Archive for September 12th, 2012

Health Care Premiums Rise Modestly, Report Says – NYTimes.com


Health Care Premiums Rise Modestly, Report Says – NYTimes.com.

A family with employer-provided health insurance now pays just under $16,000 in annual premiums, an increase of about 4 percent over a year ago, according to a study released Tuesday by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.

Individual policies purchased through an employer rose even less, increasing just 3 percent from last year to an average of $5,615, the study said.

“It is a year of very moderate increases in premiums and health care costs,” said Drew Altman, the chief executive and president of Kaiser, which tracks health care spending. The foundation surveys more than 2,000 small and large employers each year.

The increase, to $15,745 from $15,073, contrasts with the 9 percent increase Kaiser reported from 2010 to 2011, which gave rise to concerns that health care spending might begin rising rapidly again.

Kaiser said the lower premiums were a sign that the rise in health care costs continued to be modest. But the study’s authors were cautious about the explanation, wondering whether the smaller increases in recent years signaled the start of a long-term trend or were simply the result of a slow economy.

“We don’t know if health care premiums and costs will shoot back up and by how much when the economy improves,” Mr. Altman said. Insurers generally base the premiums they charge on what they expect the health care costs of their members will be.

Analysts generally agree that the deep recession and the sputtering recovery have helped keep health care spending — and insurance premiums — lower than the double-digit increases experienced in 2004 and before. In 2002, for example, Kaiser reported a 13 percent jump.

Part of the reason, they say, is that many consumers have decided not to go to the doctor or have elective surgery during the downturn because of higher out-of-pocket costs.

About half of workers covered by employers now have a deductible of at least $1,000 for individual policies. In 2007, only 21 percent of workers had deductibles that high, according to Kaiser. The study is being published online by the journal Health Affairs.

The report also looked at differences between how much employees are paying for premiums in companies where at least 35 percent of workers earn $24,000 or less a year, compared with how much employees are paying where at least 35 percent of workers earn $55,000 a year.

Employers typically ask workers to pay some share of the overall premium cost out of their paychecks.

Kaiser found that workers at places with more low-wage employees paid on average $1,000 more in premiums than those working at places employing more higher-earning workers. The low-wage employees paid, on average, nearly $5,000 for their share of premiums, while higher-earning individuals paid about $4,000, on average.

Paul Ginsburg, the president of the Center for Studying Health System Change, a nonpartisan research group, cautioned against reading too much into survey results for any one year, especially since last year’s findings by Kaiser may have been high.

But, over all, he said, health care spending seemed to be relatively stable. “Recession and the slow recovery are probably the principal factor,” he said.

Some insurance executives are also cautious about predicting that health care spending will not rise rapidly, once the economy recovers. Many have been surprised at how much people have reduced their doctor visits. “I didn’t think I would see utilization this low, either,” said Janice Knight, an executive for Health Care Service Corporation, which operates Blue Cross Blue Shield health plans in states like Illinois and Texas.

Others speculate that there could be something more going on as both patients and doctors adapt to changes stemming from the federal health care law and a determination by private insurers to keep spending down.

When asked to share more of the cost of a branded prescription drug, for example, consumers were more willing to use generic medications, and the Affordable Care Act has numerous provisions that help rein in costs, said David Cutler, a health economist at Harvard University. “The slow economy is only part of it,” he said.

“Every data point makes me more likely to believe that this a fundamental change rather than just a temporary change,” said Mr. Cutler.
A version of this article appeared in print on September 12, 2012, on page B1 of the New York edition with the headline: Health Care Premiums Rise Slightly.

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Pennsylvania’s Bad Election Law – NYTimes.com


Pennsylvania’s Bad Election Law – NYTimes.com.

On Thursday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments about the state’s strict new photo ID law, which is allegedly intended to prevent voter fraud. A voter must present a government-issued or other approved photo ID at a polling place to vote or can file a provisional ballot, which must be validated later by a submission of a photo ID or proof that the voter is indigent.
Related

A Tight Election May Be Tangled in Legal Battles (September 10, 2012)
Pennsylvania Judge Keeps Voter ID Law Intact on Its Way to Higher Court (August 16, 2012)

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The state has offered no evidence of voter identity fraud to justify this law. There is no legitimate government interest that justifies the burden the law imposes on voters. If the court does not block the law, it will cause irreparable harm. In Philadelphia, for instance, almost one-fifth of the registered voters may not have an acceptable form of identification to vote on Election Day. Statewide, almost one-tenth may not.

When he signed the law in March, Gov. Tom Corbett claimed that it “sets a simple and clear standard to protect the integrity of our elections.” But, at a meeting of the Republican State Committee in June, the House majority leader, Mike Turzai, boasted that it would “allow Governor Romney to win the State of Pennsylvania.”

A state trial judge, Robert Simpson, last month rejected a motion by voters and civic groups to prevent the law from going into effect. They argued that the ID requirement would strip away the fundamental right to vote, particularly for disadvantaged groups.

