Monday, 27 October 2014

BBB Tip of the Week

Open enrollment for many 2015 health insurance plans is around the corner.

Those searching for plans online may think they have found a great deal when they’ve found a scam.

Recently, a bogus trade association encouraged people and small businesses to pay for membership in order to qualify for health insurance. Once members, they would pay their monthly health insurance “premium,” anywhere from $40 to $1,000, thinking they had purchased a comprehensive health insurance plan. Instead they were paying premium prices for a medical discount plan with very limited discounts for just a few doctors and hospitals.

The FTC has reached settlements stopping two businesses perpetrating such schemes: Independent Association of Businesses and Health Service Providers Inc.

Similar online schemes may still be operating. In addition, online phishing scams are eager to collect your personal information by pretending to offer health insurance.

The Better Business Bureau offers the following tips to keep your information safe and find legitimate health insurance:

• Don’t share your personal information online unless you are completely certain that the website is legitimate.

• To be certain that you are dealing with a legitimate health insurance exchange, start your search at

• If you would rather deal directly with an insurance company or broker, research the company first.  Also check the company’s business review at or by calling (455)-4200.

• To verify that the health insurance plan and company are legitimate, check with the Washington state Office of the Insurance Commissioner at

• Insurance plans have policy details available for you to review before you enroll. If an insurance broker, company or association refuses to give you up-front details about a policy, then it is probably a scam.

If you’ve been the victim of or suspect a health insurance scam, file complaints with the Washington state Office of the Insurance Commissioner at, the FTC at, and the BBB at 


Thursday, 23 October 2014


The U.S. health care system has changed significantly since the passage of the Affordable Care Act. The federal law introduced many changes to the insurance space and health care market and helped change the way that people shop for health insurance coverage. With the launch of insurance exchanges, new marketplaces were opened up to consumers, but these exchanges also represented a promising opportunity for scammers that are looking to exploit a person’s private information.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission recently issued a warning about the growing prevalence of insurance scams, and there are some things that people can do to protect themselves and their information when shopping for insurance coverage.

Be Careful About What You Share Online
Many insurance scams seek to collect personal information through fraudulent websites. These sites can be designed to look official, but are merely fronts for criminal activity. Many fraudulent sites attempt to show that they represent an insurance or government agency, offering policies at discounted rates, but the policies that these sites offer are not real and exist only to collect information, such as medical records.

Beware of Unsolicited Calls
Sometimes, scammers prefer to take a more direct approach and will disguise themselves as insurance agents representing a reputable company or exchange. These people often attempt to call consumers and offer inexpensive insurance policies based on the information that they provide. Insurance exchanges do not randomly contact consumers and organizations promoting coverage through exchanges will never ask for personal information to be shared over the phone.

Document Everything
Keeping records of all salespeople you may come in contact with, as well as the names of their representative companies, could be valuable if your information is ever compromised. Information can be used for or against you, and collecting information from the agents or organizations trying to sell you insurance could be a powerful tool in keeping yourself safe. Reputable organizations have little concern with sharing their own information.


Research can help uncover a scam relatively quickly. Searching for a company’s name and the complaints lodged against them online can provide some insight into whether or not that company can be trusted. An organization with a poor, or non-existent, reputation may be something to avoid.


Monday, 20 October 2014

Westhill Healthcare Consulting Jakarta fraud prevention review - FTC Warns about fake health insurance sites trying to trick you out of personal information

Tulsa – October marks the start of when many health insurance plans open enrollment. Medicare and Obamacare will also soon begin enrolling for next year’s coverage.

2NEWSProblem Solver Jamil Donith has a word of caution before you shop for health insurance online.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, health insurance scams are preying on consumers shopping for or comparing health plans online. Scammers use websites or phony non-profit sites that seem to offer discount medical plans. In reality, the sites are set up to get your personal information. Things like your age, occupation, contact information, marital status and whether you have pre-existing medical conditions.

