Government health insurance markets holding up, barely

Enough insurers are planning to sell coverage on the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges next year to keep those markets working in most parts of the country.

Competition has dwindled, however, and another round of steep price hikes is expected to squeeze consumers who don’t receive big income-based tax credits to help pay their bill.

Health insurers had until Wednesday to declare whether they planned to sell coverage next year on the exchanges in most states. Actual participation and final rates won’t be set until later in the year.

The consulting firm Avalere expects more than 40 percent of U.S. counties to have only one insurer selling coverage on the exchange in 2018. Early plans filed by many insurers include premium increases of well over 20 percent.

Gov. Inslee calls lawmakers back for third special session

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Gov. Jay Inslee has called lawmakers back for a third special session, saying that “the clock is running out” before the state faces a partial government shutdown.

Lawmakers have been struggling to reach consensus on how write a budget that also satisfies a state Supreme Court mandate on education funding and have not been able to reach an agreement on a new two-year state budget.

The state has been in contempt of court since 2014 for lack of progress on satisfying a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling that found that school funding was not adequate. The court has said the state has until Sept. 1, 2018, to comply, but the details — including funding — must be in place before the Legislature adjourns this year.

If a new budget is not signed by midnight June 30, a partial government shutdown begins July 1.

Man in semitrailer dies in crash with train

PLYMOUTH, Wash. (AP) — A 66-year-old man died in a crash involving his semitrailer and a freight train in southeastern Washington.

The Benton County Sheriff’s Office says deputies responded to the crash Wednesday afternoon near Plymouth by the Columbia River.

The sheriff’s office says Ronald Slagg was driving north on a private road that crosses railroad tracks when the crash with a BNSF train occurred.

The sheriff’s office says Slagg was seriously injured and the vehicle was torn apart. Authorities say Slagg died later Wednesday at a hospital.

The trailer was empty while the 53-car train was carrying lighter fluid and an acid. There were no reports of leaks or lost cargo and the conductor and engineer on the train weren’t injured.

A small fire that started in nearby brush was put out by firefighters.

Authorities are investigating.

Coast Guard rescues 2 mariners from sinking yacht

SEATTLE (AP) — The Coast Guard has rescued two mariners from a vessel that was taking on water about 30 miles (48 kilometers) west of Grays Harbor, Washington.

The U.S. Coast Guard said in a news release that an air crew responded to a call for help Wednesday afternoon from the owner of an 87-foot yacht.

Officials say a helicopter crew arrived and safely hoisted the two people from the boat.

Crews from a Coast Guard boat also responded to the vessel to monitor its condition.

Crash claims up 2.7 percent in first states to legalize pot

DENVER (AP) — An insurance study links increased car crash claims to legalized recreational marijuana.

The Highway Loss Data Institute, a leading insurance research group, released the results Thursday saying the study found collision claims in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon went up 2.7 percent in the years since legal pot sales began when compared with surrounding states.

Marijuana advocates question the study’s comparison of states with such varied populations.

Researchers accounted for factors such as the number of vehicles on the road in the study and control states, age and gender of drivers, weather and even whether the driver making a claim was employed. Neighboring states with similar fluctuations in claims were used for comparison.

Insurance industry groups have been keeping a close watch on claims when auto accidents across the country began to go up in 2013 after more than a decade of steady decline.

Launch of Nevada’s recreational pot sales may hinge on court

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada regulators are working against a fast-approaching deadline to launch recreational marijuana sales July 1.

The startup could hinge on a court decision on whether the liquor industry should be guaranteed a piece of the pot pie before tourists and residents can light up.

Lawyers for the alcohol distributors, marijuana retailers and the state go before a judge Monday.

They’re arguing over whether the state can issue marijuana distribution licenses to anyone besides alcohol distributors.

The state says it has the power to temporarily license some existing medical marijuana cultivators and retailers to serve as their own middlemen.

The liquor lobby says the law gives it the first shot at licenses, the only legal pot state with that arrangement.

Carson City District Judge James Wilson has blocked all licensing until the matter is resolved.

Sword fern deaths in Washington state park mystify experts

SEATTLE (AP) — About a third of the sword ferns in a northwestern Washington state park have died and it’s not clear why.

Officials tracking the forest dwelling sword ferns in the 300-acre (121-hectare) Seward Park in Seattle say the ferns have been dying at an accelerating rate in the last few years.

Forest Steward Paul Shannon says studies found 3 percent of the park’s sword ferns dead in 2015 but that jumped to 33 percent in 2016.

Tim Billo teaches environmental sciences at the University of Washington.

He tells KING-TV that young ferns aren’t replacing dead ferns and the problem is spreading in the park.

Officials say similar die-offs of sword ferns that can be 6 feet (1.8 meters) long have been noted on nearby Mercer Island and the Kitsap Peninsula.