Tag: Health Insurance

Soaring Costs of Health Insurance and Increasing Use of Marijuana by Workers

Bloomberg – Health Insurance Costs Surpass $20,000 Per Year, Hitting a Record – John Tozzi 9/25/19

The cost of family health coverage in the U.S. now tops $20,000, an annual survey of employers found, a record high that has pushed an increasing number of American workers into plans that cover less or cost more, or force them out of the insurance market entirely.

“It’s as much as buying a basic economy car,” said Drew Altman, chief executive officer of the Kaiser Family Foundation, “but buying it every year.”

While employers pay most of the costs of coverage, according to the survey, workers’ average contribution is now $6,000 for a family plan. That’s just their share of upfront premiums, and doesn’t include co-payments, deductibles and other forms of cost-sharing once they need care.

The seemingly inexorable rise of costs has led to deep frustration with U.S. health care, prompting questions about whether a system where coverage is tied to a job can survive. As premiums and deductibles have increased in the last two decades, the percentage of workers covered has slipped as employers dropped coverage and some workers chose not to enroll. Fewer Americans under 65 had employer coverage in 2017 than in 1999, according to a separate Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of federal data. That’s despite the fact that the U.S. economy employed 17 million more people in 2017 than in 1999.

“What we’ve been seeing is a slow, slow kind of drip-drip erosion in employer coverage,” Altman said.

Employees’ costs for health care are rising more quickly than wages or overall economy-wide prices, and the working poor have been particularly hard-hit. In firms where more than 35% of employees earn less than $25,000 a year, workers would have to contribute more than $7,000 for a family health plan. It’s an expense that Altman calls “just flat-out not affordable.” Only one-third of employees at such firms are on their employer’s health plans, compared with 63% at higher-wage firms, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s data.

The survey is based on responses from more than 2,000 randomly selected employers with at least three workers, including private firms and non-federal public employers.

Deductibles are rising even faster than premiums, meaning that patients are on the hook for more of their medical costs upfront. For a single person, the average deductible in 2019 was $1,396, up from $533 in 2009. A typical household with employer health coverage spends about $800 a year in out-of-pocket costs, not counting premiums, according to research from the Commonwealth Fund. At the high end of the range, those costs can top $5,000 a year.

After years of pushing health-care costs onto workers, some employers are pressing pause. Delta Air Lines Inc. recently froze employees’ contributions to premiums for two years, Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian said in an interview at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York last week.

“We said we’re not going to raise them. We’re going to absorb the cost because we need to make certain people know that their benefits structure is real important,” Bastian said. He said the company’s health-care costs are growing by double-digits. The Atlanta-based company has more than 80,000 employees around the globe.

And on that note… marijuana use appears to be up.

WSJ – Daily Shot: Positive Testing for Marijuana in the Workplace 9/27/19

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July 3, 2018

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

A Wealth of Common Sense – Sustaining Wealth is Harder Than Getting Rich – Ben Carlson 7/1

FT – US and China must find ways to control their elites – Rana Foroohar 7/1

  • “Success rests on heading off popular unrest, rather than winning trade fights.”

Market Watch – Yes, corporations have brought home cash after the tax cut, but they haven’t put it to work – Rex Nutting 6/29

NYT – What’s the Yield Curve? ‘A Powerful Signal of Recessions’ Has Wall Street’s Attention – Matt Phillips 6/25

WSJ – Tariffs Aren’t China’s Strongest Weapon Against the U.S. – Nathaniel Taplin 7/2

  • “Mr. Trump’s trade agenda may have certain U.S. industries-like steel-flashing smiles. American companies operating in China, though, can expect to lost a few teeth.”

Markets / Economy

Bloomberg – Where Have America’s Truck Drivers Gone? – Virginia Postrel 6/24

  • “The U.S. trucking industry is short about 50,000 drivers, estimates Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Associations. The driver shortage ranked first among industry concerns in the American Transportation Research Institute’s annual survey, released last October.”
  • “The strong economy means more stuff to haul, even as increasing numbers of truckers retire. The average age of over-the-road truckers…is 49, compared with 42 for the U.S. workforce as a whole. Forecasts of massive job losses from autonomous trucks don’t help. Few people want to join a dying profession. With unemployment low, there are other options.”
  • “In response, pay is up. The median salary for drivers who haul a variety of goods nationally is about $53,000, according to an ATA survey published in March. That’s a $7,000 increase since the previous survey five years ago, or about $4,000 when corrected for inflation. For drivers who work for private fleets serving individual companies, such as PepsiCo Inc. or Walmart Inc., median pay is $86,000, up from $73,000.”
  • “But a shortfall remains. Recent regulatory changes exacerbate the problem. So does an increasing shortage of places to park.”

Tech

FT – China backs $15bn tech fund to compete with Japan’s SoftBank – Arash Massoudi and Don Weinland 7/1

  • “China Merchants Group has teamed up with a London-based firm to launch a new Rmb100bn ($15bn) technology investment fund with aim of becoming China’s answer to the near-$100bn Vision Fund created by Japan’s SoftBank.”
  • “The state-owned conglomerate, along with other unnamed Chinese groups, has pledged to invest up to Rmb40bn of the fund, in what would be a huge pool of capital primarily designed to target investments in Chinese technology companies.” 
  • “CMG is set to announce the plans with the UK’s Centricus, the investment firm that helped structure SoftBank’s record-setting technology fund, and SPF Group, a small Beijing-based fund manager that counts Joshua Fink, the son of BlackRock founder Larry Fink, as one of its partners.”

Health / Medicine

Bloomberg – Sky-High Deductibles Broke the U.S. Health Insurance System – John Tozzi and Zachary Tracer 6/26

  • “Employers are questioning a system they say costs patients too much.”

