PULSE: In the News
The worldwide pulse. Things that matter.

WWSG speakers are actively involved in major events around the world and play a key role in shaping their trajectory and outcome. Below is a sampling of today's top stories that may be impacting your business and for which WWSG can help address these critical issues.

Pulse: In The News

Scott Gottlieb: Health Plan Premiums Are Skyrocketing According To New Survey Of 148 Insurance Brokers, With Delaware Up 100%, California 53%, Florida 37%, Pennsylvania 28% (+/-)

By: Scott Gottlieb, Forbes

Health insurance premiums are showing the sharpest increases perhaps ever according to a survey of brokers who sell coverage in the individual and small group market. Morgan Stanley’s healthcare analysts conducted the proprietary survey of 148 brokers. The April survey shows the largest acceleration in small and individual group rates in any of the 12 prior quarterly periods when it has been conducted.

The average increases are in excess of 11% in the small group market and 12% in the individual market. Some state show increases 10 to 50 times that amount. The analysts conclude that the “increases are largely due to changes under the ACA.”

The analysts conducting the survey attribute the rate increases largely to a combination of four factors set in motion by Obamacare: Commercial underwriting restrictions, the age bands that don’t allow insurers to vary premiums between young and old beneficiaries based on the actual costs of providing the coverage, the new excise taxes being levied on insurance plans, and new benefit designs.

The prior survey conducted in January also showed rates rising during the fall of 2013, but the new increases will come on top of those hikes and are even sharper. That prior survey of 131 brokers found that December 2013 rates were rising in excess of 6% in the small group market, and 9% in the individual market.

The hikes in the small group market, on average, have been largest for the Blues plans, which reported average rate increases of almost 16% year-over-year for renewing contracts. In the individual market, the publicly traded health plans had higher increases than the blues, at an average of more than 11%, and private and not-for-profit plans had the highest average increases overall at 13%.

For the individual insurance market (plans sold directly to consumers); among the ten states seeing some of the sharpest average increases are: Delaware at 100%, New Hampshire 90%, Indiana 54%, California 53%, Connecticut 45%, Michigan 36%, Florida 37%, Georgia 29%, Kentucky 29%, and Pennsylvania 28%.

For the small group market, among the ten states seeing the biggest increases are: Washington 588%, Pennsylvania 66%, California 37%, Indiana 34%, Kentucky 30%, Colorado 29%, Michigan 27%, Maryland 25%, Missouri 25%, and Nevada 23%.


Ray LaHood Says Transportation Funding Not a Congressional Priority (+/-)

By: Sean Kilcarr, Fleet Owner

With what he termed a “hotly contested” election approaching in November, Ray LaHood – the former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation and now senior policy advisor at the global law firm DLA Piper – says that crafting a long-term transportation funding solution is “not a priority” in Congress right now and that a short-term continuation of existing commitments using general fund revenues is likely to occur.

“Little if any progress will be made on any legislation that is even remotely controversial,” LaHood noted in a conference call with reports organized by Wall Street investment firm Stifel Nicolaus & Co. last Friday.

“In light of that, the existing transportation bill (MAP-21) will likely be extended beyond the end of the current fiscal year, which ends on September 30,” he said. “And with the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) likely to be fully drained by the end of August, Congress will most likely partially fund transportation projects out of the general fund from that point forward.”

LaHood added that current fuel taxes remain unadjusted for inflation since 1993 and simply do not generate enough revenue given both the significant increases in automobile fuel efficiency and per capita driving declines.

“What is needed is a strong five or six year bill that contains a vision for the future and adequate funding for all approved projects,” he explained, adding that in his opinion the two-year MAP-21 legislation “was little more than a two-year stop gap.”

LaHood also believes fuel taxes should be raised and then indexed to inflation as it still provides the bulk of funding for transportation projects at the national level. However, right now, the leadership in Congress seems unwilling or incapable of raising this politically charged tax.

He also things higher fuel taxes should be supplemented via increased tolling, a vehicle miles traveled or VMT tax, public private partnerships, TIFIA loans – a federally guaranteed loan program for transportation facilities/infrastructure projects – and TIGER Grants, which are federal grants awarded to the projects with the highest returns on investment.

In the LaHood’s opinion, a combination of all these and other funding sources – with states taking more matters into their own hands by raising state fuel taxes, building toll roads, or by earmarking a portion of state sales tax revenue for transportation projects – need to be considered in order to address what LaHood described as a “currently deteriorating situation” where transportation infrastructure is concerned.

Yet Pete Ruane, president of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), explained in testimony before the U.S. Senate’s Environment & Public Works Committee back in February that federal funding is a critical ingredient to the most highly-traveled portions of the U.S. highway system – especially where commercial vehicles are concerned.

