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6, 2000 April, 2000

Highlights—September 28, 2013

  • Benefits Pro: Retirees fear shift into exchanges. By Dan Berman. Excerpts: Don Parry toiled at IBM for more than three decades assured that his retirement benefits were guaranteed only to find that nothing is as he expected.

    “The mystery is that we don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Parry, who retired to the Jacksonville, Fla. area in 1990 after 32 years with the computer behemoth. “We’re sitting in limbo.”

    This month, IBM announced that the benefits of about 110,000 of its retirees would be administered by Extend Health, a private exchange run by Towers Watson & Co., beginning on Jan. 1. IBM said it was making the move to help protect its retirees from skyrocketing costs.

    For Parry, like many retired IBM employees, the reality of life after work is different than what they might have imagined as health costs have, indeed, climbed sharply. The 80-year-old, who pays about $150 a month into the company plan and $200 into a Medicare Advantage plan to cover he and his spouse, said the company’s culture had changed as much as anything.

    Parry, who worked in everything from sales to installing systems, remembers managers telling workers that they were lucky to be at IBM because they were guaranteed benefits for life.

    “They made promises they didn’t keep,” he said. “I’m angry. IBM used to be the greatest company in the world. IBM is participating in screwing its employees and the middle class.”

  • Dice.com: Justice Department Hits IBM Over H-1B Hiring Practices. By Dawn Kawamoto. Excerpts: IBM reached a settlement with Department of Justice over allegations it discriminated against U.S. software and apps developers by favoring job applicants who held H-1B visas or foreign student visas, according to a statement by the Department of Justice on Friday.

    The Justice Department hit IBM for allegedly violating the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act, when it posted online job openings for software and apps developers.

    In the job postings, IBM allegedly stated a preference for F-1 and H-1B visa holders. F-1 visas are issued to foreign students and H-1B visas to foreign nationals with technical experience in a specialized field. ...

    Under the terms of the settlement with the Justice Department, IBM agreed to: Pay $44,400 in civil penalties to the United States...

    Selected reader comments from Slashdot.org follow:

    • Yep, a whole $44,400 fine. That's got to sting a multi-billion dollar company. Bet they won't dare try that again.
    • Good thing they did not download an mp3 file illegally. Because that could have cost much more!
    • If investors actually pay any attention at all to this news, the price will go up. IBM has essentially proven to its shareholders that they can once again go up against the federal government in cases like this and come out paying virtually nothing in fines, while not being required to take any meaningful action as far as policy revision goes. That's called "enhancing shareholder confidence."
    • it's probably a 1% surcharge on the overtime IBM paid their law department to reach the settlement.
    • The heavy hand of big government continues to stifle the economy. Just think how many jobs they could create if they still had that $44,400.
    • IBM agreed to pay $44,400 in civil penalties to the U.S. Well gee, why don't you make them switch the way the toilet paper falls over the roll as well, you fascists!
    • And IBM execs high-fived each other and shouted "TOTALLY worth it!!" as they took their millions to the bank.
    • Why is it that free market principles don't apply to IT wages? If there is a shortage of IT workers, then salaries should rise.
    • Every time a company tells Congress they need more H1Bs, they're not telling you they can't find programmers, they're telling you they don't want to pay a competitive wage. Combine this with the fact that a lot of programmer types consider themselves too "individualist" to be involved with anything so "workmanly" as a labour union, and you set up a system where talented workers' wages are artificially reduced.
  • Business Standard (India): IBM's BPO business sell-off to affect Indian employees. A huge chunk of employees to be transferred to Synnex may be from India. By Bibhu Ranjan Mishra & Itika Sharma. Excerpts: With global information technology major IBM deciding to sell its low-value customer care services business to Synnex Corp, a major chunk of employees to be transferred to the acquirer are expected to be from India.

    Sources say this is primarily because India has been at the forefront of IBM Global Process Services (GPS), the business process outsourcing (BPO) services business of the company. In turn due to the huge presence it got in the country with the acquisition of Daksh eServices in 2004.

    “This (the selloff) is expected to affect employees partly in countries such as India, Philippines, China and Australia, and several countries in Latin America,” sources said. “Among all these, India seems to have a greater concentration of IBM’s delivery presence in voice-based BPO and call centre space, followed by Philippines.”

    “However, among all these, India seems to have a greater concentration of IBM’s delivery presence in voice-based BPO and call centre space followed by Philippines,” it added.

  • Glassdoor IBM reviews. Selected reviews follow:
    • Depressing, worst company I ever worked with, no training given to staff, big blame culture, very bad managers.” IT Analyst (Former Employee), Dublin (Ireland). I worked at IBM full-time for more than a year. Pros: None, except it was close to my home. Cons: Bad management; staff are treated very badly; overworked cause a lot of people to be out sick. Too many risks taken with customers business. Bad in-house systems; bad rating systems. I could go on. Advice to Senior Management: Get some training. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • It used to be a good company to work for” Financial Analyst (Former Employee), Houston, TX. I worked at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: A Well known company. A good place to learn and use new software. There is room for growth depending on your expertise and where you work. Cons: The bulk of the work is being sent out of the United States. They used to use folks in the U.S. to do the work. Now like many other companies, they use India, Brazil etc. They are all about numbers, layoffs and cutting corners. It's not like the old IBM I knew and loved. They let folks go and double the work the current workers have without compensation. Advice to Senior Management: Don't forget what made this company; Watson must be rolling around in his grave. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend.
    • IBM, an awesome company to work for !!! tc.” Account Support Representative (Former Employee), Atlanta, GA. I worked at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Salary, benefits, career development, management, team spirit, family values oriented, etc. Cons: Honestly can't think of any. I know a lot has changed since I was laid off in 2005, but I still believe IBM is one of the greatest, & one of the most admired U.S. companies of all-time. Advice to Senior Management: Always keep your employees happy & they'll aways work hard for you, which in turn makes you look good to your bosses. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend. I'm optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • NNotnoNot your father's Bib tNo” Anonymous Employee (Former Employee). Pros: Just the prestige of working there. Good insurance. That's it. Cons: Not your daddy's Big Blue anymore. GBS is unethical in its application of "core values", especially 'bill every hour you work'. The expectation was that you would bill only to the point that it did not impact predicted profit margin. Advice to Senior Management: In playing "the blame game" for underutilization numbers especially. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend Was this review helpful?
    • The Maverick in the Machine” Anonymous Employee (Former Employee). Pros: If you can get a good R&D position you can still innovate here. It just may not pay as well as some other organizations might. Cons: The problem is that IBM is more beholden to Wall Street than any other. The company is now run by lawyers and accountants and everything is done in the name of the stock price. Do not look for loyalty from this organization. The title of this review refers to the biography of Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM. He would not recognize this company. Advice to Senior Management: Stand up and do what is right for everyone. Not just the shareholders.
    • What the heck happened?” Advisory Software Engineer (Current Employee). I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: I love developing. I love my job. Flexible hours. Comparable pay. Work with some of the most dedicated, intelligent technical workers in the industry with decades of experience all around you. Work with people around the world with different cultures...exciting! 10 years ago I would have put 5 stars and had lots to say. 5 years ago it would have been 4 stars and still quite a bit to say.

      Cons: When I was young I wanted to be an IBMer. My parents knew people who were IBMers. IBM had a reputation of taking care of its own...that's where I wanted to be. That IBM is gone. There is no loyalty to employees. I've been through 8 resource actions in the last 10 years. Some were small..some were very large. When I started I knew I would retire here. Now, I don't even know if I'll have a job next month. It is so distracting and stressful. The state of the company is reflected in every aspect of our life...all the way to the inability to get pens! I have to buy my own because they are no longer supplied.

      Working with too many people around the world! 4 different major time zones in one product. 4 different cultures. Much is lost in the translation resulting in undesirable results. Quality suffers as a result. It's not an issue of whether employees from other countries are intelligent enough to do the work; it's a problem with too much diversity, too much distance and not enough of the right tools to bridge the gaps. Web and phone meetings only get you so far.

