Entries in Colorado (11)


Sequester’s Medicare Cuts Mean Tough Choices for Colo. Hospitals

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(ALAMOSA, Colo.) -- While the immediate effects of the sequester may have been somewhat overstated, it threatens to have a very real impact on Colorado hospitals and their patients

In 2011, Medicare payments to Colorado hospitals were $253 million less than in 2009, according to the Colorado Hospital Association. Now those same institutions are facing another 2 percent decrease in reimbursement for Medicare services.

“For those folks that don’t have a balance sheet that’s healthy, and they’re already on the edge, it’s a very significant jeopardy,” Russ Johnson, CEO of San Luis Valley Regional Medical Center in Alamosa, Colorado told ABC News.  “I would expect not just with sequestration but with what’s happening in our country – maybe out of necessity to reduce costs – we’re going to see some hospitals that have been struggling finally not be able to continue.”

Steven Summer, president of the Colorado Hospital Association, said sequester cuts were about to hit especially hard in a state facing a drought and other economic challenges. For Coloradans, it will mean doctors and patients will have to make sacrifices.

“It could potentially have patient waits increase,” Summer said. “If it’s a staffing question then certainly staffing has an impact on patient care.”

Actual Medicare benefits may be protected from sequester cuts, but that does not mean patients won’t see a change in care. With a 2 percent reduction in payment for Medicare services, hospitals will have to look elsewhere to make up that lost revenue.

Beyond patient health, Medicare cuts mean Colorado hospitals have to re-evaluate how they adopt President Obama’s health care law, the Affordable Care Act.

“This postpones the kinds of decisions we need to make to transform the health care system,” Summer told ABC News. “All those decisions related to [the ACA] have to wait until we have the stability in the system, so we can implement some of those changes in the payment system.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Aurora Theater Says It's Not Liable for Colo. Shooter's Rampage

Thomas Cooper/Getty Images(AURORA, Colo.) -- The movie theater chain sued by three moviegoers injured by a gunman in Aurora, Colo., has filed to dismiss the lawsuit, saying that it could not have foreseen the mass shooting that took place July 20.

"It would be patently unfair, and legally unsound, to impose on Cinemark, a private business in the entertainment industry, the duty and burden to have foreseen and prevented the criminal equivalent of a meteor falling from the sky," a court document filed by Cinemark on Thursday stated.

James Holmes, 24, was charged with murder and attempted murder after killing 12 and injuring 58 other people.

Cinemark USA is based in Plano, Texas, and has 461 theaters in the U.S. and Latin America as of June 30, the company states on its website. Cinemark did not return a request for comment.

Keating, Wagner, Polidori and Free, the law firm representing the first three plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit in Denver federal court against Cinemark, did not immediately return a request for comment.

The plaintiffs, Joshua Nowlan, Denise Traynom and Brandon Axelrod, each were shot in various parts of their bodies. Nowlan's right arm was almost severed from the gunshots, the suit says, plus he had injuries to his left leg.

"Although the theater was showing a midnight premiere of the movie and was expecting large crowds of people to attend the midnight showing, no security personnel were present for that showing," their lawsuit stated.

The plaintiffs argue the theater should have been prepared for the shooting, after alleging a previous gang shooting at the venue.

In its motion to dismiss, the theater disputed the assertion, but said that even if it was true, "such an event would be insufficient to make a madman's mass murder foreseeable."

Loren Brown, a personal injury attorney in Colorado who is not involved with the lawsuit, said the state's Lawsuit Premises Liability Act puts some of the burden of protecting customers who are entering property to conduct business.

"If you have someone coming onto your property, or a class of person coming to do business, you've got to take reasonable steps to protect them from dangers that you know about or should know about it," Brown said.

Brown said in order for the plaintiffs to be successful, they will have to relate any past violent incidents at the theater to the mass shootings. That could be a "closer call," Brown said.

"If you have a couple drunks get into a fight in the lobby, that's a whole different thing than someone coming and doing what James Holmes did. That's something that the defense will want to draw out; that it was so unique in character, there's no way it could have been predicted."

