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Highlights—November 16, 2013

  • Bloomberg BusinessWeek: IBM Faces a Crisis In the Cloud. By Ashlee Vance. Excerpts: IBM is having an identity crisis, and it sure is something to watch.

    You may have heard about Big Blue’s recent ad campaign that takes a dig at Amazon.com. In its marketing material, IBM claims to power 270,000 more websites than Amazon, via its cloud computing service. It’s a flimsy jab at Amazon because IBM has been a major laggard in the cloud rental market, having bought its way into the business in July with its acquisition of SoftLayer Technologies.

    Far from being a cloud pioneer, IBM has spent most of the past few years downplaying services such as Amazon’s as insecure, low-margin businesses of little interest to a serious computing company. “You can’t just take a credit card and swipe it and be on our cloud,” IBM executive Ric Telford told me in early 2011. The company’s pitch to customers was that it knew them intimately and its cloud system was safer. But thousands of startups, including Dropbox and Netflix, were more than happy to swipe their credit cards and get going on Amazon.

    IBM’s cloud strategy has been complicated by questions about its accounting. The company disclosed in July that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating IBM’s cloud-revenue figures. More recently, IBM lost out to Amazon–twice–in a bid for a CIA cloud contract. With the CIA using Amazon, IBM’s security pitch is a much tougher sell. Its $2 billion purchase of SoftLayer, and its use of SoftLayer’s cloud tech instead of its own, appears to strike a final blow to IBM’s old cloud strategy.

  • Rochester Post-Bulletin: Rochester IBM head count: 2,740. By Jeff Kiger. Excerpts: IBM's presence in Rochester, which topped out at more than 8,000 employees in the 1990s, has been whittled down by layoffs and attrition to 2,740 today, according to calculations based on internal company documents.

    The Armonk, N.Y.,-based computer giant has been in Rochester since 1956. For most of that time, it publicly has reported its employees numbers at the end of each year. That practice came to an end in 2009, as the company cited competitive concerns.

    The last official IBM tally was 4,200 Rochester employees as of Dec. 31, 2008.

    An IBM insider recently took a different approach by filtering the internal company-wide employee directory from the "Bluepages" intranet through a spread sheet. ...

    An unofficial data "snapshot" taken on Tuesday found 2,740 full-time IBM employees, 244 contractors, 239 supplemental workers, 348 vendors and 30 part-time employees. The full-time tally includes eight people assigned to work from here for a site outside the U.S., two people outside the U.S. assigned to work for IBM Rochester and one "pre-hire who is not on board yet." ...

    IBM officials declined to comment when asked about the calculation. "IBM does not comment on the authenticity of any alleged internal documents provided by an unnamed source, and we do not disclose employee numbers of our IBM locations, for competitive reasons," stated IBM spokesman Doug Shelton in an email response this week.

    He cited IBM's charity work and donations locally as well as the high number of patents issued to IBM inventors in Rochester. ...

    The number of regular employees in the list sounds right compared to what we know," said Lee Conrad, the leader of the New York-based pro-union group Alliance@IBM. "Clearly the IBM regular employee population in Rochester and the U.S. has shrunk dramatically as jobs are cut ,offshored, and contractors replace regular employee job positions."

    Alliance@IBM has unofficial nationwide employee numbers on its website. It lists 66,251 full-time workers, 12,087 contractors, 2,959 supplemental and 6,853 vendors employed by IBM in the U.S. ...

    IBM was the city's top employer for much of the late 1950s and early 1960s. In 1966, Mayo Clinic tied it, when each employed 3,600 workers. Mayo pulled ahead in 1967 with 3,850 employees compared to IBM's 3,800. Today, RAEDI says Mayo Clinic has 33,500 employees in Rochester.IBM remains the second top employer, and Rochester Public School system is third at 2,367.

  • Seeking Alpha: IBM Has A Cash Flow Problem. Excerpts: Many long-term investors have followed Warren Buffett into IBM on the "buyback thesis." In essence, while IBM has been struggling to grow revenues and profits, it has been aggressively buying back shares, thereby pushing up earning per share and the share price. It is in this vein that some actually cheered the drop following IBM's most recent quarter as it could repurchase a higher number of shares for the same amount of money. While I understand the logic in this thesis, I would not be a buyer of IBM here.

    First, underlying business fundamentals matter. Rarely do companies in decline prove to be strong investments. Since 2008, IBM has been unable to grow revenue, and revenue has declined in six consecutive quarters. Importantly, during the last five years, IBM has spent over $17 billion on acquisitions. In other words, it has a negative organic growth rate as competitors like Salesforce.com, SAP, and Oracle have taken share. CIOs have plenty of cloud and business service companies to choose from; it is no longer IBM and no one else. At some point, IBM needs to begin growing again if it is going to sustain cash flows. ...

    I believe a reason for this has been the company's dogmatic focus on its five year EPS roadmap. When companies focus on hitting near term earnings target, they often will push off investment or focus on financial engineering to deliver good short-term results with disastrous long-term consequences. Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) under Mark Hurd is a good example of this. In no sector is this truer than in technology where heavy investment is required to maintain a competitive advantage. IBM would be better off throwing out its guidance, focus on the core business, and reposition the company for growth in the future. Instead, management continues to stick to its plan of pulling various levers, namely buybacks, to boost EPS while the business is on fire. ...

    Therefore, IBM has a cash flow problem with declining cash flows offsetting the company's extremely large buyback program. IBM has no growth and is in organic decline, which suggests future cash flow erosion that will drag down shares. To get a fair rate of return, IBM shares should fall by at least 6% even under an optimistic view of its business. With a more reasonable forecast of flat revenue growth, its stock has 20% of downside. Warren Buffett rarely invests in tech companies, and I believe he will grow to regret buying this one. IBM is a sell.

  • Austin Business Journal: How IBM is keeping it weird for tech design in Austin; Is this a startup or Big Blue? 900 jobs to be added at design center in coming years. By Christopher Calnany. Excerpts: IBM Corp. CEO Virginia Rometty marked the opening of the company’s new design center in Austin on Wednesday with a post-it note instead of a ribbon cutting.

    It was only fitting since the walls of the gleaming new center are littered with the colorful notes as designers hash out new ideas for IBM products. Rometty’s outsized blue Post-It bore just two words intended to indicate what Big Blue employees say is the company's purpose. It read: “Be essential.” ...

    IBM is establishing four such design centers, the first of which is on the company’s North Austin campus off Burnet Road. It opened in July and now employs 100 workers. But officials expect that number to grow to 1,000 during the next five years. ...

    The bubbly, enthusiastic Rometty appeared genuinely enthused about the Austin center. “It is the perfect city for a wonderful challenge,” Rometty said. “I believe, if I could be so bold, that the work done here will change the world. This is a re-commitment to a heritage (of innovation) that has transcended IBM.”

  • Glassdoor IBM reviews. Selected reviews follow:
    • Worst career move ever!” Anonymous Employee (Current Employee), Dublin (Ireland). I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 3 years. Pros: Lots of training and great experience in IT industry. Good career experience. Cons: Bad neglient management and unfair rating of staff. You can achieve a lot but will not be recognised. If you have a real problem with with being badly treated by your boss, you won't a sympathetic hearing if you complain...more likely be shown the door! Advice to Senior Management: Treat your staff with respect and cut singling out team members to reach your low PBC quota. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Labor mill; nothing matters to mgt but utilization %” Consultant (Former Employee), Armonk, NY. I worked at IBM full-time for more than 3 years. Pros: Good people to work with on projects. Opportunities to travel and work on interesting projects. Decent salary and benefits to start.

      Cons: Unrealistic PBC-personal business commitment goals. Total focus is on separating clients from their money. Directed to work more hours at financial period ends to meet advertised revenue expectations. Executed "resource action'...layoffs instead of reassigning trained and effective consultants to fill current openings. Too many psychophants who drank the koolaid.

      Advice to Senior Management: Learn some leadership skills and quit treating your revenue treating resources ("practitioners") like disposable chattel. Learn to 'walk your talk', consultants are your bread and butter. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.

    • Misguided by a Focus on Shareholder Value” Sales Representative (Current Employee), White Plains, NY. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Mature infrastructure that provides very basic operating resources required to conduct business. There still are some very capable people that can provide true depth in their areas of expertise.

      Cons: Extreme focus on Earnings Per Share is starving many areas of the needed funding for everything from development to commissions. Executive compensation based on stock price is skewing the decision process to focus on short term gain.

      Advice to Senior Management: Abandon the road map, stop stock buybacks, eliminate all excess management layers (including executives), and establish a long term focus on revenue growth. Given the level of expense pressure, everyone on the payroll should be contributing, but that still isn't the case. Make the choice to divest of certain business areas, but do so before starving them to death. Read the Washington Post article titled, "Maximizing shareholder value: The goal that changed corporate America". No, I would not recommend this company to a friend – I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company

    • Low pay, no training, and sucking the life blood out of US based employees.” Delivery Project Executive (Former Employee), Atlanta, GA. I worked at IBM full-time for more than 3 years. Pros: Ran large teams and you can basically act as mini CEO's. Cons: No knowledge sharing, training, lack of investment,and low pay compared to market. Advice to Senior Management: Invest or divest. You are killing your services brand in GPS with what you are doing currently. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Not your father's IBM” Marketing Manager (Former Employee), Research Triangle Park, NC. I worked at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Big company, so lots of opportunities—if you know the right people. Work-from-home policy. Can't think of any other pros. Cons: Absurd focus on cutting expenses. Air travel in coach class, regardless of flight time or distance. However, 3rd line managers get booked in business class. How's that for morale? Everyone is only waiting for the next layoff to occur, so not much serious work is being done. Advice to Senior Management: You are so far removed from the trenches you have no idea how things are done. I can see IBM going the way of HP: a company sliding into oblivion. It may take more time in IBM's case, but it will get to the bottom one day. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend.
    • I was always very proud to say I worked for IBM.” Program Manager (Former Employee), Austin, TX. I worked at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Worldwide respect and recognition. IBM is one of the most trusted companies in the world. Cons: In the last few years it became all about the stock price and promises made to Wall Street. Financial spending decisions were all but removed several years ago from employees and lower management. The simplest of financial decisions now take many levels of approval. For many years I would have given 5 stars overall, but in the last few years not the same. Advice to Senior Management: Give teams at the first and second line level an expense and capital budget then leave them alone until next year. That includes every thing, travel, education, salaries, head count, etc. Pick the numbers for the year, not the quarters, and go away. Then evaluate what they did with what they were given. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend.
    • Good place to start - hard to survive” Product Manager (Current Employee). I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: You can definitely learn a lot at IBM either by going very deep on a topic or moving around to different jobs. Benefits are above average (but get trimmed every year). Lots of international opportunities. You get to work with people who know what it means to be a professional. Cons: Resource actions (layoffs) happen at least once a year. Lack of organic investment in products. Internal incentives and silos get in the way of success. Getting harder to move from one group to another. Advice to Senior Management: Invest in organic growth of new and existing products instead of buying stock. Look beyond 2015. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Technical Program Manager” Technical Program Manager (Current Employee), Warwick, North West England, England (UK). I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: You get a lot of experience and see just about every kind of IT environment. A good place to get broad experience but not a good place to stay long term. Cons: Moves very, very slow. Skill seems to be ebbing out of the company. The company is run by accountants. The company is no longer willing to pay for the right skill for the right position. Advice to Senior Management: Push not only financial responsibility but technical skill up into management positions. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend.
    • Amazing organization that helps change the world for the better, but not the same company it used to be.” Senior Advisor (Current Employee), Austin, TX. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: IBM creates products and solutions that help businesses focus on their core business. The innovation and passion is still among the best there is. Cons: The company is not what it once was, or even what it was just 10 years ago. The focus is on benefits to the shareholder. Recognition for the individual efforts has dropped miserably in recent years. Investment in current and future projects is limited unless viewed as an overnight game changer. Cost cutting has gone too far. Advice to Senior Management: Invest in IBM—resources, compensation, and projects. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend.
    • Frustrated at IBM” Senior Manager (Current Employee), New York, NY. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 5 years. Pros: IBM is a 100 year old titan with tremendous brand equity. I am a junior mid-career band 10 and the pay is good enough to keep you onboard...

      Cons: ...but not bad enough to force you to look elsewhere. The frustration, for me and I'm sure for gen x and y, is that IBM is:

      • too slow in allowing career path suggestion, meaning progression is directly correlated with tenure, not skills...and opportunities to move around the company are harder than people describe, where you can have many "careers" at IBM, but given the current climate and internal controls, it's harder than ever;
      • too many managers, very top-heavy, with many IBM lifers that are very talented and senior, but expensive to carry on the P&L, thus weighing down the company. IBM is quick to cut the tens of thousands of long-time professionals, but very hesitant to cut the thousands of long-time senior managers;
      • our size is our strength but it's also killing us in a world of cloud. We are mired with legacy contract vehicles, sales force (40,000 expensive F2F sellers, vs. self-serve salesforce.com-like inside sales model), and technology (Lotus Notes?). All this baggage doesn't allow the faster portions of the company (usually via acquisition) to sprint as strongly as needed to compete as the gold standard...we have lost that status.

      Advice to Senior Management: Shed parts of the organization, both people and technology, in a bold, share-accretive way that allows the sprinters to sprint and the linebackers to block. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.

    • Great place to start, not to stay” Anonymous Employee (Current Employee), New York, NY. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than a year. Pros: Working with smart people; Good place to scrape your knees and learn how to figure out everything on your own; They don't overwork us. Cons: No career path, very little education, no perks, no bonuses or raises, sink-or-swim mentality, a lot of outsourcing of US jobs so watch out for layoffs. Advice to Senior Management: Invest in your employees more
    • Enjoyed it while is lasted” Customer Entitlement Coordinator (Former Employee), Atlanta, GA. I worked at IBM full-time for more than 5 years. Pros: Lots of opportunities to move around. Cons: The site I worked at closed; management knew the layoffs were coming but didn't inform anyone until the last minute. Advice to Senior Management: Be more forthcoming with information that affect people lives. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend.
    • Started well, but going downhill” Architect (Current Employee), London, England (UK). I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: IBM has lots of great people. There is a wide variety of work available, although not always what you want to do where you want to do it. Most offices employ flexibility of working hours, and projects understand that it's not a 9-5 clocking in job. My local office is close to home.