      IBM doesn't know what it wants to be. IBM drove the market in the past and successfully developed their own products. The IBM of today outsources and scatters their work in too many different places. Managers do not even know what direction we should be going.

      No real benefits to being an IBMer today. IBM used to have the best benefits; IBM functions that made their employees feel special, and, if nothing else, you knew you had a job for life. None of that exists today. If you want that type of treatment you have to go somewhere else like Google...catered lunches, carnivals, free tickets to whatever, large bonuses,etc. Even the 401k match is lacking compared to other companies.

      Used to have a lot of opportunities to move into other areas. Now the teams are squeezed so hard that everyone is paralyzed with work, managers cannot let you go because they need you and there are no jobs anyway because of all the cuts.

      Advice to Senior Management:

      1. IBM needs to decide what kind of business it wants to be and announce it and get to it. Pull the band-aid off fast not slowly
      2. Restore employee confidence by doing the above and stabilizing as fast as you can.
      3. Do it now even if it costs you money
      4. Stop the attrition! Show your employees they have a job for life. If you do nothing else DO THIS!
      5. Come up with reasonable benefits that make your employees feel special
      6. I understand the reason for a global business solution but use it wisely. Stop splitting up the teams into too many remote chunks. 2 time zones max splitting up projects in a more reasonable way (i.e. dev in one location and test in another).
      7. If you are going to support global teams then you MUST allow travel to allow team building and face-to-face task discussions and training. I'm sorry, anyone that says you can do this over web and phone with the same results is a fool. I can tell you as an online gamer that you can "know" someone for years over the internet then meet them and be totally wrong on everything about them. I've worked with many countries and am continuously surprised by how much I learned about someone I've worked with for years the first time I meet them.
      8. Buy me some pens, dern it! Some paper would help as well.
    • Not great anymore, at least not in the US” Staff Software Engineer (Current Employee), Durham, NC. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 5 years. Pros: Good compensation, health care, and vacation policy. Cons: At least in the US, focus is completely on making the stock price go up which means perks are gone, morale is low, and people are leaving or getting laid off. And you're still expected to do just as much work with fewer people. Advice to Senior Management: Realize that investing in employees is also an investment in the company. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend.
    • Red Tape Galore” Marketing Manager (Former Employee), Walvis Bay (Namibia). I worked at IBM full-time for more than a year. Pros: Telecommuting is encouraged. Work/life balance is promoted so if you have a family, it's a great place to work for the flexibility that's offered. Cons: Everyone works all the time...nights, weekends, you name it—you are "always on" at IBM. The pay isn't great...raises are minuscule if they even happen...and there are so many required processes for nearly everything you try to accomplish that it gets in the way of achieving actual end results. Advice to Senior Management: Allow mid-mgt more autonomy/decision maker authority and reduce the number of steps in any given process to get small programs approved. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend.
    • Do I exist?” Human Resources Consultant (Former Employee). I worked at IBM full-time for more than 3 years. Pros: - Well paying career, even for entry level positions; - Work from home for many consulting positions; - Travel is well compensated and if you can put up with it, you get to experience a lot.

      Cons: - Managerial staff does not pay attention/care about your success at all; - To excel, you need experience, but most people are interested in only their development and refuse to help you get said experience; - Regarding the last point, hours can be insane, including required weekends. If you travel, say goodbye to a social life, and be sure your relationships can take extreme stress.

      Advice to Senior Management: Talk to your employees one-on-one and understand their struggles/concerns. Without that, they fail, and due to their inexperience, projects become lagged. Be sure those who are assigned to coach and guide actually coach and guide. Stop being so focused on meeting quotas and getting so many projects your employees are overworked and too stressed to complete any single assignment perfectly. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.

    • Used to be a great place to work” Advisory Software Engineer (Former Employee), Research Triangle Park, NC. I worked at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: -Work with smart individuals; -Learn middleware technologies used in many enterprise environments; -Great for Java developers especially with access to IBM JVM Hursley. Cons: -Emphasis on cost reduction rather than investing in the future; -Benefits dwindling over the years; -Yearly layoffs create an environment of fear rather than innovation; -Has become top heavy with little room for growth. Advice to Senior Management: RTP campus has become a ghost town. Consolidate the campus and invest heavily to bring top talent back in to spur innovation. Ensure that new campus lifestyle fosters strong collaboration with on-site team. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Finance Intern” Finance Intern (Current Employee) Southbury, CT. I have been working at IBM as a contractor for less than a year. Pros: there are none at all. Cons: in the middle of nowhere; outsourcing. Advice to Senior Management: leave while you still can, Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Former Employee from 1985 to 1994 then tempted from 1997 to 1998” Temp Front 1997 to 1998 (Former Employee), Poughkeepsie, NY. Pros: Thought it was a great company to work for, but through the years it has gone down hill and not only that, most everything is going to China. Is this the sign of a good company? I will never buy anything IBM because I am boycotting China. I bet Watson is rolling in his grave. He believed his employees came first. Current CEO say employee's are *th.

      Cons: Same as above. I should have put cons here, but couldn't find any pros at this point.

      Advice to Senior Management: Get a grip. Bring the jobs back to the US where you started from. You need loyalty to your employees, not stockholders, and not moving everything to China. Shame on you!!!!!!!!!!! No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.

    • Not investing in its own employees” Anonymous Employee (Former Employee). Pros: Good high-tech jobs; lots of wonderful employees. Cons: Upper management only concerned about stock prices. Fixation on keeping previous CEO's stock price promise seems to be only principle they live by, even if it means decimating the company's employees and their resources. Advice to Senior Management: Show concern about employees. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Wishing the acquisition never happened” Anonymous Employee (Former Employee), Cambridge, MA. I worked at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Name recognition and opportunities to work with the latest products. Cons: The PBC evaluations are meant to pit employees against each other and clearly fails to evaluate the person. Comparing employees across bands is unfair as each project has varying levels of tasks. Insisting employees to participate on volunteer projects but never including these responsibilities in review is nothing less than free labor. Advice to Senior Management: Mushrooms grow in the dark; please make certain your employees feel valued. Blindsiding your employees via "resource action drive bys" leaves survivors in fight mode. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Exposure to neat technologies but the special family values that IBM had are gone” Competitive Marketing (Current Employee), Poughkeepsie, NY. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: - You can learn a lot about a lot of different technologies; - Challenging projects to manage; - Remote work normal. Cons: - Can be bureaucratic; - Much too much measurement and repeated measurement; - Too much overtime (60 hour work week the norm, over 70 sometimes); - Not special with treating employees. Not much "respect for the individual". Profit is the bottom line not the people; - Pressure not to be hit by the next layoff that you know will come, like clockwork. Advice to Senior Management: - Show real appreciation for the job done; - Focus more, do not create more and more responsibilities, focus on fewer and be better; - Reward long term employees and the wealth of knowledge that they have, just do not throw them away when it APPEARS that the younger employees have the skills that are needed Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Excellent company that treats employees well” Anonymous Employee (Former Employee). Pros: Treats employees well; well-run company. Cons: It is of course a huge corporation. Advice to Senior Management: Continue to engage employees regarding their wants/needs.
    • IBM Global Business Services” Executive IT Architect (Current Employee), London, England (UK). I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 5 years. Pros: Similar to many consulting companies, great exposure to interesting projects and client challenges across Europe. If you know how to drive your career and take initiatives, great place to be. Pushes people for their growth and contributions/supporting junior colleagues are much encouraged. Cons: Your present management could be either a blocker or an enabler. A lot of politics like in every consulting; performance measurement and promotions are subjective and takes a very narrow view. Managers and most employees are not empowered. Morale and energy low. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend.
  • Glassdoor IBM Canada reviews
    • I wouldn't trade the time I worked at IBM; amazing people; glad I'm no longer there though.” Anonymous Employee (Former Employee). I worked at IBM Canada full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: At IBM, there's an opportunity to work with some of the smartest and committed people in the industry. IBM secures engagements of great size and complexity around the world, so the networking possibilities are truly amazing. If IBM is committed to something, look out, it's going to happen. If you're OK with almost bleeding the companies' DNA, there is probably unparalleled possibilities for a career working at IBM.

