Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Palm Beach County Human Rights Council: Florida attorney general opens door for domestic partner benefits

(Tallahassee, Florida) Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum's Office has implemented a policy that allows his employees to use sick leave to care for their domestic partners.

"With this pro-family policy, Attorney General McCollum has become the second constitutional officer in Florida history to recognize the needs of non-traditional families," said Rand Hoch, President of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council.

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council is a non-profit organization that has been in the forefront of domestic partnership issues in Florida for more than 15 years.

At the Council's request, Florida CFO Alex Sink instituted a policy permitting her office's employees to use sick leave to care for domestic partners.

On October 17, shortly after Sink's policy went into effect, Hoch wrote to Attorney General McCollum asking him to consider implementing a similar policy.

"By doing so, in times of family emergencies, all of your employees will have the same opportunities to care for their family members," Hoch wrote.

By letter dated December 17, Cathy Christensen, McCollum's Human Resources Administrator, notified the Hoch that the Attorney General's sick leave policy would would not specifically address domestic partners per se, it would "provide enough latitude" for employees to use their sick leave to care for their domestic partners.

"While CFO Sink's policy specifically addressed domestic partnerships, Attorney General McCollum's policy is more circumspect," said Hoch.

"Since the Office of the Attorney General is, in effect, the state's law firm, I can understand his reluctance to formally recognize domestic partnerships," said Hoch.

"Still, the effect of both pro-family policies is the same," said Hoch. "Employees working for two of our state's constitutional officers now may use sick leave to care for their domestic partners in times of emergency,

Currently, the University of Florida, Florida International University, Broward Community College, Florida Keys Community College, Hillsborough Community College and Miami-Dade College are the only state employers offering the full range of domestic partner benefits. Those benefits include health insurance, as well as sick leave and bereavement leave.

The Palm Beach County Human Rights Council has not yet heard from Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles Bronson, who also was asked to revise his office's policy.

Early next year, the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council intends to ask Governor Crist to direct Department of Management Services Secretary Linda South to investigate the possibility of offering domestic partner benefits to all state employees.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Indian CEOs fail to counter stress: Assocham

New Delhi: Corporate India executives may be adept at managing businesses, but are a majority of them are inept at handling stress, says a survey by Assocham.

The study by the industry body found that 68 per cent of Indian CEOs, managing businesses with a turnover exceeding Rs 1,000 crore, were unable to beat stress and other related issues.

In its report on 'CEOs Ways to Manage Stress', Assocham said of the 400 Indian CEOs surveyed, only 32 per cent succeeded in countering stress and fatigue through yoga, sports, morning stroll and music.

"CEOs in the age-group of 50-65 take time off in morning for yoga and prefer to play golf, visit hill stations and parks to overcome their day to day stress and fatigue," Assocham President Venugopal Dhoot said in a statement.

The report observed that younger CEOs in the age group of 30-45 years are more health conscious as compared to those in the age group of 50-65 years.

"Going to gym motivates and inspires the younger CEOs to handle pressure and encounter stress and fatigue," it said.

Lot of pressure generates as the CEOs set ambitious targets for themselves within a time bound period, Dhoot said.

However, young entrepreneurs are now choosing a new way to overcome the stress by watching movies with close ones, listening to music and driving, Dhoot said.

"Over 40 per cent of the CEOs are taking to ayurvedic treatments like naturopathy, massage, acupuncture and acupressure," Assocham said, adding that metros and towns in the coming 5-6 years would have huge ayurvedic centres for treating stress related disorders.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Twilight gloom

Seventy-two-year-old Nikhil Mukherjee had approached The Telegraph in April when he got to know that his insurer was going to charge him Rs 26,000 as premium this year against Rs 13,500 he paid last December to renew the medical insurance policy he bought eight years ago.

Many elderly people, including Mukherjee, started thinking of discontinuing their medical insurance policies as one insurer after another started making health insurance unaffordable for what they called the “high risk category” by raising premium rates by more than 100 per cent.

Panel formed

Concerned about the situation, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) had constituted a committee to look into various issues, including incidents where people above 60 years were denied cover by many insurers, particularly the private sector ones.

The committee submitted its report early this month.

The report, however, has nothing much to offer to senior citizens, except for the fact that it had recommended that no senior citizen should be denied a health insurance policy by any insurer.

The committee has recommended that insurers should look at a base premium of Rs 3,000 (per annum) per Rs 1 lakh sum assured at an entry age of 50 years.

The renewal premium for each subsequent year with no claim would be increased by an age loading factor of 2 per cent of the base premium. A 60-year-old person who wants a health insurance with a sum assured of Rs 1 lakh will have to pay a premium of Rs 3,600.

No change

The premium rate suggested by the IRDA-appointed panel is not very different from what National Insurance Company or United India Assurance Company is charging for its senior citizen medical insurance schemes. Both the public sector insurers charge a premium of between Rs 4,100 and Rs 4,200 on a sum assured of Rs 1 lakh for a 60-year-old who wants to buy a fresh policy.

Another public sector insurer, New India Assurance, is also coming out with a medical insurance policy exclusively for senior citizens with a premium rate of around Rs 3,800 per Rs 1 lakh sum assured. Private insurers that offer individual health insurance plans exclusively to senior citizens, however, charge a higher premium in the range of Rs 5,000 or more per Rs 1 lakh sum assured.

Therefore, even if the committee’s recommendations are implemented, the premium cost for senior citizens won’t come down appreciably.

Low-cost plans

The panel has, however, suggested low-cost limited benefit plans instead of existing mediclaims that are mostly indemnity plans in nature. Benefit policy plans provide lump sum amounts on diagnosis of a specified disease for treatment or surgery.

For example, in a hospital cash plan, an insurer pays a fixed amount for each day of hospitalisation.