The FTC advises:
Be stingy with your personal information when you’re on the web. When a site asks for your personal information know that data could end up in the wrong hands. A health insurance website might look like the real deal, but many are fronts for criminals wanting to steal your money and personal information.
Research a company before giving it your business. Enter the company’s name and the “complaints” into an online search engine to see what comes up. And, before giving any personal information ask the company for the details in writing about what you want to buy. If it can’t provide the fine prince, that’s a big red flag.
Finally, check to find out if the plan you want to buy is really insurance. The State Insurance Department can tell you whether the plan is legitimate and whether an insurance provider is licensed to do business in Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Insurance Department website link is


Thursday, 16 October 2014

Westhill Healthcare Consulting Jakarta fraud prevention review Wonkbook: Why the Obama administration won’t oversell Obamacare in year two

Wonkbook’s Number of the Day: 70 percent. That's the latest estimate of the mortality rate in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the World Health Organization announced.

Wonkbook’s Chart of the Day: Oil prices are falling, and fast.

Wonkbook's Top 5 Stories: (1) Obamacare October surprises and a lower sales bar; (2) Ebola treatments for U.S. patients; (3) attorney general nomination update; (4) security threats of climate change; and (5) new help for long-term jobless.

1. Top story: With a month to go, why the Obama administration won't oversell Obamacare in year two

Team Obama's year-two strategy: Underselling Obamacare. "The Obama administration vastly oversold how well Obamacare was going to work last year. It’s not making the same mistake this year. Gone are the promises that enrolling will be as easy as buying a plane ticket on Orbitz. The new head of HHS is not on Capitol Hill to promise that is on track. And no one is embracing Congressional Budget Office projections of total sign-up numbers.Sobered — and burned — by last fall’s meltdown of the federal website, the administration is setting expectations for the second Obamacare open enrollment period as low as possible. Officials say the site won’t be perfect but will be improved." Jennifer Haberkorn in Politico.

Explainer: 5 things we need to know about Obamacare before enrollment begins. Jason Millman in The Washington Post.

If you like your plan, can you keep it this time? "Health insurance companies, at least so far, seem to think is on the right track to function more smoothly for new customers. But insurers still see gaps in the system for people who want to renew their coverage, including pitfalls that threaten consumers with duplicate enrollments, unexpected cancellations, or surprising tax bills. Insurers aren't necessarily worried about problems as dramatic as last year's failure, but rather what one industry official called 'a soup of kind of icky things' that could make life difficult for returning enrollees. Some of the technical problems stem from the difficult balance between keeping people enrolled and encouraging them to shop for a better deal." Sam Baker in National Journal.

The potential perils of auto-renewing. "If you auto-renew, you’ll most likely be assigned the same tax credit as you had for 2014. But if your income has increased, your credit may be too large — and you could end up owing the government money, when the numbers are reconciled at tax time. Consumers are supposed to report changes in income during the course of the year, he said, but it’s likely that many have not. So by re-enrolling and updating details about income, you’ll help make sure the credit is properly adjusted. Also, because of a quirk in the way the A.C.A. calculates the tax credits, some consumers who stick with their same plan actually could end up paying more — even if their original plan doesn’t raise its rates." Ann Carrns in The New York Times.

Explainer: How the new stacks up with the old Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Calvin Woodward in the Associated Press.

An Obamacare October surprise? "Obamacare premiums aren’t rising everywhere. They just have a way of finding the states with the biggest Senate races. And that could be very bad timing for Democrats in two of the party’s key contests. Double-digit rate hikes for individual health insurance plans have become an issue in the Louisiana and Iowa Senate races over the past week, where the Republican candidates are hammering their Democratic opponents for the steep premium increases on the way next year for some customers under the Affordable Care Act....The attacks could easily give the impression that the health care law is causing premiums to go through the roof around the country. They’re not." David Nather in Politico.

For employer-based plans, expect modest premium hikes and higher consumer costs likely. "Premium increases for 2015 plans are expected to be modest on average, but the shift toward higher out-of-pocket costs overall for consumers will continue as employers try to keep a lid on their costs and incorporate health law changes. Experts anticipate that premiums will rise a modest 4 percent in 2015, on average, slightly higher than last year but lower than typical recent Increases. Even so, more employers say they’re making changes to their health plans in 2015 to rein in cost growth....They are motivated in part by upcoming changes mandated by the health law." Michelle Andrews in Kaiser Health News.

Cities are eliminating health benefits once promised to retirees. Can Obamacare fill the gap? "Indeed, public employers across the country may soon begin following Detroit’s lead and withdrawing coverage for retirees, instead sending them to the health-care exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act. 'Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, I think it is fair to say that every public-sector employer is looking at the exchanges as a potential way to get out of the unfunded liabilities that the public sector is bearing,' said Olivia Mitchell, executive director of the Pension Research Council and a Wharton professor. 'People are becoming more expensive to take care of.'" Alana Semuels in The Atlantic.

