LOCAL BUSINESS

FirstEnergy refuels plant

A reactor at FirstEnergy Corp.’s nuclear power plant in the western Pennsylvania city of Shippingport has been shut down for refueling and other work.

Unit 2 at the Beaver Valley Power Station was taken down Monday for refueling that occurs every 18 months. The plant will also undergo other maintenance and a $14.8 million turbine upgrade.

FirstEnergy officials aren’t saying how long the unit will be down, but say the other reactor at the plant will operate at 100 percent capacity so there will be no loss of power available to customers.

The plant provides enough electricity to power 1 million homes.

Omnova reports higher profit

Omnova Solutions Inc. reported third-quarter net income of $6.4 million, or 14 cents a share, on sales of $288.2 million. That compared with $400,000 in profits, or 1 cent a share, on sales of $315.0 million for the same quarter a year earlier.

Slight increase in home prices

U.S. home prices climbed more than forecast in July from a year earlier, adding to signs that housing will spur economic growth.

In the Cleveland metropolitan area, prices rose 0.4 percent from July a year ago. However, using data adjusted to take into account seasonal changes in the housing market, prices were down 0.4 percent from June.

The S&P/Case-Shiller index of property values in 20 cities increased 1.2 percent from July 2011, the biggest 12-month advance since August 2010, the national report said. The median forecast of 23 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a 1.1 percent gain.

The Case-Shiller index is based on a three-month average, which means the July data were influenced by transactions in May and June.

AGRICULTURE

Food prices expected to rise

Consumers could pay 3 to 4 percent more for food in 2013 as the nation’s worst drought since the 1950s works its way onto retail store shelves, the Department of Agriculture said, leaving its forecast unchanged from last month.

Retail food costs are rising 2.5 to 3.5 percent in 2012, the agency said, the same projection it’s held all year.

The drought pushed the price of corn, the main feed source for livestock to a record $8.49 a bushel on Aug. 10, after surging 68 percent from mid-June. Since then, futures have dropped 12 percent, easing pressure on food costs. Still, retail beef prices are forecast to rise as much as 5 percent next year, the biggest projected increase among all food groups.

“Looking ahead to 2013, inflation is expected to remain strong for most animal-based food products due to higher feed prices,” the USDA said in the report.

Egg prices might climb 2.5 to 3.5 percent in 2012, up from a 1 percent to 2 percent forecast a month ago, and cooking oils and fats may be as much as 6 percent more expensive, a full percentage point higher than predicted in August, the USDA said. The increases could be offset by projected drops in the inflation rate for fruits and vegetables.

Food prices have risen 1.2 percent so far this year, the government said this month. Retail food costs rose 3.7 percent in 2011, according to the USDA.

The drought has prompted the USDA to declare natural disasters in more than 1,800 counties in 35 states, more than half of the country’s total.

HEALTH CARE

Hospital bills under scrutiny

Hospital bills are being audited as the United States tries to identify whether new electronic records were used to “game the system” and overcharge the Medicare health program.

Some hospitals might be “cloning” patient records and “upcoding” their bills — charging for higher intensity services than are given — to raise payments from the government, Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Attorney General Eric Holder said in a letter Monday to five trade associations. Hospitals caught misusing the electronic systems could be prosecuted for fraud or lose Medicare payments, the officials said.

Encouraged by as much as $27 billion in incentives in President Barack Obama’s 2009 economic stimulus law, hospitals and doctors’ offices have been converting paper record-keeping systems to computers, an effort the administration said would reduce medical errors and save money. Instead, the government said, hospitals might be using the systems to increase their billings for Medicare, the federal program for the elderly and disabled.

“There are troubling indications that some providers are using this technology to game the system, possibly to obtain payments to which they are not entitled,” Sebelius and Holder wrote.

Compiled from staff and wire reports