Benefit plans cost low because they come with in-built controls such as less policy administration and claim settlement costs on the part of the insurer. Misuse of insurance money is also low in these kind of plans as the insured gets a fixed pay regardless of the actual expenditure — any expenditure over and above the amount would have to be borne by the insured.

Cost control

Though the committee has identified affordability and accessibility as the two most important issues in senior citizen health insurance, it dealt more with cost control measures such as co-payment by the insured, capping entitlements under expenditure heads, introducing deductibles and co-insurance.

Co-payment, deductible and co-insurance mean the insured also pays part of the expense(s) covered under the insurance plan. According to the committee, these are all in-built measures to control costs and misuse of insurance policies. Once these excess costs are controlled, the premium will come down.

According to B.D. Banerjee, a member of the committee, a restructuring of existing products is a more likely outcome rather than an all-round reduction in premium rates if the panel’s recommendations are accepted.

So, if you don’t want to pay much, you will have to be satisfied with plans that offer limited benefits such as only the cost of getting treatment in a general ward.

If you would like to get your prostate operation covered during the first year itself of the policy commencement, you will have to pay higher.

In short, senior citizens will be offered a variety of products, but will have to choose the benefits according to their paying capacity.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

'To most people it's Trainspotting territory, but to me it's where I grew up'

Gordon Strachan says playing football in Muirhouse made him what he is

Cletic manager and Muirhouse boy, Gordon Strachan. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

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View Gallery"'That's me, streetwise and sarcastic. I make no apologies for that'"GORDON Strachan is unaware that, as he poses for the camera, the navy jumper and tartan scarf he's wearing evoke warm memories of his time as a Scotland international. Back in the area of Edinburgh where he grew up, the Celtic manager is indulging in his own trip down memory lane.
The show reel of matches running through his mind are not those on foreign soil or even key clashes played in front of thousands of buoyant fans, though. "After all the professional games I have played, probably over 1,000 games, I can still remember the games I played around here as a lad," he smiles, "still smell the grass off my jeans. I've still got that. I can remember specific games, remember finishing and sitting down and laughing and joking with my mates and then starting another game. They are absolutely fantastic memories. It sounds strange but even now those are the games I remember fondly."

Nostalgia is a powerful motivating force and that camaraderie and those carefree hours were primary reasons behind his decision to lend support to the Spartans Community Football Academy. Patron of the project since he was approached almost three years ago, he was in Muirhouse this week to see the progress made on the new £3.3m facility. Work is already under way, with a completion date of July 2008 pencilled into next year's diary, but he hopes that will only signal the beginning of the real work. "It's not just about making the kids good players, it's about making them good people."

In an area he stoically concedes is regarded as "Irvine Welsh country – to most people it's Trainspotting territory," he says, "but to me it's where I grew up and played with my mates. I did have a gang but we didn't fight anyone, we just played football all the time. We laughed and joked so I want people to come to the academy and be part of a gang and channel their energy that way."

While ambitious East of Scotland League side Spartans are exploring all avenues in a bid to gain entry to the Scottish Football League and build on their Scottish Cup notoriety, the academy is designed to cater for more than just the elite players in the area. They want to make a difference to young lives. That is where Strachan shares their vision. Once completed, the complex, which includes a mix of synthetic and grass, football and multi-sport pitches, an all-weather basketball court, eight changing rooms, a community club room, learning centre and physiotherapy centre, is expected to attract over 1,500 users per week and, although the football club hopes it will allow them to groom some talented players, for Strachan it is simply about opportunities.

"I love football but I also know that, as well as my parents, it was football that taught me to respect people if they are respectful to me. I have decent manners and I have never been in trouble with the police and neither have my mates so it was football as well as my parents that gave me the chance. Some people are not lucky enough to have those kind of parents and that's where the football suddenly becomes very important.

"Families split up and the mum and dad have problems and kids learn bad habits or they could come from a decent home, but if they mix with the wrong people kids can learn bad habits from them so the idea is to bring them in here and teach them the beauty of teamwork and the importance of discipline for yourself and your team whatever sport you are playing.

"It's primarily football here but it's about respect for everything, property, your team-mates, the opposition and authority. We want youngsters to learn respect for others and for themselves. And if we get a couple of nuggets then great but for me it's about social as well as football skills."

A tanner ba' player who used streets as pitches, pavements as boundaries and good old jumpers for goalposts, Strachan recognises those days are disappearing. Too many cars, less and less open parkland and more obvious social demons waiting to accost youngsters.

"Mums and dads don't really enjoy their kids being out because there are things out there that were never really there when I was a kid. Things like drugs and all the real violence. I heard a statistic that said there is somebody slashed every six hours in Glasgow. I don't know what that statistic is here but we have our own problems so this is an environment which will be safer for the kids.

"I believe everybody has at least one talent. It might not be a sports talent but if you come into a group you will find your talent in something, it doesn't matter who you are."

Growing up on the streets of Muirhouse, Strachan identified his gift early on. He says pretending otherwise would be lying but he adds that. in an area where "you always had to be on the front foot, ready to spot trouble". he never took anything for granted.

In his gang, he knew he was one of the first picks and when up against rivals from other areas, he earned the respect which allowed him safe passage through the neighbouring territories. "Because of the football we all knew each other so I could wander into Drylaw without feeling threatened. You respected each other as footballers and you bumped into each other all the time so there wasn't the ignorance. Football broke down those barriers."

And if there was the odd spot of trouble, sport again helped. The camaraderie and group environment was the ideal forum for honing his one-line ripostes, the training and playing providing the insurance policy of fitness and pace should a quick getaway be necessary.

"There is a lot you can do with an academy like this. Give kids the right role models, teach them values and I believe that every community could benefit. I believe every community should have something like this. Is there enough money out there? I'm sure there's money out there. Look at crime and the social problems we have, well we didn't have the time for that, we were too busy playing football and something like this, giving the kids another way to channel their energy.