      Cons: There is ever increasing pressure to travel, regardless of family commitments; 4-5 days a week is not that unusual. There is disregard for the constant excessive demands placed on personal/family time or health, even following straight talk with management. Nobody seems to "retire" from IBM, people only quit or get released. Raises are unusual, but in order to potentially qualify for the mid-range of bonus possibilities, some find you need to work enough overtime to make up for any time used for vacations or stat holidays. People in consulting - don't expect your manager to help find your next assignment - that just might be for you to find - and if you don't do so within a certain period of time, that could affect the geography you work in or time with the company.

      Advice to Senior Management: Employees matter for more than only the profitability they secured in the last month or quarter. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend.

  • Alliance for Retired Americans Friday Alert. This week's headlines:
    • Latest on a Possible Shutdown of the Federal Government
    • Debt Ceiling: A Threat to Social Security and Medicare
    • Human Chain Event to Take Place on October 3 at the U.S. Capitol
    • Rep. Linda Sanchez’s Social Security Legislation Already Has 30 Co-sponsors
    • Social Security Benefits Likely to be Paid on Time Even if There is a Shutdown
  • Kaiser Health News and the Chicago Tribune: Swapping COBRA For Obamacare Likely To Be Windfall For Big Business. By Jay Hancock. Excerpts: Health-law provisions taking effect next year could save U.S. employers billions of dollars in expenses now paid for workers who continue medical coverage after they leave the company, benefits experts say.

    Insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act are expected to all but replace COBRA coverage in which ex-employees and dependents can remain on the company plan if they pay the premiums.

    “As soon as the law was passed, the question among employers and benefits people was: Is there still going to be a reason for COBRA?” said Steve Wojcik, vice president of public policy for the National Business Group on Health, an employer group. Offered a choice between heavily subsidized coverage in the health act’s insurance exchanges or paying full price under COBRA, he said, “most people are going to choose the exchange.” ...

    Because company cost sharing usually ceases when workers depart, COBRA members pay premiums exceeding $5,000 per year for single-person coverage and more for families. But because it’s so expensive, only people who know they’ll use the insurance are likely to sign up. ...

    “If the employers know anything about their own experience, they’re going to be thrilled when these people go into the exchanges,” said Stephen Huth, a former Spencer’s editor, now retired, who managed the COBRA survey. “And when these former employees find out the [lower] cost, they’re going to be thrilled to go into them, too.”

  • The Medical Quack: With Utility Companies Like This Who Needs Enemies, Why Jobs Are Not Growing In US, Biggest New England Energy Utility Plans to Outsource IT Department To India–400 Jobs at Stake. Excerpts: Well when there is a push to bring jobs back, the regulated utility company is still trying to shove more jobs out of the US and it all comes down again to money but what’s kind of really stupid here is this is big part of the “brains” of the company and I guess you Algo Duped and digital illiterates running these companies too. Why do you want to send the “brain element” overseas? Makes no sense other than just another company running around with analytics that says “here’s more savings” as don’t even realize they are looking at the “brains” of the company. Bean counters not looking at long range impact here, nor going with the flow of bringing jobs back to the US.

    This is the largest energy delivery system in New England and amazing they sit right there in Massachusetts with tons of brilliant peopleimage and this is the best they can do? With all the security risks and utility companies have been attacked as well, so let’s send all of our good expertise to India? Sure there’s nothing wrong with collaborating worldwide and sharing ideas and gaining knowledge, but this company is just flat out dumb and not taking advantage of the talent they have locally. Bank of America if you read this post you can see it has an entirely different perspective and is investing in their IT groups.

News and Comments Concerning ExtendHealth (New Medical Plan for Medicare-Eligible Retirees)
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "ExtendHealth May Be Limiting Our Choices While Not Adding Any Value!" by "retired_engineer". Full excerpt: If I interpret the information that has been provided so far, ExtendHealth is nothing more than a medical insurance salesman and an administrator of the IBM funded HRAs. They may be an “agent of record” for our health insurance but, I think, that only gives them access to our information but does not carry any real fiduciary responsibility. My opinion is: Have no illusions! ExtendHealth works for IBM and is focused on their own profits, not on helping us.

    The 2014 health insurance information is not up on the ExtendHealth website yet, but I was interested in what they offered for 2013. Disclaimer: Past performance is not a guarantee of future performance. I went to medicare.gov and also anonymously to the ExtendHealth website and this is what I found. The Medicare website lists 52 approved Medicare Advantage plans (I did not consider Medigap plans because the government does not list individual plans, just categories) for the Denver, CO area while ExtendHealth only lists 27 of these same plans for the same area. A further breakout is in the table below:

    2013 POLICY Medicare.gov ExtendHealth % Plans Available in ExtendHealth
    Drug Only 24 15 62.5%
    Health & Drug 20 9 45.0%
    Health Only 8 3 37.5%
    Total Plans 52 27 51.9%

    There is no apparent pattern in the plans ExtendHealth chose not to carry. There is no pattern by either type, cost or rating. Also, there is absolutely no difference in the cost of these plans between the government and ExtendHealth websites, so ExtendHealth adds no value by negotiating prices.

    My personal guess is that the plans excluded did not offer to pay ExtendHealth enough commission, but that is only my personal opinion. While that is a prerogative of an independent company, it is not in our best interest! IBM has chosen to force retirees into purchasing their individual health insurance plans through ExtendHealth by “Please note: You must enroll in a medical plan through Extend Health to receive an HRA contribution.” [IBM ExtendHealth Announcement Newsletter, page 2].

    If this pattern continues into the offerings for 2014, this is definitely one of the issues I intend to raise with IBM directly. (Yeah, I know, lots of luck!)

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: ExtendHealth May Be Limiting Our Choices While Not Adding Any Value!" by "lastdino1". Full excerpt: This makes the assumption that EH along with IBM hasn't negotiated special deals with certain insurance companies that EH will list. What you see on these sites are the plans offered to the general public. That may not be the agreement with IBM and EH as well as other companies who are hooked up with EH. We'll see in a few weeks.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: ExtendHealth May Be Limiting Our Choices While Not Adding Any Value!" by "madinpok". Full excerpt: IBM and/or EH do not negotiate special deals with the insurance companies for the retirees. The plans offered by EH are the same ones anyone can buy directly from the insurers.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: ExtendHealth May Be Limiting Our Choices While Not Adding Any Value!" by "lastdino1". Full excerpt: That may be true so once the plans come out I'll do a compare using the incognito feature to see if there is a difference. Once you register on EH you can't see any of the plans but if you use the incognito feature in chrome it lets you look at the plans for 2013 . Interesting how that works as I assume EH knows who you are and what company you worked for . It would be interesting to see how the contract is written between IBM and EH. Just got to follow the money.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: ExtendHealth May Be Limiting Our Choices While Not Adding Any Value!" by "netmouser". Full excerpt: The advantages of enrolling through EH or any agent that sells insurer plans is that many retirees on company plans, where companies take care of everything, are new to Medicare. Medicare is complex and this change, with many unknowns, would be confusing to many retirees. The exchange's insurance agents can provide education and understanding of Medicare, can help retirees choose the best plan for their needs and budget, and can be an advocate for any disputes a retiree has with an insurer on claims and such. One person here cited a $25,000 (I believe) unpaid claim that was resolved with IBM as advocate, which may be relevant.

    Each person has to decide on enrolling with EH or losing the IBM funding, if they have that, if they go outside EH. As well as other factors that are important to them.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Questions on Rx , dental and vision" by "skwilner". Full excerpt: I heard that MetLife does not offer an individual dental plan - and since we are being thrown out of group coverage with MetLife - then that's it. I have been looking at several dental plans online and it seems they all have waiting periods of 6 to 12 months before they will pay for any procedures including fillings. Most seem to have 12 month waiting periods for crowns or root canals. The other problem is they seem to use network dentists only.