      Cons: IBM employs a staff ranking system against a bell curve, meaning that 10%+ are always deemed not to have done enough—doesn't work in a company where everybody goes over and above. No delegated responsibility or rewards, just blame. There is also a culture of working longer hours being 'rewarded' more than working smarter, or being more productive with your time. Advice to Senior Management: Get rid of the staff ranking in the PBC process. More carrot, less stick. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend

    • Below-average salary plan for all non-executives.” Anonymous Employee (Former Employee). I worked at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Brand name recognition for your next job, for which you should begin prepping for as soon as you enter. You can feel good about contributing to the executive compensation. Cons: All non-executives have their salary capped at 10% below industry average. The yearly rating system has a mandate of putting 10% of the employees in the "improve or be let go" bucket, applied at all levels, and within all groups. There is a very depressed vibe, company wide. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend.
    • Top-heavy, fossilized company whose best days are behind it” Senior Project Manager (Former Employee). I worked at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Worked there 14 years and left on my own. Very nice, professional and well-qualified employees with significant learning opportunities. Large network of current and former employees. Still well regarded in the marketplace. Work at home flexibility can be ideal for your personal situation.


      • Little to no opportunity for advancement, unless you are willing to travel 100% or move your family to a developing country.
      • Little to no salary growth at all. IBM management makes it clear that you should feel lucky to have a job with Big Blue and are shocked when anyone leaves the Blue Bubble.
      • Doing more with less means that you have more than one job and are barely compensated for your first job
      • Cost cutting and slashing employee benefits are ALL IBM management cares about these days. I would not want to be a customer.
      • The myopic quarter-to-quarter view that IBM Finance (and therefore IBM Management) takes to meet its EPS numbers and satisfy the Street is stifling any real transformation potential.

      Advice to Senior Management: You need to steer heavily in the direction of Cloud, Smart Planet and value added services, keep your prices competitive, drop the dead wood executives and business lines (like Strategic Outsourcing) and you may have a chance to dance again. But it's unlikely. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend.

    • IBM is an interesting place to work” Senior Human Resources Consultant (Current Employee), Washington, DC. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than a year. Pros: Strong brand name and smart people! Cons: They treat employees just like a number and let go of people left and right. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend.
    • A great company with a total package of superb people, process and technology” Business Development Manager (Former Employee), Anaheim, CA. I worked at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Effective leaders who integrate everything well for the goals of the entire organization. World class HR practices others to follow. Cutting-edge technology and solutions you never get bored of. Cons: There are always bad apples somewhere. However, when you meet them in IBM it's hard to get rid of them due to complex processes. Advice to Senior Management: There are many Indian guys who are not ethically professional and get into a leadership position with cheating, which make IBM's reputation worse. Get rid of these bad apples to keep your reputation great! Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend.
    • Talent is poor” Senior Managing Consultant (Current Employee), Washington, DC. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than a year. Pros: Lots of opportunity to learn: Business and Technical. Cons: The talent at GBS is very poor. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend.
    • Great company with tremendous support for people in tefms of education and opportunities” Sales Executive (Current Employee), Northeast, NY. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: People are smart and hardworking. Cons: Politics, but every company has that. Advice to Senior Management: Get more field experience so you understand reality of decisions and strategies. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend. I'm optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Cost cutting, stale, process top-heavy, closest thing to civil service you can have” Anonymous Employee (Current Employee). Pros: Technology, work from home opportunities, flexibility. Cons: Mostly everything else, weak management, performance appraisal mechanism a farce. Advice to Senior Management: Get new fresh blood with fresh ideas and new ways of thinking, reward performance and stop just ticking boxes No, I would not recommend this company to a friend
  • Glassdoor IBM Canada reviews
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Pre-medicare enrollement guide available" by "danhicksbyron". Full excerpt: This may have been mentioned already, but the enrollment guide for non-Medicare retirees is available on NetBenefits (though well concealed). Go to NetBenefits, Health & Insurance, and select "Reference Library" near the bottom of the page, then "2014 Annual Enrollment". Enrollment guides for non-Medicare and Medicare-eligible retirees are there.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: Pre-medicare enrollement guide available" by " fstephens". Full excerpt: Yeah, saw it yesterday. There seem to be some more conditions and requirements coming this year. Pre-certification for Cat Scans and MRI's and forcing you to try generic "equivalents" first, even if you have been on a medication that works for years, before they will pay for the name brand drug. More B-S; if the generic is the same actual medicine components as the name-brand, I would not complain. But, many of the "equivalents" aren't worth there weight in dung.

    Forcing you to use such drugs could cause allergic reactions or even death; maybe that is what IBM wants. Sounds like a good case for a class action suit. YOUR DOCTOR knows what they want you to take and the "Insurance" groups are NOT YOUR DOCTOR. Sounds like IBM is trying to save themselves a few dollars ( IBM IS SELF INSURED ) and don't care what the effect to you is.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: Pre-medicare enrollement guide available" by "danhicksbyron". Full excerpt: The current Caremark rule on generics is that you have to try at least half of the generic options (and have bad reactions to them) before you can get OKed for the "real" drug. Under Medco you could have the "real" drug if you were simply willing to pay a higher %, but not with Caremark.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: Pre-medicare enrollement guide available" by "Larry Wiedemann". Full excerpt: From a doctor's newsletter to his patients:
    "When I write a prescription for a patient sometimes an insurance company denies coverage because it is not in their ever shrinking formulary. They often suggest that I try another medication and even have the nerve to specify my choices. This pressure tactic is totally outrageous. The insurance company has not examined or diagnosed my patient and is not qualified to do so. How can they dictate the treatment? They rely on the diagnosis code I supply and then consult the list of medicines in their formulary that they will pay for to treat that diagnosis. We call it "cookbook medicine." Patients sometimes react by asking me to prescribe "something else." When possible I do, but sometimes that "something else" might be ineffective exposing the patient to a waste of time, money, and lengthened suffering. Sometimes there simply is no "something else."

    "I am a specialist and it is my job to provide care within my specialty that is better than those who do not practice my specialty. Sometimes this requires special medicines. I use generics whenever possible as long as I am convinced that the generic will be as effective as the branded drug. It is the insurance company's job to collect premiums, raise copays and deductibles, and limit the outflow of dollars. Many have shareholders and investors to please. Even many generics are now being refused coverage by insurance companies as too expensive or nonformulary. With the high price of medication it is unfortunate that I must advise some patients to pay for their medicines out of pocket. Getting better faster is more cost efficient. Insurance companies should trust "

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: Pre-medicare enrollement guide available" by "lefutrell". Full excerpt: I received the 2014 IBM Benefits Enrollment Guide in the mail today, along with a "fact sheet" showing the costs for the plans available for my non-Medicare eligible wife who is not an IBM retiree. I assume that on November 14, the start of the enrollment period, the same information will be available via my Netbenefits account, where I may choose (or not) to sign up for medical, dental, and/or vision plans for her.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "TMP (Transitional Medical Plan)/ COBRA rate for PPO" by "d952d28706f4770a1fa5182ac4d46437". Full excerpt: Hi, I was wondering whether anyone can share the TMP/COBRA rate for PPO. I might have to take a leave sometime in 2014 and want to choose the right medical plan during open enrollment so I'm not stuck w/ premium payments that are too high.

    When I called the Employee Help Center, they said they can only tell you the rates ONCE you are on leave. Well, that's not very helpful, is it? Appreciate any insights folks may have! Thanks for reading.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "TMP (Transitional Medical Plan)/ COBRA rate for PPO" by "alwaysontheroad4bigblue". Full excerpt: For what it's worth, I was on the high-deductible PPO with HSA as an employee when I was RA'd from IBM. IBM paid for the first year of COBRA; I paid for the last six months. The cost for my wife and I was $777 per month. You cannot change to a different plan when you go on COBRA...you must stay with the plan you had when you left employment.

    After my COBRA ran out on September 30th of this year, I switched to the mid-deductible PPO (without an HSA.) The cost for the two of us on it is around $1400 per month.

    Not sure what I'll do about next year...I'm shopping the ACA exchanges since I should be eligible for a subsidy given my post-retirement income. (I'm 58 years old.)

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "TMP (Transitional Medical Plan)/ COBRA rate for PPO" by " teamb562". Full excerpt: Have we firmly established that we FHA/2nd choicers can go the ACA route if we are eligible for IBM retiree medical and have blue FHA dollars available? I asked Fidelity last week and they were clueless. I had thought that when the 2014 plan information arrived, there would be some guidance from Fidelity or IBM. What the hell was I thinking!

    For what it's worth, I've been trying since Oct 1 to complete and submit my ACA application (I too should get a big buckaroo subsidy) but have not been able to. My application just loops back to some prior screen. I asked here a few days ago if anyone thought it made any sense to go ACA now and let FHA sit. Even if it's possible to go ACA now, given the current mess it would seem prudent to wait until 2015.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Compound Pharmacies" by "Sheila". Full excerpt: Due to recently diagnosed allergies I will need to use a compounding pharmacy for some drugs in the future. Does anyone know what Medicare drug plans will cover compounded prescriptions? I have already signed up for AARP Medigap F and now need to choose a drug plan.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: Compound pharmacies" by "Penny". Full excerpt: Regarding coverage for compounded meds—lots of luck with this. I asked that question when considering which part D to pick a couple of years ago. Nobody could answer it. So I went with First Health for my Part D as it seemed impossible to find out in advance the best choice, when it came to compounded meds. The first year, there was partial coverage (copay was fairly high). The second year (different compounded product) there was NO coverage. I suggest you try asking the help line for the part D you are considering - but I'm not optimistic. I get the impression some of them do not know what a compounded medication is and have no idea how to handle this type of question.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: Compound pharmacies" by "johnp0793". Full excerpt: I currently have a PDP plan with Aetna (in upstate NY) , and have needed compound drugs this year. Aetna has covered some, particularly when the pharmacy contacted them in advance, allowing for some discussion and appeal. The three other compounding pharmacies I've worked with have asked for full payment from me, and have provided me with paperwork to support a claim. I haven't submitted the claim forms yet, but anticipate having to make the case of medical necessity, which can be done.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Are the IBM plans for non-medicare retirees & dependents exempt from ACA individual penalty?" by "yafooligan". Full excerpt: Does anyone know whether the IBM plans for non-medicare dependents are exempt from the Affordable Care Act individual mandate penalty? The penalty being 1% of adjusted gross income, or $95, whichever is greater, in 2014. The penalty increases in subsequent years.

    The IBM Employee 2014 Enrollment Guide address this by stating that the plans are grandfathered (p.8). The IBM Retiree 2014 Enrollment Guide for non-medicare retirees makes no such statement that I can find.

    The NetBenefits rep I spoke with today didn't know the answer, and thought I was referring the the HIPAA continuous coverage certificate. I appreciate hearing from anyone who has a definitive answer, and better yet, can direct me to something in writing.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "EAP no longer a benefit for medicare-eligible retirees and their medicare-eligible dependents by "yafooligan". Full excerpt: According to a representative at the ESC, the IBM Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is no longer a benefit for retirees and their dependents who are medicare-eligible.

    The stated rationale: mental health services are available under the EH plans.

    That rationale ignores the fact that EAP had many services unrelated to mental health, such as helping to find community services like: wheel chair transportation, home helper services for house-bound seniors, and I'm sure there are many additional ways that EAP helps with other life challenges that are, again, unrelated to medical or mental health.

    Page 9 of the first IBM EH "Announcement Newsletter" does indeed omit EAP from the list of benefits that IBM continues to provide after the transition to EH. IBM should have stated it more clearly, imo, that EAP is dropped.

    EAP is still provided free to a non-medicare eligible spouses/dependents, according to the ESC rep. The benefit does not extend to medicare-eligible family members. This was a surprise to us. Anyone else?

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: EAP no longer a benefit for medicare-eligible retirees and their medicare-eligible dependents by "yafooligan". Full excerpt: Roger, If you'll notice, my initial post stated that EAP was indeed omitted from page 9 of that newsletter. Your reply copied and pasted the text of that page, perhaps to save folks time looking it up. I hope you didn't go to that trouble in order to highlight it as a stellar HR communications example!

    Omitting a benefit from a list is not the usual way of announcing that it is no longer provided.