"When I grew up in this area, I didn't realise it was different from anywhere else. There's a song (by the band James] that says 'if I hadn't seen such riches I could live with being poor' and it's true but we shouldn't have to. Not when we could have something like this."

Donning a hard hat to survey the building site, it is a switch from the metaphoric protection he normal swathes himself in as an Old Firm manager. It's a highly pressured job and Strachan admits that even a return to his roots, while conjuring up wonderful memories, does not completely alleviate the tension.

The only time he relaxes, he claims, is when in his own house, his wife Lesley beside him and the rest of the world locked outside. "That might sound yucky and a bit sad and I know I shouldn't always feel like that I'm always on the front foot looking for things that are not there, but I have to be ready for it. That's me, streetwise and sarcastic. I make no apologies for that. So long as I'm respectful that's what I learned when I was here."

That and the ability to build friendships, which may not have stood the test of time but which still give him a mental escape from his current career pressures. "I remember my gang. We just used to laugh all the time. That group was magnificent and that's what football, what all team sports give you. The fun and togetherness. Unfortunately we all went our own way but I still remember all the names and all the laughs and joking I did with them.

"I moved about so much so we did lose touch but, even now, after all these years, I still remember some of their birthdays and if you asked me the birthdays of my aunts and uncles and nieces and nephews I wouldn't know but my mates' birthdays and nicknames and where we used to play and in what positions, I know that."

It is what he wants for the youngsters who will pass through the Spartans Community Football Academy. He wants them to learn values and value what they learn.

And he will be on hand as a role model, making guest coaching appearances. "I think I would like to do that and have fun seeing them getting something from this place."

Because in Muirhouse, away from the pressures and as he relives his youth, this is where football is still fun for Strachan.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Recently, we were watching John Waters' 1998 movie Pecker, which starred all kinds of great people like Martha Plimpton and Lily Taylor and Edward Fur

BOZEMAN, Mont. — On a dark highway near Anchorage, Alaska, Specialist Steven Cavanaugh of the Army, who had survived 300 missions in Iraq, was critically injured this month on Dec. 2 when his vehicle hit a moose. Specialist Cavanaugh died four days later.

In the early morning darkness in Lincoln, Mont., in October, a pickup slammed into a 830-pound grizzly bear. The driver survived, but the bear was among seven grizzlies — a record for one year — killed by vehicles this year statewide.

Wildlife-related crashes are a growing problem on rural roads around the country. The accidents increased 50 percent from 1990 to 2004, based on the most recent federal data, according to the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University here.

The basic problem is that rural roads are being traveled by more and more people, many of them living in far-flung subdivisions. Each year, about 200 people are killed in as many as two million wildlife-related crashes at a cost of more than $8 billion, the institute estimated in a report prepared for the National Academies of Science.

Ninety percent of the accidents occur on rural two-lane roads, and the most common animal involved is a deer.

“I knew it was a big bear, but I didn’t know it was a grizzly,” said Steve Sandru, the driver who hit the bear near Lincoln on the way to his job as a logger. “A grizzly was the last thing I expected to see.”

The human death toll has risen from 111 in 1995 to around 200 in 2005, the most recent year for which figures are available. Officials say better designed highways would help lower the number.

“If you reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions, you would in all likelihood reduce fatalities,” said Rob Ament, research director for the Western Transportation Institute. “The priority would be to treat the hot spots, the areas with the most accidents.”

In addition to the loss of life, the accidents can be expensive. The average cost of a deer collision is $8,000, including repair, towing and cleaning up the carcass, while hitting an elk averages $18,000. If the driver strikes a much larger moose, expenses average about $30,000.

The total cost of the accidents to insurance companies exceeds $1 billion a year, the institute estimates. Pennsylvania has the most vehicle-wildlife crashes. Drivers there struck nearly 97,000 deer in the last half of 2005 and first half of 2006, according to estimates by State Farm, the insurance company.

In the report prepared for the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies of Science, the Montana institute said the number of wildlife crashes was far greater than federal statistics suggested — about 300,000 crashes involving wildlife are reported to the authorities a year — because many of the accidents are reported only to insurance companies.

In recent years, the institute estimates based on insurance industry data, the number of crashes ranged from one million to two million.

Marcel Huijser, a researcher in Missoula, Mont., who prepared the report for the Montana institute, said under-reporting of the accidents hindered efforts to prevent them.

Mr. Huijser added, “If you build a wildlife crossing in the wrong location, they won’t use it or use it to the extent you want them to.”

In a separate report delivered to Congress last month, the institute recommended ways to reduce wildlife-related accidents, including the construction of underpasses and overpasses with fences to keep wildlife off highways and directed toward safer crossings. Other methods include culling animals in places where accidents are numerous and “break the beam” systems, in which animals are fitted with collars that set off flashing lights when they approach a road.

Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, has been a large laboratory for studying measures to prevent such collisions, which had been frequent on a four-lane highway that runs through the park in the heart of the wildlife-rich Canadian Rockies. Officials there have built 24 underpasses and overpasses, and the changes have reduced collisions by more than 80 percent, park officials said.

Researchers in Montana are conducting similar experiments along a stretch of Interstate 90 near Bozeman. They have built fences and an underpass to allow animals safe passage.

If they could duplicate the results from Banff, said Mr. Ament of the Western Transportation Institute, few animals and people would die and there would be substantial monetary savings as well.

“Wildlife accidents on Bozeman Pass cost the public a million a year” in crash costs, Mr. Ament said. “With an 80 percent reduction, that would be $800,000 in savings a year.”

The accidents can also take a toll on precarious wildlife populations. The report prepared for Congress found that vehicle collisions were a major source of mortality for 21 federally endangered or threatened species, like the red wolf, kit fox, Key deer and Florida panther.