    My dentist of 14 years does not participate with any dental insurance networks - so looks like my choice if I want to stay with my current dentist is to drop dental insurance. In any case looks like for the first few months or full year 2014 - anything major required will not be covered even if you used a different dentist.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Questions on Rx , dental and vision" by "skwilner". Full excerpt: I checked out the Humana Dental Plans for my state and I do not see one that has coverage for out of network dentists. One of the plans also has no coverage for major work like crowns. I do not think there will be a dental plan with the same benefits that we had with MetLife - at least in my state from what I can see so far.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Walgreen goes a step further" by "chz_whiz". Full excerpt: Jack, I think you’re exactly right about IBM’s objective in transferring health care to individual policies through Extend Health. Since there are fewer “young” Medicare-eligible retirees, the average age of the insured population will increase, causing a large increase in premiums, borne by retirees. There is not likely to be a large effect on IBM expenses with the Extend Health program.

    There are (at least) two subjects under discussion here, though, with the other subject being the de-risking of pension plans by transferring the obligation to an insurance or investment company. IBM has not proposed making this latter change, though it’s a hot industry topic.

    Kathi Cooper posted a pdf here recently from the Pension Rights Center (they’re good guys) which explains some of the potential problems which retirees could face. PBGC/ERISA pension protection has been initiated and evolved over decades to protect pensioners, especially after they’ve commenced annuity payments.

    The transfer to an outside company may well be a good thing, but as the PRC points out, there are risks which need to be controlled before companies walk away from obligations. Insurance companies reorganize and buy/sell divisions all the time. While the original transfer from the employer demands a fiduciary responsibility, things down the line can be a real bag of worms.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Walgreen goes a step further" by "netmouser". Full excerpt: Health insurance is complicated and radically changing, and costs keep soaring. IBM has no control, and to turn this over to a company that is in the insurance business and specializes in Medicare makes sense to me. And IBM is keeping their funding commitment to people through the HRA accounts for those who have that.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Walgreen goes a step further" by "chz_whiz". Full excerpt: "I am having a very hard time finding a drug plan that covers all of the medications we need." Have you tried medicare.gov? Input your Rx's and it'll provide a very detailed comparison of rest of year and full year cost including deductible, copay, premiums, doughnut hole, etc. Prices are the same with or w/o Extend Health. Caveats: your prescriptions and the plan's coverage can change at any time during the year.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Walgreen goes a step further" by "madinpok". Full excerpt: If IBM were to move the retirees into the same pool as the active employees, then all the requirements of the ACA would apply to both the employees and the retirees, which would probably raise costs. Keeping the retirees in their own pool is to IBM's advantage.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: medicare-medigap policies by state and percentage" by Lyle Zuckerman. Full excerpt: Not sure if this is a new question: My wife is not Medicare eligible for two more years. If she opts out of the IBM Group coverage because a policy from the State Health Exchange is cheaper; is she still eligible as beneficiary of my HRA? Can she sign up with EH in two years to be eligible as beneficiary for my HRA? I have learned much from you all.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: medicare-medigap policies by state and percentage" by "kindtr". Full excerpt: Lyle, As I understand things, you and/or your wife will not be using EH at all until your wife becomes Medicare eligible; thus you will continue to use Fidelity to purchase your medical coverage. You will continue to get your IBM subsidy as before via the Fidelity plan pricing. If anyone hears differently please let us know. Bob.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: medicare-medigap policies by state and percentage" by Lyle Zuckerman. Full excerpt: Sorry I was not clear. I am on Medicare and will utilize EH. My concern is that, if my wife opts out of the IBM Group coverage until she is on Medicare, can she then go to EH as my spouse and receive my HRA as beneficiary.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Letter for those under 65" by Kathi Cooper. Full excerpt: I received my letter today from Dr. Rhee. It is for those not yet 65 or over. It states:
    "After you turn 64 years of age, you'll begin to receive updates from Extend Health on a regular basis that will remind you of important dates and help you plan for your benefits coverage after you become Medicare-eligible. You'll receive your enrollment material in November with details of the plans available to you."

    To facilitate communications, when discussing plans and prices, we should begin to identify our AGE or GROUP with the posts. My plans and costs will be different from Medicare plans and costs and we need the facts to be identified correctly. Otherwise, it will get very confusing for everyone.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Business Model" by "flatsflyer". Full excerpt: Medicare covers 80% of my health care costs for around $100 per month. The Medigap plans want several hundred dollars a month to provide coverage for some portion of the remaining 20%. The Medigap polices are contain deductibles, Co-pays and Out of Pocket expenses.

    I've had 4 operations this years and UHC has not paid squat because I have not hit my $5,500 out-of-pocket max. Appears that Medicare will have to pay $27,500 before UHC pays a dime.

    So my question is why do we all buy 20% coverage, when Medicare pays 89% and I only have to pay 20% of the Medicare rate.

    Seems that we pay for something nobody gets to use just so some asshole insurance company CEO can be paid $100 million a year.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: ExtendHealth Called me ? ? ?" by Jim Nieling. Full excerpt: I don't want to waste any more time trying to figure out how to post to these new forums but had a few comments from today's IBM Extend Health session in Rochester. Hopefully someone can/will see this info and find if of some value: Dr Rhee kicked off the session. Nice touch. I guess they had some snacks but I missed those.

    The Extend Health folks said several times that they will be calling people ... people that they haven't heard from and people that don't call in for their scheduled calls. They were anxious to make sure that they got in touch with all eligible retirees. They seemed very motivated not to have any retirees not make the 12/31 cutoff.

    This doesn't effect me but it is likely to effect some folks. They had a written Q&A about a remarriage after retirement. It appeared to me that there will be an HRA deposit for a spouse that was in place at retirement BUT for a spouse from a marriage after retirement there would not be an HRA deposit.

    They said several times that they are "licensed agents".

    This time everyone is "guaranteed issue" since it is a transition from a group plan. In future years, those that chose a Medicare Advantage Plan will be guaranteed but those choosing a Medigap/Supplement Plan could be subject to re-qualification (not sure that is the right word).

    Interesting point in that our 2013 IBM Plans were paid in arrears (i.e. we pay for Dec in January) and the Extend Health Plans need to be paid earlier (for a Medigap plan 1st month is due at signup). So there is some overlapping payments we are going to experience.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: ExtendHealth Called me ? ? ?" by "lastdino". Full excerpt: Who cares and the reason for Dr. Ree is to try to calm the waters and give the impression that IBM cares. His canned lawyer constructed speech didn't pass the smell test. As a manager in my past life I can relate to his party line position. If you watch his hands you can see him pick our pockets.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "2014 Part D Stand alone Drug plans" by "egroups1bp". Full excerpt: 2014 Available stand alone drug plans by state with rates http://www.q1medicare.com/PartD-SearchPDPMedicare-2014PlanFinder.php.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: ER Visits/hospital stays on Original Medicare vs Medicare Advantage" by "fhawontcutit". Full excerpt: "Researching this feels like a full time job." Welcome to "consumer-driven health care"! Ain't it grand? Just wait until they privatize (voucherize) Medicare.
  • Yahoo! Retiree Issues message board: "ExtendHealth May Be Limiting Our Choices While Not Adding Any Value!" by "fneal". Full excerpt: Yes I had the Aetna Traditional plan A at cost of $56 per month for wife and myself. It featured no copays, coinsurance or deductibles. I purchased separate drug plans for both of us outside of IBM for another $144.00 per month. You couldn't beat that plan. I was notified a few days ago that the part D plan was increasing by 60 percent per month. So that should give you an idea of what will happen to us.

    We are not going to see anything like the IBM customized plans with extend health, which is simply offering the standard Medicare plans stated in the back of your Medicare booklet. Even the example that Extend Health gave at their meetings in Raleigh Cost 240 bucks per month with drug coverage included. and that was 2013 costs.