FT – US drug maker Pfizer lifts price of Viagra and 100 other products – David Crow 7/2

China

FT – China tightens party control of foreign university ventures – Emily Feng 7/1

  • “British academic ejected from board after writing essay critical of Communist party.”

Russia

FT – Older Russians fear pension reform will hit income – Kathrin Hille 7/1

April 20, 2018

If you were only to read one thing…

WP – Too Many Men – Simon Denyer and Annie Gowen 4/18

  • “Nothing like this has happened in human history. A combination of cultural preferences, government decree and modern medical technology in the world’s two largest countries has created a gender imbalance on a continental scale. Men outnumber women by 70 million in China and India.”
  • “The consequences of having too many men, now coming of age, are far-reaching: Beyond an epidemic of loneliness, the imbalance distorts labor markets, drives up savings rates in China and drives down consumption, artificially inflates certain property values, and parallels increases in violent crime, trafficking or prostitution in a growing number of locations.”
  • “Those consequences are not confined to China and India, but reach deep into their Asian neighbors and distort the economies of Europe and the Americas, as well. Barely recognized, the ramifications of too many men are only starting to come into sight.”
  • “’In the future, there will be millions of men who can’t marry, and that could pose a very big risk to society,’ warns Li Shuzhuo, a leading demographer at Xi’an Jiaotong University.”
  • “Out of China’s population of 1.4 billion, there are nearly 34 million more males than females — the equivalent of almost the entire population of California, or Poland, who will never find wives and only rarely have sex. China’s official one-child policy, in effect from 1979 to 2015, was a huge factor in creating this imbalance, as millions of couples were determined that their child should be a son.”
  • “India, a country that has a deeply held preference for sons and male heirs, has an excess of 37 million males, according to its most recent census. The number of newborn female babies compared with males has continued to plummet, even as the country grows more developed and prosperous. The imbalance creates a surplus of bachelors and exacerbates human trafficking, both for brides and, possibly, prostitution. Officials attribute this to the advent of sex-selective technology in the last 30 years, which is now banned but still in widespread practice.”
  • “In the two countries, 50 million excess males are under age 20.”

Perspective

WSJ – Daily Shot: howmuch.net – Home Insurance Cost in Every State 4/19

WSJ – Daily Shot: howmuch.net – Health Insurance Rates by State 4/19

Worthy Insights / Opinion Pieces / Advice

BuzzFeed News – This PSA About Fake News From Barack Obama Is Not What It Appears – David Mack 4/17

  • “Oscar-winning filmmaker Jordan Peele has a warning for viewers about trusting material they encounter online.”

Visual Capitalist – America: An Economic Snapshot of Every U.S. State – Jeff Desjardins 4/19

Wolf Street – Subprime Carmageddon: Specialized Lenders Begin to Collapse – Wolf Richter 4/8

  • “The subprime auto lending business is highly cyclical. For example, according to Bloomberg, citing Moody’s data, 41 subprime lenders filed for bankruptcy during the subprime auto loan bust between 1997 and 1999.”
  • “But unlike subprime home mortgages, subprime auto loans won’t take down the financial system. About 25% of the auto loans written are subprime. For new cars, it’s about 20%. Of the $1.11 trillion in total auto loans outstanding at the end of 2017, about $280 billion were subprime – less than a quarter of the $1.3 trillion subprime mortgages before the financial crisis. Even if the total subprime portfolio produced a net loss of 50%, the losses would amount to only about $140 billion.”
  • “And there are other differences: Vehicles are quickly repossessed, usually after three months of missed payments. Even in bad times, there is a liquid market for the collateral at auctions around the country, and vehicles can be shipped to auctions with the greatest demand. The results are that lenders don’t end up holding these vehicles and loans on their balance sheet for years, as mortgage lenders did with defaulted home mortgages and homes.”
  • “But subprime will take down many more of the specialized lenders. And the survivors will tighten lending standards. This will prevent more car buyers from buying a new vehicles. Many of them will be switched to older used vehicles. Or they hang on to what they have.”
  • “So automakers get to grapple with the loss of these customers. When you lose a significant portion of your customers due to credit problems, it hurts. And this is where it adds to ‘Carmageddon.’ Investors and creditors, including PE firms, get to grapple with losses and bankruptcies. But given the limited magnitude of subprime auto loans, and the limited impact on the banks, the Fed will brush it off and continue its monetary tightening, and no one will get bailed out.”

Markets / Economy

FT – Sentiment sours for big brand consumer staples – Chloe Cornish 4/18

WSJ – Demand for Batteries Is Shrinking, Yet Prices Keep On Going and Going…Up – Sharon Terlep and Nicole Friedman 4/16

Tech

WSJ – Daily Shot: Bloomberg – IMF Says the Global Smartphone Boom Has Reached Its Peak – Andrew Mayeda 4/19

Britain

Bloomberg Businessweek – Britain Targets Russian Billionaires – Henry Meyer, Yuliya Fedorinova, and Irina Reznik 4/11

  • “As the U.S. goes after a handful of Russian oligarchs with its latest round of sanctions, the U.K. is under pressure domestically and from abroad to tighten controls and shed its reputation as a place to launder corrupt money. The U.K. National Crime Agency estimates that more than £90 billion ($127.5 billion) of such money enters the U.K. each year, feeding a vast industry of property companies, lawyers, bankers, and accountants. A lot of that comes from Russia, and ends up in high-end real estate. About a fifth of suspicious property purchases from 2008 to 2015, £729 million worth, were made by Russians, according to anticorruption watchdog Transparency International. ‘In terms of the levels of financial flows that go through London, it’s likely that it’s one of the biggest hubs of money laundering in the world,’ says Ben Cowdock, the group’s lead researcher on dirty money in the U.K.”