“It’s a new and dubious record,” Chris Servheen, grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, said of the seven grizzlies killed this year on Montana roads. “There are more bears and everybody drives faster, and so roads are more of a problem.”

While the accidents are not threatening the bears’ long-term survival, Mr. Servheen said, they do threaten the species’ ability to expand its range.

The animal deaths can also be traumatic for many people.

Last month, a truck driver plowed through a herd of bighorn sheep on Highway 200 near Thompson Falls, Mont. The sheep often congregate there because they eat a salty de-icer the highway department sprays on a treacherous stretch of road. More than 350 wild sheep have been killed here since 1985.

Despite numerous warning signs with flashing lights, witnesses say the truck’s brake lights never came on as it drove through the herd, killing five adult ewes and two lambs. An investigator with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks is looking into the accident to see if charges are warranted.

“A lot of people in Thompson Falls take pride in these sheep and are pretty upset,” said Bruce Sterling, a wildlife biologist with the state in Thompson Falls.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Schwarzenegger's health plan no humbug

Some of our state's elected officials and others on the Ebenezer Scrooge side of health care reform suggest that Gov. Schwarzenegger's holiday plans to wrap up a health care package with a bow and place it under the tree for all Californians may not be affordable. They urge caution and more delay, but let's not be so quick to forget Tiny Tim in this modern-day "Christmas Carol."

As everyone remembers from Charles Dickens' classic story, Tiny Tim was a disabled and very sick young boy, hovering near death. In the modern-day version, Tim's illness can be cured with affordable health care coverage, but his father, Bob Cratchit, works for Scrooge, a small California employer who cannot afford health care for his employees.

When visited by the Ghost of Christmas Present, we see how sick our current health care system has become - unaffordable or unavailable to millions of Californians. This is the broken system we have a chance to fix. How sad it would be if all that the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come could show us are the results of a "go-slow, incremental" approach that saves Tiny Tim, but leaves millions of others behind. There are many who still say that the door for better health care should be provided solely for children, while the parents of those kids would still be locked out in the cold. Tiny Tim is temporarily saved, but his father is one health care crisis away from economic disaster for him and his family. If that is our fate, it should surely scare the dickens out of all of us.
That is why the Silicon Valley Leadership Group stands with Republican Schwarzenegger and Democratic Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez for this historic opportunity for meaningful, comprehensive health care reform. There are many reasons why this plan has earned our support:

• It has been carefully crafted: This legislation didn't materialize like a ghost overnight. Rather, the governor thoughtfully crisscrossed California for more than a year seeking insights and counsel from thousands of Californians. He considered legislation and legislative language from both sides of the aisle. At the end of the Legislature's normal session, he called lawmakers back into special session to focus attention on this important issue. He published his own specific proposal, based on sound principles, to be debated and discussed for months. The bill that passed the Assembly on Monday, AB1x, is the product of that work.

• It emphasizes shared responsibility: The nightmare of many employers and employees has been that some would pay while others would not. From the beginning, a core principle for sensible reform has been a model of "shared responsibility." We all benefit from comprehensive health care reform. When we all prosper, we must all participate. This proposal spells out the responsibility of employers, hospitals, individuals and insurance companies. It emphasizes responsibility while still offering flexibility, by retaining an employer's ability to purchase employer-sponsored benefits that meet its needs and those of its workers. The state's anticipated $10.1 billion price tag on the legislation, after federal funding of $4.6 billion, is arguably a lower cost over time than the cost of inaction and further delay.

• It covers all Californians: One of every five people we pass on the street has no health care insurance whatsoever. A significant number are underinsured. Equally troubling, many working families are one crisis or emergency room visit from bankruptcy. This plan provides every Californian with the opportunity for coverage. When uninsured families stop using the emergency room as a "first resort" - the most expensive form of health care - then the hidden tax, roughly $1,900 per family, each Californian is paying to cover the uninsured can be eliminated and returned to our wallets.

• It emphasizes wellness rather than illness: This plan promotes diet, nutrition, prevention and exercise. Our current system spends billions treating the sick, rather than investing millions in keeping us healthy. Health insurance companies will be required to offer health rewards and incentive programs for employees as part of what they offer to their employers. This finally provides each of us with incentives to take better care of ourselves by reducing obesity, diabetes and smoking - three killers that are crippling California families and our economy.

If the state Senate acts quickly to pass the governor's package, the Scrooges among us will see the path to reform. And voters will have their chance to weigh in on the financing portion of the plan next November. Then we will all be able to join Tiny Tim as he recites his new closing line: "God bless us, every one. Not just some."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Reserve Bank to licence all insurers

All insurance providers – including life, health and general insurance – will have to be licensed by the Reserve Bank under a new prudential regulatory framework announced today by Finance Minister Michael Cullen.

“This is a major step forward in the regulation of the insurance sector and the result of a thorough review of regulations spanning two years. The proposals will encourage the maintenance of a sound and efficient insurance sector that promotes confidence among policyholders,” Dr Cullen said.

“The purpose of licensing is to ensure that insurers are ‘fit for business’ by demonstrating their capacity to manage the business they undertake, identify and manage their risks effectively, and have sufficient financial strength.

“The new legislation and associated details of the new regulatory framework will take time to implement. Legislation will be introduced in 2008, and is expected to be brought into force at some point in 2010.”

As the prudential regulator and supervisor of insurance providers, the Reserve Bank will be the authority that:

• licenses and de-licenses insurers, subject to appropriate checks and balances;
• prescribes and enforces compliance with the regulatory prudential requirements;
• applies fit and proper requirements to directors and senior managers;
• can intervene in the event of a situation of distress or the potential failure of a licensed insurer.

Financial strength ratings, from an approved ratings agency, will be mandatory for insurers. The costs of mandatory ratings are expected to be modest for most insurers relative to their size.

