Gerri will be joined by a panel of experts from the fields of medicine, business, politics and economics to answer all your questions on Obamacare. Our special toll-free number is 1-877-249-9626. Please join the conversation on Twitter @GerriWillisFBN and on Facebook www.facebook.com/GerriWillisFBN. You can also e-mail us right here!
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Adding insult to injury, the glitch-plagued Obamacare website is now the target of scam artists. That’s right. Crooks who would like to loot the bank accounts of people looking for health care coverage are using the cover of Obamacare to do their dirty work.
The federal government and state insurance commissioners have been warning about potential fraud for months and now it’s becoming clear that health care reform ushers in a perfect storm for identity thieves because the law requires consumers to share a wide range of personal data, including income. The root of the problem is that the Obamacare exchange is NOT made up of one authoritative site where people can go and enroll for coverage. Instead, there is the official federal site, but also sites run by individual states and within each state there can be legitimate third-party sites that hook consumers up with insurance brokers. A simple Google search on the word, “Obamacare,” for example turns up 59.7 million hits, and that complexity offers plenty of coverage for scammers.
Among the scams being perpetrated: In Tennessee, scam artists are making calls claiming they need Social Security numbers to sign up people for a new Obamacare insurance card. It sounds legitimate, but it is not. Others are randomly calling consumers, offering to walk people through the application process for $100. Also a scam. The government supplies “navigators” in each state for free, though it’s unclear how well they are trained. Don’t be fooled by unsolicited phone calls from people claiming they need to update your profile for Medicare. Also a scam.
Others are setting up scam websites that they hope you click on, instead of legit ones. These fake Obamacare websites are reminiscent of the bogus sites set up to rip off consumers after the government put in place multiple mortgage help programs during the housing meltdown. Christopher Budd, Trendmicro Communications Manager, says that a well-crafted scam is often undetectable until malicious activity is detected.
In short, it’s up to you to keep yourself safe and stay away from the scam artists. The best way to do that: Don’t start your search for help with a Google search. Instead go to the government’s official website, www.healthcare.gov , to get started and follow what the experts call “a chain of trust.” That site may point you to other websites operated by the state or insurers. The way to check their legitimacy is to look for a digital certificate. This is basically a driver’s license or passport for websites to prove they are who they say they are. You can get help at: http://blog.trendmicro.com/digital-certificates-important-health-care-sites-use/.
Tune in to The Willis Report tonight starting 6pmET on FOX Business as we discuss the safety of your food. Is your food safe? That’s a question I wish more people were asking. The truth is that the meat, dairy, and vegetables you buy at the grocery store may carry bacteria or some other food contaminant.
The question is particularly relevant in the wake of West Coast chicken processor Foster Farm’s products sickening nearly 300 people in 17 states earlier this fall. The outbreak is the second of the year for Foster Farms. While the USDA originally threatened to shut down three of the plants cited in the outbreak, regulators backed off after the producer agreed to make safety changes. Food safety experts are paying particular attention to this outbreak because it involves an especially serious salmonella bacterium called Heidelberg, which is more likely to land victims in the hospital. Worse, several of the strains of these bacteria have been found resistant to antibiotics. Foster Farms has said that consumers should protect themselves by handling chicken safely. And, while some say that the government shutdown is what caused the Foster Farms problem to gain national attention, the truth is that the company has repeatedly run afoul of safety standards.
And, it’s not just chicken. In a recent test, Consumer Reports found that half of the ground turkey they bought from retailers across the country tested positive for fecal bacteria, and others contained germs like salmonella and staphylococcus.
Experts say the problem could get worse before it gets better. Just recently the USDA voted to allow four Chinese processing plants to export cooked chicken to the U.S. Initially, these processors will only be allowed to export chicken products made from birds that were raised in the U.S. and Canada. But Food & Water Watch’s Patty Lovera says the USDA has set up a slippery slope in which the rule could eventually be changed to allow Chinese-origin poultry to come here. Lovera describes the food safety system in China as inadequate. “Even the government of China admits they have a lot of work to do. They are not anywhere near being able to enforce the regulations that they have.” Consumers should watch for country-of-origin labeling when shopping; just keep in mind that the law doesn’t apply to “processed” versions of those foods or food served in restaurants.