“Trucks carry freight worth more than $11 trillion over the nation’s roads and bridges every year, and nearly 75% of that travel takes place on the federal-aid system,” he explained. “Without that federal investment in these roads, trucking mobility and economic productivity are at risk.”

He added that ARTBA’s economics team analyzed the usage pattern of federal fuel tax dollars in 2012 and said the data showed federal transportation monies helped fund 12,546 capital improvement efforts – 7,335 roads, 2,407 bridges, and 2,804 road safety projects – all focused primarily on the system that moves most of that $11 trillion in freight movement.

One method being suggested to generate the necessary funds to accomplish all of that – what analysis by Congressional Budget Office (CBO) believes totals, on average, $16.3 billion annually just to preserve the current transportation program – is “value-added tolling,” an all-electronic tolling (AET) strategy that replaces standard toll collection booth structures as well as fuel taxes over time.

A recent study by the Reason Foundation concluded that AET tolling – which costs only 5% of collected revenues versus 20% to 30% of traditional toll booth structured systems – is what can generate the minimum $1 trillion its estimates is needed to upgrade and modernize the nation’s 47,000-mile highway system.

“This is a new model that would apply to newly tolled highways such as rebuilt interstates,” noted Robert Poole, Reason’s director of transportation policy. “Its aim is to make such tolling a true highway user fee, not a hybrid of toll and tax.”

Whatever the solution, though DLA Piper’s LaHood said it must be deployed sooner rather than later.

“The harsh winter, in many regions of the U.S., has left potholed highways everywhere and the [transportation] infrastructure of the U.S. may have never been in worse shape,” he explained during the Stifel conference call. “A near-term effort will have to be mounted just to restore functionality of the highway network.”


Newt Gingrich Joins VitalSpring Board of Advisors (+/-)

By: Staff, Broadway World

VitalSpring Technologies, an enterprise cloud-based analytics firm that is unique in connecting and harnessing data from every part of the health care system, today announced that health industry luminaries Sen. Tom Daschle, Rep. Newt Gingrich and Thomas Emerick, among several other leaders, have joined the company's newly created Board of Advisors. These advisors will counsel VitalSpring on strategy as it expands its footprint within the health ecosystem.

The new board members are recognized health care pioneers, innovators and reformers, bringing decades of policy and business expertise to VitalSpring. The full board now includes:

  • U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle, former majority leader, U.S. Senate
  • Thomas Emerick, former vice president, global benefit design, Walmart
  • U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich, former speaker, U.S. House of Representatives
  • George Lazenby, former CEO, Emdeon
  • Hon. Tevi Troy, former deputy secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

VitalSpring provides cloud-based technology to health insurers and large employers that helps them harness health care data – including data from providers, payers and consumers themselves – in powerful and, until now, untapped ways. VitalSpring products have helped many Fortune-500 companies reduce costs, measure outcomes and improve the overall benefits provided to employees and patients.

"At this critical juncture for health care in America, what VitalSpring offers is a potentially transformative platform," Sen. Daschle said. "I am proud to serve on the VitalSpring advisory board, and look forward to playing a role in connecting the company's solutions to organizations that will use them to better manage their data, lower costs and ultimately provide better care to patients."


Tevi Troy: Large Employers See Costs from Obamacare (+/-)

By: Jason Millman, The Washington Post

Large companies, including Fortune 500 firms, expect to face costs between $4,800 and $5,900 per worker over the next decade from provisions in President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, according to a new think tank that represents those corporations.

The survey aims to provide a glimpse into what costs the large employers expect if they don’t react to the Affordable Care Act. But the landscape of employer-sponsored insurance had been changing to reduce costs even before Obamacare, though the law has helped accelerate that shift.

The newly formed conservative-leaning American Health Policy Institute asked member firms with 10,000 or more employees to provide internal and consultant analyses on what they expect the ACA to cost their businesses over the next decade. The survey doesn’t account for other factors, like the rate of health care inflation, nor does it try to anticipate how employers may already be changing the way they provide insurance.

Think tank president Tevi Troy, a former deputy health secretary under President George W. Bush, said this was the first comprehensive effort to determine costs large employers are anticipating because of the health care law.

“The important thing is this is how these mostly Fortune 500 companies think the law will affect them,” said Troy. “The fact is it’s their internal analyses of what the cost will be, and this is what drives their actions.”

Critics of the survey, however, said it ignores how employers are already altering their health benefit strategies.

The survey, which will be released Wednesday, was provided ahead of time to the Washington Post. More than 350 company members of the HR Policy Association were asked to participate in the survey, and 103 employers representing 4.3 million covered lives responded.