Brown said he expects more of the victims will file lawsuits against the theater. He called the law firm representing the plaintiffs, "one of the premier firms in Denver for injured people."

"I would expect to see once they get their toes in the water, other people will be getting more brave," he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


United Offering Free Flights to Aurora Shooting Victims’ Families

Joshua Lott/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- United Airlines will provide free flights for families of Aurora shooting victims so they can travel to their loved ones’ funerals.

The airline would only provide a brief statement on the matter: “All of us were impacted by these events, and we want to help in any way we can.”

United told ABC News the free flights are being facilitated through the American Red Cross.

James Holmes, 24, is suspected of killing 12 and injuring 58 others during a shooting rampage at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises in the Colorado cinema.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Colorado Shooting Could Affect This Weekend's Movie Box Office

Thomas Cooper/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Last weekend’s shooting spree at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater appears to be having an effect on Americans’ recreation habits, at least in the short term.

According to a survey of moviegoers, 20 to 25 percent say they’re considering skipping a visit to the multiplex this weekend, telling research firm NRG they’re hesitant to go because of events that took place during the July 20 midnight screening of Warner Bros.’ The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora.

If that many people who would normally go to the movies do make other plans, it would certainly have an impact on the second weekend receipts for The Dark Knight Rises as well as two new movies opening Friday -- 20th Century Fox's R-rated comedy The Watch and Summit Entertainment's 3D dance movie Step Up Revolution, distributed by Disney, the parent company of ABC News Radio.

The Watch, a sci-fi spoof starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade, ran into problems earlier this year following the shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch captain.  Seeking to avoid controversy, 20th Century Fox changed the original title of the movie,  Neighborhood Watch, to The Watch.

More problematic for the movie’s producer is that The Watch hasn’t been tracking well and its R-rating also puts limits on who will go to see it.

Step Up Revolution, the fourth in the franchises, is expected to do well with its predominantly female teen audience.  However, the movie does contain a scene in which dancers wear gas masks and carry gas canisters to a party, which may call to mind alleged Aurora shooter James Holmes, who police say did the same before he went on a shooting rampage.

Mindful of this, Summit Entertainment said it was leaving the scene intact although it did stop advertising a TV commercial of Step Up Revolution that showed the scene.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Twitter Backlash After Online Retailer Posts ‘Clueless’ Aurora Tweet

KIMIHIRO HOSHINO/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Online shopping site Celeb Boutique took advantage of the trending topic, #Aurora, following the mass movie theater shooting in the small Colorado town, causing a stir of angry responses from Twitter.

“#Aurora is trending, clearly about our Kim K inspired #Aurora dress ;),” the boutique tweeted, along with a link to buy the dress on the company’s website.

Upset users responded, “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU GUYS,” and “Wow. Clueless much?”

After nearly thirty minutes, the offensive tweet was removed from the company's timeline, which also offered a five tweet apology.

"We didn't check what the trend was about hence the confusion, again we do apologise," one tweet read.

"We are incredibly sorry for our tweet about Aurora - Our PR is NOT US based and had not checked the reason for the trend, at that time our social media was totally UNAWARE of the situation and simply thought it was another trending topic - we have removed the very insensitive tweet and will of course take more care in future to look into what we say in our tweets," the company said in a series of tweets before adding, "Again we do apologise for any offense caused this was not intentional & will not occur again. Our most sincere apologies for both the tweet and situation."

ABC News could not reach the company for comment.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Will Colorado Shooting Affect "Dark Knight Rises" Legacy?

Thomas Cooper/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The mass shooting at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colo., that left at least 12 people dead and 50 injured could have a major impact on the legacy of the beloved Batman movie.

Box-office analysts previously believed the final installment of director Christopher Nolan's trilogy could top the record-breaking, $207.4 million debut of The Avengers. But Yahoo movies contributing editor Thelma Adams said it's unlikely the movie would break any opening weekend records now.

"You have to preface it by saying it's only money," she said, "and we're dealing with lives that have been lost. That said, there will be some domestic underperformance. It is going to hurt."