However, as the costs could be more significant for very small providers, insurers with annual gross premium income under $5 million will be exempt from the rating requirements, except for property and disaster insurers who are already required to obtain a rating.

“Ratings provide a powerful tool to assist policyholders, brokers and analysts to distinguish between lower and higher risk insurers and they reduce the need for a more intrusive form of regulation and supervision,” Dr Cullen said.

Reserve Bank governor Alan Bollard said the prudential requirements would not be overly prescriptive and would place emphasis on directors' responsibilities to effectively manage the risks within their businesses.

"The insurance sector is an important part of the financial system which underpins economic activity," Dr Bollard said. "Policyholders need to have confidence in insurance providers that insurance claims will be
honoured. While prudential supervision can never eliminate the possibility of failures within the sector, licensing of all insurance providers helps to ensure that minimum requirements are applied to the sector in a consistent manner."

More detailed information is on the Reserve Bank website (see below).

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Remove barriers to affordable health insurance

Ever wonder why health insurance costs so much in Colorado? Well, maybe it has something to do with the fact that every insurance policy in the state must cover all kinds of services — including professional counseling — deemed unnecessary by many.

In fact, Colorado has 37 of these mandates. Should a resident want to buy a policy that doesn’t cover, say, chiropractor visits, sorry — the government has decided that everyone must have that coverage.

Recently, enthusiasm for universal health-care coverage has swept the nation, with governors in Massachusetts and California leading the way. Maine and Vermont are currently revising their own systems of expanded health-care coverage, and at least eight other states are pursuing similar reforms.

Certainly, the approximately 47 million uninsured in America is a significant problem, but the proposals under consideration do little to address the primary reason for the lack of coverage — very expensive insurance.

And why are those costs spiraling upward, seemingly without limit? One major reason is government meddling in the market for health insurance, particularly through the imposition of restrictive mandates and regulations.

The average state has 36 mandates on an individual health insurance policy. And with each mandate, the cost to the consumer goes up. These mandates often stand in the way of making health insurance more affordable in the first place.

Just as options on a new automobile add to the total cost of the car, so too do insurance mandates.

If affordability and accessibility are the problems behind the number of uninsured, then why haven’t state governments removed the mandates for those who want to buy a basic policy? It’s not just the government’s desire to micromanage — it’s interest-group politics.

Acupuncturists, for example, certainly provide an important pain-relief service to many individuals. But is it really necessary for everyone to have acupuncture coverage whether they want it or not? It would make far more sense to give individuals the freedom to purchase policies that suit their specific needs.

The current system guarantees that everyone pays the highest possible price.

We are covered for things we don’t use. Or if we do take advantage of these mandated benefits, we don’t realize the full cost of the benefit because someone else pays.

But we all indirectly absorb those costs thanks to higher premiums.

The conversation about health-care reform is long overdue, but unfortunately for most consumers, it’s headed in the wrong direction.

Without addressing the high costs of health care, efforts to achieve universal coverage by legislative fiat will fail. Just look at automobile insurance. Even though it is mandatory in all but three states, one in seven drivers on our roads remains uninsured. There’s a better way to expand health-are coverage — through greater purchasing freedom and fewer regulations.

Let’s hope Colorado learns from the heavy-handed approaches of other states and opts for a more effective approach — like ending the silly requirement that all insurance policies cover things like marriage therapy, which most people will never need.

Sally C. Pipes is president and CEO of the Pacific Research Institute. She is a resident of San Francisco.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Health insurance mandate affects all - including immigrants

When the 50-year-old Brazilian painter heard the new state health reform mandates everyone to have health insurance by Dec. 31, the man - who had been uninsured for six years since he immigrated here - felt he had to do something.

An illegal immigrant, the man couldn't do much. Though the mandate applies to everyone, including undocumented immigrants, the new law doesn't offer health insurance programs for them, other than Free Care or MassHealth Limited, for emergency services only.

The man, who identified himself by his first name's initial and last name, A. Ribeiro, thought about continuing going without insurance, but changed his mind when he learned all those uninsured by the end of 2007 could lose their personal income tax exemption for 2007, about $219. The penalty will increase in 2008.

Ribeiro, who pays taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) in hopes that would help him legalize his situation, signed for both Mass Health Limited and Health Safety Net Pool for low-income people, formerly known as Free Care, for himself, his wife and their three children of ages 23, 17, and 3.

"I'm much more relieved," said Ribeiro of Medford. "I take care of myself so I don't get sick, but it's better to have insurance in case something happens."

Ribeiro signed for insurance at one of four workshops sponsored by a local Brazilian civic association that brought a researcher from Boston University's School of Public Health, Dr. Milagros Abreu, to Framingham. Abreu, who has conducted similar programs for Latinos in East Boston, came on a volunteer basis, hoping she could find funding to continue the program.

The interest has been huge, said Ilma Paixao, a member of Framingham's Brazilian American Association, which spearheaded the workshops with Abreu, because "the need is so great," Paixao said.

Since the workshops began in October, Arlete Falkowski, a volunteer with the association, has taken dozens of calls from people who want to know how the health care reform would affect them.

"People know there is a deadline and a penalty," she said. "But they don't know where to apply, if they qualify or what options are out there."

In a meeting at a Brazilian church in early December, 80 people gathered to listen to Abreu, who explained in Spanish the changes brought by the new laws. A volunteer translated into Portuguese. More than 300 have attended the workshops, and about 150 have applied for health insurance, with help of Abreu's initiative, called the Latino Health Insurance Program. Among those newly insured were legal residents who didn't know they could qualify, families with children born here who were eligible for services, and some illegal immigrants who have gone uninsured for many years.