In this country, a little more than 2 percent of imported food is inspected, which is becoming an increasing proportion of food that’s sold in this country. What’s more is the cost of physically inspecting or sampling food that is imported is $170 per field exam on average and approximately $2,800 per sample analyzed.
The new health care law is starting to have a huge impact on people's lives, and it continues to be one of the most important topics we've covered on The Willis Report. In our series "User's Guide to Obamacare", a panel of experts answered your e-mails, tweets, Facebook questions and concerns regarding the Affordable Care Act. Here are some of your most important questions answered:
Q: I’d still like to know what the IRS can do if I refuse to buy insurance and refuse to pay the fine.
A: Similar to the IRS pursuing people for back taxes, it could eventually start putting people in prison for not paying the fine for being uninsured. This year, the penalty for being uninsured is 1 percent of the individual’s income and by 2016, it will be 2.5 percent of the individual’s income.
Q: If this coverage must accept pre-existing conditions, what will prevent anyone, 25 to 100 years of age, to not purchase the insurance until they need it?
A: The penalty is very low and that’s the incentive to not purchase the insurance. The only real catch is, if you don’t have insurance, you have wait until the next enrollment period and that is going to be the incentive to get in, but that may not be a strong enough incentive.
Q: Can you explain how the deductibles, copays, coinsurance work and can you explain what extra taxes we pay due to Obamacare and will it affect my HSA account?
A: If you are below the poverty level, you get your insurance for free. If you’re above 400% of the poverty level, in terms of income, you’re going to pay a lot more because you aren’t eligible for free insurance.
Q: What will happen to those that don’t sign for Obamacare? They pay a fine, then what? Do they just go the emergency room for treatment?
A: There is a difference between providing emergency care and covering emergency care. Doctors are obligated to take care of those who are uninsured and will continue to do so, but these individuals will not be covered by insurance for their care. Taxpayers will continue to pick up the tab, as in the past.
Q: How can anyone sign up for it when no one understands it?
A: You’re not alone! In a recent Pew survey, 53 percent of the public disapproves of the law and only 25% say they have a very good understanding of how law will impact them. If you want to sign up, you can visit http://www.healthcare.gov
Q: If you sign up for Obamacare, can you ever get out of it for a different plan?
A: If you provide all of your information and sign up for Obamacare and then cancel, you could be charged the penalty for not being insured.
Q: What sort of Obamacare privacy controls are in place?
Every day, personal information is the subject of hundreds of thousands of hacking attempts from all over the world. However, HHS will have to store user information in their servers as Americans sign up at healthcare.gov. Information technology is driving the future of health care and it must be part of any reforms moving forward. But the hub puts millions of Americans at risk by creating an open invitation to steal treasure troves of personal data.
Q: Will the elderly on Medicare and living in nursing homes still be covered through Medicare?
A: People on Medicare will essentially not be affected by Obamacare, but those on Medicare advantage could potentially expect to pay more. Their premiums could increase. Medicare patients should be concerned about the restriction of physician networks and the cost of prescription drugs could increase under Obamacare.
Q: What if I sign up on the exchange and miss one or more payments? Am I kicked out and do I have to pay the penalty?
A: There is a 90-day grace period during which you can miss payments and not be penalized. After 90 days, you will have to pay the penalty because you will no longer be insured.
Q: What will happen to concierge medicine/doctors?
A: Concierge medicine and paying cash for medical services might expand because those on the exchange with limited coverage will seek care elsewhere because of limited choices and quality of care.
Q: What happens to me if I cannot afford Obamacare come January 1st?
A: Your adjusted gross income, tax-free interest, foreign earnings, and social security benefits all count towards your income. You may sign up for a plan but may be unable to afford the out-of-pocket expenses or the deductible. If you have low income, you may get a subsidy, but the subsidies decrease steeply if you’re above 400% of the poverty level.
Join us for a special show tomorrow night starting 6pmET – a panel of experts answers all your Obamacare questions! E-mail me, tweet me @GerriWillisFBN & call our show at 1-877-249-9626 to have your questions answered LIVE!
All week we’ve been talking about open enrollment for the Obamacare insurance exchanges but October is also when sign ups start for corporate health plans. Of Americans who are of working age, 58 percent get their health insurance coverage through employers and for those who do it’s an essential part of their compensation. Last year, employees paid just 21 percent of overall health care premiums. Employers picked up the rest.