    None of us are going to see anything like what we had. The only reason to use Extend Health is to receive whatever subsidy IBM will offer us.

    I'm betting the supplement from IBM wont be very large either. (They wouldn't give a toothpick to a starving woodpecker today).

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: ER Visits/hospital stays on Original Medicare vs Medicare Advantage" by "netmouser". Excerpts: Two viewpoints on Medigap plans and moving 1) Medicare Website, 2) ElderLaw, about state differences.

    MEDICARE WEBSITE: http://tinyurl.com/mpyj2wj:

    • You can keep your current Medigap policy regardless of where you live as long as you still have Original Medicare. If you want to switch to a different Medigap policy, you'll have to check with your current or the new insurance company to see if they will offer you a different Medigap policy.
    • If you decide to switch, you may have to pay more for your new Medigap policy and answer some medical questions if you're buying a Medigap policy outside of your Medigap open enrollment period.

    ELDERLAW WEBSITE: http://tinyurl.com/n8dp4a5

    • If you have Original Medicare, moving should not affect your benefits. Your Medicare plan will still be valid when you move. However, if you have a Medigap policy as well, you need to check with your insurer. While the insurance company should continue to renew the policy as long as you continue to pay your premium, it may be able to change the premium based on your new area of residence. In addition, if you have Medicare SELECT, a type of Medigap policy that allows you to use only hospitals and doctors within its network, you may have to purchase a new supplemental policy.
    • If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, you will need to check with the plan to see if you are moving out of the plan's service area. If the plan does not cover your new area, you will need to switch to another plan. You can choose to switch to another Medicare Advantage plan in your new area or to Original Medicare. If you take no steps, you will be automatically enrolled in Original Medicare. If you do switch to Original Medicare, remember that you may also need a Medigap policy as well as prescription drug coverage to take care of coverage your Advantage plan offered.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Future Health Costs" by "chz_whiz". Full excerpt: Quite a difference between two projections here… Dr. Rhee: “In fact we project that health care costs under IBM’s current plan options for Medicare-eligible retirees will nearly triple by 2020…

    IBM 2012 Annual Report, page 127, discussing the non-pension post-retirement benefit plan: “The company assumes that the healthcare cost trend rate for 2013 will be 7.0 percent. In addition, the company assumes that the same trend rate will decrease to 5 percent over the next four years.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Questions about The Plan Administrator" by "chz_whiz". Full excerpt: Egroups1bp, the role of Plan Administrator is evolving as IBM outsources Medicare-eligible retiree health care, and presumably to be followed by pre-Medicare folks, and active employees. IBM will not be providing health care, so it will no longer be an IBM benefit governed by the IBM Plan Administrator. Note the fine print on the back of the announcement package:
    “The process of engaging with Extend Health’s benefit advisors, and the health plans available through the Extend Health Medicare Exchange, are not part of the IBM Benefits Plan for Retired Employees (Plan). Only the Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) is part of the Plan.

    Complete details of the HRA can be found in the formal plan documents, which are the complete and exclusive statement of the company’s obligations under the Plan. The official Plan documents shall govern in the event of a conflict between information contained in these or other documents and statements.

    The Plan Administrator retains exclusive authority and discretion to interpret the terms of the HRA under the Plan.

    The Company reserves the right, in its sole discretion...

    …to do whatever it wants.

    I assume the ‘Plan Administrator’ role will be within each of the contracted insurance companies, and each company will have their own appeals process, with which Extend Health has said they will provide support.

New on the Alliance@IBM Site

Job Cut Reports

  • Comment 09/24/13: Still bizarre that the inside message (doom and gloom) and the outside message is so different. A company with billions and billions in profit is not in "tough times". -canuck-
  • Comment 09/25/13: Ginni, take heed of this headline, Oracle Team USA caps stunning comeback to win America's Cup, because IBM is next on Oracle's hit list. Having watched numerous IBM presentations about Oracle's hardware business, where we get to laugh at Oracle, the lack of investment in IBM's hardware business goes undiscussed. Larry Ellison of Oracle has an Oriental philosophy that allows him to win in the long run and forgo short term benefits. Ginni, Ellison is gunning for IBM's hardware business and you are so busy with your 2015 Roadmap you won't even see Ellison coming until it is too late. You will repeat the failures of your predecessors who under estimated Oracle's database capabilities. Oracle is growing headcount and IBM is shrinking. Oracle will have the resources in front of the customer to win business while IBM is scrambling around trying to find the one person left who knows about Oracle's hardware. -Anonymous-
  • Send the RA pack to ibmunionalliance@gmail.com so we can validate and count the number of workers fired. Names are confidential.

IBM Retiree Issues

  • Comment 09/21/13: Briefly -re RIFs and rehiring younger: It works like this. IBM RIFs a group and, when they do, they make sure they don't violate age discrimination laws. If you complain or talk about taking them to court, they will show you the numbers. But after the RIF (Yes, I know IBM calls it a RA.) they go back and hire people right out of college. They get two benefits:
    • they rid themselves, except for the bonus-receiving executives, of high paying "mature" employees and,
    • they rid themselves of younger employees that are starting up the income curve while simultaneously removing any "liability" regarding retirement.

    For stockholders and fund managers, this is great. The bonus-receiving managers don't value acrewed the knowledge of the individual. They don't bother to measure that and include it as part of their decision process. They are simply above it all. For the rest of you, it is heartbreaking. -Anonymous-

  • Comment 09/22/13: It is still too early to tell if I will be able to get a subsidy for ACA. I am on the FHA and hope to get off for 2014 as my account will run out about 5 or 6 month into it. First is the income limit. The other potential problem deals with whether you have access to qualified plans yourself or via your spouse. Still waiting for IBM and my wife's employer to get this info to us. It is possible that you will not be able to purchase subsidized insurance in cases where the government determines you have access to a qualified plan. You can still purchase unsubsidized insurance via the exchanges and my hope is their cost is better than IBM's and my wife's dependent rate. -anonymous_retiree-
  • Comment 09/26/13: As a retiree under 65 on Medicare through disability, the medical plan changes leave me unable to afford my medication in 2014. I have three medications that currently cost me around $1000 a year. My total costs are more but lets focus on just those. Because I'm under 65 but disabled my plan choices are limited. Those 3 medications will now cost me somewhere between $30,000 to $40,000 a year. I can't afford that and without them I'm screwed. Thanks IBM. -anonymous-
  • Comment 09/26/13: What's the deal with this subsidy some will get? Who will get it and how much will it be? Is the amount based on the year you retired? They had meeting in Poughkeepsie yesterday and the answer to that question was as clear as mud.. The meetings are all PR lip service best I can tell.. When will the enrollment package come and will it have specific plans and dollar amounts in it? Can you stay on non exchanged Medicare A/B and buy separate plan D for drugs or maybe even stay on current AARP plans without joining the exchange? What are the downsides of not joining the exchange? -long_retired-
  • Comment 09/26/13: Retired in 1992 thought my medical was good for life what happened to "life" shame on IBM after 35 years of giving you now take away -Bob-
News and Opinion Concerning Health Savings Accounts, Medical Costs and Health Care Reform
  • Washington Post opinion: Canadians don’t understand Ted Cruz’s health-care battle. By Matt Miller. Excerpts: When you’re being forced to endure another rabid Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) soliloquy on Obamacare’s threat to human freedom, it’s easy to forget how absurd our health-care debate seems to the rest of the civilized world. That’s why it’s bracing to check in with red-blooded, high testosterone capitalists north of the border in Canada — business leaders who love Canada’s single-payer system (a regime far to the “left” of Obamacare) and see it as perfectly consistent with free market capitalism.

    Take David Beatty, a 70-year-old Toronto native who ran food processing giant Weston Foods and a holding company called the Gardiner Group during a career that has included service on more than 30 corporate boards and a recent appointment to the Order of Canada, one of the nation’s highest honors. By temperament and demeanor, Beatty is the kind of tough-minded, suffer-no-fools wealth creator who conservatives typically cheer.