    I already gave IBM (thru ESC) my feedback on this loss. I suggest others do the same. Maybe EH has a replacement in mind for the future.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "2014 IBM retiree benefits cost increases" by "choicer27yrs". Full excerpt: I received my IBM retiree annual benefits enrollment package yesterday. Following is a side by side comparison of 2014 costs compared to 2013 costs and the % increase year over year. Increase is 6% for all of the Medical plans, 0 to 5% for the Dental plans, and no increase for the Vision plan. Note that I retired in 2002 and am in the old retiree medical plans. This will change in October 2014 when I reach age 65.
    Plan 2014
    Self Only
    Self Only
    % Increase
    Self Only
    % Increase
    IBM High Deductible PPO - Anthem 0.00 532.00 0 500.00   6%
    IBM Med Deductible PPO - Anthem 296.00 1230.00 278.00 1157.00 6% 6%
    IBM Low Deductible PPO - Anthem 473.00 1650.00 445.00 1552.00 6% 6%
    IBM High Deductible PPO With HSA Anthem 251.00 1153.00 236.00 1085.00 6%


    IBM EPO Anthem 338.00 1410.00 318.00 1326.00 6% 6%
    IBM-Dental Basic 16.00 48.00 16.00 48.00 0% 0%
    IBM-Dental Plus 21.00 63.00 21.00 63.00 0% 0%
    IBM CIGNA DMA 22.00 53.00 21.00 51.00 5% 4%
    IBM-Vision Plan 4.90 14.70 4.90 14.70 0% 0%
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "Re: 2014 IBM retiree benefits cost increases" by "older_bassman". Full excerpt: Oops. Sorry didn't get the value over typed after pasting. The Low Deductible + 1 should be 1930.77. (Editor's note: "older_bassman" is on the new retiree plan...self funded but can use Future Health Account funds until they run out.) My corrected numbers are:
    Plan 2014
    Self Only
    IBM High Deductible PPO - Anthem 593.87 1,187.75
    IBM Med Deductible PPO - Anthem 710.23 1,420.47
    IBM Low Deductible PPO - Anthem 965.39 1,930.77
    IBM High Deductible PPO With HSA Anthem 685.48 1,370.96
    IBM EPO Anthem 813.76 1,627.52
    IBM-Dental Basic 28.51 57.02
    IBM-Dental Plus 36.34 72.68
    IBM CIGNA DMA 36.14 67.73
    IBM-Vision Plan 7.09 13.48
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "Re: 2014 IBM retiree benefits cost increases" by Carl Heller. Full excerpt: I'm confused regarding the dental plans. Are IBM basic, plus and CIGNA available to us in 2014. After talking to EH I thought only the Delta PPO plan was available.
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "Re: 2014 IBM retiree benefits cost increases" by Carl Heller. Full excerpt: There are dental plans for Medicare-eligible retirees, paid for by HRA, publicized by EH. There are dental plans for non Medicare-eligible retirees, self-insured by IBM, and publicized by IBM, NetBenefits, etc.
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "Re: 2014 IBM retiree benefits cost increases" by "older_bassman". Full excerpt: I'm in RTP and on the FHA. While I will be using IBM this year to take my FHA down to $100 or so. The rates are very high for lesser coverage than I can get through my wife's employer or unsubsidized ACA plans.
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "Re: 2014 IBM retiree benefits cost increases" by "older_bassman". Full excerpt: My wife's plan covers employees and retirees under the same plan with the same rates. The ones I quoted are for adult spouses since I think that applies to most folks here. Dependents under 26 are much less per month, under $100/month as I recall, and vary based on number of children on policy. Again according to the plan administrator the cost of dependents is supposed to be the full cost

    I'm fortunate to live in the county that I do. NC has the least ACA competition of any other state that I am aware of. The majority of the state only has one insurance company available where I have two. It makes a big difference in the available policies and prices. It's interesting to note that before the ACA I could find similar health coverage that was lower in price than IBM charges FHA retirees. My problem is preexisting conditions did not let me get this coverage until the ACA.

    I really think IBM is inflating the cost. Not just based on my wife's plan rates but those available from other sources. I don't necessarily believe IBM is doing anything not allowed by law but the law allows for a number things that can be used to inflate the cost of the plans. It's more of an ethical thing than legal and we all know what has happened to ethics within IBM.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "Re: 2014 IBM retiree benefits cost increases" by "madinpok". Full excerpt: > My wife's plan covers employees and retirees under the same plan with the same rates.

    Having the employees and retirees in the same pool makes a huge difference in the rates. It means that the employees end up paying a bit more to subsidize the retirees, but the retiree rates end up being much lower.

    IBM used to do it that way years ago, but then they split the retirees into a separate pool and the rates became much higher.

    I have friends who have access to retiree-only insurance from other companies and I find that the rates they pay are very similar to what IBM charges.

    It's no surprise that the ACA rates are lower than the IBM FHA rates. What you are seeing is the effect of a larger pool of people, many of them younger. Plus the fact that the ACA limits the difference in rates that can be charged for younger vs older people to no more than 3x. Prior to the ACA, a factor of 5x or more was not uncommon.

    When I checked the ACA exchange rates in NY a few weeks ago, I could find plans with similar benefits that cost about 1/4 to 1/3 less than the FHA plans. So when the FHA money runs out, it makes perfect sense to switch to an ACA plan from the echanges.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "Re: 2014 IBM retiree benefits cost increases" by "teamb652". Full excerpt: "So when the FHA money runs out, it makes perfect sense to switch to an ACA plan from the exhanges" But wondering if it make any sense to go the ACA route now and leave FHA for later? One reason might be ACA doesn't survive.
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "Re: 2014 IBM retiree benefits cost increases" by "hankharty". Full excerpt: older_bassman, Thanks for the information. I having been trying to sign into ACA and get prices, but have had no success so far. Maybe after November when they promise everything will be working. The estimator option they have is worthless since it only give prices for 50-year olds. Us old farts can't get those prices.
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "Re: 2014 IBM retiree benefits cost increases" by "madinpok". Full excerpt: Yes, it's hard to tell what will happen with the ACA given the politics of the moment. My thinking has been that IBM could do away with the FHA at any time, so it might be a gamble to postpone using it until later.

    But if you think the less expensive insurance available under the ACA might go away, then you have to balance that risk against the FHA risk. I don't know how to evaluate that with any certainty. So I guess once again, we are left with a situation where we each just have to go with our gut instincts after giving all of the possibilities some thought.

    Since the ACA involves many more people than just IBM retirees, I think it will be much harder for Congress to completely do away with it and the plans and the exchanges will survive in some form, with possibly changes to the mandates. Just my opinion.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "Re: 2014 IBM retiree benefits cost increases" by "older_bassman". Full excerpt: Unfortunately I can't compare insurance with other retiree plans as my retired friends either retired from IBM, government jobs or are self insured. I understand how pools work but I still feel IBM costs are still higher than they should be. I base this on the large differences in premiums between IBM and other plans and on IBM's history of financial manipulation driving to the 2015 EPS goal.

    After this year IBM plan premiums won't really be an issue for me. While I intend to maintain Access Only I highly doubt I will ever use it. I also feel IBM will drop the Access Only altogether at some point. One reason is due to it's cost to IBM. I also expect the ACA plans will draw most folks who are Access Only due to it's lower cost and no longer having restrictions for preexisting conditions.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "Re: 2014 IBM retiree benefits cost increases" by "justa_bean_counter". Full excerpt: The FHA will be converted to an HRA upon reaching Medicare eligibility. (IBM mailing says so). In the meantime, I bet they announce it will be converted to an HSA. I don't think they will 'take it away' because of the lawsuits it would create.
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "RE: I signed up last week and lessons learned" by "grandpafromli". Full excerpt: I agree with you concerning the "dental" plan, and so does my dentist. It is a joke to take a risk paying $600 and hope you get $1000 in dental care.

    What upsets me tremendously is that when I was hired almost 50 years ago, I was told that we would have "cradle to grave" coverage. In essence, we have no dental coverage, and the medical coverage is a joke in my state, where we have only ONE Medigap company, with 3 options. I don't call it a CHOICE, when you only have one company to "choose" from. Shame on IBM for yet another reneg of promises made.

    The other promise when I was hired, was that as long as I performed my job well, I would always have a job with IBM. I was always and 1 or 2 performer, and a regional specialist. I was part of the 1993 purge that took place. In fact, on my team of specialists, there were 13 of us. All of us were forced out, while our manager kept his job, even though he had no one left to manage. That's the "good old boys" network for you.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "My 2014 Options, Holy Cow" by "jrhcolleton". Full excerpt: I am Medicare eligible so things are largely unchanged for me. The same is not true for my wife. As I see it we are paying for a whole lot of other people next year. We are definitely participating in Obama’s redistribution of my limited wealth plan. Last year my wife was on a $1,000 deductible 20% copay plan for $0 per month. This year I can spend $699 per month for essentially the same plan or $30 per month for a $2,500 deductible and $30 copay. This guy was and is such a liar.
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "RE: My 2014 Options, Holy Cow" by "justabeancounter". Full excerpt: Are you an IBMer? If so, the IBM plans are changed because of IBM, not Obama.
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "RE: My 2014 Options, Holy Cow" by "madinpok". Full excerpt: Since the IBM retiree plan is a grandfathered plan under the ACA and largely exempt from the requirements it imposes, you have been fooled into thinking Obamacare has anything to do with the increases you are seeing.

    The changes were something IBM chose to do all on its own. And yes, some retirees are paying more (much more) and others are paying less. But it was purely an IBM business decision that had nothing to do with Obamacare, even if IBM might like you to believe otherwise.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "RE: My 2014 Options, Holy Cow" by Bob Nadeau. Full excerpt: And would IBM have made this move without the ACA giving them this "window"???
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "RE: My 2014 Options, Holy Cow" by "justabeancounter". Full excerpt: This window has been open at IBM's will. It's just part of all the take-aways they have been doing since the early 90's. The ACA hasn't caused this. IBM has. The truth is hard, but that's the truth
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "RE: My 2014 Options, Holy Cow" by Gary Pelphrey. Full excerpt: It seems clear that IBM intentionally chose their announcement date to coincide with the ACA roll out to hide behind the political smoke screen everyone knew would be created. This effort at camouflage is simply another part of the shame associated with these management decisions.
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "New cost of insuring surviving eligible spouse" by Ev Merritt. Full excerpt: New to forums. Hope this is not redundant starting this topic. Anyone as upset as I am about IBM's NEW charge of $900/year to ensure Surviving Spouse?

    On the date I retired, I was promised that "coverage will be continued under the IBM Medical Plans with Medicare for: The surviving spouse for his or her lifetime"! I not only have it in writing, but was given a "Retirement Financial Analysis" showing Post-Retirement Medical Coverage with the following: "coverage under these plans is extended to your dependents for their lifetimes as well as your own"!

    So, not only did IBM "promise" this to me, it presented this to me as a lifetime benefit as a retiree. With this language, I see no legal way that IBM can now change its mind and blatantly try to charge us for what is already ours.

    BTW, I have those documents I am quoting from! -Ev Merritt

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "RE: New cost of insuring surviving eligible spouse" by "hankharty". Full excerpt: "BTW, I have those documents I am quoting from!" Ev, Do those documents you have contain any disclaimers like 'We can change anything we like and any time we want, for no reason at all'?
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "RE: New cost of insuring surviving eligible spouse" by Barry Shaw. Full excerpt: Well, those promises were promises for the fools and we were fools. In short under current capitalism every one has a $$ Tag on their head.

    Does anyone take few minutes and think what type of social structure are we promoting? Think how our next generation will live and what are we leaving behind? A trashed and crumble social structure for our kids. Hope they will not kick our graves and curse because our stupidity.

  • Wall Street Journal: Pension Terminations May Spike in the Near-Term. By James Willhite. Excerpts: More than 70% of companies that still offer a pension plan to new employees expect to do so five years from now, according to a new study released Tuesday. But among those that have already frozen their plans, nearly 40% expect to terminate them completely and settle all liabilities in that time frame.

    Among the 180 executives surveyed by Towers Watson in cooperation with Institutional Investor Forums, 58% said they already have or expect to offer lump-sum payouts to former employees to get pension risk off their books. That’s especially true of companies that are ultimately planning to shut their plans down, with 87% saying that they expect a lump-sum offer to former employees to be a part of that process. ...

    While the number of defined-benefit plans has been declining for many years, companies that still have them say that they are important for employee recruiting and retention. Among the roughly 30% of respondents that still have open pension plans, 73% said the plan was important to their ability to bring in new talent, and 87% said it was critical to their ability to retain workers.

  • Alliance for Retired Americans Friday Alert. This week's headlines:
    • Veterans Day Message: “Don’t Cut Veterans’ Benefits”
    • 700,000 Signatures Against Cuts Delivered to Budget Conference Committee Chairs
    • Senate Aging Committee Launches New Anti-Fraud Hotline, Enhanced Website
    • Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Releases Guides for Managing Others’ $
    • Chained CPI or another Topic on Your Mind? Write a Letter to the Editor, Win a Pen!
News and Comments Concerning ExtendHealth (New Medical Plan for Medicare-Eligible IBM Retirees)
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "New Here w/ Extend Health ?'s" by "sethompson2". Full excerpt: I am assisting my Mother who is a retiree beneficiary. I have been attempting to help her navigate the new supplemental options through Extend Health to her Medicare, but am finding it very confusing. She is on a limited income and would not like a high deductible (her last plan through IBM was basically a waste b/c of the high deductible and Out of Pocket, which I'm still not sure what that is). She lives in MD. I have found a couple options online, but one sticking point is finding out if the doctors she is using are considered "in network". I entered her docs, but am not finding links to the providers lists of the in network docs.

    I am also wondering if anyone here has opted out of the Extend Health suggestions and found their own supplemental, even the ACA?

    Any assistance would be helpful. We plan on calling EH tomorrow, but were working on it Sunday and didn't have access to a live person. Thanks for any guidance. Sharon.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: New Here w/ Extend Health ?'s" by "harris_berman". Full excerpt: Please go to the Medicare.gov website, https://mymedicare.gov/ create a userid, and then enter all of her practitioners and meds into the system. You then can browse all of the Medicare Supplement Plans, Drug Plans, and Medicare Advantage Plans for her zip code in MD and see which who is in the system. Any practitioner who accepts Medicare will be covered by a Medigap plan (those are lettered A-N). The Medicare Advantage plans use networks, but are usually less costly out of pocket.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: New Here w/ Extend Health ?'s" by "netmouser". Full excerpt: Sharon, does your Mom have an IBM subsidy or FHA money that helps pay her premium and out of pocket health costs? If so, she can keep that money assistance by buying either her medical OR her Part D Rx (prescription coverage) through Extend Health.

    If she is 65 or older she does not have access to the ACA, so forget that. You can put her zip code and any prescription drugs into a search at Medicare.gov to see what plans are available in her area. Many of us find a better medical plan here, and buy the Part D Rx plan through Extend Health. If she does not take any drugs now, many find the Humana Walmart Rx Part D plan best as it has a really low premium of $12.60 a month. If she does take a drug, let the Medicare,gov search tool guide as to what is the best Rx plan for her.