So what can we expect this year?
- You’ll pay more for coverage. Aon Hewitt’s experts see prices rising – not because employers are spending less but because they are keeping the percentage of their contribution at year-ago levels while overall healthcare prices rise. Aon forecast last year that for 2013 premiums would rise a whopping 6.3 percent. Employee costs were expected to rise to $2,385 for premiums and $2,429 for out of pocket costs like co pays and employee contributions. Employer costs were expected to rise to $11,188 for the year. What’s more, almost one in five employers are facing increased surcharges for adult dependents for access to coverage elsewhere.
- Watch out for more high-deductible plans, also called consumer-driven health care. These plans carry low premiums but employees with this coverage can be on the hook for huge costs if they experience an emergency health problem or life-threatening illness. But the low costs of these plans have made them popular with younger workers, and employers are moving to satisfy that demand. In fact, some employers are making these plans more attractive by subsidizing premiums at higher levels than other plan options.
- More free stuff for people who engage in healthy behaviors, like smoking cessation classes or gym memberships. (Of course, more companies may offer more penalties, as well.)
- A redrawing of the lines of who gets coverage. Aon says Obamacare and the individual mandate is pushing companies to reconsider who can get coverage.
Bottom line, employers are trying to reduce or at least hold even their costs for employee health care. For that reason and the fact that the plans are changing, you’ll want to do more than just check the box for the plan you had last year. Aon health and welfare benefits leader Craig Rosenberg recommends carefully reading and understanding the details of each of the plans you are offered.
Tune in all this week for our User's Guide to Obamacare special coverage starting 6pmET. The success of Obamacare and the health exchanges that opened this week hinges on one thing: Whether or not the 57 million young people under the age of 65 participate. That's because higher costs assessed to younger consumers for coverage were imposed as a way of footing the bill for older and sick Americans. It's an open question whether this demographic will choose to buy coverage on the exchanges. With 51 percent of Americans saying they don’t have enough information about the law to understand how it will impact them and their family, we decided to fill in the gap and give the facts and figures on what younger consumers need to know about the Obamacare exchanges:
-- There is no need to rush. Sure, the starting gun for Obamacare fired Tuesday with the opening of the exchanges, but individuals have at least three months and as much as six months to get coverage. The government doesn't requires individuals to be able to prove they have coverage until Jan. 1, 2014, but the fact is that people are allowed a "short coverage gap" of up to three months which means you can wait even longer. What's more, experts say the exchanges may not be ready for primetime. Major software glitches made it impossible in the days before the exchanges opened to reliably determine prices or subsidies, and staff was working around the clock to fix the problems. For that reason, the best strategy, if you want to see what Obamacare exchanges have in store for you, is to wait, until November or even December when, presumably, the problems will be worked out.
-- Don't bank on lower costs. Last week, the Obama administration said the average monthly premium enrollees in the exchanges will be charged is just $328. But that doesn't tell the whole story. Premiums may be lower, but your out-of-pocket costs will be higher according to analysis of the plans by health care consultant Avalere. That company estimates that deductibles (the amount you pay out of pocket each year before your coverage kicks in) will be $2,550 up to a high of $5,000. That average deductible is double the level of the average employer-sponsored deductible of $1,135. What's more, you may pay more for drugs, as much as 40 percent. Some experts say they expect people in their 20s and 30s to see their insurance rates rise as much as 30 percent under the Obamacare exchanges.
-- Compare apples to apples. You've no doubt heard about the thousands of "navigators" hired to advise people on choosing coverage on the exchanges. Truth is, some states have advised navigators to stay away from directly advising people about their choices. Some of the navigators have said they hadn’t even seen the exchange offerings as late as Sunday. You could hire a broker to help, but chances are they are they may direct you to insurers paying their fees. So, it’s really on you to find the best deal. The key to doing it successfully is comparing all of the costs. Don't just focus on monthly premiums, but also consider deductible and drug costs. If you are employed and have been on a so-called “high-deductible plan” offered by 70 percent of employers, compare the details. The average deductible in an employer-sponsored plan is $3,000, higher than the average for Obamacare at $2,550, but some of the government policies will have deductibles as high as $5,000.