Medicaid backlogs could worsen once Obamacare signup season arrives. "The delays stem from various technical problems and the sheer volume of Medicaid applications states must process. Some applications that come through the federal enrollment site,, and are transferred to the states still have problems with data accuracy, said Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors. While consumers can apply for Medicaid anytime, an influx is expected when exchanges reopen for enrollment on Nov. 15 and eligible applicants go into the Medicaid system." Stephanie Armour in The Wall Street Journal.

Other health care reads:

Your guide to Medicare open enrollment. Jonnelle Marte in The Washington Post.

U.S. finds many failures in Medicare plans. Robert Pear in The New York Times.

KLEIN: Obfuscating on Obamacare in Kentucky. "In attempting to navigate this environment, McConnell has staked out a position that’s incoherent — arguing that he wants to wipe out the awful entity 'Obamacare,' while trying to create the impression that it wouldn’t affect anybody’s benefits....But Grimes wasn’t being forthright either. It’s popular to criticize Republicans for attacking Obamacare without offering an alternative. On the flip side, Grimes vowed to streamline and fix Obamacare, without offering a single workable suggestion for how she’d go about it." Philip Klein in the Washington Examiner.
Top opinion

THOMA: What's the best way to overcome rising economic inequality? "So my approach to fighting inequality in the short-run is to use taxation and corrective redistribution to ensure that workers receive the income they deserve, to fix the distributional problems that have allowed those at the top to capture more than their fair share of income, and enact supply-side incentives that have been shown to work as soon as possible. The hope is that the supply-side policies and corrections to the distribution of income will produce the types of jobs and equitable compensation that are needed to solve the inequality problem in the longer run. But there’s a chance that no matter what we do, the inequality problem will persist." Mark Thoma in The Fiscal Times.

FEYMAN: Are private exchanges the future of health insurance? "In 2014, about 2.5 million people across companies of all sizes will be enrolled in health insurance through so-called private exchanges. These are analogous in some ways to Obamacare’s state and federal-based health insurance exchanges but instead are run by private consultancies like Aon Hewitt or Mercer. While these platforms generally offer a similar 'e-commerce' approach to purchasing health insurance — either with a single carrier or multiple carriers offering plans — as the public exchanges do, there remain key differences." Yevgeniy Feyman in Forbes.

PORTER: The risks of cheap water. "As climate change and population growth further stress the water supply from the drought-plagued West to the seemingly bottomless Great Lakes, states and municipalities are likely to impose increasingly draconian restrictions on water use. Such efforts may be more effective than simply exhorting people to conserve. In August, for example, cities and towns in California consumed much less water — 27 billion gallons less —than in August last year. But the proliferation of limits on water use will not solve the problem because regulations do nothing to address the main driver of the nation’s wanton consumption of water: its price." Eduardo Porter in The New York Times.

McARDLE: Don't care about the deficit? Now you should. "As the Fed tightens up on monetary policy, our borrowing costs are going to rise, not just for the new debt we take on, but also for the debt we already have. As old debt matures, we’ve been borrowing at record-low interest rates, which has helped hold down the deficit. But as the Fed tightens, that party will end, and the numbers will start moving in the other direction. This will take time — the Obama administration has been actively working to lengthen its debt maturities in order to take advantage of the low rates. But in future years, this will place constant upward pressure on our deficit." Megan McArdle in Bloomberg View.

CRAWFORD: A Nobel-winning message for the FCC. "Jean Tirole's Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences is being celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic by academics and economists. But there is no joy in the power circles of U.S. telecommunications policy. More than a decade ago, federal policy makers turned their backs on Tirole's sensible assessments of private communications utilities — and with disastrous results. Tirole's insight was that any company controlling physical lines into homes and businesses, left to its own devices, would act as a natural monopoly, extracting tribute from every other business and customer that depends on communications capacity. To constrain that power, regulators might need to separate wholesale and retail communications-access services, and require interconnection with other networks." Susan Crawford in Bloomberg View.

