 77 percent of the 601,462 people who selected plans at the beginning of this month were returning consumers to the Obamacare exchange, leaving nearly 23 percent of sign-ups by new consumers, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Because previous years’ enrollment data were calculated biweekly, it is unclear whether signups in week one of this year eclipsed the first week of last year. State-specific data on enrollment in 2017 was not yet available.

CoverNJ Coalition, a group made up of consumer advocates, health-care organizations, insurance companies and others, announced in October it would lead outreach events across the state to inform people about Affordable Care Act options and how to sign up for plans if they qualified.

“These organizations have made great strides in increasing health literacy, awareness and access to the information and tools needed to gain coverage,” said John J. Gantner, president and CEO of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.


Breaking
Trump Taj Mahal's transformation into new Hard Rock casino continues

ATLANTIC CITY — From the gold accents to the over-the-top fountain that greeted guests, the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort looked more like a palace than a casino.

Contractors for Hard Rock International and a group of investors are in the process of changing that.

Since July, workers have been removing the ruby-red minarets and onion domes that dominate the property’s facade as the transformation continues on Hard Rock’s newest property, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City. The rebranded property is expected to open next summer.

The six two-ton stone elephants that once greeted patrons are now a distant memory.

“It’s a transformation every day when you walk through there,” said Matt Harkness, president of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City. “Nobody is standing still; we are moving at 100 miles per hour.”

In the past, Jim Allen, Hard Rock International chairman, joked President and former owner Donald J. Trump created a “hell of a theme” and the group would have to spend more than $30 million to remove the theme from the property.

The Taj Mahal property, which was opened in 1990, has been reduced to a nondescript white building that the group will turn into its newest resort.

“We are through most of the interior demolition,” Joe Jingoli, a partner in the project, said Tuesday as Hard Rock unveiled its first sign, located at the corner of Absecon Boulevard and Virginia Avenue. “Outside you see a lot of the domes and stuff coming off it.”

The group, which includes investors Jack Morris and Jingoli, is spending more than $500 million renovating and rebranding the property. The project is expected to generate more than 1,000 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent jobs, according to the company.

“We’ve spent a lot time taking signs down, and now we are putting one up,” Harkness said.

“We have been doing a lot of demolition; now we are doing the building.”

The new property will feature two separate performance arenas, with seating totaling 7,000, and more than 2,400 slot machines.

As part of the property’s transformation, the Hard Rock Cafe restaurant will move to a larger, more central 400-seat location with an improved stage and beach access. The new 21,000-square-foot Hard Rock Cafe Atlantic City will employ more than 100 staff, up from the 55 employed at the current location.

While some rave about transformation, others, such as Joan Gincley, of Summit, wish the Taj Mahal was still open.

“It’s very sad that the Taj is being redone,” Gincley said as she walked along the Boardwalk on Tuesday. “It was so gorgeous; it was the nicest one here. The coloring inside, everything was beautiful.”


News
League of Municipalities conference in A.C. fosters new ideas

ATLANTIC CITY — One of the largest municipal conferences in the nation returned to the city Tuesday.

Coming with it were rows of products, services and local officials — more than 16,000 of them are anticipated — all convening in the Atlantic City Convention Center for the 102nd annual New Jersey State League of Municipalities conference.

The purpose of the conference is to help share ideas and foster ways for local officials to better their towns.

And at one table, featuring a live demonstration, a simple idea: transforming communities through art.

“We want people to see the big difference that arts are making in the cities,” said Kelley Prevard, 27, an artist who lives in Atlantic City.

Prevard was painting a mural called “Growth,” representing connections and showing patterns and cultures coming together. She wanted to draw attention as people passed by that art is generally a large part of what makes a city attractive, she said.

The effort aimed to help municipalities identify how to bring an art movement to their own towns, said Ann Marie Miller, the director of advocacy and public policy with ArtPride New Jersey Foundation.