"Some have never seen a doctor in 15 or 20 years, others travel abroad to seek medical care, and some others seek care at the last minute at the emergency room," said Abreu, who works at BU's Department of Epidemiology. "Our main goal is to make sure they have access to health care where they live. We want to keep our communities healthy. It's for the benefit of everyone."

The new health care reform became law in April 2006, and state officials said it's already achieving its goal of reducing the number of uninsured people in Massachusetts. Lt. Gov Tim Murray announced last week more than 300,000 have enrolled in health insurance programs and said, "health care reform is working." According to a 2006 state survey, there were 372,000 uninsured residents, or 5 percent of the population.

How many of those were illegal immigrants, nobody knows. Confusion about the new laws is still widespread among the immigrant community. To help them, an interfaith group visited two Latino churches in Framingham, St. Tarcisius, which offers masses in Portuguese for the Brazilian community, and St. Stephen's, which offers masses in Spanish for the Hispanic population. The sessions held in September and October were well attended, said Les Holtzblatt, a Metropolitan Interfaith Congregations for Hope (MICAH) board member and Sudbury resident.

"People knew about the laws but still needed additional information," he said.

According to the new regulations, immigrants who are legal residents can apply for several programs such as Commonwealth Care, the subsidized health insurance program offered through the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority, and MassHealth Standard, the state's Medicaid program. They can also apply for Commonwealth Choice, the unsubsidized program offered though the Health Connector.

But illegal immigrants are in a bind, said advocates.

"Undocumented immigrants are stuck between a rock and a hard place," said Carly Burton, policy director at the Massachusetts Immigrant Refugee Advocacy Coalition. "They work multiple jobs, pay taxes, are not offered health insurance by their employers or by the new laws, and yet are subject to the mandate."

Still, the new laws may help more immigrants, legal and illegal, be insured, said advocates. Commonwealth Care has provided insurance to legal immigrants, who would not have had access otherwise, said Burton.

"It's making Massachusetts more healthy," she said. "But I wish there was another program that could provide insurance for undocumented immigrants."

Abreu shares the sentiment.

"The new law has a great intention of providing medical care to everyone, but it has limitations," she said.

Under the new laws, illegal immigrants can still apply for MassHealth Limited, which covers emergency services only, and Health Safety Net Pool, which is available for low-income individuals.

The new law would not affect all illegal immigrants. Those who don't file taxes won't be penalized if they don't have health insurance, but according to immigrant advocates, most illegal immigrants file income tax returns. Opponents said even if they pay taxes, illegal immigrants overuse health care services placing a burden on the public and are strongly against providing any health coverage for those who have no permission to stay in the country.

Advocates said many illegal immigrants avoid hospitals and only use them in emergency situations due to language and cultural barriers, lack of information and fear of leaving a trail that could be tracked down by immigration authorities. Illegal immigrants fear deportation the most.

Such is the case of Ribeiro, who during his six years here, never saw a doctor for fear of being deported. Only in 2002, he had to go the emergency room because he felt sick and couldn't work. He had pneumonia. Ribeiro knows many people who have never set foot in a doctor's office or an emergency room.

"Many people prefer to be sick than going to the hospital," he said. "But now I'm telling people they can apply for insurance."

Friday, December 14, 2007

Crop insurance scheme to be extended to all 22 districts

Hyderabad, December 14: The State Government has commenced the exercise to extend crop insurance scheme with village as unit to all the 22 districts from the next financial year.
The scheme is currently being implemented in 10 districts on a pilot basis, but could not be extended to other districts immediately because of the absence of budgetary provisions.

The agriculture and allied departments are also stepping up pressure on the Finance Department for increasing the total budgetary allocations to over Rs. 30,000 crore during the next fiscal, against Rs. 22,647 crore this year. Addressing a press conference here on Thursday, Agriculture Minister N. Raghuveera Reddy said the Government had, in principle, decided to extend the Pavala Vaddi (3 per cent interest per annum) scheme to farmers. Bankers and officials concerned had been asked to work out the modalities to launch the scheme from the next kharif.

Mr. Raghuveera Reddy criticised the TDP and BJP for exhorting farmers to take to the streets and advised them not to “play with the lives of ryots ” after the Congress came to power. The two parties should come out with “at least a single scheme” launched by them when they were in power, he said, asking them to take on the Government politically instead of trying to disturb farmers.

Clarification sought

The TDP in particular, should clarify about the action plan it released recently for farmers, he said. . “The TDP should clarify whether it lacked commitment to provide free power or was backing out from the earlier promise ,” he asked.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Governor wants $30 million to jump-start insurance for all

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. wants to make a $30 million "down payment" on a comprehensive, three-year proposal that would require all Utahns to be insured.
That money, which would expand eligibility for Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Plan (CHIP), is a significant first step toward implementing sweeping health-system reform in the state, Huntsman said.
"The way we go about handling health care is economically unsustainable," he said Monday, pointing out that health care costs in Utah grew at more than double the rate of inflation last year. Fewer than 60 percent of businesses now offer health insurance to their employees.
His plan, a confidential working draft of which was provided to The Salt Lake Tribune last week, "is about costs, and it's about quality and it's about access," he said.
But Huntsman, who deflected reporters' questions about the details of his plan at a news conference, said a blueprint won't be rolled out until the Legislature's caucuses can review it - which could be a few weeks away.
"This is an effort that is driven by the Legislature, by our office, by the business community and certainly by many advocates as well," he said. "So this is an all hands on deck effort and one we're taking very, very seriously."
The health system reform, according to the draft, would aim to cover the poor by boosting enrollment in state plans such as Medicaid, CHIP and Utah's Premium Partnership for Health [UPP], coverage for which nearly half of the state's 360,000 uninsured residents qualify.
The $30 million, included in the governor's budget recommendations for fiscal year 2009, would expand eligibility for Medicaid to those earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, up from 133 percent. For CHIP, children in families earning up to 250 percent would qualify, up from 200 percent, Huntsman said.
The next part of the plan would include devising a way to subsidize working families who don't qualify for these programs and can't afford private insurance; and creating consequences that force those who can afford health insurance to buy it.
One possibility, for instance, is to require Utahns to have a basic level of health insurance before they could apply for a job or register for higher education, according to the working draft.
The idea, said David Sundwall, director of the Utah Department of Health, is that if every Utahn were insured, health care costs would be contained.
"If everyone is covered there is not that opportunity for cost shifting," said Sundwall, who is involved in the health reform effort. "The sad thing is now we have people with no health insurance - but with very high health care costs - and they're what make the costs go up."
In a state such as Utah, he added, "the private insurance-based approach is the way to go right now."
While making individuals responsible for their health insurance will require a new mind-set for the state, Huntsman said, "it will have to be part of what we do." Over time, Utahns will "come to the logical end point that while it is burdensome at first glance, it's economically an imperative for our society."
Funds to create a statewide database to report health care costs and outcomes are included in his 2009 budget, as well as money to develop technology for health care providers to share such information.
"We've got to engage," Huntsman said, "and we're beginning that process."