    After you decide what medical and Rx plans you want, go to Extend Health and do the same search there is see which of the plans are available at Extend Health. There will be fewer plans on Extend Health as insurers decide if they have all, some or none of their plans on the Extend Health (or any) exchange. They do not want to pay commission on standardized Medigap plans so there are very few of these, but usually a lot of the Rx plans, which is why many of us buy the Rx plan through Extend Health.

    Some of us like the Medigap plan F because that pays for everything. Others like the Plan N or the high deductible Plan F because these plans can have a very a low premium with some minor cost sharing for Part B things (doctor). With Medigap plans she can go to any doctor or hospital that accepts Medicare It is only the Medicare Advantage plans that have networks that can be very restrictive and a cost sharing for everything including hospital costs.

    Some states like NY and some insurers do not have underwriting that charges you a premium based on your health status. Because IBM is closing their plans this year, you do not have to worry about that at all for year 2014, but in the future it can be a concern if you decide to later change the Medigap plan - you may be rejected or have a high premium.

    What state are you in?

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: New Here w/ Extend Health ?'s" by "netmouser". Full excerpt: Sharon, I plugged in the zip code for Baltimore (MD) and you have a high deductible Plan F by blue cross/blue shield (Carefirst) in the Medigap plans. It is only $39 a month (for female age 66) and has the standard deductible of $2110. Sounds great. If she wants everything paid for, the Plan F is $157, and Plan N where you pay the Part B deductible of $147 and $20 per doctor visit, plus any excess a doctor might charge up to 15% of a reduced Medicare rate, so about 9% therefore, which you can avoid by going to a doctor who accepts assignment (accept Medicare rates) as most do.

    Call your Mom's doctors to see if they accept the plan you want, and as it is blue cross I am sure all do. I went with Blue Cross, they are great in my state.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: New Here w/ Extend Health ?'s" by "oldgolfballs". Full excerpt: If she gets a plan F (pick the cheapest one as all have the same benefits) it covers everything that is in excess of Medicare; there are no deductibles or co-pays. The $3000 HRA from IBM should cover the total premium with some left for a plan D. The premiums are dependent on her zip code. Since everyone's situation is different we can only give you general info.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: New Here w/ Extend Health ?'s" by Ernie Fine. Full excerpt: Since I don’t live in MD I’ll leave some answers to those who live in MD. But for other questions:

    “Out of Pocket” – also known as OOP – is just the expense that your mother would pay herself, after insurance paid their portion. If she has a Medicare plan and a supplemental plan, then OOP expense is usually minimal.

    By “network doctors,” are you referring to doctors that take Medicare (which is most of them), or are you referring to an Advantage plan, HMO-type, where there are only certain doctors that the plan uses? Easiest way to find out is to call the doctors, and/or the plan itself to check this. Personally, I’d call both the plan and the doctors; as we’ve been reading in this newsgroup we’re finding all sorts of contradictory information everywhere.

    Lots of us have partially “opted out” of Extend Health (EH), although there’s no formal “opted out” process, we just don’t use them for some things. But your mother does need to have either (or both) a supplemental plan (Medigap) or a prescription drug plan (PDP – this is a Medicare Part D plan) purchased through EH to receive the HRA subsidy ($3000 or $3500) from IBM.

    After a couple months experience with EH, I’d say that the majority of the IBM retirees using this newsgroup believe that you CANNOT trust most advice you will receive from EH. Beware. Ask questions on this group and compare our answers to those from EH. Also be aware that there’s still some controversy as to whether we’ll receive the subsidy if we purchase only a Part D plan – many of us do believe that (if you search the archives on this group, you’ll see a lot of discussion about Dr. Rhee’s statement to group members). But some die-hards don’t believe that, especially since IBM itself has made no written statement through a legal document (lots of discussion about that, too).

    Finally, the ACA does not apply to Medicare enrollees. Ernie.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "My enrollment through EH" by "aranala". Full excerpt: I had my enrollment session today. A complete disgrace.

    I was scheduled at 6 pm, but nobody picked up the phone on the other end until 6.47.

    Then the person who did the enrollment told me that he did not know anything about the plans, that he was a data reader, that if I had any questions he had to transfer me to somebody else.

    Well, we started with the dental, the Humana plan for 21.99. He asked me maybe six or seven times the same questions including my gender and that of my wife. Then he said that he had her to be enrolled on Dec 1st. this year. When I said that that was not the case, he had to call a supervisor. That took maybe 20 minutes between wait time and a repetition of the same questions.

    Finally we proceeded to the MC. He was there to enroll me on the AAR UHC PPO. I asked him if he knew this plan, and he said no, that if I had any questions he had to transfer me to someone else.

    I said I did and he transferred me to a woman, saying to her on an open line that I could listen to that I had questions "about every thing" even if it was my first question. So I asked her 2 questions:

    A, if she had had training on this plans or if she was going to read from the same source that I had access to, and B if CVS Caremark was on the network.

    To question A she said that she did not know what information I had access to, a very dumb answer as they were both reading my preregistration on the EH page but that she had to read from a computer and B, that CVS Caremark was NOT on the list.

    So, having had confirmation that neither one of them was capable of giving me any type of advise we continued with the repetition of questions ad nauseam until 7:45.

    Supposedly a company name BEDCO or something similar will contact me about setting up the HRA account. And that was it.

    Obviously EX got this fat contract from IBM and ran to hire a bunch of part timers that will be laid off after December 31st.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: My enrollment through EH" by "Joseph". Full excerpt: My appointment was supposed to be at noon PST on November 4, but I did not speak to my first human until about 12:15pm. I only wanted to activate my HRA by letting them know that I had already enrolled with Kaiser Permanente, and to sign up for Delta Dental and VSP.

    That took about 90 minutes, which included about 15 minutes of actual conversation with EH employees, 70 minutes of listening to various versions of their hold music and 5 minutes navigating their automated welcome system twice (when I first called in and when I had to call back after they hung up on me). They probably did detect some exasperation in my attitude after the first 30 minutes.

    Most of the EH employees were so highly compartmentalized that they only had one narrow area of responsibility and were unable or unwilling to answer anything else. (Is this what it takes to become one of their licensed professionals?)

    I found repeating my name, gender, SSN, birthday, etc., multiple times to the same agent within a few minutes to be a deliberate waste of my time.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Prescription Profiler" by "gary_s33". Full excerpt: Prescription Profiler™ has a problem. I provided Extend Health tech support with screen shots of their costs for a plan versus what the Actual Medicare Advantage plan site shows for a list of drugs (mine in this case). They have replied and indicated they are working on the problem.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "My enrollment experience through EH" by "Matt". Full excerpt: Completed my enrollment call to EH. It went well but was lengthy. I signed up for the “K” plan. Last week a rep from Bankers Conseco came to my house and his plans were not competitive to the AARP plans and he told me that plan K was the most cost effective plan for me, The biggest difference between K and N plans is the $147 deductible for Part B and the $592 deductible for hospital stay, if required, per 60 day period.

    In this forum it was mentioned there was a 5% discount if both husband and wife purchase the same plan. I was told that is not available in New York. I asked why and no one knew. Has anyone in NY received the 5% discount??

    It was also mentioned you can change plans mid-year if you are not happy with the plan you are on. The EH rep told me if I change I am subject to underwriting for the change. I don’t remember underwriting being mentioned as a requirement if I change mid-year.

    The first EH rep said I could use my credit card for auto payment of my plan k premium. The licensed rep said they would have to send me a bill and I could then pay by credit card. No auto pay using a credit card. I arranged for my premium to be deducted from a credit union account and the HERA will send the reimbursement directly to the credit union account.

    For drug plan I am staying with SilverScript for 2014.

    I will probably use Costco for vision. At 72 my primary doctor send me to an Ophthalmologist for Cataracts and Glaucoma and eye tests as medically necessary. Friends who have used Costco say their glasses are very well made and reasonably priced.

    I am going to the dentist Thursday and I will get the names of the discount dental plans they work with. I have spoken with a few plans and for an upfront premium of $150 - $200 total for my wife and myself the dentist provides services at discounted prices. One example from my dentist was a cleaning is $101 and the discounted price is $61. My dentist checks my mouth after a cleaning and charges $35 and if I get my teeth cleaned 3 -4 times a year I can refuse the checkup every other visit.

    I will get more cleanings at just about the same cost when the premium and dental expenses from the IBM dental and the discounted dental plans are compared.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "Re: Has anyone found a way to escalate a Towers Watson issue?" by "AGTARCZ". Full excerpt: I thought the same thing that calling our official IBM support would be the only route to take, 2+ weeks ago I escalated my concern to the Employee Service Center about the lack of communication from IBM on the updated qualifications to receiving the HRA through EH. I specifically asked whether the criteria has been modified from the IBM letter stating we must get a Medicare PLAN through EH in order to be eligible to receive the HRA. I explained that emails had been received by some retirees stating it had changed but we received nothing official in writing that guarantees that this is accurate.

    I was concerned as earlier this year I had lost a vision reimbursement because I followed a verbal instruction and was later told the advice was wrong and I was out of luck. Spent 2 months trying to rectify/escalate and finally just gave up in frustration.

    After having to escalate I talked to a very cooperative person who after listening to me and contacted EH directly. EH was not able to provide any formal documentation.

    She then told me she would call her IBM contact and that I would either get a phone call or email directly from IBM regarding my concerns,

    I waited a week+ and did not here from IBM. I called back early last week and while I did not talk to the same representative (they had some phone issues connecting me) the person on the phone was in contact and told her that I had not heard from IBM.

    Still waiting.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "Re: Has anyone found a way to escalate a Towers Watson issue?" by "hankharty". Full excerpt: AGTARCZ, You should write to the Plan Administrator directly with your questions and complaints. You might want to also request a copy of the updated SPD and Legal Plan Documents at the same time since you only get one chance with the Plan Administrator each year.

    The latest SPD available on NetBenefits is USHR 0012, effective January 1, 2013. You should write to the Plan Administrator and ask for a copy of the updated SPD and Legal Plan Document, since you have to make a choice of health care plans with incomplete information and January 1, 2014 is too late for you to make any changes to your choices.

    The Plan Administrator can be reached at:

    Office of the Plan Administrator
    IBM Employee Services Center
    PO Box 770003
    Cincinnati , OH 45277-1060
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "RE: Extend Health - HRA - Kaiser" by "madinpok". Full excerpt: I believe that in the briefing sessions that were held in various parts of the country on the Extend Health rollout, it was stated that rules for determining who is eligible to enroll in the Kaiser plan were set by Kaiser. Only retirees who are currently enrolled through IBM are eligible to continue with that plan.

    Also, the assumption that IBM *wants* you to have the HRA subsidy is probably not a good assumption. Back in 1999, it became crystal clear that IBM wanted to take away all the retiree pension and medical benefits they could get away with, and they have continued to do so ever since.

    As you say, it is sad. But that is the IBM of today. IBM changed to a cold hearted company over 20 years ago.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "I signed up last week and lessons learned" by Brenda Nickelson. Full excerpt: I have been following the forums on Extend Health since we received our letters. I decided to wait and learn for the experience of others before I would take on much reluctant and confusing decisions.

    Last week, I called to ask a simple question, when a benefit adviser answered and persuaded me to go ahead and choose my options. I had already filled out my doctors and prescriptions on the website.

    I knew I wanted a Medigap Plan F plan. The advisor recommended AARP United Health Care for my Medigap plan and AARP Drug Plan. I did tell the advisor that I am also covered by my husband's medical and drug plan. My husband has an excellent health plan since he retired from the Federal government.

    I am eligible for IBM's Future Health Account, which is a lump sum that I draw from to pay my health premiums. I retired in 2007 and became Medicare eligible in 2008. The only reason I signed up for IBM plan previously and Extend Health now is because being in a plan is the only way I can draw from my FHA. Previously the FHA could only be used to pay health premiums. It does not go to my heirs. If I don't use it, I lose it.

    I told the BA that I was also covered by my husband's plan both medical and drug and asked if there was any problem being covered by both plans. He told me many IBM retirees have more than one coverage and it is not a problem. I called my husband's plan and asked the same question. She told me that by having 2 drug plans, I would have very limited options with his drug plan and probably would not receive any benefits from his drug plan even for charges my drug plan does not pay.

    I then called back Extend Health and asked another BA is it OK to have 2 drug plans. He went away to check then returned and told me that you can only have 1 drug plan if you have a Medicare D Plan. If I am signed up for 2 drug plans, the Medicare D plan would be my only drug plan and I would automatically be dropped from my husband;s plan. I immediately cancelled the drug plan from Extend Health since my husband's plan is much better. He told me that I will have to have either the medical or the drug plan from Extend Health in order to get reimburse from my FHA. Also, I can get reimbursed from my FHA for my husband's plan premiums, my Medicare Plan B costs and any other medical expenses that I have to pay out of pocket.

    The Vision and Dental plans are a joke. I signed up for both initially. Then I read the fine print and discovered that with the Dental, I would be paying $50 a month; $600 a year and the max I can receive is $1000 a year. I would pay $600 to receive $400. I normally only have 2 cleanings and maybe 1 filling a year, that does not cost $600. My dentist advised that I would be paying more in premiums than what I actual use. I cancelled the dental. I am about to cancel the vision plan also.

    Lessons learned:

    1. Ask questions to more than one adviser and insurance carriers.
    2. If you are also covered by another insurance, ask many questions. You can only have 1 drug plan if one of them is Medicare Part D.
    3. You have to have either the medical or drug plan through EH to receive your subsidy or reimbursement.
    4. The Dental and Vision plans are a joke and are not part of Medicare You can sign up anytime.
    5. The deadline for enrolling and changing is Dec 7 2013.
    6. Thanks for the Forum, where we can help each other. We are the only ones that care for each other.

    Personally, I feel the canceling of IBM retirement plans and forcing us to switching to individual plans is totally selfish and uncaring to seniors, who at this time in their life, most likely have difficulty making decisions. This is a serious decision and it is confusing and upsetting to most of us. If I took the Medical, Drug, Vision and Dental, I would be paying much more than I pay now with less coverage. Individual plans can not be as good as a group plan. We lose the power of numbers to acquire better coverage. BTW, I live in Northern California.