-- Avoid the scammers. Like all government programs promising free money, the health exchanges are drawing lots of scammers. Fake websites are bilking seniors offering to allow them access to Obamacare. Understand that access to the legitimate exchanges is free (coverage isn’t, obviously). To find your state's legitimate website, go to www.healthcare.gov. You can find out whether you are eligible for subsidies to pay for your government-sponsored coverage, go to the Kaiser Foundation's website, www.kff.org, which has a subsidy calculator. Experts say that single, young people earning less than $46,000 will be eligible for subsidies, but you may be underwhelmed by the amount you get. According to a study from the National Center for Public Policy Research, subsidies for younger consumers start phasing out at 300 percent of the federal policy level. In 11 of the 15 exchanges, taxpayer subsidies disappeared by people aged 18 to 34 before annual incomes of $34,470.
Tune in all this week for our User's Guide to Obamacare special coverage starting 6pmET. What can you expect when the Obamacare insurance exchanges open this week? No doubt, a lot of confusion. Understand that the entire system is a work-in-progress that may or may not be ready for primetime when the starting gates open Tuesday.
Here's what you need to know:
-- Exchanges will be different state to state. If you have an elderly relative living in a different part of the country, you'll have to get your arms around the offerings in their state, and it could be far different from the one where you live. Different insurers are participating in each market. While Washington's Health and Human Services Department says the average number of plans per state is 53, averages mislead. The number of plans available ranges from just six to 169. What's more, don't expect to see the big brand name insurers you've come to know in these new marketplaces. They are more likely to be dominated by smaller, lesser known rivals.
--Costs will vary, too. While the White House says the average premium consumers will pay is $328 a month or $3936 a year, that is unlikely what you’ll pay. Variation in prices is big and depends on where you live, how old you are and whether you receive subsidies from the government. In Albuquerque, NM, for example, a 27-year-old non-smoking man would pay $126 a month for a bronze plan, but in Little Rock, Ark., the cost for the same type policy would be $190 a month. If you are already in the individual market, you may be better off staying put. According to Tom Miller of the American Enterprise Institute, average annual premiums in the individual market at $2,580 a year, are currently far less expensive than the $3,936 average cited by the administration on the exchanges.
--The law requires some similarities. Exchange health plans are required to offer what the government calls "essential health benefits." That includes an extensive list of services from emergency room services to care for pregnant women, new mothers and infants. Outpatient and rehab services, counseling, and therapy are also on the list, as are preventative care and prescription drugs. Insurers will package these offerings at five different prices, depending on how much you’re willing to pay in premiums. The most expensive will be called platinum coverage which will pay 90 percent of costs and carry the highest monthly premium. Gold coverage will pay 80 percent of your costs and will cost more than silver coverage which pays 70 percent of costs. Bronze has the lowest monthly premiums but only pays 60 percent of costs. You'll also see policies for a bare-bones "catastrophic" coverage. These policies are designed for young people and those who can't afford the policies I just described. Coverage will be cheaper and include three annual primary care visits and preventative services, but deductibles will be high. To qualify, you have to be under 30 years of age or get a "hardship exemption."
--Watch out for glitches and errors. Up to the last minute, exchange operators were struggling with software which sometimes failed to price the insurance correctly. Some exchanges were pricing policies incorrectly, others were calculating subsidies wrong. In other words, it is likely to be tough going in the initial weeks and possibly months as the government attempts a near impossible technological feat of linking the major bureaucracies of Medicare, Medicaid and CHIPS with state exchanges.
If you want to find the exchange in your state, check out www.healthcare.gov.
Tune in all this week for our User's Guide to Obamacare special coverage starting 6pmET. The new Obamacare health insurance exchanges open Tuesday, Oct. 1. This is the first time that individuals will be able to sign up for health insurance offered under the controversial Affordable Care Act. Opening of the exchanges marks the starting gun for the law's implementation, which is the biggest overhaul of the nation's health care system since Medicare in 1966. The devil will definitely be in the details -- and there are a lot of them -- and none has been more controversial than the individual mandate.