FRIEDMAN: A pump war? "Bottom line: The trend line for petro-dictators is not so good. America today has a growing advantage in what the former Assistant Energy Secretary Andy Karsner calls 'the three big C’s: code, crude and capital.' If only we could do tax reform, and replace payroll and corporate taxes with a carbon tax, we’d have a formula for resiliency and success far better than any of our adversaries." Thomas L. Friedman in The New York Times.

Science interlude: Schrödinger's cat — the thought experiment, explained.

2. How America is treating its Ebola patients

Breaking: 2nd worker who cared for Ebola patient tests positive. "The worker reported a fever Tuesday and was immediately isolated at Presbyterian hospital. Preliminary tests were performed late Tuesday by the laboratory for the Texas Department of State Health Services in Austin, and the positive results were received at about midnight. Additional tests to confirm the positive reading were underway by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Officials interviewed the worker to identify anyone else who might have been exposed, the Texas Department of State Health Services said in a statement, but it was unclear whether any others were being monitored." Manny Fernandez in The New York Times.

As nurses balk at protocols, hospital, CDC to ramp up its response measures. "A nurses’ union released a scathing statement that it said was composed by nurses at the Dallas hospital where the nurse, Nina Pham, 26, contracted Ebola. The statement told of 'confusion and frequently changing policies and protocols,' inadequate protection against contamination and spotty training....Officials at the hospital, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, defended their efforts to 'provide a safe working environment,' but said they would review any concerns raised by nurses. C.D.C. officials...pledged to dispatch within hours a newly created response team to any hospital that had a confirmed case of Ebola, and they increased the amount of expertise, oversight and training at the hospital." Manny Fernandez and Jack Healy in The New York Times.

Nurse with Ebola was given serum from surviving American doctor. "In late July, when it looked like Dr. Kent Brantly wasn’t going to make it, a small news item escaped Liberia. It spoke of Brantly’s treatment — not of the Ebola vaccine, Zmapp, which Brantly later got. But of a blood transfusion. He had 'received a unit of blood from a 14-year-old boy who had survived Ebola because of Dr. Brantly’s care,' the missive said. Now months later, Brantly, who has since recovered from his battle with the virus, has passed on the favor. A 26-year-old Dallas nurse named Nina Pham, who contracted the illness while treating the United States’ first Ebola patient, has received Brantly’s blood." Terrence McCoy in The Washington Post.

Why not give this blood to everyone? "It’s sheer luck that Brantly has been a match for all three. Another Ebola survivor, missionary Nancy Writebol, offered blood to Thomas Eric Duncan, but it wasn’t a match. Duncan died last week. The use of what’s called convalescent serum — blood from survivors of Ebola — is also controversial. It’s not clear whether it helps patients recover, although Brantly also received serum, in his case from a boy he treated in Liberia....Is there a way to make a 'universal' donor? Is there some way to make blood that doesn’t react with anyone’s blood? That’s what the makers of the experimental drug ZMapp are trying to do." Maggie Fox in NBC News.

Company puts sole focus on experimental Ebola drug ZMapp. "As Ebola continues to ravage West Africa and spreads for the first time in the United States, a Kentucky company is putting all other work aside to concentrate solely on producing the experimental medicine ZMapp. The goal: to ramp up production of the drug and get it approved and to the people who need it more quickly. Kentucky BioProcessing, contracted by privately held drugmaker Mapp Biopharmaceutical of San Diego to produce ZMapp, makes the compound using tobacco plants. The plants act as 'photocopiers' to mass-produce proteins." Laura Ungar in USA Today.

Chart: Experimental drugs used for Ebola. The Washington Post.

Experts question ethics of placebo trials for Ebola drugs. "A group of influential health experts has argued the standard practice of using placebos in drug trials would be unethical in the case of experimental medicines for Ebola, given that the world is in the middle of a deadly epidemic....A different group of disease experts last month argued in a letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association that experimental Ebola drugs were best tested in normal RCTs. A similar debate is going on in the field of cancer drugs, where researchers increasingly question whether randomisation — where some patients are given a treatment and others get a 'control' substance for comparison — makes sense in patients with an incurable disease." Kate Kelland in Reuters.

Explainer: A summary of promising Ebola therapies. Liz Szabo in USA Today.