    Thank you all for sharing your experiences. I hope my experience helps others. I hope all of you enjoy good health and don't need these crappy plans. Good luck to you in making the best choice for you and your family. Brenda Nickelson.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "Re: I signed up last week and lessons learned" by "8da1edae4f6a5d7cd847c7a970f00a39". Full excerpt: Here is another "gotcha" for people looking to take advantage of the HRA.

    I currently have a Medicare Advantage plan that was NOT one of the ones listed on EH site. In reading through the responses thus far, it looked like IF I just signed up for one of the IBM Prescription Drug plans and dropping drug coverage from my Advantage plan, that all would be good. Or so I thought!

    Went through the call today and the first part was quick and then put on hold for about 25 minutes and passed to another rep. This rep told me essentially that Medicare itself does NOT allow a prescription drug plan alone (unless something like VA or Tricare) to be coupled with an Advantage Plan that does not offer drug. We went round on this for awhile and finally I ended call and called my Advantage Plan (Highmark Freedom Blue Value Rx in Pennsylvania). At first the rep was not sure but in checking with a higher supervisor found this to be exactly correct (is a Medicare rules "gotcha").

    So at this point I will likely pass this year on the HRA. I KNOW there are other ways to skin this cat, but I have investigated other Advantage plans offered through EH as well as just using a supplement.

    It would have been SO MUCH easier if IBM had just contracted EH to have an HRA for any valid medical expense for a retiree. (most of us married retirees on medicare could have pretty much used it up on JUST the Part B dollars paid to Medicare alone)

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "2014 Medical Expense Surprise" by "ranheimchas". Full excerpt: I just realized that in January of 2014 I will have to start paying for the new medical plans my wife and I signed up for from Extend Health. Then, unless I am wrong, the $770.00 that has been deducted from my pension during 2013 will also be taken out from my January pension. When I reviewed my past pension statements, I realized my medical deductions for any given year are taken out starting with the February pension, and the last one for the year is taken out the following January. If this is true, I will not get the $770.00 increase in my January 2014 pension to help pay for the new insurance premiums.

    Thankfully, I will be able to handle this situation, but others who have to live from pension to pension may have a problem paying the new insurance bills without an increase in their pension starting in January 2014. Am I missing something? I sure don't want to worry anyone if I am wrong.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: 2014 Medical Expense Surprise" by "madinpok". Full excerpt: You are correct. In January, you will have to make 2 payments, one for the last month of your old plan and another payment for the new plan.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Nightly News" by "justa_bean_counter". Full excerpt: Hello, I am a researching the IBM healthcare exchange for NBC News. We are looking to do a story for Nightly News with Brian Williams on this and are looking for retirees who have been affected by this exchange. Those who are over 65, have gotten a notice from IBM, and would like to talk about their story, please contact maria.alcon@nbcuni.com. Thank you!
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "HRA disappointment" by Nancy Ginn. Full excerpt: I am the widow if an IBMer who retired in 2000 after 30+ years. He passed away in 2002. He was not healthy when he retired so he made sure that I would receive the full benefits when he was gone. I have now been sent to EH for my insurance. I was just informed my HRA amount is only going to be $1,189. EH could not explain why the amount was so low, but said they had other widows and widowers asking the same questions. She referred me to the IBM benefits.

    At first I was told that EH would have to explain it to me, etc, etc. Finally this very nice person explained that yes, as long as I was getting my health care through IBM they were contributing $3500 per month towards my insurance. However, when they moved me to HR, because my husband was no longer living that amount got cut in half. Had my husband still been alive and he had selected survivor benefits for me at the time of the transfer to EH, and then passed away, I would have retained the full benefit amount. I told her that did not make sense, he had already done that when he retired and now he is deceased and they are moving me and there is no way he could "check" any form today. He retired believing that I would always have full benefits. She said she understood, but that is the way IBM handled the widows and widowers in this transition.

    I ask if there was anything or anyone I could speak to because it seems so unfair that IBM could just take away 1/2 of my health benefit when my husband had designated differently and they had been paying differently. She said that is how IBM decided to handle the transition to the EH Insurance and there is nothing that could be done about it. I am still in shock as I type this. So end result is that IBM kept half of the $3500 and gave the other half to EH. EH then takes a portion out of the $1700 leaving me with $1,189 to purchase my medical, dental, prescription drug and vision insurance. Basically I just lost $2,311 annually.

    This seems so unfair if not illegal. I could understand if they gave EH the $3500, then EH take their portion. At least this would leave me a couple thousand, but to cut it in half as they send it to EH is unbelievable!

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: HRA disappointment" by "nkp766". Full excerpt: Nancy, you were given a lot of bad information from EH and maybe IBM Benefits (it's not clear to me from your note who told you what). Shows you how badly trained these people are.

    Since your husband retired after 1992, IBM was contributing up to $3000 (not $3500) per year (not month) towards your medical. We don't know exactly how much since we never saw that money but know it did not exceed $3000/year.

    Here's what I think is happening. IBM is treating your situation as if your husband had chosen the IBM Survivor Coverage option. That means you, as a surviving spouse, will get an HRA amount of $1187 (not $1189) towards your medical starting in 2014 and every year after. So the amount they told you is correct within $2.

    Strangely, it could be a lot worse. If IBM had treated your situation as if your husband had NOT chosen the IBM Survivor Coverage option, you would be getting nothing ($0) towards your medical starting in 2014 and every year after. Dave H.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: HRA disappointment" by "chz_whiz". Full excerpt: Some subtle, but important, clarification. The (self-insured) IBM contribution for Nancy and her husband was not limited to $3000. Since he was in poor health, the IBM contribution was probably more than $3000. The $3000 limit was a cap on IBM’s average contribution per retiree. (Think $3000/$3500 times retirees for total funding), it was not a cap on payments to individuals.

    With the HRA, the average of $3000/$3500 is provided to each eligible retiree. If the retiree chooses surviving spouse coverage, the annual funding is actuarially reduced to $2374/$2600 since it covers two lifetimes (2nd to die). As being one person, the surviving spouse’s coverage is half of $2374/$2600, or $1187/$1300.

    Like I said, subtle, but important clarifications. Note that, even with all the handwaving, at no time did Dr. Rhee’s hands leave the ends of his arms in his presentation.

    Nancy’s husband’s survivor benefits depended on his Plan in effect when he retired (2000). Could someone post the benefit documentation for that time? Was surviving spouse medical benefit 1-year, 2-year, lifetime?

    Nancy: Sorry about the loss of your husband, and hope we can help you through this benefit change.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: HRA disappointment" by "samthe1dog". Full excerpt: Hi Nancy, I am also a widow and have had a similar experience with the same topic. I have a "ticket" through EH asking for review of my situation, and it has been 6 weeks (I was told a response in 4-6 weeks).

    Netbenefits refused to put in a request for clarification of his retirement date, saying that their records show he was on disability through 2006 (his year of death) which was the date they were using; and the older records going back to 1990 are no longer available. My husband OFFICIALLY retired in 1990 (the gold watch, luncheon and all).

    I always wondered why the pension I received from IBM was so much smaller than my husband said I would receive. I now think they did the same thing with that and used the 2006 date.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: HRA disappointment" by "madinpok". Full excerpt: Did your husband start collecting his pension in 1990, or did you only start receiving a pension after his death?

    If you did not start receiving a pension until after his death, then I believe what IBM is telling you is correct. From IBM's point of view, he was out on long term disability until his death, at which point you became eligible for 50% of his vested pension under what is called the Pre-Retirement Survivor Protection provision.

    If he started receiving a pension before his death, then he was indeed officially retired, But how much you receive after his death depends on the Joint and Survivor option he selected. The default would be 50% of his full pension. He could have chosen a greater or lesser percentage at the time he retired. Choosing a greater value would have reduced the amount of his pension while he was still living, while a lesser value would have increased it. The J&S option is basically a choice of giving up a part of your pension in exchange for an insurance policy that allows payments to continue after the death of the retiree.

    But all this would have had no effect on what IBM is telling you your medical benefits will be in 2014. My personal opinion is that the reduced amount is wrong from an ethical point of view but, unfortunately, there are few legal protections for retirement medical benefits and IBM can pretty much do what they want.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: HRA disappointment" by "hankharty". Full excerpt: "I always wondered why the pension I received from IBM was so much smaller than my husband said I would receive." I am sorry for your situation and the fact the no one at IBM will take the time or make the effort to explain pensions and retiree medical to you.

    If an employee dies before retirement, the spouse receives the default 50% survivors pension benefit. Generally that is true, but as usual, there are special situations. Maybe this is what happened in your case.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Check YOUR doctor major change" by "starykozel". Excerpt: I am pretty sure that the Medicare Advantage plans are the least expensive of the whole bunch. Much less in monthly payments than the Medigap(s), and less out of packet expenses than the Medicare only. I mean you can get HMO or PPO that includes both with Zero monthly premiums that include Parts A, B and also D. And also Out -of-packet of only $3,400!
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Check YOUR doctor major change" by "danhicksbyron". Full excerpt: Medicare Advantage plans are relatively low cost because the government kicks in a big chunk of money (or used to). It's a gigantic government subsidy, over and above regular Medicare funding. I gather the ACA is phasing back on the subsidy, so the MA policies will be more realistically priced.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Check YOUR doctor major change" by "netmouser". Full excerpt: starykozel, on your questioning "I am pretty sure that the Medicare Advantage plans are the least expensive of the whole bunch."

    In my state the zero premium MA plans are going away, Aetna's only zero premium plan this year is a lower benefit basic HMO plan without drugs. All MA plans in my state seem to have the max deductible of $6700, and plus premium. As the federal generous subsidy of MA plans is reduced each year and goes away, benefits will decline and costs will rise.

    Due to this, many on MA plans are switching to the new (2010) Medigap N plan that has the best of the MA and the Medigap plans—very low premium (mine is $98) and coverage is complete like Plan F if you are healthy and don't go to a doctor—if you do it is only $20 a visit after you pay the low Part B deductible. Some find the HD Plan F to be their low premium plan and with total coverage after the $2140 deductible in 2014. Plus you can see any doctor, hospital that accepts medicare, there is no requirement to use a local limited network like with MA plans which, if you leave the area, is treated like worldwide emergency only.

    As we see in CT, doctors are being eliminated from networks so those doctors who accept low negotiated pay may be the only ones left. If you are on an MA plan and get very sick, besides paying the maximum costs, you may not be able to get into a friendlier lower cost Medigap plan due to underwriting requirements.

    I have friends who are on MA plans and they love it. It is a very personal decision and based on what is available in your zip code and what you think is best for you and your budget and health.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "Aetna coverage for 2014 and 2015 - do I still need to call EH?" by Ruth Peak. Full excerpt: I have a question for the group. I received letters/package from Aetna and IBM telling me I can continue the Aetna coverage I had from 2013 for the next 2 years.

    Do I STILL need to call Extended Health?

    I want to continue with Aetna and will drop my dental and vision as they are worthless coverage (dental doesn't cover much, and Blue Anthem for vision is a lousy vision plan)

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "Re: Aetna coverage for 2014 and 2015 - do I still need to call EH?" by "Michael". Full excerpt: You can stay with the IBM plan with no need to do business with Extend Health for the next two years, but...
    • There has been a potentially costly change in the pharmacy plan.
    • You will not have access to the HRH to pay off any of your out of pocket costs for copays, drugs, etc.

    Make sure you understand the changes before you make your final decision.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "Re: Aetna coverage for 2014 and 2015 - do I still need to call EH?" by Dave Haynes. Excerpt: Extend Health does not need to be involved if one chooses to stay with the Aetna Medicare Advantage PPO or HMO. The HRA money ($3500/$3000) is given by IBM directly to Aetna. You will have no HRA money as long as you stay with Aetna.

    Having said that, you MUST submit your survivor coverage form this year even though you may not see HRA money for a year or two.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "Enrolling in an Exchange Health program after the Enrollment Period due to 'life changing event?'" by Walt Witt. Full excerpt: I am covered by health insurance through my current job. I cannot find any statement that says that I can enroll in the insurance offered through the Exchange Health system after the 2014 enrollment period ends and before the 2015 enrollment period begins in the event I stop working and lose my current health insurance.

    The Exchange Health agent that I talked to didn't have an immediate answer and after putting me on hold came back and said that I could. I asked if he would send me an email or point me to a document that discussed 'life changing events' and enrollment options but he could not. I want to know that I can enroll at the same cost and with pre-existing conditions not being a factor.