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Missing the premium payment date

Opting for the right insurance cover is like taking your first step towards financial planning. But if you want to keep this security cover intact then you need to be financially disciplined and make those timely payments towards the premium amount. Many times because of sheer negligence or unforeseen circumstances, you miss upon making the payments on time. And when you find those bills, reminders stacked in one corner of the house, you are not sure whether to make a call to the company and revive your policy or simply let it go. Well, if you have been deliberating the same, here is a lowdown on how you can revive your policy.

The Process

There is a misconception that once you miss your due date for paying premium, the insurance company cancels the policy. It is advisable that before you decide to forego your policy, you should check out with your agent or the insurance company what’s the status of your policy. All insurance companies give a grace period of 30 days after the due date.

Nonetheless, even then if you are not able to utilise this grace period, it doesn’t mean that it’s all over. “You can revive the policy till six months from the due date (including grace period) is over. You will be required to pay interest on outstanding premium amount as penalty. The interest, in our case, is 10.33% per annum or higher depending upon the policy that you hold and this vary from company to company and policy to policy,” says Kalpana Sampat, chief – underwriting, claims & group operations, ICICI Prudential Life Insurance. Any policy can be revived during the life time of the life assured, but before the date of expiry of policy term. You need to submit proof of continued insurability to the satisfaction of the insurance company and make the requisite payments of all the arrears of premium together with interest to revive your policy.

Old V/S New

If you believe that reviving the old policy is not a good idea, then you are wrong. Financial planners believe that under no circumstances, you should discontinue the old policy and apply for a newer one. A person who defaults on a policy payment is generally in financial lurch. You need to take into consideration age factor, since you bought your old policy at a young age so the benefits acrrued till date will go away if you take a new policy. Same is the case with ULIPs where the commission charges are higher in the first few years and lesser amount is invested.

However, Manoj Agarwal, head – insurance advisory, SKP Moneywise believes that this theory doesn’t holds true if the policy has been in a state of lapse for over five years, reviving may not be the best option. “If a policyholder wants to revive a policy after five years, we suggest that he take up a new policy, since the fine on premium may be very high by that time,” he says

Friday, December 7, 2007

Insurance Wise Buys and Rip-Offs!

A quirky law known as Barth's Distinction goes as follows: There are two types of people: those who divide people into two types, and those who don't. For the record, I'm one of those people who separate the public into two groups.

For example, here are two types of people: those who buy insurance, and those who don't. Then again, it's perfectly understandable why some people choose to avoid insurance. After all, as I warned in How To Win Insurance Claims, getting a payout from some firms can be like squeezing blood from the proverbial stone.

Nevertheless, we should not tar all insurance policies with the same brush, as there is a huge variation in the peace of mind and value for money on offer. So, without further ado, here are five types of insurance which I've put to the test. For each policy, I've provided three ratings (each on a scale of one to ten) and an overall mark, as follows:

• Likelihood of making a claim. In other words, what are the chances that you will need to ask for a payout? I've included an average figure, but you may wish to adjust this to reflect your own personal circumstances.

• Impact of any loss. What will the impact of this unforeseen event be? The answer could range from the trivial to the catastrophic. For example, having your bicycle pinched is fairly trivial, but dying and leaving your partner without enough money to pay the mortgage could be catastrophic.

• Value for money. Taking various financial factors into account, such as payout ratios and profit margins, how competitively priced is this cover?

I should point out that this isn't an entirely scientific test, but it is backed by my two decades of experience in the insurance industry. Anyway, let's start with one of the most widely held insurance policies in the UK...

1. Car insurance = Must Buy

It's a legal requirement to have a minimal level of car insurance, which explains why we Brits spend over £10 billion a year on this cover. The market for car insurance is fiercely competitive, with hundreds of providers, which makes it easier to shop around for lower premiums.

Likelihood of making a claim: 9/10 (very few drivers go through life without making one or more claims)

Impact of any loss: 7/10 (although, of course, claims range from petty thefts and vandalism to total write-offs and road deaths, so the impact can differ widely)

Value for money: 9/10 (but only 4/10 if you always renew with the same insurer!)

Further reading: Get 60% Off Your Car Insurance

2. Extended warranties = Don't Buy

As I warned in this article, you should be careful when Christmas shopping and, indeed, at all other times of the year. That's because eager salespeople will be queuing up to flog you rip-off extended warranties. My advice would be to reject these every time and, instead, rely on the manufacturer's guarantee and your wide-ranging rights under the Sale of Goods Act.