The long quest for a vaccine slowed by ethics, politics and science. "The insidious nature of the Ebola virus has been among the hurdles in the long, elusive quest to develop an effective vaccine and treatment for one of the most dangerous viruses the world has ever known. Progress also has been slowed by the hazards that come with researching it and — perhaps more than anything else — by the economic and moral questions of focusing on a pathogen that until the current outbreak had infected fewer than 2,400 people worldwide....In the coming months, as caregivers, politicians, and armies struggle to deal with the spiraling number of cases, a handful of vaccines and treatments will be tested on humans for the first time." Karen Weintraub in National Geographic.

Has virus mutated to become more dangerous? We don't know yet. "While scientists don’t fully understand what the changes mean, some are concerned that alterations in the virus that occur as that pathogen continues to evolve could pose new dangers. Researchers have identified more than 300 new viral mutations in the latest strain of Ebola, according to research published in the journal Science last month. They are rushing to investigate if this strain of the disease produces higher virus levels — which could increase its infectiousness. So far, there is no scientific data to indicate that." Robert Langreth, Michelle Fay Cortez and John Lauerman in Bloomberg.

KLEIN: Panic, but not because Ebola threatens the US. "if Ebola becomes endemic in West Africa, all this will get much worse. In addition to the ongoing breakdown in basic services, it will be harder for West Africans to travel because few countries will let them in, it will be harder for them to trade because fewer businessmen will want to travel to the region, it will be harder for them to invest because international bankers will be scared off by the disease. It could set the region's development back decades. That's worth panicking over, not because it might kill vast numbers of Americans, but because it might cause a vast amount of human suffering. So yes, panic about Ebola. But if you live in the United States, calm down, it's not going to kill you." Ezra Klein in Vox.

GOTTLIEB AND TROY: Countering the domestic Ebola threat. "Health care professionals at all levels are of course not perfect and will make mistakes. Hospital protocols and public health preparedness plans must leave room for human error — especially when it comes to very hot pathogens like Ebola. But the CDC must do a better job of establishing clear and accurate procedures, take appropriate measures to reduce risk, and properly calibrate its public statements, if we’re going to inspire the public confidence that will be needed to prevent disruptions in the likely event of a wider, future outbreak." Scott Gottlieb and Tevi Troy in Forbes.

TORREY: How the US made the Ebola crisis worse. "A 1974 report on the 'Brain Drain' for the House Foreign Affairs Committee noted that the current policy was widening the gap between rich and poor nations, and warned that the policy 'has a great potential for mischief in the Nation’s future relations with the LDC [less developed countries].' Despite such complaints, U.S. policy has continued to encourage the immigration of physicians and other health workers from poorer countries....The consequences of this policy may be more than 'mischief.' Ebola may be merely the first of many prices to be paid for our long-standing but shortsighted health manpower policy." E. Fuller Torrey in The Wall Street Journal.

Animals interlude: A wrinkly bulldog puppy attempts to howl.

3. More clues on Obama's Holder successor

Ruemmler said to be the favorite. "Former White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler has emerged as President Barack Obama’s preferred candidate as the next attorney general, though he hasn’t decided on a nominee and is still weighing other choices, people familiar with the deliberations said. Advisers have told Obama that Ruemmler would encounter tough questioning in confirmation hearings about advice she gave the president during episodes of his presidency that have drawn Republican scrutiny, including the handling of lapses by the Secret Service, they said....A White House official said earlier today that Obama will wait until after the Nov. 4 midterm congressional elections to announce his choice to succeed Eric Holder." Mike Dorning and Del Quentin Wilber in Bloomberg.

The delay carries some legislative risks. "The White House aide said the decision to wait was driven in part by Senate Democrats. Had a nominee been named before the elections, Democratic Senate candidates inevitably would have been hounded on the trail to weigh in on the choice — presenting an uncomfortable situation for people who have been trying to keep their political distance from Obama, but would eventually be called on to support the president’s pick....The delay could create a chaotic situation if the White House wants a lame duck confirmation, even if the nomination comes immediately after Election Day. The the majority of the Senate might not be known for days, given several tight races. It could even take weeks." Edward-Isaac Dovere in Politico.

As Holder packs his bags, the DOJ plans to change its counsel competence waiver practices. "The Justice Department said Tuesday that it will no longer ask criminal defendants who plead guilty to waive their right to claim that their attorney was ineffective and deprived them of their constitutional right to a competent counsel. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said the new policy, his latest effort to reform the criminal justice system, is an attempt to ensure that all individuals who face criminal charges are ably represented." Sari Horwitz in The Washington Post.

