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New poll shows Michelle Wu lead in Boston mayoral race

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Markey backs Wu; Essaibi-George launches equity plan in Roxbury

A new poll in the Boston mayoral race brought good news for Michelle Wu, showing a sizable lead over Annissa Essaibi-George in the first survey since the preliminary election.

The poll from WBUR, MassINC and the Dorchester Reporter of 501 “likely” voters had Wu up with 57% support to Essaibi-George’s 25% in a battle of the two at-large city councilors.

This comes just under three weeks out from the Nov. 2 general election.

Wu led the way in the Sept. 14 preliminary, drawing 33% of the vote, with Essaibi-George at 22% finishing second and advancing. Of those polled, 71% said they voted in that election, and 28% said they did not.

The poll also sought to measure favorability marks for the two candidates — and, oddly, Gov. Charlie Baker — and came back with results that looked good for Wu, who had 61% favorables with 15% unfavorable. For Essaibi-George, 37% held favorable views to 25% unfavorable. Fourteen percent said they hadn’t heard of Essaibi-George, as compared to 5% for Wu.

Baker’s numbers in Boston were fairly similar to Wu’s, with 56% liking him, 22% disliking him and 4% never having heard of him.

The poll also asked about the race for the four at-large city council seats. Incumbents Julia Mejia and Michael Flaherty led the way, with newcomer Ruthzee Louijeune and second-time candidate Erin Murphy at the front of a tight pack.

Asked about what’s important for politicians to take on in the city, 84% of respondents said that improving the schools was a “major priority;” 74% said the same about controlling housing costs. Improving traffic and public transportation both scored in the 60s, while getting tougher on crime, dealing with Mass and Cass and reforming the police all were in the 50s.

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Judge directs that name be disclosed of witness who claims former Chicago Bear Shaun Gayle said, ‘I did it. She’s gone,’ after girlfriend’s death

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Judge directs that name be disclosed of witness who claims former Chicago Bear Shaun Gayle said, ‘I did it. She’s gone,’ after girlfriend’s death

The identity of a newly disclosed witness in the Marni Yang case should be disclosed, a Lake County judge said Wednesday in a ruling Yang’s attorney described as a “minor setback.”

The witness, Yang attorney Jed Stone said in court filings, would testify that former Chicago Bear Shaun Gayle made incriminating statements about the death of his girlfriend, Rhoni Reuter, several hours after Reuter was fatally shot in her Deerfield condo in 2007.
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Marni Yang was convicted of murdering Reuter and her unborn child, in what authorities said was a crime motivated by Yang’s jealousy of Reuter’s relationship with Gayle. Yang is seeking a hearing as part of her attempt to get a new trial.

Stone disclosed in December that a new witness had been discovered who would testify that an agitated Gayle appeared at a North Chicago barbershop hours after the pregnant Reuter was shot, and told the owner, “I did it. She’s gone.”

Authorities said in the weeks after the shooting that Gayle had been ruled out as a suspect.

The new witness has completed an affidavit that Stone has shared with Lake County prosecutors. However, the attorney had asked that the court either file the affidavit under seal or, alternately redact the witness’s name for privacy reasons and the witness’ protection.

But Judge Christopher Stride ruled against the motion Wednesday. Case law, the judge said, carried a presumption that court records remain public whenever possible. Stone’s motion, the judge said, did not provide a compelling enough legal reason to seal the affidavit.

Stone said he would file a motion to reconsider, and said he was discussing an option with prosecutors to make the affidavit public, but redact the name.

At an online news conference later Wednesday, Stone called the ruling a minor setback, and said it will not slow momentum in his attempt to secure an evidentiary hearing for Yang.

“When we get there, we think the judge will find that Marni Yang has proven her actual innocence and is entitled to a new trial,” Stone said.

At the online news conference, Stone and his team said they will soon make public a video shot with Yang at the Logan Correctional Facility, where she discusses the incriminating audio recording a friend made of Yang while they were eating at a restaurant.

At her trial, prosecutors said it proved Yang’s guilt. But her defense team said she made up the things on the tape to draw police attention away from her then teenage son as a potential suspect.

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Avalanche’s remaining schedule: NHL releases new dates for postponed games

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Epic hockey at Ball Arena: Avalanche, Maple Leafs treat crowd of 17,334 to spectacular showing

The NHL on Wednesday released an update to the 2021-22 regular-season schedule that includes new dates for the 98 games postponed due to COVID-19, including seven that Colorado was forced to push back in December.

