The Advocate Daily Digest for July 8, 2011 includes: Feds to look at Louisiana health insurance rates; Saturday downtown Farmers Market will feature peaches; Strain praises environmental program; River dredging talk slated for Monday at the Press Club and it’s going to be hot with a slim chance of rain.

Feds to look at La. health insurance rates

Louisiana is one of seven states where the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will begin reviewing health insurance rate increases higher than 10 percent, a requirement under the Affordable Care Act.

Under current state law, Louisiana does not regulate health insurance rates. Last year, Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said his department will be reviewing health insurers’ rate requests to determine if they were “unreasonable” although the federal government had not determined where that line will lay.

According to a CMS report, the other states that lack the authority to regulate health insurance rates for individuals and small groups include Alabama; Arizona; Idaho; Missouri; Montana; and Wyoming. In Iowa, Pennsylvania and Virginia, CMS will review only the rates affecting small groups.

Starting Sept. 1, rate increases higher than 10 percent will be reviewed by states with rate review procedures meeting certain standards and by CMS for states that do not have such standards. CMS will conduct rate review covering both the individual and small group markets in Alabama; Arizona; Idaho; Louisiana; Missouri; Montana and Wyoming. It will conduct small-group market reviews in Iowa, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Insurers will have to submit a “justification” for an increase of 10 percent or more to CMS and state regulators prior to implementing the rate increase. CMS will post such justifications on its website. Insurers will be required to post a justification on their websites for rate increases that are determined to be unreasonable.

Donelon said the department had enough staff to review rate increases of 25 percent or more, since those were rare.

But he did not know if the department had enough people to review every rate increase of 10 percent.

Health insurance rates for families and small businesses have more than doubled during the last decade, according to CMS. In 2010, the average annual premium for an individual was $5,049, while the premium for family coverage was $13,770.

Saturday downtown will be just peachy

Fresh Fest continues at the Red Stick Farmers Market and Main Street Market Saturday with a celebration of peach season.

Saturday’s Fresh from the Market show will feature local chef Don Bergeron who will demonstrate sweet and savory recipes using Louisiana peaches.

The cooking show begins at 10 a.m. in the North Street seating area inside Main Street Market.

Buddy Miller of Waterproof will have peaches.

Market Music will include Kevin Johnson playing outside at Red Stick Farmers Market.

At 11 a.m. inside Main Street Market, the Bluegrass Jam takes place with an open invitation to local musicians to join the fun.

The Red Stick Farmers Market takes place every Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon at Fifth and Main streets.

For more information, visit http://www.breada.org

Strain praises environmental program

State Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain said the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, in partnership with Louisiana’s soil and water conservation districts, it making great strides in conserving Louisiana’s natural resources through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program or EQIP, according to a news release.

EQIP is the “workhorse” of USDA’s conservation programs. Delivered through a locally led, priority-setting process with local soil and water conservation districts, EQIP provides a broad array of financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers to implement conservation practices that address local priority resource concerns across all agricultural operations.

“So far this year, NRCS has invested more than $18.2 million in financial and technical assistance through EQIP to implement conservation practices,” Strain said in the release. “USDA recently committed an additional $1.29 million to provide technical and financial assistance to producers this year.”

The implementation of EQIP conservation practices helps agricultural producers to improve water quality and quantity by reducing soil erosion, creating and enhancing wildlife habitat, and improving and enhancing non-industrial private forestland.

River dredging talk slated for Monday

Sean Duffy, executive vice president and maritime advocate for the Mississippi River Maritime Association, will speak to the Baton Rouge Press Club at noon Monday.

Duffy will discuss his association’s efforts to try and persuade the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to spend some $95 million to further dredge the mouth of the river.

Press Club meets on Mondays at De La Ronde Hall, 320 Third St. in downtown Baton Rouge. Lunch, which is served at 11:30 a.m., is $12 for members and $15 for non-members.

The public is invited, but only members of the Press Club and members of the news media are allowed to ask questions during the question-and-answer portion of the program.

Hot, chance of rain slim

Friday will be very hot and humid with mostly sunny skies and only isolated showers, WBRZ meteorologist Dave Nussbaum says in the station’s daily weather blog.

High temperatures will be in the mid 90s.

A disturbance will be moving north to south along the Mississippi River Friday night and that may bring a few showers to the Baton Rouge area if it holds together.

Otherwise, it will be partly cloudy with low temperatures in the mid 70s.