Survey respondents identified the health care law’s tax on high-cost health plans starting in 2018 as their largest anticipated cost stemming from the ACA. Under the law, firms will face a 40 percent excise tax on amounts surpassing $10,200 for an individual health plan or $27,500 for family coverage. The so-called “Cadillac” tax on health plans was included in the health care law partially as a funding mechanism and as a way to make businesses and consumers more conscious about how they consume health care.

Bradley Herring, a health economist, previously estimated about 75 percent of firms would have to pay the tax by 2028 if they didn’t lower health plan costs. However, companies are already making efforts to avoid triggering the tax. A 2013 survey from Towers Watson, a professional services firm, found that more than 60 percent of businesses said they were thinking about the Cadillac tax as they structured health care benefits for this year and 2015.

“It is very unlikely employers will sit still and let the tax hit them,” said Bowen Garrett, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Urban Institute.

Companies identified other ACA costs, such as fees for a temporary reinsurance program and a new government-sponsored institute studying the effectiveness of care interventions. They also cited the law’s preventive benefit requirements and a provision allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26 as adding costs. Those two provisions, which have been in effect since 2010, accounted for 1-2 percentage points of the 9 percent increase in employer-sponsored family coverage in 2011, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis.

White House spokeswoman Jessica Santillo defended the health care law's impact on businesses.

"Since the ACA passed, health care cost growth has slowed to the lowest level on record, and Americans have gained critical protections and benefits, which is good for businesses and good for working families," she said in a statement.

Some major employers, like Target and Walgreens, have recently made major changes to employee benefits. Target dropped coverage for part-time workers, while Walgreen Co. moved employees onto a private exchange with a set contribution. Almost half of large employers, in a 2012 ADP survey, said they started to implement consumer-driven health plans and offer wellness incentives as a way to bring down costs.

The think tank’s study is being released as the House is set to vote this week on a bill that would alter the ACA’s employer mandate requiring mid-sized and large companies to provide insurance to full-time employees or pay fines. The bill would change the ACA’s definition of full-time employee from 30 hours per week to the more traditional 40 hours.


Sheila Bair Still Waiting for Banks to Take Responsibility for Bad Decisions (+/-)

By: Matthew L. Brown, Boston Business Journal 

More than five years after the financial crisis, former FDIC chair Sheila Bair still wonders when banks will take responsibility for making the bad loans that led to the crash.

In a broad and occasionally heated discussion, Bair said stiffer supervision and heavier capital requirements are still needed to ensure the safety of the US banking system.

Bair and others, including former Sen. Chris Dodd and former Rep. Barney Frank, were in Boston for a symposium marking the 150th anniversary of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

Participating in a panel discussion with Goldman Sachs Bank chairman Gerald Corrigan and former OCC counsel Raymond Natter, Bair said holding more capital is the best way for banks to help the economy during times of economic distress.

"We have to make sure banks stay solvent, and you do that with higher capital requirements and better supervision of non-banks that behave like banks."

Bair's positions met with disagreement from Natter, who suggested the subprime crisis has been overblown.

He said regulators have at times taken regulatory action "when the statutory authority may not have been entirely clear."

Bair asked, in effect, when the industry would take some responsibility for its role in the crisis, and the discussion was ended before Bair and Natter could engage in a full debate.


John Yemma: The News Bubble Around Vladimir Putin (+/-)

By: John Yemma, The Christian Science Monitor 

The other day on the RT website you could browse through a photo gallery of baby polar bears at Munich’s zoo, click on a “Larry King Now” video featuring the suspendered TV icon chatting with “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan, and get a rundown on the news. There was a follow-up on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a report on Japan’s Fukushima nuclear complex, and a lot about Kosovo.

Why Kosovo? It wasn’t a subject most other news outlets were focusing on. But RT, the news operation formerly known as Russia Today (and examined in-depth in our March 31 issue by Fred Weir and Sabra Ayres), is a Russian version of that Manhattan-centric New Yorker cartoon with Ukraine, Eastern Europe, and the Balkans in the foreground and the United States on the far horizon.

RT isn’t unique in having a nationalistic point of view. CCTV, backed by the Chinese government, follows a similar formula. So, in differing degrees, do Al Jazeera, Iran’s Press TV, the Voice of America, and the BBC. But through RT you can see the world as Vladimir Putin and his advisers see it.

Kosovo, one RT commentator recently argued, was NATO using violence to engineer the separation of an ethnic enclave from a sovereign state. Compare that with the relatively peaceful “preemptive” secession of Crimea. NATO is aggressive and expansionist in the RT scheme of things, and rightists, fascists, and anti-Russian elements are stirring throughout Europe. A Monitor cover story considers the implications of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Ukraine, Kosovo, Germany, and the trauma of invasions by Napoleon and Hitler, Tatars and Mongols are in the forefront of Russia’s historical memory.Mr. Putin’s media have tapped into that. What started as a slant on the news to justify Russian foreign policy, however, may have infected the Russian leader’s worldview.

