Fire forces 3 people from home

A porch fire that spread into a house at 3 Devonshire Lane displaced at least three people.

No injuries were reported, according to Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Akstin. The cause of the fire is being investigated by Lt. Michael Picard.

The fire was reported at around 5 p.m. on Monday of last week. Engine 4, from the Bradford station, was the first to arrive. Firefighters extinguished the blaze within 15 minutes and kept it from doing more serious damage to the single-family, wood frame house, Akstin said.

The fire started on a porch attached to the rear and side of the house. Akstin estimated the damage at $20,000.

Picard told three residents of the home, a man and two women, that they could enter the building to retrieve personal belongings but he advised them against staying too long because of unsafe conditions.

Firefighters battled the blaze in 75-degree heat. A Trinity ambulance brought bottles of water to ensure the firefighters were adequately hydrated, according to Deputy Fire Chief Eric Tarpy.

Engines 1, 2, 3, 8 and 9 and Ladder 1 also went to the scene. The engines drew water from a nearby hydrant at Lincolnshire Drive and Devonshire Lane.

Providing coverage for Haverhill fire stations were Lawrence Engine 2, Methuen Engine 6, a Groveland pumper, a tower truck from Salem, New Hampshire, and crews from the Ayers Village and Rocks village volunteer companies.

Although no one was hurt, three Trinity ambulances responded as a precaution.

— Paul Tennant 

 

Local woman facing deportation

A Haverhill woman who falsely used the identity of another person to apply for a U.S. passport was sentenced last week in federal court in Boston for passport fraud.

Patricia Cedeno-Larios, 52, a Mexican national living in Haverhill, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV to time served and was immediately taken into custody by Homeland Security investigation agents, pending deportation, according to the U.S. Attorney's office in Boston.

In December 2018, Cedeno Larios pleaded guilty to making false statements in a passport application, the announcement said.

In March 2008, Cedeno Larios entered a Boston post office and used the name, date of birth, and Social Security number of a United States citizen from Puerto Rico to apply for a United States passport, investigators said.

U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling, Special Agent-in-Charge of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service Boston field office William B. Gannon, Special Agent-in-Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Boston Peter C. Fitzhugh, and Special Agent-in-Charge of the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General Scott Antolik made the announcement.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Soivilien prosecuted the case.

— Mike LaBella

 

City schools apply for after school grant

The school district is applying for another competitive grant to fund its long-standing after-school programming at Golden Hill Elementary, Tilton Elementary and Whittier Middle schools.

Haverhill currently has successful and popular Discovery Club programs before school, after school, and in the summer for students at Bradford, Golden Hill, Tilton, Consentino, Whittier Middle and Haverhill High schools.

The funding for Golden Hill, Tilton, and Whittier will allow students to continue to enjoy homework help, academic enrichment, and recreational activities in a school-based program at these sites.

Examples of enrichment activities include STEM, literacy, arts, recreation, and project-based learning activities. Students can attend four to five days per week. A healthy snack and transportation home will be provided if the district receives funding.

For more information or to comment on this application, contact the after school program office at 978-420-1954.

— Mike LaBella

 

State seeks to rein in drug costs

The cost of prescription drugs through the state's Medicaid program has soared to more than $1.9 billion a year, cutting deep into the budget and threatening to crowd out spending on other crucial health-care programs.

At the Massachusetts Statehouse, policymakers are debating several price-control proposals to rein in the growth of prescription drug spending in MassHealth, which serves 1.9 million low- and moderate-income people. But the proposals face mounting opposition from the pharmaceutical industry, which argues that price controls would stifle the development of life-saving medications.

Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican and former health care executive, pitched a plan earlier this year as part of his proposed budget that would allow the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to publicly post the "value" of a drug if it is found to be unreasonably priced and if there is no agreement on supplemental rebates with the manufacturer.

His plan would require drug companies to participate in public hearings and report pricing information to state agencies. Those who don't cooperate could be sued by the attorney general's office.

Baker administration officials expect the changes would save the state's Medicaid program an estimated $80 million in the next fiscal year alone.

The Senate agreed with many of Baker's proposals as part of the budget it adopted, but the House passed a scaled-down version, stripping out many of the price controls.

Lawmakers from both chambers are meeting behind closed doors in an attempt to reach agreement on the drug-pricing plans and other sticking points in the nearly $43 billion budget.