Meanwhile, SCOTUS messes with Texas: Justices block state's controversial abortion law. "The court’s decision is not a judgment on the Texas law, but whether the law’s new restrictions should be delayed while the legal battle continued. Texas has been a leader among a number of states that have enacted new requirements for abortion clinics....At issue is the Supreme Court’s decision more than 20 years ago that, although states may regulate access to abortion, they may not pose an 'undue burden' on women who seek an abortion early in pregnancy. But the new laws test the extent of that 'undue burden' with new requirements that abortion providers say are hard for them to meet." Robert Barnes in The Washington Post.

Chart: Number of states imposing new regulations on abortion providers is growing. The Washington Post.

But Texas can enforce its voter ID law, appeals court says. "Texas won emergency permission to keep the law in effect while it appeals the trial judge’s ruling, which included a finding that 600,000 registered voters would be kept away from the polls. The decision will slow the momentum of Democratic efforts to increase voter turnout and may fuel a push by some Republican-controlled statehouses to make people prove their eligibility to vote. Republicans say the measures are needed to prevent fraud, while Democrats contend they’re designed to suppress turnout of poor, minority and elderly voters, who are less likely to have photo IDs and more likely to vote Democratic." Laurel Calkins and Mark Niquette in Bloomberg.

For SCOTUS, dental case is like pulling teeth. "The Supreme Court seemed to have little problem Tuesday concluding that a state board dominated by dentists should not get to decide who can perform teeth-whitening services. But when it comes to brain surgery, many of the same justices said they would rather empower neurologists than bureaucrats. As a result, they had a conundrum.The case before the court dealt with a North Carolina dental board's exclusion of non-dentists from the business of teeth whitening — a procedure that had been offered in shopping malls, spas and stores. Although most justices recognized the risk of letting dentists push others out of the market, they might not want to place the same restriction on neurologists." Richard Wolf in USA Today.

Other legal reads:

Where the fight for gay rights is headed now. Kaveh Waddell in National Journal.

Trick shots interlude: Dude Perfect, Dallas Stars edition.

4. How climate change could threaten national security

A 'threat multiplier.' "U.S. military officials have long warned that changes in climate patterns, resulting in increased severe weather events and coastal flooding, will have a broad and costly impact on the Defense Department's ability to protect the nation and respond to natural and humanitarian disasters in the United States and around the globe. The new report — described as a Pentagon roadmap — identifies four things that it says will affect the U.S. military: rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, more extreme weather and rising sea levels. It calls on the department and the military services to identify more specific concerns, including possible effects on the more than 7,000 bases and facilities, and to start putting plans in place to deal with them." Lolita C. Baldor in the Associated Press.

Explainer: 5 ways that climate change threatens national security. Brianna Ehley in The Fiscal Times.

What should a Paris emissions deal look like? A U.S. envoy explains. "His remarks about this emerging hybrid system — a pact with some kind of binding element but that doesn't impose emissions mandates on nations — underscore the intricate task that negotiators face. The talks are aimed at crafting a plan that can win buy-in from big developing nations that did not face obligations under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol....The U.S. never joined the Kyoto treaty. In addition, a new formal treaty would be dead on arrival in the U.S. Senate for the foreseeable future, so many observers expect the talks, if they succeed, to yield some kind of pact that would not need formal U.S. ratification. Stern's remarks, however, did not address that topic." Ben Geman in National Journal.

Advocates: EPA underestimating electricity's ability to be green. "The report says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set each state’s renewable energy production targets far too low in the proposed Clean Power Plan, the Obama Administration’s effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants. The plan’s goal is to reduce CO2 emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a science advocacy organization, says states can reduce emissions even more, by an average of 40 percent by 2030, mainly through the expansion of renewable power production far beyond what the Obama administration may expect from each state." Bobby Magill in Climate Central.

As the U.S. chills, the world burns. "While the United States is on pace for its coolest year in almost two decades, global temperatures could set a new record high for the year. The world experienced its warmest September since records began in 1880, according to data from the National Aeronautic and Space Administration. Similar record-breaking months to close out the year would make 2014 the hottest recorded. U.S. residents, though, aren't feeling the heat, given the unusually mild summer that followed a frigid winter." Zack Colman in the Washington Examiner.