Because much of this weekend has been presold -- the movie made $25 million in presale tickets, and shows in many cities are sold out through Sunday -- the impact on opening weekend will be lessened. Adams said the massacre would not likely affect the movie's global gross. The last Batman film, 2008's The Dark Knight, made almost as much internationally, $469 million, as it did in the U.S., $533 million.

"Maybe opening weekend will be a little bit less, but then the drop will not be as great," Adams said.

Warner Bros. canceled the Paris premiere of the film, scheduled for this evening, after learning about the shooting. Director Nolan and cast members Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway and Morgan Freeman also scrapped press interviews.

"Warner Bros. and the filmmakers are deeply saddened to learn about this shocking incident," the studio said in a statement. "We extend our sincere sympathies to the families and loved ones of the victims at this tragic time."

James Holmes, the suspected 24-year-old shooter who is now in custody, was carrying a gas mask, according to police, leading some people online to speculate that he was trying to imitate the the Batman villain Bane, who wears a gas mask.

Other cities are stepping up security at theaters in light of the tragedy. New York City police Commissioner Ray Kelly released a statement this morning saying, "As a precaution against copycats and to raise the comfort levels among movie patrons in the wake of the horrendous shooting in Colorado, the New York City Police Department is providing coverage at theaters where the The Dark Knight Rises is playing in the five boroughs."

Police in Washington, D.C. have been told to provide "special attention" to movie theaters.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Boss Gives Employees $7,500 for Vacations

Steve Mason/Digital Vision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Bart Lorang may be the best boss ever.

The CEO of Denver-based internet start-up FullContact API said in a market that is competitive for top talent, he wants to keep his employees happy and refreshed.

The flip-flop wearing founder offers his employees $7,500 for what he calls “paid, paid vacation,” however there are rules.

“One, you actually have to take a vacation to get the money,” Lorang said. “Two, you have to disconnect from work, so that means no calls, no emails, no tweets, no work of any kind.”

Even Lorang admitted he has trouble following his rules.

“I suck at it,” he said.

A picture of the CEO and his fiancee Sarah at Egypt’s great pyramids captured Lorang checking his email.

Not surprisingly, employees said they loved having the company pick up the tab for their vacations.

“It’s a real break for your brain,” said Robbie Jack, a FullContact API employee. “You come back refreshed and reinvigorated and more excited about the stuff you were working on when you left.”

If the idea of having a boss pick up the tab for a dream vacation is tantalizing, good news: Lorang is hiring.

“We’re probably going to hire about 12 folks in the next six months,” he said.

Tech companies have become known for their extravagant perks, and FullContact is no exception. Google offers on-site health care and pays for college degrees. At Facebook, employees with new arrivals get $4,000 in “baby cash.”

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Colorado Mother, Daughter Charged in Military Online Dating Scam

Tracy Vasseur, left, and her mother, Karen Vasseur. (Colorado Attorney General)(BRIGHTON, Colo.) -- A mother and daughter in Colorado were indicted for their role in a "Nigerian internet romance scam" in which associates in Nigeria posed as members of the U.S. Armed Forces and stole over $1 million from 374 victims.

Tracy Vasseur, 40, and her mother, Karen Vasseur, 73, of Brighton, Colo., about 21 miles north of Denver, face a hearing on Tuesday in the Adams County District Court.  The Colorado Attorney General, John Suthers, said the two were part of a scam since 2009 that "lured unsuspecting women to internet dating sites by posing as members of the U.S. military serving in Afghanistan.  The Vasseurs' 374 victims over a three year period were based throughout the United States and from 40 other countries."

The Vasseurs were indicted on 20 counts in violations of the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act, money laundering and theft in a 27-page document filed by Suthers' office.  Tracy Vasseur faces up to 205 years in prison if convicted on all counts; Karen Vasseur faces up to 172 years in prison.

"After a phony relationship was established, victims were asked to send money and were led to believe that the soldiers would use the money to retrieve property, travel to the U.S., and pay other expenses," the attorney general's office said in a statement.

The mother-daughter duo worked with associates in Nigeria, wiring most of the stolen money to them and kept about a 10 percent cut "although they would often receive less," the indictment stated.  The Vasseurs sent stolen money addressed to 112 different names in Nigeria, but most often to "Olamigoke Ayodeji."  They also wired money to individuals in Ecuador, Great Britain, India, United Arab Emirates and the U.S.