Advocacy groups, such as the Boston-based Health Care for All, say they favor Baker’s and the Senate's more aggressive approaches to reining in costs.

"We think publicly posting the price of a drug is critical because it provides incentives for the drug manufacturers to come to the table to engage in negotiations," said Alyssa Vangeli, co-director of policy and government relations for the group. "It also ensures that the pharmaceutical industry is doing its fair share to help address MassHealth costs."

Vangeli said the likelihood that a company's drug prices could be posted online for competitors and other states to see will compel them to lower the cost of those medicines.

Zach Stanley, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Bio-technology Council, said drug price controls will throttle innovation and hinder the development of new drugs.

"At the end of the day, this feels like they're trying to punish manufacturers for success," he said. "If you're a company that produced a drug that turns out to be successful and helps sick people, the government is essentially saying we're not going to pay you in the way you feel you should be rewarded, but whatever the government thinks the drug is worth."

The group, which represents the state's thriving life and bio-science sectors, opposes drug price controls but favors the House approach over Baker's plan and the Senate version.

"We believe the public hearing language in the governor's bill is solely designed to publicly shame manufacturers into lowering their prices," Stanley said.

WIDESPREAD PROBLEM

The debate over price controls has national implications, as many other states are wrestling with the high costs of health care, especially prescription drugs.

Earlier this week, a national political action committee launched an advertising campaign backing Baker's proposal to rein in the state's Medicaid drug costs.

"Massachusetts residents are suffering under relentless prescription drug price hikes," said David Mitchell, founder of Patients For Affordable Drugs Now, which is largely funded by a Houston couple, in a statement. "The status quo gives drug companies carte blanche to dip into state coffers and patients’ pockets, and it’s time for change."

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a leading trade group, also has weighed into the state-level debate, claiming Baker's proposal would "put cutting-edge treatments out of reach for Massachusetts’ most vulnerable patients."

"While we all want to increase value for patients, improve quality, reduce waste and lower costs, this proposal misses the mark because it lets the government define 'value,' which leads to a one-size-fits-all solution," Tiffany Haverly, a spokeswoman group, said in a statement.

"If this policy becomes law, it will insert the government between patients and their doctors, impeding individualized treatments and discouraging innovation," she added.

The price controls being considered as part of the budget are among dozens filed this session that seek to lower MassHealth spending, which consumes roughly 40% of the budget.

Rep. Lenny Mirra, R-West Newbury, has filed a proposal that would allow for importing cheaper generic drugs from Canada to offset costs to the Medicaid program.

"We all want drug prices to be transparent, and we need Medicaid to negotiate lower prices because it’s eating away at the state budget," said Mirra, a member of the Legislature's Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. "But price controls never work. What we need is more competition."

A report last year by the Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank, found that many drug pricing transparency laws do not lower consumer out-of-pocket costs, and that expensive and onerous compliance rules would likely put upward pressure on prices.

REPORTS AND CRITICISM

The report recommended that policymakers focus on value-based reimbursements for drugs, where the cost of a specific medicine is tied to its overall effectiveness.

Others suggest that drug costs are rising along the supply chain, marked up by private agreements between pharmaceutical companies and third-party administrators.

A new report from the state's Health Policy Commission claims that pharmacy benefit managers — private companies that act as third-party administrators of commercial health plans like MassHealth — charge much more than what Medicaid might reasonably expect to pay for many popular generic drugs.

"Everyone is paying for these drugs," said David Seltz, the commission's executive director. "There are drugs where the cost of the drug is decreasing over time, and yet the prices charged by the (pharmacy benefit managers) have been increasing during that same time period."

Industry groups have criticized the commission’s report, saying the methodology was flawed. They’ve argued that reimbursement rates have been decreasing in recent years.

In Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is reportedly working on a new drug-pricing proposal that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices and authorize a third-party administrator to set the price of a drug if Medicare and the drug company do not agree. That proposal hasn't been filed yet.

Reining in prescription drug costs was a key issue for national Democrats in the last year’s congressional campaigns and likely will be a major issue in the 2020 elections.

— Christian M. Wade

 

State weighs jobs impact of Raytheon merger

A day after Waltham-based Raytheon and the aerospace company United Technologies Corporation announced plans for a blockbuster merger, Gov. Charlie Baker said he does not yet know where in Massachusetts the new company will be located.