Likelihood of making a claim: 3/10 (most modern appliances are fairly reliable)

Impact of any loss: 2/10 (we can get by without almost all of our consumer durables)

Value for money: 1/10 (that's a Worst Buy rating, of course)

Further reading: When Electrical Goods Go Wrong

3. Home insurance/buildings and contents = Wise Buy

If you own your own home, then I believe that it's essential to have buildings insurance. Otherwise, a flood or fire could destroy your greatest asset. As for contents insurance, it all depends on how much you have to lose. I know one Fool writer who (like a quarter of UK households) doesn't have contents insurance, purely because his family possessions are fairly modest. Still, a low-cost home insurance policy provides solid peace of mind and, at the very least, catastrophe cover.

Likelihood of making a claim: 6/10 (events range from accidental damage and burglary, to fire, flood and storm damage)

Impact of any loss: 6/10 (but fire or flooding could be particularly disastrous)

Value for money: 8/10 (but only if you shop around)

Further reading: How To Buy Home Insurance

4. Life insurance = Wise Buy

If no-one would suffer financially as a result of your death, then you don't need any life insurance whatsoever. On the other hand, if you have a partner and/or dependent children, then your demise could have serious fiscal consequences. The good news is that life insurance premiums have tumbled over the past decade, making this protection more attractive than it's ever been.

Likelihood of making a claim: 1/10 (few of us die before reaching retirement age)

Impact of any loss: 10/10 (assuming that you have a family when you kick the bucket)

Value for money: 9/10 (nowadays, this market is intensely competitive)

Further reading: Top Tips For Buying Life Insurance

5. Payment protection insurance (PPI) = Don't Buy

Of all the insurance policies which I've come across in the past twenty years, payment protection insurance takes the wooden spoon for being the worst. This protection against accident, sickness and unemployment is hugely overpriced, widely mis-sold and difficult to claim against. Yuk!

Likelihood of making a claim: 8/10 (accidents, illnesses and being out of work are common occurrences)

Impact of any loss: 3/10 (assuming that your claim is typical and therefore lasts for under six months)

Value for money: 1/10 (the worst-value insurance imaginable!)

Further reading: Avoid This Enormous Rip-Off

I'm not quite finished with this topic yet, so watch this space for a follow-up article analysing other popular forms of insurance. Be lucky!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Health Insurance for All, Only if Everyone Pays?

Re “Mandates and Mudslinging” (column, Nov. 30):

Paul Krugman dismisses Senator Barack Obama’s points about health insurance mandates as “echoing right-wing talking points” on health care. Really?

It was two pragmatic Republican governors, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, who proposed mandates as cornerstones of their respective health reform plans.

In California, resistance to that approach has come primarily from unions and Democrats. Although I have favored the mandate component of Mr. Schwarzenegger’s plan, Mr. Obama raises valid points about the practicality of immediate mandates as the path to universality.

In California, there are real questions about whether the insurance that people would be required to buy and able to afford, even with subsidies, would be worth having. Massachusetts has already had to grant waivers to many.

In addressing this issue, carrots may prove more effective than heavy-handed sticks.

John Walkmeyer
San Ramon, Calif., Nov. 30, 2007

To the Editor:

How can Paul Krugman limit his discussion of health care reform to the competing Obama-Clinton-Edwards “universal coverage” plans with nary a mention of a single-payer system? As Mr. Krugman has noted in previous columns, having insurance does not always equate to being “covered” when needed care is prescribed.

Where all three “universal coverage” plans amount to subsidy schemes for the insurance industry, Representative Dennis J. Kucinich’s single-payer plan would eliminate the unnecessary middlemen — for-profit insurers and H.M.O.’s with their high profits and huge administrative costs.

Ernest A. Canning
Thousand Oaks, Calif., Nov. 30, 2007

To the Editor:

It is inconsistent for anyone to oppose an individual health insurance mandate and simultaneously support our current laws that require that emergency rooms provide care whether or not a patient is able to pay. Mandated emergency room care is ultimately what relieves individuals from having to buy insurance.

I doubt that Senator Barack Obama or any Republican candidate is prepared to advocate the repeal of these mandates.

We will never make progress on solving our health care crisis until Democrats accept the notion of a market-based solution and Republicans accept the notion that mandates will be required to optimize how the market operates.

Kim Davis
New York, Nov. 30, 2007

To the Editor:

As a devoted reader who agrees with Paul Krugman 99 percent of the time, I urge him to rethink his stand on health insurance mandates.


¶We mandate car insurance because of the damage a half-ton of hurtling steel can do to others, but we don’t mandate that a car owner insure himself or herself.

¶If health insurance coverage were mandated, it would be like setting up a parallel taxation. While a single-payer system would be far more efficient, it now seems even more unattainable.

¶If Senator Barack Obama points out why Republicans will defeat the plans of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton or John Edwards, he’s not “echoing right-wing talking points” but rather anticipating Republican criticisms.

We shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, particularly when perfect will be defeated. Good policy is useless if it’s also bad politics.

Mr. Krugman’s policy recommendations may have some merit, but his political advice, in this case, is flawed.

Health Insurance for All, Only if Everyone Pays?

Re “Mandates and Mudslinging” (column, Nov. 30):

Paul Krugman dismisses Senator Barack Obama’s points about health insurance mandates as “echoing right-wing talking points” on health care. Really?

It was two pragmatic Republican governors, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, who proposed mandates as cornerstones of their respective health reform plans.

In California, resistance to that approach has come primarily from unions and Democrats. Although I have favored the mandate component of Mr. Schwarzenegger’s plan, Mr. Obama raises valid points about the practicality of immediate mandates as the path to universality.

In California, there are real questions about whether the insurance that people would be required to buy and able to afford, even with subsidies, would be worth having. Massachusetts has already had to grant waivers to many.

In addressing this issue, carrots may prove more effective than heavy-handed sticks.

John Walkmeyer
San Ramon, Calif., Nov. 30, 2007