Most of the victims were women, the indictment stated, "looking for love and companionship on the internet" on various dating sites and social networking sites like Facebook.  During the "Nigerian internet romance scam," the attorney general's office said the Vasseurs never made contact with the victims, nor did they ever meet with their associates abroad.  But the Vasseurs engaged in "regular, frequent and detailed discussions" about where the money and how much would be sent.  Tracy Vasseur allegedly set up a "dating website" for one of her associates, the indictment stated.

"After an online relationship was established, the perpetrator would often send the victim fake military documents and personal photographs in order to convince the victim that they were truly a member of the U.S. military serving in a foreign country, usually Afghanistan," the indictment filing stated.

"After a relationship was established, the purported military member would begin asking the victim to send money to an 'agent' in Colorado," primarily through electronic fund transfer services like Western Union or Money Gram, according to the indictment.  "Among other reasons, victims were frequently told that the money they sent would pay for satellite phones, so that the victim and the perpetrator could talk directly to each other, or for travel expenses, so that the "soldier" could take authorized leave from duty to visit the victim in the U.S."

The money transferred was usually over $10,000 and as high as $59,000, according to the indictment.

None of the victims, "including 29 at-risk adults," that investigators spoke to had their money returned, the indictment stated.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


$500,000 Medical Marijuana Loan Up In Smoke

David McNew/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Sometimes even the best-laid plans go up in smoke. And sometimes these plans end up costing a lot of money.

That's what happened to Mark Haile and Michele Hammer, two Arizona businesspeople who in August, 2010, each loaned $250,000 to Today's Health Care II (THC), a Colorado-based medical marijuana dispensary. The agreements specifically stated that THC was using the loan proceeds for "a retail medical marijuana sales and grow center," but neither Haile nor Hammer thought that would ever be a problem.

Marijuana is legal in Arizona and Colorado (along with 14 other states and the District of Columbia); patients simply need a physician's prescription and they are legally allowed to obtain pot for medicinal purposes.

In fact, as far as Haile and Hammer were concerned, it was a smart business move. In California, for example, medical cannabis is an estimated $1.3 billion industry (Colorado is the nation's second-largest market). Why not get in on a potentially lucrative enterprise?

Talk about a pot of gold.

But in March 12, 2011, THC defaulted on its loan. According to the original terms, THC had five days to re-pay its debt. If it didn't, Haile and Hammer were entitled to repayment of the principal loan amount at a default interest rate of 21 percent, plus attorney fees.

By March 17, THC still hadn't paid anything, so Hammer and Haile sued, clearly expecting to win.

But they didn't. Instead, in his April 17 ruling, Judge Michael McVey, of Maricopa County Superior Court, dismissed the suit, stating that he couldn't enforce the loan agreement because the money was for an illegal purpose under the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, a federal law. While he recognized his ruling was "harsh," federal law trumps state law, and THC doesn't have to repay any part of either loan (although it will have to report the $500,000 as taxable income).

Lawyers for Haile and Hammer could not be reached for comment. But in a Phoenix New Times, story Randy Nussbaum, managing partner of the law firm that represented them, expressed surprise. Haile and Hammer "were provided with what they thought was a legitimate business opportunity, and they entered into this agreement in good faith," he said.

William Kozub, THC's lawyer, was not surprised with the verdict. "It's a classic supremacy issue--federal versus state," he said. "Take the marijuana out of it. Just make it a regular commercial dispute for something that's illegal under federal law. It's that simple. Drug lords from Colombia cannot come to court and say 'They sold me bad cocaine.' The Taliban can't sue in US federal court because they had a kidnapping gone awry. Certain things are just illegal."

Though the case can't set legal precedent, it does raise interesting questions for people involved in the medical marijuana industry, or those interested in getting involved: banks, individual investors, landlords, suppliers, medical directors, independent contractors and yes, even patients.

Over the last year, the Drug Enforcement Agency has raided dozens of dispensaries across the country, most notably in California.