    Does anyone know of any documentation on this topic or know how to get Exchange Health or IBM to respond in some soft or hard copy form to questions such this? Thank you. Walt Witt.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "RE: Enrolling in an Exchange Health program after the Enrollment Period due to 'life changing event'?" by "hankharty". Full excerpt: Walter, You need to contact the Plan Administrator in writing with your question. Accept no substitutes. The address for the Plan Administrator can be found at http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/ibmpension/conversations/messages/79601


New on the Alliance@IBM Site

Job Cut Reports

  • Comment 11/06/13: Will November 15th be considered a "safe" date...considering they normally give 30 days separation notice? This would be to make it to the 12/15 401(k) "match" date. That would be next Friday...crazy that I should have to calculate like this. Supposed to be spending my time being a wild duck not a chicken. -Turkeys-
  • Comment 11/08/13: "Because Marissa Said So" Yahoo!s Bristle at Mayer's New QPR Ranking System and 'Silent Layoffs'. According to a multitude of top-ranking posts on an anonymous internal message board used by Yahoo to vent their frustrations to top staff, employees there are becoming increasingly upset by an evaluation system instituted by CEO Marissa Mayer that has apparently resulted in the firings of more than 600 people in recent weeks. Some inside the company are incensed that the "Quarterly Performance Review" system forces managers to rank some of their staff with designations of "Occasionally Misses" and "Misses," even if it is not the case, via what is essentially a modified bell curve. Those fired recently had gotten lower scores at least two times in recent quarters, said multiple sources, as I reported last week. -Yahoo mimicking IBM-
  • Comment 11/09/13: I don't think there will be another RA this year. However, it is coming next year, after 1Q2014. -Anonymous-
  • Comment 11/09/13: IBM has posted a preview of the HealthCare costs summary for employees at http://w3.ibm.com/news/w3news/top_stories/2013/11/chq_pre_enrollment.html. My plan total shows a 27% increase, one of the largest I have seen in 29 years at IBM. -FeelingillAlready- (Editor's note: The link above is on the IBM Intranet. It is not publicly available.)
  • Comment 11/09/13: What about IBM trying to support the CIA cloud? (if they had won the contract) Bottom line is that Amazon staff has to go through a series of technical interviews to prove their abilities before hired. IBM hires people with basically no technical experience, does no technical interviews and then puts the new hires in technical lead and support positions. A recipe for disaster. Add to that the managers are more concerned with internal BS like CIRATS being overdue than actually supporting the accounts. I have never seen such a flawed structure of a support model in my life. Hence why its failing bigtime. Some are speculating it's designed for failure so they can pack it up and move everything overseas and say "hey, we tried here in the US and it just did not work out" any thoughts? -dandaman-
  • Comment 11/11/13: dandaman, I think you're giving the execs too much credit. Most of them don't understand the details of software development or support well enough to grok the problems that churn in dev/support staff causes. Ask them, and I suspect you'd find that most of them believe software is amenable to being done in an assembly-line fashion, with interchangeable cogs being rotated in or out of any line as needed. -irRational-
  • Comment 11/11/13: Hey irRational, I was in an IBM office that implemented eXtreme Programming. It resembled more of a clothing sweatshop in Bangladesh. It also implemented paired programming where you are chained to another human being for 8 hours as he watches what you type all day and correct you. It's like being in a highway cleaning prison chain-gang in orange jump suits where you are chained to another prisoner as you work. If you hear "paired programming" or eXtreme Programming, run for your life, lest you want to be a mindless automaton in a dead end job with even more clueless managers. It's great for clueless morons just out of college but not for mature adults. -Anonymous-
  • Comment 11/12/13: I've never seen a large company go down the drain so quickly and ferociously as IBM. It is truly astounding (even now) at how different this company used to be. Relieved that life is much better outside of IBM now, even more than when it was at it's "height". -Anon-
  • Comment 11/12/13: IBM sinks further into the quagmire. Are all their past 'good deeds' now coming back to bite them? How about all the cheap off-shore labor? IBM's definitely not at the top of the heap anymore. How about some more layoffs IBM? You're on a deep nose dive down now. Better hire another consulting firm to come in and analyze your business like you did in the 1990s. A new paradigm shift is needed here, or its a race to the bottom of the pile for you! http://www.forbes.com/sites/benkepes/2013/11/08/is-ibm-pulling-a-fast-one-on-its-cloud-customer-base/ -miss_understanding-
  • Comment 11/12/13: I am glad to have found a better job. I see the 2014 PPO would have cost me a $1,308 increase to a total of $11,239 for less than stellar benefits. Exceedingly too high risk to work for IBM. -exTivoli-
  • Comment 11/13/13: So a US judge slapped down IBM as manipulative. .. and they were "thwacked" for gaming the bidding process ... gee, no kidding !!! Try taking IBM to court like I did and you will see how"manipulative" they are. They lied under oath; my primary witness reported to me that an IBM H.R. manager informed her that if she signed an affidavit for me it could "harm" her; they tampered with original documentation to falsely portray me as a problem employee and other illegal/unethical variations on a theme. Both the NYSDHR and the Court believed their lies against me -- I suppose because IBM would NEVER do anything like THAT!!! This is the same corporation accused of bribing overseas authorities in order to get contracts! !! At least now outsiders are seeing the real IBM. -Susan-
  • Comment 11/14/13: Why do we care about stacked ranking? With a 1 or a 2+ you still get no raises, no bonus and no job security. -anonymous-
  • Comment 11/15/13: "I am glad to have found a better job. I see the 2014 PPO would have cost me a $1,308 increase to a total of $11,239 for less than stellar benefits. Exceedingly too high risk to work for IBM. -exTivoli-" It's not hard to figure out that IBM is going to make employee benefits so lousy that they will be grateful to get their $7,000 "IBM Health Dollars" to spend on Extend Health / Towers Watson's health exchange in 2015. Then IBM will be out of the health insurance business for good. Aren't you all glad you sat by and refused to form a Union??? -Jsb2b-
  • Comment 11/15/13: I'm technically too young for retirement, but having been somewhat frugal along the way, IBM's cutting me loose in July opened up an even better door than creating useless products for greedy capitalists. I'm learning for the joy of it and applying it to things that matter to me. I could *never* go back to dumbassed managers and coworkers scratching and clawing to appear better than each other. In retrospect, that was a sad, pitiful existence. I'm so thankful I was finally spared that ongoing humiliation. -happily retired-
  • Comment 11/17/13: From Albany, NY "nano-tech" fab. IBM will not back fill open tech positions and almost no overtime allowed. IBM technicians are now being told they have to train state workers to backfill the jobs. Looks like Ginnie and Cadigan have made NY Gov. Cuomo and the State University a new IBM outsourcing partner. You have to wonder if the techs down there know they are most likely training the own replacements. -Heard from Nano-fab in NY-
  • Comment 11/18/13: To all Americans out there who are being laid off; My apologies since I am one of those offshore people who are replacing your lot. I understand how you all feel, but the conditions in India are horrible. We are overworked like crazy at lower rates than imaginable. Don't know about the US; but the thing which I found here is that, most managers are useless creatures who are just sucking the life out of the company and throwing it into the gutter. They are extremely unprofessional and manipulative. -Anonymous-
  • Comment 11/18/13: A petition in support of IBM Lansing MDC workers: http://action.cwa-union.org/c/452/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=7467 Please support these workers and sign the petition. -Alliance-

IBM Retiree Issues

  • Comment 11/09/13: I found in IBM Personal Retirement Planning, Form ZV04-0164-01 from many years ago a half page on Medical and Dental Benefits which says that coverage will continue for you and your spouse for your lifetimes. I see no disclaimer giving IBM a right to change it. It is much too long to include here, but I can send it to anyone willing to pursue it. Also, I seem to remember a statement in a benefits summary or somewhere to the effect that these benefits are part of our compensation. Does anyone know why these commitments cannot be legally enforced? -ALW-

    Alliance reply: What is the actual date of the form or the document? When was it published? "...many years ago" is a clue that IBM has changed its policies by now. IBM can change its policies at any time. There are no laws that protect IBM retirees; except the ERISA law and the Pension Guarantee Fund rules, regarding pensions. IBM is not legally bound to make disclaimers, since they made their own rules and they can break them. If IBM workers had formed a union "...many years ago", there could have been contract negotiations that focused on employee benefits and the rules that IBM agreed to follow, via that contract.

  • Comment 11/11/13: I cannot find a date on the document. It was probably in the 70s or 80s. They are morally bound, and it seems they should be legally bound, to keep commitments they made to retirees when they were employed, especially if it was stated that the benefits are part of their compensation. However, if they are allowed to break their written moral obligation, there is nothing that can be done. -ALW-

    Alliance reply: IBM used to appear "morally bound" to IBM employees in the years before the 1990's; but sadly, the Corporate executives in the 1990's did not carry on with any of IBM's policies of respect for the individual employees. Policies were changed, and management began to fire (layoff) employees by the hundreds in 1994 and continue to do so.

    They were never really "legally bound", because IBM never had a union for its employees.

    They still don't. Even though you may not like unions or feel they are necessary in IBM; a union contract between IBM and its employees *could* have put medical plans and pensions in writing and *made* them legally binding. If currently active IBMers decide to organize and form a union that can bargain a written contract, then IBM in the US *could* be legally bound by contract, to keep commitments to their employees. Alliance@IBM is still trying help US IBMers do just that. Thank you for your comments.

    We created this comment section because we appreciate hearing from IBM retirees, everywhere

  • Comment 11/15/13: ALW - Morally bound? You must have retired a long time ago to think this company feels it has any moral obligation to its employees or retirees. Those days are long gone unfortunately. -longtimebeemer-
News and Opinion Concerning Health Savings Accounts, Medical Costs and Health Care Reform
  • BuzzFlash: Robert Reich: Obama Should Have Gone With a Comprehensive Public Insurance Plan. Excerpts: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says Republicans will seek to delay a requirement of the 2010 Affordable Care Act that all Americans obtain health insurance or face a tax penalty. ”With so many unanswered questions and the problems arising around this rollout, it doesn’t make any sense to impose this one percent mandate tax on the American people.”

    While Republicans plot new ways to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, it’s easy to forget that for years they’ve been arguing that any comprehensive health insurance system be designed exactly like the one that officially began October 1st, glitches and all.

    For as many years Democrats tried to graft healthcare onto Social Security and Medicare, and pay for it through the payroll tax. But Republicans countered that any system must be based on private insurance and paid for with a combination of subsidies for low-income purchasers and a requirement that the younger and healthier sign up. ...

    Thirty years later a Republican governor, Mitt Romney, made Nixon’s plan the law in Massachusetts. Private insurers couldn’t have been happier although many Democrats in the state had hoped for a public system.

    When today’s Republicans rage against the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, it’s useful to recall this was their idea as well.

    In 1989, Stuart M. Butler of the conservative Heritage Foundation came up with a plan that would “mandate all households to obtain adequate insurance.” ...

    Romney’s healthcare plan in Massachusetts included the same mandate to purchase private insurance. “We got the idea of an individual mandate from [Newt Gingrich], and [Newt] got it from the Heritage Foundation,” said Romney, who thought the mandate “essential for bringing the health care costs down for everyone and getting everyone the health insurance they need.”

    Now that the essential Republican plan for healthcare is being implemented nationally, health insurance companies are jubilant.

    Last week, after the giant insurer Wellpoint raised its earnings estimates, CEO Joseph Swedish pointed to “the long-term membership growth opportunity through exchanges.” Other major health plans are equally bullish. “The emergence of public exchanges, private exchanges, Medicaid expansions … have the potential to create new opportunities for us to grow and serve in new ways,” UnitedHealth Group CEO Stephen J. Hemsley effused.

    So why are today’s Republicans so upset with an Act they designed and their patrons adore? Because it’s the signature achievement of the Obama administration.

    There’s a deep irony to all this. Had Democrats stuck to the original Democratic vision and built comprehensive health insurance on Social Security and Medicare, it would have been cheaper, simpler, and more widely accepted by the public. And Republicans would be hollering anyway.

  • AlterNet: 5 Reasons Obama Never, Ever Should Have Trusted the Healthcare Industry. The industry keeps putting profits before serving the public. By Steven Rosenfeld. Excerpts: President Obama has become the health insurance industry’s top salesperson. Yesterday, in Massachusetts, he urged Americans to take a long view on implementing Obamacare. While it may provide coverage to millions who now lack it, the evidence is mounting that Obama never should have trusted the private health insurance industry to begin with. Let us count the ways. ...

    The template for the Affordable Care Act was the Heritage Foundation’s 1992 report for expanding the health insurance marketplace. Their plan had tax credits, while Obamacare has income-based subsidies paid directly to insurers to make it affordable to the poor, working class and middle class. As former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich points out, this was the Republican’s and insurance industry’s plan, not the Democrats, who wanted to expand existing government programs. Its reliance on the private sector was flawed from the start and is at the core of its current troubles. ...

    All insurers didn’t have to cooperate—and didn’t. Not every health insurance company decided to participate in the ACA, which left many small states with very few options for uninsured residents. That means Obamacare is not offering a range of plans, in which competition is supposed to lower costs, in states like Maine and New Hampshire. That’s left state legislators wondering if they will have to create interstate compacts with neighbors to create coverage pools to attract private insurers to give residents more choices. Again, insurers did what was best for their bottom lines, not for the public health. ...

    “Had Democrats stuck to the original Democratic vision and built comprehensive health insurance on Social Security and Medicare, it would have been cheaper, simpler, and more widely accepted by the public,” wrote Reich. “And Republicans would be hollering anyway.”

    Instead, Obama and the Democrats trusted the private insurance industry, thought it would do its part, and not keep stabbing them—and policyholders—in the back. That doesn’t mean the ACA doesn’t have positive features, as Obama keeps saying in speeches, but with the President as a punching bag the industry can keep doing what it has always done: put its profits first.

  • The Smirking Chimp: Rip-Off: How Private-Sector Health Costs Are Killing the American Dream. By Joshua Holland. Excerpts: The federal government doesn’t have a deficit problem. Its fiscal issues are entirely related to the bloated cost of American health care. If we paid the same amount for health care per person as people do in other wealthy countries with longer average life expectancies, we’d have a balanced budget now and surpluses projected for the future. ...

    The US system is a stark testament to the fact that, at least when it comes to health care, more competition doesn’t lead to lower prices or better outcomes.

    Three facts are indisputable. First, the $8,500 we spent per person on health care in 2011 was around $5,000 more than the average among developed countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) — and almost $3,000 more than the average in Switzerland, which was the next highest spender.

    Second, multiple studies have found that we have significantly poorer health outcomes than most developed countries (see here, and here) – by some measures, we rank dead last. And it’s not just because we have higher rates of poverty and inequality — a study conducted by the National Research Council and the Institute for Medicine accounted for those factors and found that, as Grace Rubenstein summarized for The Atlantic, “even white, well-off Americans live sicker and die sooner than similarly situated people elsewhere.” (American men are also becoming shorter relative to men in other highly developed countries – the average height of a population is a proxy for the quality of prenatal health care and nutrition.) ...

    And in health care, competition often drives costs up rather than down. According to Adam Linker, a policy analyst with the Health Access coalition, Medicare costs are highest where there are the most treatment facilities competing for patients. He writes:

    More competition drives up the cost of care because when several hospitals are competing for patients and doctors they feel more pressure to build more beds, provide more amenities, and purchase the latest expensive gadgets. Instead of focusing on patient preference and improving care, hospitals are in an arms race to gain market share. That makes health care more expensive for everyone. ...