    Yet over breakfast in Toronto not long ago, Beatty told me how baffled he and Canadian business colleagues are when they listen to the U.S. health-care debate. He cherishes Canada’s single-payer system for its quality and cost-effectiveness (Canada boasts much lower costs per person than the United States). And don’t get him started on the system’s administrative simplicity — you just show your card at the point of service, and that’s it. Though he’s a well-to-do man who can pay for whatever care he wants, Beatty told me he’s relied on the system just as ordinary Canadians do, including for a recent knee replacement operation. The one time he went outside the system was to pay extra for a physical therapist closer to his home than the one to which he’d been assigned.

    It’s just “common sense” in Beatty’s view that government takes the lead in assuring basic health security for its citizens. He’s amazed at the contortions of the debate in the United States, and wonders why big U.S. companies “want to be in the business of providing health care anyway” (“that’s a government function,” he says simply). Beatty also marvels at the way the U.S. regime’s dysfunction comes to dominate everyday conversation. He shakes his head recalling how much time and passion American friends devoted one evening to comparing notes on their various supplemental Medicare plans. Talk about your sparkling dinner conversation. ...

    Martin told me that Canada’s lower spending, better outcomes and universal coverage make it superior by definition. Plus, it’s “incredibly hassle-free.” In the United States every time he took his kids in for an earache his wife spent hours fighting with the health plan or filling out reams of paperwork. In Canada, he says, “the entire administrative cost is pulling your card out of your pocket, giving it to them and putting it back.”

    There’s more. Canadian divisions of multinational firms love Canada’s system because when they bid on projects they have no health costs to load in. Also, there’s no crazy “job lock” as with the employer-based system in the United States — where people with (say) a sick child cling to their job for fear of being pronounced uninsurable. His peers, he says, view the U.S. debate as “ideological and not based on economics.” ...

    One well-known billionaire told me a few years back that the right answer for the United States was single payer for basic coverage, with the ability for folks to buy additional private supplements atop that. But he won’t say this in public; the gang at the club just wouldn’t understand. Maybe when U.S. business leaders muster the common sense of their Canadian counterparts, they’ll deliver the message the Ted Cruzes of the world need to hear: sit down and shut up.

  • Dover Healthcare Planning, LLC: Private exchanges are replacing traditional employer retirement health plans. Excerpts: Companies are now introducing the defined-contribution approach to their retirement health coverage. It is a further erosion of what just 25 years ago was a solid benefit for most workers, as the following chart shows. ...

    Today fewer than one-third (28%) of workers at the large firms that currently provide health care benefits get retirement coverage. Added to that, only 5% of workers at small firms get health benefits in retirement.

    In the past three weeks, both IBM and Time-Warner have announced that in January they will transfer retirees into defined-contribution private exchanges. IBM’s change affects 110,000 retirees. That number represents only a small segment, however, of the millions of retirees expected to be transferred to Medicare private exchanges in the next few years. ...

    Firms make no secret that the change is to reduce their future exposure to rising health costs. IBM chief medical director Dr. Kyu Rhee said in his videotaped announcement to retirees that the company is switching to a private exchange to protect retirees and the company from healthcare costs that otherwise would triple in the next few years. As Rhee noted, much of that increased cost would be paid by retirees in premiums and cost-sharing. But IBM would likely shoulder a larger share of the cost than it will now. ...

    Large firms have longed for defined-contribution health plans for more than a decade, according to a study by the Employee Benefits Research Institute. The Affordable Care Act legitimized the concept of exchanges by creating public ones starting in 2014, with the government making defined contributions for lower-income individuals. Private exchanges, however, are administered by for-profit companies that contract with insurance companies. Most of a private exchange’s income is from commissions and shelf-space fees. ...

    The largest Medicare private exchange is operated by ExtendHealth, which advertises that it has “thousands of plans from more than 75 of the nation’s leading health insurers.” A subsidiary of Towers Watson Consulting, ExtendHealth’s prospects are bright enough that it has filed with the SEC for a public offering that’s expected late this year. In 2007 ExtendHealth had only three corporate customers and by the end of 2010 it had 76 employers under contract. Now it provides retiree health coverage for more than 300 large companies including IBM, Caterpillar, DuPont, General Motors, and Whirlpool. ...

    Yet the downside to private exchanges is substantial when they are compared to traditional employer plans. Even though retirees have more choices in private exchanges than in their old plans, the choices may not be as good as for people who don’t have employer coverage. As one example, Kaiser Permanente sponsors more than one-half of the Advantage plans with five-star ratings, but it is not available in a private exchange. That means that the one million retirees currently in private exchanges cannot enroll in Kaiser Advantage plans without permanently losing their defined contribution coverage. ...

    IBM has said that it will contribute amounts comparable to what it now pays for retiree health plans, but they have no obligation to increase that amount in future years. And it’s good to remember that the reason companies are moving retirees into private exchanges is that they believe that health care costs will increase at more rapidly than their contributions. That in turn will mean retirees in private exchanges will face ever-greater cost-sharing. ...

    Meanwhile Ted Benna, the father of 401k plans, has regrets about the way they have evolved. He says that the earliest 401k plans were simple and easy-to-understand vehicles with two or three basic investment options. Gradually the number of choices increased, which gave workers more opportunities to chase fads, usually to their detriment. The vanishing company pension plan, by contrast, has always been managed by professionals able to quantify risk.

    Likewise a company’s retirement health plan options have always been selected by experts hired by the employers wanting to make sure their money was spent wisely. In many cases companies self-insured their health plans, which meant they bore much of the risk and gave them an added incentive to choose well.

  • Wall Street Journal: Health Insurers Scramble to Keep Healthy Customers. As New Exchanges Roll Out, Regulators Accuse Humana, Aetna of Misleading Policyholders. By Timothy W. Martin. Excerpts: Health insurers are making a big push to hang onto their policyholders ahead of new government-run exchanges expected to roll out next week, but state regulators have accused some of misleading those customers in the process.

    Several insurers, including Humana Inc. and some Blue Cross Blue Shield plans, have recently warned customers of big rate hikes if they don't immediately renew their policies for 2014.

    But some of those customers may be able to find cheaper policies on the insurance exchanges launching under the new federal health law. In some cases, the regulators say, insurers aren't making it clear to consumers that they may switch carriers or shop on the new exchanges.

    At issue is a battle for healthy policyholders. Each company wants as many healthy people as possible on its books in hopes that their premiums will help offset an increase in costs from an expected wave of new customers who—with the help of the new health law—will be gaining insurance for the first time and may have health conditions to address. ...

    The Kentucky Department of Insurance fined Humana earlier this month for instructing existing individual policyholders to renew their current plans for 2014 within 30 days of receiving the letter in late August or be switched to a pricier policy. Humana's letter to 6,500 policyholders in Kentucky was "misleading," the insurance department said.

    Humana disclosed only in a footnote that policyholders have the option to enroll in rival plans on the exchanges, and it didn't mention that some policyholders might be eligible for federal subsidies to purchase coverage on the exchanges, the regulator found.

    "This letter was preying on people's lack of knowledge about their consumer protections, their rights," said Sharon P. Clark, Kentucky's insurance department commissioner. The regulator fined Louisville-based Humana $65,000. ...

    Meanwhile, the Arizona Department of Insurance rejected Aetna Inc.'s request to distribute an advertising brochure in the state touting a "one-time opportunity" for savings. The ad read: "Health Care Reform is here. Higher rates can wait." In a letter to the carrier, the department said the advertisement contained "several misleading and possibly untruthful statements."

  • The Association of Chief Human Resource Officers: House Republicans Unveil Replacement for the Affordable Care Act. Excerpts: This week, in response to frequent criticism that Republicans have no plan for replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) should it be repealed, a group of House Republicans finally introduced their alternative, the American Health Care Reform Act. The comprehensive bill includes a number of proposals Republicans long have backed to expand access and hold down the cost of health care, including...