That’s the analysis of Madeleine Albright, who was secretary of State during the Kosovo war. She speaks Russian, has met Putin, and, as the daughter of a twice-exiled Czech diplomat (first from the Nazis and then communists), has an abiding interest in Eastern Europe.

We spoke recently following a lecture she delivered at Principia College in Elsah, Ill. Putin is rewriting world history, Dr. Albright says. “He sees himself as helping Russians regain some sense of honor. They were an empire. He has identified himself with the glory of the Russian past.” But what he omits from his worldview is that after the fall of the Soviet Union, the US worked to shore up Russia and other nations that emerged, aided them financially, and brought them into the international system. Albright herself told then-President Boris Yeltsin that Russia would be welcome as a member of NATO.

Putin is also rewriting Eastern Europe’s history. Crimea and Kosovo are “not even vaguely similar,” she says, citing the documented record of Serbian “ethnic cleansing,” the eight years of negotiations that attempted to keep Kosovo part of Serbia, United Nations-supervised elections, and the 105 countries that have recognized Kosovo’s independence.

The Russian leader has built a new Russian media to project his version of history. But the stories we tell to persuade others often succeed only in persuading ourselves. As Albright puts it, Putin is likely “living in a parallel universe of the propaganda that he himself has perpetrated.”


10 Questions with Russell Simmons (+/-)

By: Belinda Luscombe, Time Magazine

The Hip-hop, fashion and poetry mogul on crime, wealth and why everyone should meditate

Aren’t you worried that your book on meditation, Success Through Stillness, might make people think you’re too soft to be a rap entrepreneur?

I’ve been meditating for 20 years. I’ve been practicing yoga for 20 years. I’ve been writing books on happiness for 10 years. I think everybody in the hip-hop community knows Uncle Rush as a person who promotes well-being. I’m not at all worried, and meditating is something I want the world to do. I want to take in the hood and meditate. I want to go to Chicago and get Rahm Emanuel and put meditation in the schools in Chicago.

Is Uncle Rush your nickname because you’re always in a hurry?

Yeah, and Rush also was a particular brand of angel dust. But now I’m a monk. I don’t smoke or drink or eat animals or wear any animal product. About 20 years ago, I started to find meditation in the morning to be a lot more satisfying than drinking at night.

How would you respond to people who say, It’s fine for you to meditate–your money is making money–but the rest of us have to make a living?

I run a fashion company, Argyle Culture. I run three digital companies: All Def Digital, Narrative and GlobalGrind.com. I run four charities. I’m able to do a lot because I meditate. Meditation helped me to be more expansive in my abilities, but it also allowed me freedom to not carry the anxiety and weight that people associate with worldly pursuits.

Do you have a dream disciple, someone you’d love to win over?

Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber. We had a big initiative to end the drug laws the way they are today. Every celebrity you could think of signed our letter, all the civil organizations. We had a rally. Nobody did sh-t [in response]. Justin Bieber tweeted it out … “Ding-aling, Attorney General on the line.”

Is it drug laws or the prevalence of drugs that’s an issue?

The drug laws took innocent diseased people, locked them up, educated them in criminal behavior and dumped them back in the hood without a chance for employment or any opportunity to be good parts of society. That’s why I occupied [Wall Street]. That’s why I slept in the park. Only once. I live across the street.

And nobody kicked you out for being one of the 1%.

I’m not the 1%. I’m the 0.5%, but the ones who are the 0.01% are the dumb motherf-ckers. They should be happy to pay more taxes.

What do you think of the new trend of tolerance rap, like Macklemore and Lecrae?

That’s not new.

Are you suggesting rap has never been homophobic?

I’d say that society has always been homophobic. I would not say rap was more homophobic than Congress. F-ck no. Or the city council or the preachers. I like Macklemore’s record; I heard it while in [the yoga pose] shavasana.

Is the music business over?

No, I think the doors are wide open, and whatever I’ve done can be done easily by someone who has the drive and interest. It’s easier to be in the record business now. You need a hot-ass record–that’s it. Nobody can stop you.

Is that why you’re back in the entertainment business?

All Def Digital is young writers, directors, poets, comedians, music artists. There’s a bunch of black people who deserve a break. Hollywood’s diversity is–did you know that Kerry Washington is the first black girl lead in a show like that since Diahann Carroll in Julia?

Is Hollywood more segregated than other industries?

More than anything I’ve ever seen. I’m not mad at Hollywood, by the way. They have good intentions, they’re sweet people, they’re liberal–they’re just less integrated than Jerry Springer.