Other environmental/energy reads:

U.S. shale oil output seen growing even as prices drop. Dan Murtaugh and Jing Cao in Bloomberg.

Oil prices plunge as production rises, fueling concern in OPEC. Steven Mufson in The Washington Post.

The incredible shrinking Keystone XL. Elana Schor in Politico.

Life's ponderables interlude: Is it unhealthy to be standing in front of a microwave while it's cooking?

5. The administration's new push for the long-term jobless

Long-term jobless grants get $170M from Obama administration. "The Obama administration is announcing $170 million in grants divided among 23 work projects across the country that aim to reduce the number of long-term unemployed Americans....Labor Secretary Tom Perez and National Economic Council director Jeff Zients announced the grant awards late Tuesday. The two officials and Vice President Joe Biden will hold a round-table meeting with top corporate CEOS on Wednesday at the White House to discuss their efforts to meet commitments earlier this year to hire more long-term unemployed workers." Jim Kuhnhenn in the Associated Press.

Audition programs are helping the long-term jobless. "More than five years into the U.S. expansion, 2.9 million Americans are long-term unemployed....Vives is among the 2 million who have been off the payrolls for more than a year. The slow progress in bringing that share down is a sign of lingering weakness in the labor market and a potential limit on the consumer spending that makes up the biggest part of the economy. It’s one reason for Federal Reserve policy makers to be patient in raising interest rates, and has prompted the White House to funnel money into programs aiding that segment of the jobless. Vives has landed at one of those programs: Platform 2 Employment, or P2E." Michelle Jamrisko in Bloomberg.

Job market for new graduates is looking up. "Campuses’ career counselors have been seeing encouraging signs, and now a major survey of employers backs them up: The coming year looks to be a much better one for new college graduates seeking jobs. Job openings for those graduates are projected to grow by double digits in 2014-15, following several years of smaller increases, according to key findings from the survey, which was released on Tuesday. Hiring of new bachelor’s-degree recipients will increase by 16 percent, the survey projects; hiring among all degree levels will grow at the same rate." Beckie Supiano in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Cities hiring most since 2008 thanks to the economy. "More U.S. cities are hiring than at any time since the Great Recession as the reviving economy and rising property taxes allow higher spending for a second straight year, according to a report released today. One-third of cities and towns expanded their workforces this year, compared with reductions in 18 percent, according to an annual survey by the National League of Cities. This is the first year since 2008 that job additions outpaced cuts. The gains come as 80 percent of cities said their financial position is stronger than a year ago, the most in at least 29 years." William Selway in Bloomberg.

Other economic/financial reads:

The $11 trillion advantage that shields the U.S. from turmoil. Shobhana Chandra in Bloomberg.

AIG bailout architects leave questions for executives. Andrew Zajac and Christie Smythe in Bloomberg.

Fed is silent on "doomsday" book, a blueprint for fighting crises. Binyamin Appelbaum in The New York Times.

Proposal interlude: A lip-dub marriage proposal at a cafe.
Wonkblog roundup

The Supreme Court deals a fresh setback to efforts to restrict access to abortions. Wonkblog Staff.

The Ebola outbreak is not just a human tragedy. It’s also an economic one. Ylan Q. Mui.

Paul Ryan has a trick up his sleeve when it comes to taxes. It won’t work. Matt O'Brien.

It’s not just Ebola. Health care is pretty dangerous work. Jason Millman.

Colorado marijuana revenues hit a new high. Christopher Ingraham.

Whites are more supportive of voter ID laws when shown photos of black people voting. Christopher Ingraham.

The many reasons millennials are shunning cars. Emily Badger.
Et Cetera

How churches are slowly becoming less segregated. Laura Meckler in The Wall Street Journal.

Government snooping proves weak campaign issue. Erin Kelly in USA Today.

Key Obama decisions on hold until after midterms. Josh Lederman in the Associated Press.

Senior House Financial Services members propose bipartisan Ex-Im Bank bill. Kristina Peterson in The Wall Street Journal.

Got tips, additions, or comments? E-mail us.

Wonkbook is produced with help from Michelle Williams and Ryan McCarthy.


