Affordable Health Act plans head for double-digit hikes

Maine’s top insurance regulator plans to approve double-digit rate increases for all three of the state’s providers of health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The increases for 2018 would be approved if the rate requests were revised to amounts slightly lower than the health insurers requested, said Eric Cioppa, superintendent of the Maine Bureau of Insurance on Thursday.

Cioppa said he would approve revised increases of 27.1 percent for Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, 17.5 percent for Maine Community Health Options and 18.8 percent for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

In its June filings, Harvard Pilgrim requested an initial 39.7 percent rate increase that it later lowered to 29.2 percent, Community Health requested a 19.6 percent rate increase and Anthem sought an increase of 21.2 percent.

All of the insurance providers were seeking significant rate hikes for their individual plans, in part because of the political uncertainty surrounding the ACA. Read this story.


Jay paper mill considered for further investment

The Verso paper mill in Jay could be in line for additional investment as the company considers all options for increasing value. In a conference call Wednesday to review its second-quarter performance, managers of Verso Paper said they have hired a consultant to look at each of the company’s seven mills and the company as a whole to determine how to wring the best value for shareholders.

But the managers also singled out the Androscoggin Mill in Jay as an example of how converting to a new product line and reducing excess capacity positions the company for increased revenue. Last fall, the mill’s No. 3 paper machine was idled, resulting in the layoffs of about 200 people, and its No. 5 machine was refitted to produce specialty paper – a departure from the coated paper the mill has historically produced. The No. 5 machine is now at 78 percent capacity and growing, according to the second-quarter report. Once it achieves full capacity, it could contribute $10 million in revenue.

The managers said they were considering additional investment at the Jay mill. Read this story.

Veterinary company buys two pharmaceutical firms

The parent company of Portland-based veterinary technology provider Vets First Choice has begun using the cash from a recent private equity investment to strengthen its position in the pet medications industry.

The parent company, Direct Vet Marketing, said Thursday that it has acquired two Phoenix-based pet pharmaceutical firms, Roadrunner Pharmacy and Atlas Pharmaceuticals, for an undisclosed sum.

Vets First Choice, which provides online pharmacy and other technology services to veterinary clinics, announced in July that it had received a $223 million investment to accelerate the company’s growth and hiring, launch new services and begin a global expansion effort into Europe and Asia. Read this story.


Micro-apartments in mill on drawing board in Saco

The Saco Planning Board is considering a project that calls for 22 “micro-apartments” to be built in a former mill building on Saco Island. Saco Island West LLC wants to build the 470-square-foot apartments on two floors above the popular Run of the Mill Public House and Brewery on Saco Island, which sits between downtown Saco and Biddeford.

If approved, the project would join others in both cities that offer apartments in renovated mill buildings that also house businesses. The project would also be the second in Saco to feature micro-apartments. The former Notre Dame de Lourdes church on Cutts Avenue will be turned into 80 units ranging from 600 to 800 square feet as part of a three-phase project expected to begin late this year. Read this story.

Affordable housing planned for Portland’s Parkside

Maine’s largest affordable-housing developer wants to build 82 apartments – mostly for low-income residents – in Portland’s Parkside neighborhood, adding badly needed units at below-market rates in a city where gentrification threatens to displace many low- and middle-income residents on the peninsula.

But the $10 million Deering Place development is also raising residents’ concerns about density in the already thickly populated neighborhood between Deering Oaks and Congress Street.

The proposal by Avesta Housing would include an addition to the single-story building at 510 Cumberland Ave. and two new four-story buildings: one on what’s now a parking lot at the corner of Cumberland Avenue and Mellen Street and another on a parking lot on Deering Street.

Sixty percent of the units would be reserved for people with annual incomes of $20,000 to $40,000, based on the size of the units. Read this story.


Company says Canada oil could flow to S. Portland

The Portland Pipe Line Corp. says that more than 100,000 barrels of crude oil from western Canada would be available to be shipped daily from Montreal to South Portland if the company were allowed to reverse the flow of its pipeline. It’s the first time the company has publicly disclosed how much oil might come from Canada since it filed a federal lawsuit challenging the city’s 2014 ban on loading crude into tankers on South Portland’s waterfront.

If the pipeline did transport as much as 100,000 barrels per day, or 36.5 million barrels per year, south from Montreal to South Portland, that’s less than a quarter of the 160 million barrels of foreign crude that flowed north through the pipeline in 2004.

Filed in February 2015, the company’s lawsuit challenges the so-called Clear Skies ordinance that was approved by the city council in July 2014. The ordinance prohibited the loading of crude oil into tankers on the city’s waterfront, effectively blocking the company from reversing the pipeline’s flow to bring oil from Canada to South Portland. Read this story.


Developer Liberty gets fine and four months in prison

Former local developer Michael Liberty was sentenced to four months in prison and fined $100,000 Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Portland for federal campaign finance violations.

Liberty, once one of the most prominent businessmen in Maine, pleaded guilty in November to violating campaign finance laws in 2011 by using nine family members and employees to contribute $22,500 to a presidential campaign and then reimbursing them, which allowed him to circumvent the $2,500 limit on personal donations.

The campaign has not been named, but Liberty personally donated to Republican Mitt Romney during his primary run. Calling the offense “the quintessential white-collar crime,” the judge in the case gave Liberty less than a month before starting his prison term, setting Sept. 8 as his reporting date. Read this story.

Fantasy sports operators to pay new fees to state

Maine is adopting rules about daily fantasy sports games that classify the contests as games of skill and create a tax structure for them.

The proposal passed the Maine Legislature in June and became law last week without Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s signature. It says fantasy contest operators must be authorized to do business in Maine and pay a fee of 10 percent of gross fantasy contest revenues for the preceding 12 months, up to $5,000.

Fantasy sports companies DraftKings and FanDuel say in a joint statement that the adoption of a regulatory framework is good for both players and business. Read this story.


MEMIC endows a chair in USM insurance studies

The MEMIC Group announced Tuesday it will provide $1.5 million to the University of Southern Maine and help the institution leverage an additional $1.5 million in matching gifts for an endowed chair named in honor of the insurance company’s founder.

MEMIC’s donation, which will be distributed in an annual amount of $300,000 over the next five years, will be placed in the newly established MEMIC John T. Leonard Endowed Chair in Risk Management and Insurance – only the second endowed chair since USM was founded in 1878. The endowed chair funds will double the capacity of USM’s Risk Management and Insurance program of study, which was established in 2008. Read this story.

– Staff and news service reports