    No overall cost estimates for the bill were available and the legislation contains no provision to ensure insurance coverage for millions of lower-income Americans who are scheduled under current law to be enrolled in Medicaid. Nor are there replacements for several ACA requirements, including the mandate that health plans retain children up to the age of 26 on their parents’ coverage and another barring lifetime limits on coverage. Although the bill would likely pass the House should it come up for a vote, it is unlikely to be considered in the Senate until after the 2014 election at the earliest.

  • New York Times: Lower Health Insurance Premiums to Come at Cost of Fewer Choices. By Robert Pear. Excerpts: Federal officials often say that health insurance will cost consumers less than expected under President Obama’s health care law. But they rarely mention one big reason: many insurers are significantly limiting the choices of doctors and hospitals available to consumers.

    From California to Illinois to New Hampshire, and in many states in between, insurers are driving down premiums by restricting the number of providers who will treat patients in their new health plans.

    When insurance marketplaces open on Oct. 1, most of those shopping for coverage will be low- and moderate-income people for whom price is paramount. To hold down costs, insurers say, they have created smaller networks of doctors and hospitals than are typically found in commercial insurance. And those health care providers will, in many cases, be paid less than what they have been receiving from commercial insurers. ...

    Consumers should be prepared for “much tighter, narrower networks” of doctors and hospitals, said Adam M. Linker, a health policy analyst at the North Carolina Justice Center, a statewide advocacy group. “That can be positive for consumers if it holds down premiums and drives people to higher-quality providers,” Mr. Linker said. “But there is also a risk because, under some health plans, consumers can end up with astronomical costs if they go to providers outside the network.” ...

    Cigna illustrates the strategy of many insurers. It intends to participate next year in the insurance marketplaces, or exchanges, in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Tennessee and Texas. “The networks will be narrower than the networks typically offered to large groups of employees in the commercial market,” said Joseph Mondy, a spokesman for Cigna.

  • New York Times editorial: Sabotaging Health Care, One Lie at a Time. Excerpts: A Koch-brothers funded conservative group, Generation Opportunity, is out with a wildly misleading, pernicious set of ads aimed at sabotaging the Affordable Care Act by discouraging young people from signing up for health insurance exchanges.

    One targets young men, the other young women. In the “for him” version, a young man tells his doctor that he saw an ad for the Affordable Care Act and “figured, why not?” The doctor tells him to take his pants off, “hop up here, lay down and bend your knees to your chest.” He leaves the room. Then a man wearing an Uncle Sam mask snaps on a blue glove. As if the message weren’t perfectly clear, the ad states: “Don’t let government play doctor.”

    The “for her” version is much the same, except in that case Uncle Sam’s performing a gynecological exam. ...

    Young people who sign up for exchanges won’t be getting access to government-run healthcare (if only they were!), but to privately run insurance. Nor does the A.C.A. force doctors to ask patients about their sex lives or perform unwanted exams—as Politifact explained recently. Under the A.C.A., government doesn’t “play doctor,” it merely enables access to doctors who then decide, using their professional judgment, the best course of action.

    Signing up for an exchange isn’t an act of political (or sexual) submission. It’s just a way to get insurance if you don’t have a job or your employer doesn’t provide it. The Generation Opportunity crowd surely knows that and obviously doesn’t care because its priority now, as ever, is bringing down President Obama’s signature domestic accomplishment. The group also doesn’t care about the possibility that some number of young people, scared by its ads, will forgo access to affordable care, get sick, and go bankrupt paying their medical bills.

  • The Berkley Blog: Sub par reporting on the ACA. By Ken Jacobs. Excerpts: In a story that purports to illustrate how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will hurt fast food businesses, Venessa Wong at Bloomberg News inadvertently shows how small those impacts are likely to be in reality. She gives the example of Firehouse Subs, which currently does not offer health benefits to anyone working 30 hours a week or more. If they were to do so, according to CEO Don Fox it would cost the company an estimated $4,000 a year per store. You read that right, $4,000 a year. He says this will slow down the expansion of the sandwich shops. The article gives only two options for employers to meet the costs — reduce hours or take it out of their margins.

    Looking quickly at the helpful graphics in the article, we see that the average shop has $800,000 a year in sales. A $4,000 annual increase on a store with $800,000 in sales is an increase of 0.5% relative to sales. A quick look for a Firehouse Sub menu on the internet shows the price of a sandwich at $5.79. If all of the additional cost was passed on to consumers, it would be a whopping 3 cents per Sandwich, raising the price to $5.82. I suspect that most customers won’t mind paying an additional 3 cents to know that the people handling their food have access to health care.

    Even a 3 cent increase assumes all of the costs are passed on to consumers. Health benefits have positive impacts on worker productivity and reduce absenteeism and turnover. Replacing one worker in the fast food industry is estimated to cost about $2,000 a year. Once this is factored in, the actual cost to the sub shop is likely to be well under the already very low $4,000. The notion that these costs would effect growth in any way defies economic logic.

  • The Atlantic: Obamacare Isn't Really Taking Away Jobs: Cleveland Clinic Edition. By David A. Graham. The prestigious system says budget cuts have more to do with the need to find efficiencies. "We felt health-care reform was absolutely necessary," a spokeswoman said. Excerpts: As the clock ticks down to full implementation of the Affordable Care Act, a trickle of stories about job losses related to the law has turned into a steady flow. Over the weekend, the story was that Emory Healthcare was axing 100 jobs in response — an explanation that turned out not to be true.

    It didn't take a long time for another example of hospitals cutting back in the face of Obamacare to pop up, though. On Wednesday, the Cleveland Clinic announced it would cut its budget and staff. Here's how Reuters reported the news...

    In fact, the "Obamacare is killing jobs" story isn't really accurate. It's not totally false — the Cleveland Clinic will in fact take in less money because of the law — but it's a more complicated story about changes in medicine. When I reached Sheil on Thursday, she seemed a bit confused by the emphasis on Obamacare in reports. "We've been working on reducing costs for years," she said.

    "We felt health-care reform was absolutely necessary," Sheil said. "This is the new normal. This is where hospitals have to focus to be viable in the long run. This is not doomsday for the clinic. We're still growing — we're still hiring. The hardest thing is when it affects people."

    Actually, much of what the Cleveland Clinic system is doing follows the recommendations of health-care analysts closely. For example, it has consolidated closely located neonatal intensive care units, because high volumes tend to lead to better results. It's working to reduce the number of procedures its staff performs, since in the current system "physicians are rewarded to do more, not to do the right thing for the patient," as Sheil put it. And there's a new focus on chronic diseases, which are an increasingly important and costly area for treatment.

  • Washington Post opinion: Obamacare’s real danger for the GOP is that it will succeed. By Eugene Robinson. Excerpts: To understand the crisis in Washington, tune out the histrionics and look at the big picture: Republicans are threatening to shut down the federal government — and perhaps even refuse to let the Treasury pay its creditors — in a desperate, last-ditch attempt to keep millions of Americans from getting health insurance.

    Seriously. That’s what all the yelling and screaming is about. As my grandmother used to say, it’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry.

    The GOP has tried its best to make Obamacare a synonym for bogeyman and convince people that it’s coming in the night to snatch the children. In fact, and I know this comes as a shock to some, Obamacare is not a mythical creature. It is a law, incorporating what were originally Republican ideas, that will make it possible for up to 30 million people now lacking health insurance to obtain it. ...

    Other rich countries provide truly universal care through single-payer systems of various kinds. Obama chose instead to model the Affordable Care Act after a program implemented on the state level by the Republican governor who became Obama’s opponent in the 2012 presidential election. Yes, before Obamacare there was Romneycare, a private-sector, free-market solution designed to be in accord with the GOP’s most hallowed principles.

    But in the years between Mitt Romney’s tenure in Massachusetts and his presidential run, the Republican Party lost its way, or perhaps its mind.

    The party shows no serious interest in finding a GOP-friendly way to provide the uninsured with access to health care. Rather, it pursues two goals at any cost: opposing Obama no matter what he does, and making people see Obamacare as a failure.