Monday, 13 October 2014

Everyday Low Benefits Wal-Mart dumps 30,000 part-timers onto the ObamaCare

Wal-Mart endorsed ObamaCare in 2009 and helped drag the bill through U.S. Congress, and so far it hasn’t recanted. By holding back economic growth and incomes, perhaps the law is expanding the retailer’s customer base. Another plus—at least for management—is that Wal-Mart can jettison its employees into the ObamaCare insurance exchanges.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the largest U.S. private employer is dropping health benefits for some 30,000 workers, or about 5% of its part-time workforce. Earlier health-plan eligibility triage in 2011 had removed tens of thousands of Wal-Mart workers from the balance sheet, so this latest purge was probably inevitable.

Wal-Mart cites its inability to manage higher-than-anticipated health expenses. Perhaps— wasn’t ObamaCare supposed to bring those costs down? Obviously the company is also responding rationally to ObamaCare’s incentives. With a subsidized government alternative now open for business, and since corporations aren’t liable for a penalty for not covering people who work fewer than 30 hours a week on average, cost-control logic says to send such coverage ballast over the side. Other retail and grocery chains including Target, Home Depot and Trader Joe’s have already done the same.

ObamaCare’s critics predicted that such insurance dumping was inevitable, and the only question now is how many and how fast other companies partake of the new all-you-caneat entitlement buffet. Get whatever you like, the bill’s on taxpayers. The disruptions will be concentrated in industries with large numbers of low-skilled and low-income workers, like restaurants, hospitality and, yes, retail.

The irony is that even as Wal-Mart drops insurance because it is too costly, President Barack Obama is claiming credit for lowering health costs. He boasted the other day that the law gave every U.S. family “a $1,800 tax cut” by supposedly reducing the rate of employer-premium growth. ObamaCare had nothing to do with that, and it surely won’t be any consolation to Wal-Mart’s latest health-plan diaspora.


Thursday, 9 October 2014

4 Tips for Navigating Open Enrollment for Insurance

When shopping for a plan, start with the basics of what you’re looking for and what you’re willing to pay for, says Michael McMillan,Executive Director of Market and Network Services at Cleveland Clinic. Then make your selection carefully so you get what you’re paying for, he adds.
To help you navigate enrollment — either on health insurance exchanges or elsewhere — McMillan offers the following helpful tips:

1. Know what services are covered under a selected plan
Start by reviewing what each particular plan offers. For example, what does the network of care providers look like? What services are most important to you based on your particular health needs or conditions, and are they available within a plan’s coverage?
“This will be a period of great change, and consumers will have a lot of options they haven’t had before on the exchanges,” McMillan says. “It’s important to be clear on what’s available and what isn’t.”

2. Make sure your providers are part of the network
When choosing plans, this is a major factor. Look at any given plan to see if your doctors and hospitals you use regularly are listed as network providers.
One evolving trend has been for health plans to create narrow networks — smaller versions of their standard network that help them achieve a lower price. The bottom line: Not all providers are included in these limited networks, so it’s worth your effort to check first and make sure your new plan includes the doctors and other practitioners you see regularly, McMillan says.

3. Know your out-of-pocket costs
These are costs associated with the care received. They include things such as deductibles — the amount you pay before coverage kicks in — as well as copays and coinsurance on services. Out-of-pocket costs vary by the “metal” level of plan you choose on a health insurance exchange. So, for example, you would pay 40 percent of costs of coinsurance in a bronze plan, and 30 percent for silver.

In some high-deductible health plans, the first several thousand dollars will be your responsibility, too. For your personal budgeting and planning, it’s critical to know how much money you’ll have to pull out of your pocket when you go to the doctor, to the hospital, to the medical lab or for any other health service, McMillan notes.

4. Understand how your monthly premium works
Premiums are the monthly payments you make for your insurance coverage. Because the benefits for most plans, both on and off the exchanges, have become standardized, it should be fairly easy to make apples-to-apples comparisons among plans.
“You should be able to compare premium amounts, how much you pay every month for the service,” McMillan advises. However, your personal premiums may vary depending on your own circumstances — including whether you’re single or married, a smoker or a nonsmoker, and other factors.

2015 open enrollment for health insurance exchanges starts Nov. 15, 2014 and lasts until Feb. 15, 2015. Open enrollment periods for insurance plans outside of exchanges vary. No matter which path you pursue, learn as much as possible about your plan options before you buy, and you’ll end up with coverage that suits your needs as a result.