The Avs’ make-up dates are primarily placed during the 16-day window that was previously left open for the Beijing Winter Olympics.

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Marshall fire, omicron prompt a special health insurance enrollment period in Colorado

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Marshall fire, omicron prompt a special health insurance enrollment period in Colorado

The Marshall fire displaced thousands of Coloradans just as the omicron surge began sweeping through the state, so health insurance was likely not on many people’s minds when the regular enrollment period for the state’s health insurance marketplace ended Jan. 15.

But now, because of those twin emergencies, everyone in Colorado will get another chance to sign up.

State officials on Wednesday launched a special marketplace enrollment period, through March 16, open to all uninsured Coloradans regardless of whether they’ve been directly affected by the fire or the COVID-19 surge.

The Marshall fire started on Dec. 30, just two weeks before the deadline to sign up for a 2022 plan. The fires destroyed more than 1,000 houses and businesses, quickly becoming the state’s most destructive fire by the number of structures lost.

“It’s such a disruption to people’s lives,” Colorado Insurance Commissioner Michael Conway said. “It’s not just the people who lost their homes — it’s across the board, affecting the entire community.”

Meanwhile, the emergence of the omicron variant of the coronavirus caused COVID cases to spike to record levels in January, stressing hospitals and health systems.

“These folks are just trying to put their lives back together,” said Kevin Patterson, CEO of Connect for Health Colorado, the state’s health insurance marketplace, created under the Affordable Care Act. “So giving them some additional time seemed like a reasonable and thoughtful thing to consider.”

In addition to providing immediate relief to Coloradans in a crisis, the move underscores how much industry attitudes toward the Affordable Care Act have changed. Insurance companies were initially skeptical about the financial risks and worried that consumers would game the system. But the insurers have largely embraced the exchanges and are working to sign up as many people as possible. After experiencing few problems during the special enrollment period held last year because of COVID, health plans have agreed to the removal of safeguards — such as a limited window of time to sign up for coverage — that regulators once required.

“Amid the recent COVID-19 surge and tragic wildfires, it is important that people in Colorado have the opportunity to obtain health care coverage,” Patrick Gordon, CEO of the Rocky Mountain Health Plans, said in an email.

Special enrollment periods have been used in California because of wildfires, in Maine when strong winds knocked down power lines, and in Gulf states hit by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

Such periods have often been limited in scope and sometimes required people to provide proof they had been affected.

Colorado state officials are taking a different route. They opted to make signing up for coverage as easy as possible and are not requiring consumers to demonstrate they qualify.

“It didn’t seem like something that was necessary, especially when we look at our experience over the last year,” Conway said. “The vast majority of the year was effectively a special enrollment period, and there wasn’t that much disruption in the market.”

Insurance analyst Charles Gaba said there are three primary reasons for limiting health plan sign-ups to an open enrollment period.

The first is that deadlines spur people to sign up. Each year, enrollment numbers spike in the final days of the sign-up period.

Second, insurance companies need time to analyze their revenue and costs to set premiums for the following year. That process, Gaba said, typically begins in March.

Third, and most importantly, insurance companies initially lobbied for a limited open enrollment period to keep people from waiting until they are sick to buy insurance. That changed during the pandemic. Colorado and most other states that run their own exchanges held special enrollment periods in 2020 and 2021 because of COVID. When the Trump administration declined to do the same for the federal exchange, health insurance trade groups urged it to reconsider. The incoming Biden administration agreed and extended the enrollment period through August 2021 — and more than 2.8 million additional Americans signed up for coverage.

Conway said no evidence exists that consumers waited until they were sick to buy coverage last year. With so many consumers eligible for no-cost or low-cost plans because of more generous subsidies, there is little reason for them not to sign up immediately.

“As health policy folks, sometimes we get into our heads and we see monsters under the bed that simply are not there because of the complexity of the system,” Conway said.

Health plans in Colorado were largely supportive of the move. John Roble, president of Cigna’s Mountain States market, said the company is allowing early prescription refills and is working with local hospitals to transfer patients to help alleviate crowding at overwhelmed facilities.

Past special enrollment periods largely attracted a healthier population than standard open enrollment periods. Those with chronic health conditions, who face the potential of high medical bills, usually enroll early in the standard open enrollment period.

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