    It may sound obvious, but the biggest reason we spend so much on health care is not only because insurance companies take out profits and overhead — it’s that health care costs us more than citizens of other wealthy countries. Everything from pharmaceuticals to surgical procedures to tests costs us more than citizens of other rich countries (the linked study found only a single exception: cataract surgeries cost more in Switzerland). Even a basic checkup is more expensive here than in other highly developed states. ...

    Conservatives believe that more government involvement in health care will lead to less freedom and personal liberty, but when it comes to health care, the opposite is true. Why? First, because private insurers aren’t in the business of liberty. They set rules on what they’ll cover and give you lists of doctors you can see without paying extra out-of-network costs. Until new regulations were enacted under the Affordable Care Act, they shopped for the cheapest customers, denying coverage for people with preexisting conditions and using fine print to deny payments to those they did cover.

  • AlterNet: Don't Be Fooled! Health Insurance Companies' Latest Scam. The letters from health insurance companies don’t mention the health care exchanges customers could look into to get cheaper plans. By Alex Kane. Excerpts: Talking Points Memo reporter Dylan Scott found that health insurance companies are attempting to hold on to customers by sending them misleading letters encouraging them to stay with the companies’ own health plan. The missives sent to customers state that their current health plan is being axed to comply with Obamacare, but that a new health plan offered by the company would be similar to their old ones. The letters sent to customers don’t mention the health care exchanges they could look into to get cheap health plans. The insurance offers Scott investigated were considerably more expensive than what customers would obtain under Obamacare. While it’s unclear how many of these letters have been sent out, the media outlet has confirmed the existence of misleading letters in at least two cases.

    “If you're an insurance company, you're trying to hang onto the consumers you have at the highest price you can get them,” health policy analyst Laura Etherton told TPM. “You can take advantage of the confusion about what people get to have now. It's a new world. It's disappointing that insurance companies are sending confusing letters to consumers to take advantage of that confusion. The reality is that this could do real harm.” ...

    Washington isn’t the only state where this is happening. Kentucky officials have fined the insurance company Humana for sending out misleading letters that say that rates could increase under Obamacare plans, and that they should renew their company plans. And regulators in Colorado and Missouri have seen similar letters from health insurance companies.

  • New York Magazine: Why Letting Everyone Keep Their Health-Care Plan Is a Terrible Idea. By Jonathan Chait. Excerpts: The current furor over President Obama’s broken “keep your plan” promise confusingly melds together two very different claims. The first is a simple question of accuracy and honesty: Obama made a promise about his legislation, the promise has not come true, and a certain level of abuse is deserved. (Karl Rove huffs, “This is a serious breach of trust with the American people.” And you know that Karl Rove takes breaches of presidential trust with the utmost seriousness.)

    The justifiable scrutiny of Obama’s veracity has melded seamlessly into a second and very different claim: That Obama’s broken promise is not merely a violation of trust, a fair enough charge, but an act of unfairness to those who have lost their plans.

    The health-care debate has suddenly come to focus almost obsessively on the alleged victims of Obamacare, who have lost their cheap individual insurance. Here’s Matthew Fleischer mourning the loss of his bare-bones plan in the Los Angeles Times; here’s David Frum doing the same for the Daily Beast. Mary Landrieu, a vulnerable red-state Democrat, is introducing legislation to ensure that nobody can lose their individual health-care plan.

    The idea underlying this notion, while facially appealing, is in fact misguided and morally perverse. No decent health-care reform can keep in place every currently existing private plan.

    The New York Times has a helpful graphic displaying the structure of the insurance market:

    The left and top-right squares show the four fifths of Americans who get coverage through the government. Those on the left who get covered through their employer get tax-subsidized insurance, and those in the top right get insured by the government directly. Obamacare leaves that structure in place (though it has a series of mechanisms designed to hold down their cost inflation).

    The main coverage provisions affect the people in the bottom right quadrant. Most of that quadrant lacks any insurance at all, which points to the dysfunctionality of buying individual insurance before Obamacare. Some of them — 5 percent of the population — have a health-insurance plan. Health-care reforms have always thought of the people within that segment as being essentially the same group of people. Those are mainly healthy, non-poor people who have been skimmed out of the insurance pool, leaving behind those too poor, or too likely to need medical care.

  • New York Times: Under Health Care Act, Millions Eligible for Free Policies. By Reed Abelson and Katie Thomas. Excerpts: Millions of people could qualify for federal subsidies that will pay the entire monthly cost of some health care plans being offered in the online marketplaces set up under President Obama’s health care law, a surprising figure that has not garnered much attention, in part because the zero-premium plans come with serious trade-offs.

    Three independent estimates by Wall Street analysts and a consulting firm say up to seven million people could qualify for the plans, but federal officials and insurers are reluctant to push them too hard because they are concerned about encouraging people to sign up for something that might ultimately not fit their needs.

    The bulk of these plans are so-called bronze policies, the least expensive available. They require people to pay the most in out-of-pocket costs, for doctor visits and other benefits like hospital stays.

    Supporters of the Affordable Care Act say that the availability of free-premium plans — as well as inexpensive policies that cover more — shows that it is achieving its goal of making health insurance widely available. A large number of those who qualify have incomes that fall just above the threshold for Medicaid, the government program for the poor, according to an analysis by the consulting firm McKinsey and Company.

  • Huffington Post: Lessons of the Obamacare Mess: Public Is Better. By Robert Kuttner. Excerpts: The more complex a system is, the more it is at risk of failing in complex ways that were not anticipated by its architects. It would be hard to imagine a more complicated way of expanding health coverage than the Affordable Care Act.

    I say that, appreciating that Obamacare will eventually bring health coverage to tens of millions of uninsured people, that it will end the cruelty of denials of coverage based on "pre-existing conditions" (we all have the pre-existing condition of mortality); that it will allow young adults to stay on their parents' insurance to age 26; and that it will require free preventive care under all insurance plans.

    But there was a much simpler way of achieving this. We could have extended Medicare to everyone. Or if that was politically unthinkable, we could have extended Medicare a few years at a time -- first to 60 year olds, then to 55 year olds, then to the young, and so on until everyone was covered. ...

    But the president, facing the legislative fight of his life, decided to build onto the existing commercial system rather than battling to supplant it with something more public and straightforward. He decided to cut a deal with the big insurance and drug companies, rather than defining them as the problem that they are. ...

    By creating something of a Rube Goldberg system rather than battling to supplant commercialized health coverage, Obama courted avoidable political damage multiple ways.

    First, consumers blamed the government when the sheer complexity created system failures. No fewer than 55 separate private technology contractors have been involved in the creation of the software that beckons consumers to sign up for Obamacare. No wonder the thing is falling of its own weight. By comparison, Medicare is simplicity itself.

    Second, since the president was not willing to finance the Affordable Care Act with broad taxes on the wealthy, he proposed to find something like a trillion dollars in unspecified savings from Medicare, scaring seniors silly and losing the votes of older Americans in the disastrous mid-term elections of 2010.

    And third, because the mandated insurance coverage establishes minimally decent standards for acceptable private coverage, the unintended consequence was that a lot of people with really lousy but inexpensive insurance are furious at having to give up what they have. Telling them that they will soon have something better doesn't fix the political damage. ...

    One other piece of really bad design: Because it was more expedient (and Republican-friendly) to pay for Obamacare with tax credits rather than a straight subsidy or an expansion of Medicaid, that decision got the IRS involved. Some genius made the decision to have the Obamacare software link directly to the IRS database in order to calculate the precise tax-credit and net cost to the consumer, rather than letting people window shop based on estimated incomes, as is done in the Massachusetts system. (You can window shop on the Kaiser Foundation's website) Because of the need for very high security in the linkage to the IRS database, that feature made the system even buggier.

    There is no such problem with Medicare, of course. Everyone simply qualifies once they turn 65. You are enrolled automatically and your card comes in the mail.

  • Smirking Chimp: How a Wildly Misleading Obamacare Horror Story is Born. By Joshua Holland. Excerpts: Far too many breathless news stories about insurance plans being “canceled” or people facing “sticker shock” fail to convey even the most basic context: this is almost exclusively a phenomenon of the individual insurance market, which covers between 5 to 6 percent of the population.

    Some of those people – mostly younger, healthier people who, because they’re in the top third of the income distribution aren’t eligible for subsidies – will have to pay higher premiums for more comprehensive coverage, even if they don’t want to. This can cause real economic hardship, and that’s a legitimate issue.

    But it’s still an issue that will affect only a small slice of the population. Jonathan Gruber, a health care expert at MIT, estimates that around half of those six percent won’t experience any real change. “They have to buy new plans, but they will be pretty similar to what they had before,” he told Ryan Lizza. “It will essentially be relabeling.”

    Gruber adds that most of those plans being canceled run afoul of a provision of the law banning any policy that requires people to pay more than $6,000 per year in health care expenses – plans that may lead to medical bankruptcies, the number one type of bankruptcy in the US.

    That leaves about three percent of Americans who may face that tough situation where they have to pay more for coverage they may not want. ...

    The reality, according to a 2012 study by the Urban Institute, is that “95 percent of those with some type of insurance coverage (employer, nongroup, public) without reform will have the same type of coverage under the ACA .” Maybe a different plan name, but the same type of coverage.

    Yet one can be certain that Roy’s claim that 93 million Americans will be harmed when their insurance policies are “canceled,” while misleading on its face, will be ricocheting around the conservative media, taken as prime evidence that Obamacare is ruining millions of lives when, as Jonathan Gruber puts it, 97 percent of Americans are either untouched by the law or are clearly winners.

  • Smirking Chimp: Obamacare: The Biggest Insurance Scam in History. By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers. Excerpts: The Affordable Care Act (ACA), also called "Obamacare," may be the biggest insurance scam in history. The industries that profit from our current health care system wrote the legislation, heavily influenced the regulations and have received waivers exempting them from provisions in the law. This has all been done to protect and enhance their profits.

    In the meantime, the health care crisis continues. Fewer people, even those with health insurance, can afford the health care they need because of out-of-pocket costs. The ACA continues that trend by pushing skimpy health plans with low coverage and restricted networks.

    This is what happens in a market-based system of health care. People get only the amount of health care they can afford, rather than what they need. The ACA takes our failed market-based system to a whole new level by forcing the uninsured to purchase private health plans and using the government to sell and subsidize them. ...

    If all US residents were in one plan, Medicare for all, rather than the ACA's tiered system that institutionalizes the class divides in the United States, not only would the health system be fairer and improve health outcomes, but it would be less bureaucratic, less costly and easier to implement. The Medicare-for-all approach considers health care to be a public good, something that all people need, like schools, roads and fire departments.

    Rather than being distracted by the problems of the exchanges, the more pressing issue is whether we want to continue using a market-based approach to health care or whether we want to join the other industrialized nations in treating health care as a public good. This conversation is difficult to have in the current environment of falsehoods, exaggerations and misleading statements coming from both partisan directions, echoed by their media supporters and nonprofit organizations. ...

    The Institute of Medicine issued a report in 2013, US Health in International Perspective, that documents the failure of the US health care system. In summary: "Americans live shorter lives and experience more injuries and illnesses than people in other high-income countries. The U.S. health disadvantage cannot be attributed solely to the adverse health status of racial or ethnic minorities or poor people: even highly advantaged Americans are in worse health than their counterparts in other, 'peer' countries."

  • Washington Post opinion: Obama shouldn’t apologize for blowing up the terrible individual market. By Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas. Excerpts: Last night, NBC's Chuck Todd asked President Obama about the people losing their health insurance despite his promise that "anyone who likes their plan can keep it." (See the video and read the transcript here.) ...

    Obama was wrong to promise that everyone who liked their insurance could keep it. For a small minority of Americans, that flatly isn't true. But the real sin would've been leaving the individual insurance market alone.

    The individual market -- which serves five percent of the population, and which is where the disruptions are happening -- is a horror show. It's a market where healthy people benefit from systematic discrimination against the sick, where young people benefit from systematic discrimination against the old, where men benefit from systematic discrimination against women, and where insurers benefit from systematic discrimination against the uninformed.

    The result, all too often, is a market where the people who need insurance most can't get it, and the people who do get insurance find it doesn't cover them when it's most necessary. All that is why the individual market shows much lower levels of satisfaction than, well, every other insurance market:

    Those numbers, of course, don't include the people who couldn't get insurance because they were deemed too sick. Consumer Reports put it unusually bluntly:

    Individual insurance is a nightmare for consumers: more costly than the equivalent job-based coverage, and for those in less-than-perfect health, unaffordable at best and unavailable at worst. Moreover, the lack of effective consumer protections in most states allows insurers to sell plans with ‘affordable’ premiums whose skimpy coverage can leave people who get very sick with the added burden of ruinous medical debt.


    Jonathan Cohn puts a human face on it:

    One from my files was about a South Floridian mother of two named Jacqueline Reuss. She had what she thought was a comprehensive policy, but it didn't cover the tests her doctors ordered when they found a growth and feared it was ovarian cancer. The reason? Her insurer decided, belatedly, that a previous episode of “dysfunctional uterine bleeding”—basically, an irregular menstrual period—was a pre-existing condition that disqualified her from coverage for future gynecological problems. She was fine medically. The growth was benign. But she had a $15,000 bill (on top of her other medical expenses) and no way to get new insurance. ...

    If people have a better way to fix the individual market -- one that has no losers -- then it's time for them to propose it. But it's very strange to sympathize with the people who've benefited from the noxious practices of the individual market while dismissing the sick people who've been victimized by it.

    Obama is rightly taking flack for making a promise he wasn't going to keep, and he's right to apologize for it. But he shouldn't apologize for blowing up the individual market. It needed to be done.

  • New York Times op-ed: This Is Why We Need Obamacare. By Nicholas D. Kristof. Excerpts: The biggest health care crisis in America right now is not the inexcusably messy rollout of Obamacare.