It is unclear whether Haile or Hammer will appeal. But Morgan Fox, a spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project, a national non-profit marijuana reform organization, thinks the entire issue needs to be resolved. "In 2009, the Department of Justice announced that they were not going to use resources going after people who were in compliance with state medical marijuana laws, effectively saying they were choosing not to enforce federal law under certain conditions," he said. "Since that time, those conditions have evolved. The definition of who the DOJ is choosing to ignore and what they consider to be in compliance with state law is certainly getting narrower, but it is also becoming more and more vague."

Richard Keyt, a business attorney in Phoenix who runs a medical marijuana law web site, agreed. "Clearly, lenders need to take notice of this case because they might not be able to enforce their loan, which is what's happening in this particular case," he said. "But it has a broader meaning--it may mean that no contract involving medical marijuana dispensaries, or anything relating to medical marijuana, would be enforced. They're going to be the bad boy for the dispensary industry. Who wants to do business with somebody if you can't enforce your contract?"

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obama Singes Critics at US Solar ‘Epicenter’

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images(BOULDER CITY, Nev.) -- President Obama on Wednesday powered-up his pitch for more investment in renewable energy technology during a stop at the nation’s largest solar plant, calling Republican opposition out of touch and out of date.

“Now you’d think, given this extraordinary sight, given the fact that this is creating jobs, generating power, helping to keep our environment clean, making us more competitive globally.  You’d think that everybody would be supportive of solar power,” Obama said before a backdrop of thousands of solar panels soaking up the desert sun.

“And yet, if some politicians have their way, there won’t be any more public investment in solar energy,” he said.

“One member of Congress, who shall remain unnamed, called these jobs ‘phony.’ Called them ‘phony jobs.’ Think about that mindset, that attitude, that says because something is new it must not be real. You know if these guys were around when Columbus set sail, they’d be charter members of the flat earth society.”

Obama was referring to Rep. John Fleming, R-La., who during a speech in the House chamber last year criticized the clean energy subsidies the administration favored, saying the benefits were not what they claimed.

“POTUS uses flat earth society line again. Witty, but no help for folks paying $4/gal thanks to his failed energy policy. #phonygreenjobs,” Fleming retorted in a post to his Twitter account following Obama’s speech.

The Energy Department has estimated that the Obama administration loans for renewable energy projects have created or saved at least 44,000 jobs since 2009, though some critics say the figures are much lower. The administration also says renewable energy sources have doubled over the same period.

Obama took a tour of the Copper Mountain facility, the largest field of photovoltaic solar panels in the country, located an hour south of the famous Las Vegas Strip. Its one million panels generate enough electricity to power about 17,000 homes, officials said.

“It’s the epicenter for solar energy development in the United States,” Scott Crider, a spokesman for Sempra Generation, which operates the plant, told ABC News. “There are more than 320 days of sunshine coupled with a lot of flat, available land.”

The site was also a beneficiary of more than $40 million in federal tax credits for construction, which employed 350 workers at its peak.  The plant now has 10 permanent employees, Crider said.

“This is an industry on the rise,” Obama heralded.

“It’s a source of energy that’s becoming cheaper. We all know it’s cleaner. And more and more businesses are starting to take notice. They’re starting to look around for more places like Boulder City to set up shop,” he said.

U.S. solar industry officials say government incentives and tougher enforcement of international trade laws are essential to thriving businesses because of stiff competition abroad.

On Tuesday, the Commerce Department set new fees on solar panels made in China after concluding the government has been providing subsidies to their domestic manufacturers in violation of international trade laws.

The solar panels at Copper Mountain were built by Arizona-based First Solar, Crider said.  That company has received more than $1.6 billion in federal loans from the current Energy Department and has been under fire from Republicans for its handling of the funds.

The Republican National Committee called Obama’s Nevada visit little more than “energy spin.”

“It’s clear the president is on defense on energy thanks to higher gas prices, and no amount of campaigning is going to change that,” said RNC spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski.

“From having no energy policy to his false promises on production and Keystone, President Obama has a lot of work to do to convince voters he cares about their pain at the pump,” she said. “Obama loves to say he doesn’t have a silver bullet when it comes to gas prices, but the fact is doing nothing isn’t an option.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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