Judge Simpson, however, said he was obliged to follow a 2008 United States Supreme Court case, which upheld an Indiana voter ID law. But, in that case, the court was applying the United States Constitution to a less stringent Indiana law. In this case, the Pennsylvania law is far more burdensome on voters and the State Constitution is arguably even more protective of voting rights. In fact, this case is more similar to ones in Missouri and Wisconsin where state courts, applying state constitutions, struck down photo ID laws.

The law will result in disproportionate harm to minorities, people with low incomes and senior citizens. The court should enter an injunction against it before the November elections.

News Wrap: Paul Ryan Attacks President Obama’s Economic Record in Iowa | PBS NewsHour | Sept. 5, 2012 | PBS


News Wrap: Paul Ryan Attacks President Obama's Economic Record in Iowa | PBS NewsHour | Sept. 5, 2012 | PBS.

Transcript

KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans today offered their own critical take on the Democratic Convention. In Adel, Iowa, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan said tonight’s main speaker, former President Bill Clinton, will try to shift attention from Mr. Obama’s economic record.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-Wi.), Vice Presidential Candidate: We’re going to hear a lot of things in Charlotte, but we’re not going to hear a convincing argument that we’re better off than we were four years ago.
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We’re going to hear from President Clinton tonight in Charlotte. My guess is, we will get a great rendition of how good things were in the 1990s, but we’re not going to hear much about how things have been in the last four years.

KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney continued debate preparations at a private home in Vermont. However, he took a quick trip to an appliance store in nearby Lebanon, New Hampshire, where he spoke with supporters about the needs of small business.

Wall Street hesitated today, after a profit warning from the shipping giant FedEx. The company says it’s being hurt by a slowdown in business, the latest sign that the global economy is dialing back. That was enough to keep stocks in check. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 11 points to close at 13047. The Nasdaq fell five points to close at 3069.

The passage of Hurricane Isaac has exposed oil from the 2010 spill along the Louisiana and Alabama coastline. BP acknowledged today that the oily tar came from its record-breaking leak at a Gulf well site. The tar balls and mats had been buried under sand since then, but reappeared after the hurricane caused severe beach erosion. Louisiana has closed one stretch of beach and restricted fishing.

The government of Syria came under new pressure today from two former allies. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the Syrian regime of terrorism. He also criticized the

United Nations for not doing enough to stop the killing of Muslims.

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, Turkish Prime Minister (through translator): The regime has become one of state terrorism. It is now in that situation. Since March 2011, the number of those who have been massacred and martyred in Syria is now almost 30,000. In Syria, the massacres that are empowered by the indifference of the internal community, especially the U.N. Security

Council, are continuing increasingly.

KWAME HOLMAN: In Cairo, Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi also denounced Syria. He called again for President Bashar al-Assad to step down. Meanwhile, The New York Times cited reports that Iraq is again allowing Iran to use its airspace to fly weapons to the Syrian regime.

The Iraqis had shut down the air corridor earlier this year, under U.S. pressure.

A former police chief who touched off a major scandal in China has been charged with defection, taking bribes and abusing his power. State media announced the charges against Wang Lijun today. In February, Wang briefly took refuge at a U.S. Consulate after being demoted as police chief in a city in Southwestern China. That led to the ouster of Bo Xilai, his former boss, as Communist Party leader there. Bo is still under investigation.

Last month, Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, was given a suspended death sentence for the murder of a British businessman.

In Afghanistan, the military announced today it has arrested or expelled hundreds of soldiers, as part of an effort to stop so-called insider attacks on foreign troops. The attacks come as the U.S. tries to continue its plan to transition out of Afghanistan.

Margaret Warner has the story.

MARGARET WARNER: On a pre-convention swing through Virginia yesterday, President Obama again touted his plans to end the Afghan war.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This November, you get to decide the future of the war in Afghanistan. By the end of this month, I will have brought home 33,000 troops.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I have said we will end this war in 2014.

MARGARET WARNER: But a linchpin of that promise, to train Afghan forces to take over the fight, faces a new challenge; 45 NATO troops have been killed this year by Afghan troops, 15 just last month, all this just two years before a planned handover of security to full Afghan control.

U.S. and Afghan officials have vowed to fix the problem. And, in Kabul today, a Defense Ministry spokesman said hundreds of Afghan forces have been fired or detained for showing links with insurgents.

GEN. MOHAMMAD ZAHIR AZIMI, Spokesman, Afghan Defense Ministry (through translator): All the Afghan security forces were ordered to use all of their resources in hand to prevent these kinds of incidents.

MARGARET WARNER: And last weekend, the U.S. military suspended training for 1,000 new recruits in special village-based Afghan local police units being tutored by American special forces.

U.S. Army Lieutenant General James Terry said today about a quarter of the insider attacks can be blamed on insurgent infiltrators or their sympathizers. The rest, he said, stem from personal vendettas and cultural miscommunication.

LT. GEN. JAMES TERRY, Commander, ISAF Joint Command: We also understand that a lot of grievances and dispute resolutions are done, frankly, at the barrel of a gun out there.

MARGARET WARNER: Though the U.S. is re-vetting all 16,000 Afghan local police forces, it’s unclear how many of the total 350,000 Afghan troops will be re-screened.