    For the radical far right, making health care more widely available through the existing network of insurers, most of them for-profit companies, is a giant leap toward godless socialism. These extremists hold outsize power in the GOP — enough to make sane Republican officials fear, with some reason, that anything short of massive resistance to Obamacare could lead to a primary challenge and a shortened career. ...

    Now the central provisions of the Affordable Care Act are set to come into effect — the individual mandate, the insurance exchanges, the guarantee of coverage for those with preexisting conditions. Republicans scream that Obamacare is sure to fail. But what they really fear is that it will succeed. ...

    Keeping premiums under control will require persuading lots of young, healthy people to buy insurance — and thus, in effect, subsidize those who are older and sicker. That is why a group called Generation Opportunity, funded by the ultraconservative Koch brothers, plans to tour college campuses with disgusting ads in which a creepy Uncle Sam subjects a young woman to a pelvic examination.

    The GOP message: Whatever you do, don’t buy health insurance. It may be — shudder — good for you.

  • Washington Post: How much will Obamacare premiums cost? Depends on where you live. By Sandhya Somashekhar and Sarah Kliff. Excerpts: A 27-year-old in Austin who earns $25,000 could pay $85 per month for health insurance next year, and a family of four in St. Louis with income of $50,000 might face a $32 monthly premium, according to new federal data on health insurance rates under the Affordable Care Act.

    The report, released Wednesday by the Department of Health and Human Services, showed significant variation in the insurance premiums that Americans shopping on the individual market could pay under the president’s health-care overhaul. Across the 48 states for which data were available, the unsubsidized monthly premiums could be as low as $70 for an individual and as high as $1,200 for a moderate plan for a family of four. ...

    Most people using the marketplaces will have incomes low enough to qualify for a government subsidy. A recent administration report found that 56 percent of the roughly 41 million uninsured people eligible for the marketplaces could pay monthly premiums of $100 or less.

    Health experts say it is a good sign for consumers that premiums have come in lower than expected. Under the law, the plans must offer a basic set of benefits, including mental health and maternity care, which previously were not included in many private plans. Insurers are also forbidden from rejecting or charging people more because of preexisting conditions.

  • Washington Post: You’ve got 42 Obamacare questions. Wonkblog has 42 answers! By Sarah Kliff. Excerpts: Love your replies, but could you revisit as to what people on COBRA must or can do? Do they have to wait until the end of their COBRA or can they end it at any time and go to an exchange policy? ...

    My retiree contract has retiree health insurance for my son until he is 26. Both my husband and I are covered under this plan until I am Medicare age. Can my son stay on my retiree health plan as before? At 26, when he comes off my plan, what does he need to do? Is there a specific time of the year that he needs to get insurance at 26? ...

    Are there any resources out there that rate the quality of various health plans or can help me see differences and compare plans? ...

    I am a retiree and eligible for Social Security retirement but I am not eligible to be covered by Medicare yet. I am currently covered under the retired employee healthcare coverage with my last employer and the premium is so expensive. Can I enroll in the ACA health exchange on Oct. 1st and be covered immediately for both me and my spouse? ...

    My husband currently has health insurance coverage through his employer and I am covered as a family member. The price is affordable and the coverage is relatively good. Will I have to obtain my own policy or can I continue on under his plan? ...

    This program doesn't look anything like the bill of goods we were sold at election time. Who has the time and the savvy to work through this bureaucratic labyrinth of plans graded as metals and prices that can change anytime? It is an unmitigated mess and the only people who will benefit are the insurers and their high-priced executives and the lawyers who will have to be called in to make some sense of it. ...

    I become eligible for Medicare in April of 2014. Must I buy health insurance for the first quarter in order to escape paying a fine?

  • New York Times opinion: My State Needs Obamacare. Now. By Steve Beshear. Excerpts: Sunday morning news programs identify Kentucky as the red state with two high-profile Republican senators who claim their rhetoric represents an electorate that gave President Obama only about a third of its presidential vote in 2012.

    So why then is Kentucky — more quickly than almost any other state — moving to implement the Affordable Care Act?

    Because there’s a huge disconnect between the rank partisanship of national politics and the outlook of governors whose job it is to help beleaguered families, strengthen work forces, attract companies and create a balanced budget.

    It’s no coincidence that numerous governors — not just Democrats like me but also Republicans like Jan Brewer of Arizona, John Kasich of Ohio and Rick Snyder of Michigan — see the Affordable Care Act not as a referendum on President Obama but as a tool for historic change.

    That is especially true in Kentucky, a state where residents’ collective health has long been horrendous. The state ranks among the worst, if not the worst, in almost every major health category, including smoking, cancer deaths, preventable hospitalizations, premature death, heart disease and diabetes. ...

    For the first time, we will make affordable health insurance available to every single citizen in the state. Right now, 640,000 people in Kentucky are uninsured. That’s almost one in six Kentuckians.

    Lack of health coverage puts their health and financial security at risk.

    They roll the dice and pray they don’t get sick. They choose between food and medicine. They ignore checkups that would catch serious conditions early. They put off doctor’s appointments, hoping a condition turns out to be nothing. And they live knowing that bankruptcy is just one bad diagnosis away.

News and Opinion Concerning the "War on the Middle Class"
Minimize "It is a restatement of laissez-faire-let things take their natural course without government interference. If people manage to become prosperous, good. If they starve, or have no place to live, or no money to pay medical bills, they have only themselves to blame; it is not the responsibility of society. We mustn't make people dependent on government- it is bad for them, the argument goes. Better hunger than dependency, better sickness than dependency."

"But dependency on government has never been bad for the rich. The pretense of the laissez-faire people is that only the poor are dependent on government, while the rich take care of themselves. This argument manages to ignore all of modern history, which shows a consistent record of laissez-faire for the poor, but enormous government intervention for the rich." From Economic Justice: The American Class System, from the book Declarations of Independence by Howard Zinn.

  • In These Times: The Cult of the Selfish. When did America lose sight of the common good? By Leo Gerard. Excerpts: A cult of the selfish relentlessly assails the value of American community. And now, the cult’s cruel campaign of civic meanness is achieving tragic victories. Just last week, for example, it succeeded in getting a bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives that would slash funding for food stamps by $40 billion—taking milk from the mouths of millions of babes in the richest country in the world. Also, it secured passage of a bill in the House that would de-fund the Affordable Care Act, thus denying health care—and in some cases life itself—to millions of uninsured Americans.

    Denying food to the hungry, chemo to the cancer-stricken? That is not American. That is what ruthless dictators do. That is the stuff of Kim Jong-il. That is not how Americans treat each other.

    It is, however, exactly what the cult of the selfish is seeking. It wants an America without community, where everyone is out for himself. Alone. Self-seeking. Self-dealing. In that world, the CEO who succeeds did it all by himself—no credit should be given to dedicated workers or community tax breaks or federal copyright protections. Similarly, in that world, the worker who is laid off has no one to blame but himself, not a crash on Wall Street, not the failure of a CEO to properly market products, not a technological transformation.

    Decades ago, these scam artists tried to persuade Great Depression victims that their joblessness was their own, individual faults, not a result of the 1929 Black Friday market catastrophe. They’re resurgent now, trying to blame the 2008 Wall Street debacle on individual mortgage holders. They contend those working 40 hours a week for minimum wage deserve an income too paltry to pay for food and shelter. They insist that Social Security and Medicare be slashed, and if that means workers who paid into the programs their entire lives must live on cat food in retirement, well, that’s their individual fault.

    What’s frightening is how close they’re getting to what they want—a country in which the rich get richer and everyone else blames themselves for falling behind.

If you hire good people and treat them well, they will try to do a good job. They will stimulate one another by their vigor and example. They will set a fast pace for themselves. Then if they are well led and occasionally inspired, if they understand what the company is trying to do and know they will share in its sucess, they will contribute in a major way. The customer will get the superior service he is looking for. The result is profit to customers, employees, and to stcckholders. —Thomas J. Watson, Jr., from A Business and Its Beliefs: The Ideas That Helped Build IBM.

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