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Spokane police get ready for body cams; plus, the cost of health care

Body Cams by Fall

Amid ongoing efforts to strengthen accountability, the Spokane Police Department has now acquired 220 small officer-mounted body cameras for recording police interactions. SPD officials expect to roll out the cameras by September after finalizing policies and officer training on how and when to used the cameras.

Tim Schwering, director of SPD Professional Oversight, says a chest-mounted model, the Axon Body by Taser, proved the most comfortable and easy to use during officer testing. The $300 cameras are about the size and shape of a deck of cards. It can record up to 13 hours of video.

The department has started testing its network bandwidth to ensure it can handle the extra data traffic from storing the video. Officials also purchased 37 docking stations for downloading video and charging batteries. They will use Taser's Evidence.com system to store data.

The Spokane City Council first approved more than $600,000 for the cameras in April of 2013. Schwering says the department has moved toward approving a camera-use policy and final field testing. He hopes to have officers trained and wearing cameras by early fall.

"At the latest September," he says. "I'm hoping we can get it out a little sooner."

— JACOB JONES

Under Fire

A year after reorganizing the Spokane Fire Department, the city council heard from a Superior Court judge last month that it never should have made that move. Now, in response to that ruling, the council has undone the changes, returning the agency to a department, rather than a division with seven departments within it. Meanwhile, Mayor David Condon has directed city legal to file an appeal in the case, arguing the city council was within its legal rights to reorganize the department.

The reorganization (and similar moves in the police and parks departments, which were not affected by the ruling) meant the department would become a division with departments within it, and those departments would each be allowed two exempt positions, increasing the number of mayoral appointees. Supporters said it was a way to allow for more flexibility in hiring. Opponents, including some on the council, argued it could allow for nepotism by bypassing civil service testing.

City Spokesman Brian Coddington says three of the new police positions, two new parks positions and one new fire position have been filled since the changes. While the firefighters union has called for a reversal of the hire, the administration says the appointment was legal because it was done before the judge's ruling.

— HEIDI GROOVER

Modest Cost Increases

It's unlikely premiums for health insurance plans sold through state and federal exchanges will substantially increase next year, according to a new analysis from Urban Institute and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Examining premium data from eight states, researchers concluded that premiums were lower than expected in 2014 thanks to market incentives, like increased competition, that encourage insurers to keep prices down. The researchers noted that these incentives will be "even stronger in 2015 with increased enrollment and a more stable risk pool."

In Washington state, 12 health insurance providers have already requested rate changes for individual health plans both inside and outside of the exchange in 2015. The proposed rate changes range from a 6.8 percent decrease for Molina Healthcare plans to a 20 percent increase for Time Insurance coverage.

Premera Blue Cross, the largest insurer in Eastern Washington, for example, has asked for an 8.1 percent increase. Its affiliate, LifeWise Health Plan of Washington, has asked for an 8.9 percent increase. According to the state Office of the Insurance Commissioner, the average proposed rate change is 8.25 percent — the lowest requested average rate change in the individual market in seven years.

Four insurance companies — Columbia United Providers, Health Alliance Northwest Health Plan, UnitedHealthcare of Washington, and Moda Health Plan — also have submitted proposals to offer new plans through the exchange.

— DEANNA PAN

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