"It will probably take them six to nine months, anyway, to close the deal, and I imagine over that period of time some of that stuff will probably get worked out, but the really positive thing in this: They said point-blank that people are so fired up about the quality of the talent in Massachusetts that that made this decision a lot easier for both companies," Baker told reporters.

The defense contractor Raytheon was originally founded in Cambridge in 1922. UTC, comprised of Collins Aerospace and Pratt & Whitney, is headquartered in Farmington, Connecticut.

Raytheon has a plant on Lawrence Street in Andover, part of its Integrated Defense Systems business. The facility employs about 4,000 people in the production of radar systems.

The combined company, Raytheon Technologies, "will be headquartered in the greater Boston area, and will retain a corporate presence in existing locations," Raytheon and UTC said in a prepared statement last week.

Sen. Eric Lesser, a Longmeadow Democrat, wrote on Twitter that a "sizable portion of UTC's current workforce" is from the Springfield area, about a 20-minute drive away from that company's facility in Windsor Locks, Connecticut.

"I personally know many constituents that work at the UTC facilities in both Windsor Locks and Farmington, engineers, electricians, accountants, sales people, etc. Almost all very good and well paying careers with great career paths at a variety of education levels..." Lesser wrote. "Long term, what will happen to those Western Mass UTC jobs as a result of this merger? If facilities are relocated to metro Boston, what will losing those jobs mean for Western Mass? It won't be positive. We need good jobs at both ends of Massachusetts, and everywhere in between."

UTC and Raytheon said the transaction is expected to close in the first half of 2020. Raytheon Chairman and CEO Tom Kennedy will serve as executive chairman of the new company, and UTC Chairman and CEO Greg Hayes will be named CEO. Hayes will become chairman and CEO two years after the deal closes.

"By joining forces, we will have unsurpassed technology and expanded R&D capabilities that will allow us to invest through business cycles and address our customers' highest priorities," Hayes said in a prepared statement.

Asked about the merger, Baker said his office was not involved in negotiations to bring the headquarters to Massachusetts and that no incentives were offered.

"I will say that I did talk to a lot of people from Raytheon ... who said that the combined company will be headquartered in Massachusetts, will be called Raytheon Technologies, and that one of the things that made this whole thing work was the reputation of the people in Massachusetts, their work ethic, their creativity, their imagination and, frankly, the tremendous pool of really talented STEM, both students and people who currently work in the field," the governor said.

Kennedy, of Raytheon, is scheduled to moderate a Boston College Chief Executives Club lunch conversation with General Dynamics Chairman and CEO Phebe Novakovic.

— State House News Service

 

Local man sent to prison after pleading guilty to child porn charge

A Haverhill man who pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography was sentenced to 1 1/2 to 2 years in state prison.

According to the state Attorney General's office, Daniel Villers, 40, of 39 Cedar St., was sentenced in Essex Superior Court by Judge Thomas Dreschler after pleading guilty to one count of possession of child pornography.

According to a police report on file in Haverhill District Court, on Feb. 15, 2018, members of the Massachusetts State Police executed a search warrant at Villers' Cedar Street home as part of an investigation that began in October of 2017 related to the possession and dissemination of child pornography.

State Police said a CyberTipline report that had been submitted electronically by Chatstep to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was subsequently forwarded to the Attorney General's Office State Police Detective Unit for investigation.

Police said Chatstep is a secure, private, web-based chat room where users can create temporary chat rooms that “disappear” when the creator of a chat room ends the web session.

The files identified by Chatstep were determined to be child pornography, police said. Investigators traced those files to an IP address linked to Villers' internet account, police said.

Police said they used a search warrant at Villers' apartment and found a laptop computer, a camera, a smartphone and a desktop computer with a hard drive that contained several image files of child pornography.

— Mike LaBella

 

MBTA  boss seeks outside review after 2 derailments

The head of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is promising an independent review of recent derailments on the Boston-area transit system.

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak called for the "third-party assessment" after a subway derailment Tuesday morning of last week at the above-ground JFK/UMass stop.

Poftak said officials are investigating why the third car of the Red Line train went off the tracks, resulting in "significant damage" to the vehicle, the tracks and signals.

No serious injuries were reported, but the incident caused widespread disruption for riders.

Three days earlier, nine people were sent to hospitals after a Green Line train derailed near Kenmore Square.

Poftak said there is no connection between the two incidents. Officials blamed the weekend incident on operator error.

— Associated Press

 

 

This Week's Circulars