“When people say, ‘How do I do this in my town?’ we give them some guidance,” she said.

Prevard was one of the nearly 1,000 representatives from exhibits that lined the convention center floor during the first day of the conference. The three-day annual conference brings municipal leaders from around the state to gather ideas, like an art movement, that could help improve their hometowns.

Near Prevard and the mural were hundreds other products that might contribute to a community in a different way: tractors, emergency vehicles, pipes, snow plows and playground equipment were just a handful of what was on display.

Officials can browse services and products that can help move municipalities forward, and they can attend information sessions to bring back ideas.

The first day of this year’s conference brought hundreds of officials — many of whom traveled from more than 100 miles away — flooding the aisles in the convention center.

“Educationally, I think it’s a great opportunity to be able to meet other fellow elected officials and learn,” said Art Pazan, a councilman from the borough of Glen Rock in Bergen County.

Pazan said he has attended the conference for 12 years. The conference falls at a good time as local officials begin to prepare for the next year’s budget, he said, maybe to gather new ideas to bring back for their own municipality.

Day One of the conference also featured several information sessions that people could attend to learn something new or find guidance on how to improve issues in a community. Some of the Tuesday sessions focused on budget and policy changes, finding partnerships to help transform an empty neighborhood and how to understand the changes to the bail reform system.

Wednesday will bring a mayors’ box lunch discussion on state and local policy. On Thursday, Governor-elect Phil Murphy will appear at the League Luncheon for all delegates to attend.

Harry Moore, a retired mayor of Oldmans Township, Salem County, had his hands full of “freebies” after visiting the tables Tuesday. He said the league offered a booth for almost everything.

“Sometimes you pick up new ideas,” he said. “I take back information that would be useful for public works or others in the township.”


Education
breaking
Victim of teacher's sexually explicit emails sues Vineland school district

VINELAND — Months after her former teacher was sentenced to two years of probation for child abuse, the Vineland student at the center of the case is suing the school district, alleging neglect in a federal lawsuit filed Nov. 10.

Richard Super, 36, of Vineland, was sentenced in July for sending sexually explicit emails to a 13-year-old girl student.

The case stemmed from a June 2016 investigation by police and the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office. As part of a plea agreement signed in May, Super forfeited his teaching certification and public office within the state of New Jersey.

Vineland teacher charged in sexual email scandal placed on leave

The lawsuit, filed by the student’s guardian, seeks trial by jury and damages. Attorneys representing the plaintiffs are the D’Amato Law Firm in Egg Harbor Township and Soloff and Zervanso of Cherry Hill. The names of the plaintiffs are not listed in the complaint, to protect the student’s identity.

Superintendent Mary Gruccio was not available for comment Tuesday. Vineland schools Executive Director of Personnel Joseph Rossi said the district had not received a copy of the lawsuit.

“The district has dutifully provided OPRA-based documentation to plaintiff’s attorney. As in any such matter, we shall proceed under the guidance of legal counsel,” Rossi said.

Attorney Paul D’Amato said the suit is intended to help protect more students from becoming victims of sexual abuse.

“While the ex-teacher has been prosecuted, the full measure of justice requires that those who failed to protect this young, vulnerable victim — who is emotionally scarred for life — be held accountable. We hope to ensure that what happened to our client never happens again,” D’Amato said.

Attorneys for the plaintiff believe the eight-count suit is the first complaint of its kind, alleging the school district should have identified the teacher’s pattern of electronic conduct using email monitoring software already installed on its own server.

Additionally, the suit alleges the school administration, including Gruccio, knew about Super’s misconduct, including the inappropriate relationship, sexual harassment and the teacher’s tendency to bring the student breakfast, sit with her at lunch and visit her in gym class.

Vineland teacher charged with child endangerment regarding teenage student

According to the complaint, the school district failed to provide a hostility-free environment and protect the plaintiff-victim from harm under federal and state discrimination laws.