    No, far more serious is the kind of catastrophe facing people like Richard Streeter, 47, a truck driver and recreational vehicle repairman in Eugene, Ore. His problem isn’t Obamacare, but a tumor in his colon that may kill him because Obamacare didn’t come quite soon enough.

    Streeter had health insurance for decades, but beginning in 2008 his employer no longer offered it as an option. He says he tried to buy individual health insurance but, as a lifelong smoker in his late 40s, couldn’t find anything affordable — so he took a terrible chance and did without.

    At the beginning of this year, Streeter began to notice blood in his bowel movements and discomfort in his rectum. Because he didn’t have health insurance, he put off going to the doctor and reassured himself it was just irritation from sitting too many hours.

    “I thought it was driving a truck and being on your keister all day,” he told me. Finally, the pain became excruciating, and he went to a cut-rate clinic where a doctor, without examining him, suggested it might be hemorrhoids.

    By September, Streeter couldn’t stand the pain any longer. He went to another doctor, who suggested a colonoscopy. The cheapest provider he could find was Dr. J. Scott Gibson, a softhearted gastroenterologist who told him that if he didn’t have insurance he would do it for $300 down and $300 more whenever he had the money.

    Streeter made the 100-mile drive to Dr. Gibson’s office in McMinnville, Ore. — and received devastating news. Dr. Gibson had found advanced colon cancer.

    “It was heartbreaking to see the pain on his face,” Dr. Gibson told me. “It got me very angry with people who insist that Obamacare is a train wreck, when the real train wreck is what people are experiencing every day because they can’t afford care.”

    Dr. Gibson says that Streeter is the second patient he has had this year who put off getting medical attention because of lack of health insurance and now has advanced colon cancer.

    So, to those Republicans protesting Obamacare: You’re right that there are appalling problems with the website, but they will be fixed. Likewise, you’re right that President Obama misled voters when he said that everyone could keep their insurance plan because that’s now manifestly not true (although they will be able to get new and better plans, sometimes for less money).

    But how about showing empathy also for a far larger and more desperate group: The nearly 50 million Americans without insurance who play health care Russian roulette as a result. Families USA, a health care advocacy group that supports Obamacare, estimated last year that an American dies every 20 minutes for lack of insurance. ...

    The Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council this year ranked the United States health care system last or near last in several categories among 17 countries studied. The Commonwealth Fund put the United States dead last of seven industrialized countries in health care performance. And Bloomberg journalists ranked the United States health care system No. 46 in efficiency worldwide, behind Romania and Iran.

    The reason is simple: While some Americans get superb care, tens of millions without insurance get marginal care. That’s one reason life expectancy is relatively low in America, and child mortality is twice as high as in some European countries. Now that’s a scandal.

    Yet about half the states are refusing to expand Medicaid to cover more uninsured people — because they don’t trust Obamacare and want it to fail. The result will be more catastrophes like Streeter’s.

    “I am tired of being the messenger of death,” said Dr. Gibson. “Sometimes it’s unavoidable. But when people come in who might have been saved if they could have afforded care early on, then to have to tell them that they have a potentially fatal illness — I’m very tired of that.”

  • Washington Post opinion: Obamacare’s well-insured critics. By Matt Miller. Excerpts: Obamacare’s enemies are right about the disastrous Web site launch and the president’s misleading mantra about “keeping your plan.” I’m furious at the White House myself for having botched these technical and messaging challenges — issues that anyone could have seen coming three years ago and whose amateur handling has given needless ammunition to the foes of expanded health coverage.

    But for those of us who think the health security the Affordable Care Act provides marks a fundamental advance in America’s social contract, these White House failures don’t come close to the vices of Obamacare’s adversaries. Let’s just say it: To judge by their behavior, the Affordable Care Act’s enemies couldn’t care less about helping millions of low-income workers achieve health security, and every time they open their mouths, it shows.

    When conservatives rant about the latest mess-ups attending the rollout, they never add the obvious empathetic refrain. It would be simple, really. They’d just need to preface or append to their daily attack a line like this: “Of course we all agree we need to find ways to get poor workers secure health coverage that protects their family from ruin in the event of serious illness.”

    That’s all it would take. But they don’t say that. None of them. At least none that I can hear. A single omission might seem an oversight. A few might be a sign of distraction. But when day after day you wait in vain to hear such empathy amid the torrent of anti-Obamacare venom being spewed, you realize something bigger psychologically is at work.

    Obamacare foes are more than just angry with the “lying” and the bungling they disdain. They are Very Well-Insured People. We all know about “VIPs.” Well, these are VWIPs. Or at least, a certain conservative species of VWIP.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: Watch Out Active Employees...You May Be Next" by "Bill". Full excerpt: Tim, I agree with with all of your comments. Yes, they have private payer systems. But these private systems operate with a very different business model. Their systems are a tool of public, national policy. Conversely, I would argue that in the U.S., national policy has been a tool of private interests (exception: Medicare). In Switzerland, for example, insurance companies are not allowed to make a profit on the minimal, basic policies that all citizens are required to have. So, it's a very different sort of "private", a different balance of socialism and capitalism than the way we do it.

    The difference is driven by a difference in the national will. In the rest of the first-world, universal health care is the principle. Governments drive their systems on the basis of this principle. We don't have that, at this point.

    When the Bush administration began, we had 40 million uninsured. The Bush solution was to turn the American consumer loose on the problem. Tax sheltered health accounts, coupled with knowledge of outcomes and prices, would empower the consumer to drive inefficiency out of health care. Whereas the rest of the civilized world was doing it with an enforced will to promote the common good, we would do it the old fashioned, American way - informed consumers would drives prices down, making health care affordable to all, just like cars, TV sets and personal computers.

    And how did that work? Well, we got the tax sheltered accounts, but we were never given the right information; we still don't know the cost of a colonoscopy and what hospital infection rates are. I liked the Bush idea because it appeals to the American spirit. But it was naive.

    In the end, the structure of the health care market is wrong. Insurance companies stand between buyer and seller in the market place, people don't make consumer choices when an emergency hits, and the entrenched powers-to-be were not about to become transparent and tell us what their actual performance is (I still have better quality information available for buying a car than picking a surgeon for open-heart surgery).

    And in the end, we had 50 million uninsured and an ever greater percent of our GDP eaten up by health care costs. We actually went backwards.

    Now we have Obamacare, which is our shot at getting to universal coverage. In the best case, it won't cover as much of the citizenry as other countries already cover. And there isn't a national consensus that universal coverage is the right thing, as we can see with all of the grass roots pushback and political turmoil. Somehow, private interests have bamboozled the public into believing that the perception of individual choice trumps the common good, that government is evil, and that our system is somehow inherently better in spite of all objective measures to the contrary.

    We are a work in progress. If and when we make a commitment to universal coverage, I don't think that it will make any difference if we have private or public funding of health care. Once we place the common good ahead of private interests, we will have a more efficient system with better outcomes. Just like in the rest of the civilized world.

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.

  • Los Angeles Times op-ed: The right way to make a federal budget. You can't fix the economy simply by shredding the safety net. By Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Excerpts: A budget panel composed of Democratic, Republican and independent members of the Senate and House is working on ways to avoid another government shutdown like the nightmare we all were just forced to endure.

    As a member of that committee, I realize that our $17-trillion national debt and $700-billion deficit are serious problems that must be addressed. But I also realize that real unemployment remains close to 14%, that tens of millions of Americans with jobs are paid horrendously low wages, that more Americans are now living in poverty than ever before, that wealth and income inequality in the U.S. is greater than in any other major country and that the gap between the very rich and everyone else is growing wider. ...

    How did we go from healthy surpluses to terrible deficits? It's not that complicated. In 2001, President Clinton left office with a $236-billion surplus. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office foresaw a 10-year budget surplus of $5.6 trillion, enough to erase the national debt by 2011. It didn't work out that way.

    Instead, under President George W. Bush, wars were launched in Afghanistan and Iraq without paying for them. The cost of those wars, estimated at up to $6 trillion, was tacked onto our national credit card. Then Congress passed and Bush signed an expensive prescription drug program. It also was not paid for. Then Bush and Congress handed out big tax breaks to the wealthy and large corporations. That drove down revenue. So did the recession in 2008, which was caused by a deregulated Wall Street. All that turned big surpluses into big deficits.

    Interestingly, today's "deficit hawks" in Congress — Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and other conservative Republicans — voted for those measures that drove up deficits. Now that they're worried about deficits again, they want to dismantle virtually every social program designed to protect working families, the elderly, children, the sick and the poor.

    In other words, it's OK to spend trillions on a war we should never have waged in Iraq and to provide huge tax breaks for billionaires and multinational corporations. But in the midst of very difficult economic times, we just can't afford to protect the most vulnerable people in our country. That's their view. I disagree. ...

    Instead of talking about cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, we must end the absurdity of corporations not paying a nickel in federal income taxes. A 2008 report from the Government Accountability Office found that was the case with 1 in 4 large U.S. corporations. At a time when multinational corporations and the wealthy are avoiding an estimated $100 billion a year in taxes by stashing money in tax havens like the Cayman Islands, we need to make them pay taxes just as middle-class Americans do.

    While Congress in January finally ended Bush's tax breaks for the richest 1%, lower rates were left in place for the top 2%, those households earning between $250,000 and $450,000 a year. That must end. ...

    And frankly, Congress must listen better. Some Republicans learned a hard lesson when the American people said it was wrong to shut down the government because some extreme right-wing members of Congress did not like the Affordable Care Act. Well, there's another lesson that I hope my Republican colleagues absorb. Poll after poll shows that Americans overwhelmingly do not want to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. ...

    In fact, according to a recent National Journal poll, 81% do not want to cut Medicare at all, 76% do not want to cut Social Security at all, and 60% do not want to cut Medicaid at all. Other polls make it clear that Americans believe that the wealthiest among us and large corporations must pay their fair share in taxes

    It is time to develop a federal budget that is moral and makes good economic sense. It is time to develop a budget that invests in our future by creating jobs, rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and expanding educational opportunities. It is time for those who have so much to help with deficit reduction. It is time that we listen to what the American people want.

  • Financial Times: US public investment falls to lowest level since war. By Robin Harding, Richard McGregor and Gabriel Muller. Excerpts: Public investment in the US has hit its lowest level since demobilisation after the second world war because of Republican success in stymieing President Barack Obama’s push for more spending on infrastructure, science and education.

    Gross capital investment by the public sector has dropped to just 3.6 per cent of US output compared with a postwar average of 5 per cent, according to figures compiled by the Financial Times, as austerity bites in the world’s largest economy.

    Republicans in the House of Representatives have managed to shrink the US state with their constant demands for spending cuts, even though their uncompromising tactics have exacted a political price, with their approval ratings in Congress at record lows.

  • AlterNet: There Once Was a Time When the Super-Rich Needed a Middle Class to Be Successful -- Not Any More. Times have changed -- and the elites inhabit their own private economy. By Thom Hartmann. Excerpts: America is falling apart — and this nation's super-rich are to blame. There was once a time in America when the super-rich needed you, and me, and working-class Americans to be successful.

    They needed us for their roads, for their businesses, for their communications, for their transportation, as their customers, and for their overall success.

    The super-rich rode on the same trains as us, and flew in the same planes as us. They went to our hospitals and learned at our schools.

    Their success directly depended on us, and on the well-being of the nation, and they knew it.

    But times have changed, and the super-rich of the 21st century no longer think that you and I are needed for their continued success. ...

    The Society of Civil Engineers says that it will take a staggering $3.6 trillion investment by 2020 - or $450 billion per year - to bring the American infrastructure into the 21st century, and to avoid risking a complete infrastructure collapse.

    But the super-rich don't care about how much funding is needed to save this country, as long as they have their private schools, private hospitals, private airports and private places. ...

    No matter what Jamie Dimon, Charles Koch, or Shelly Adelson will tell you, America's wealthy elite did not make their fortunes on their own. Without a strong economy and infrastructure, America's millionaires and billionaires would not be where they are today. It's that simple. ...

    Right now, the burden for rebuilding America is on the backs of working-class Americans, and that's just wrong. It's ridiculous that working-class Americans struggling to survive day-to-day are paying more in taxes than billionaire banksters and oil tycoons.

  • New York Times: Billionaires Received U.S. Farm Subsidies, Report Finds. By Ron Nixon. Excerpts: The federal government paid $11.3 million in taxpayer-funded farm subsidies from 1995 to 2012 to 50 billionaires or businesses in which they have some form of ownership, according to a report released Thursday by the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based research organization.

    The billionaires who received the subsidies or owned companies that did include the Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen; the investment titan Charles Schwab; and S. Truett Cathy, owner of Chick-fil-A. The billionaires who got the subsidies have a collective net worth of $316 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

    The Working Group said its findings were likely to underestimate the total farm subsidies that went to the billionaires on the Forbes 400 list because many of them also received crop insurance subsidies. Federal law prohibits the disclosure of the names of individuals who get crop insurance subsidies, the group said.

    The report is being issued as members of the House and Senate are meeting to come up with a new five-year farm bill. The authors of the report said it is timely, given that lawmakers are debating a House proposal that would cut nearly $40 billion over 10 years from the food stamp program, which helps provide food for nearly 47 million people. A Senate provision would cut $4.5 billion over the same period. ...

    “The irony is that farm subsidies are going to billionaires at the same time that there are proposals to kick three to five million people off of food stamps,” said Scott Faber, vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group. “This clearly highlights the need for reform to our farm programs.” ...

    Mr. Faber said that one of the proposals he found most disturbing in the farm bill would shift money from farm subsidy programs like direct payments, which have income limits, to those like crop insurance, which do not. Other measures would subject food stamp recipients to drug testing, work requirements and income means-testing.

    Unlike traditional farm subsidies, crop insurance premium subsidies are not now subject to income requirements, payment limits or conservation compliance, the Working Group found.

    “So basically the bills would allow billionaires to get even more in subsidies, all without taxpayers knowing who they are, while imposing draconian requirements on low-income people,” Mr. Faber said.

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