Tonight on The Willis Report on the Fox Business Network we'll be talking about the mandate and what it means to you. The government is requiring individuals to have health care coverage. And the requirement extends to you and everyone in your household, including spouses and dependents. The coverage can be issued by your employer, through federal programs like Medicare, Medicaid, CHIPS and the Veterans Administration, or it can be purchased through private networks. Failing those options, individuals are required to buy coverage through the Obamacare exchanges opening Oct. 1. Individuals must be able to prove coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2014.
The law’s authors are hopeful that premiums from young people who comprise the largest numbers of the uncovered will help pay for older Americans who don't have coverage. Despite all that attention to the mandate, 26 percent of Americans aren't aware of the requirement or didn't think the law included it, according to a March 2013 Kaiser Family Foundation poll.
There are penalties for failing to comply. If you do not have the minimum level of coverage and do not qualify for an exemption, you must pay a penalty to the IRS at the end of the tax year. The penalty for the first year is up to $95 per adult and $47.50 per child, or 1 percent of family income, whichever is greater. The fine, however, increases over time and in 2016 will be as much as $695 per adult and $347 per child (up to $2,085 for a family) or 2.5 percent of family income, whichever is greater.
We said everybody must prove coverage, but there are some exceptions to that rule. If you can't afford coverage because premiums cost more than 8 percent of your household income, you don't have to have coverage. Also, if you don't make enough money to file a tax return, you are also exempt. If you live in one of the many states which opted not to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, you also don't have to participate. Other exemptions exist, but they are fairly narrow, usually for people already receiving health benefits from the government, such as Native Americans.
Your first chance to prove coverage will be with the filing of your 2014 tax return on April 15, 2015. Job-based plans, including COBRA, or coverage from a retirement plan will likely satisfy the mandate. Coverage from Medicare, Medicare Advantage, Medicaid, CHIPs, some VA programs or TRICARE coverage for our military members and their dependents will satisfy the requirement. Likewise, you can buy coverage from a government exchange or a private exchange. Take care with the latter, though, because Obamacare has fairly high requirements for coverage that a private plan may not meet.
Join us for our week-long series on education on The Willis Report 6pm & 9pmET on FOX Business.
If there’s one thing I learned this week listening to the pros talk about college and the job market, it’s this: Nothing is going to come easy. The truth is, even though the unemployment rate for people aged 20 to 24 is well above the national average at 13 percent, good candidates are still finding jobs. Just this morning, I spoke with a college administrator who said her university had placed 60 percent of their graduates.
The question is this: How do you get to be one of the lucky ones? One answer to that is to attend one of the many institutions that place a priority on helping graduates get jobs. Some schools are just better than others. Penn State University’s job office starts meeting with students in their Freshman year to get them thinking about how they will apply their education in the real world.
“Some students think the only way to get a job is to simply find a job announcement and apply for it, or simply go to a career fair and approach an employer. It’s not as simple as that,” says Jeff Garis, the university’s Career Services Director. “It’s all about the student taking personal control with the help of their university in developing their goals, and developing a good, proactive job search. Most students get their jobs by going out after positions.”
Taking personal control can take many forms. One way is to get experience in your chosen field before you graduate. Even if that experience is unpaid, it’s valuable when it comes to finding a real job.
And, be sure to bring a little something extra to the table. Too many marketing majors, for example, pitch themselves as the perfect salesman for any product. Instead, they would be better off developing a niche or specialty that they can show off in an interview. By showing that you can narrow down and be specific in your approach to a problem or task, you give a potential employer evidence that you know how to problem solve and shape your talents to a specific client.
And, speaking of being specific, if you do use a print resume (not everybody does these days), be as concrete and detailed as you can in your description of your work history and experience. Leave out the high faulting language about your aspirations for your career. Human resource executives don’t have time for the boilerplate nonsense.
And finally, as everybody told me this week – it’s all about networking. Listings on the major job sites like www.monster.com can draw hundreds of thousands of resumes in seconds. Standing out in a crowd that big can be tough. Worse, a lot of human resource departments use computer programs to separate the wheat from the chaff. In an automated HR world, you’re better off developing relationships with people who get to know you over time.
Consider your job search an exercise in seven degrees of separation. If there is a particular company you want to work for, you need to develop a relationship with people who already work there. Social media is key to getting in the game and making contacts with people who can help. These days, companies maintain active Twitter feeds, follow your prospects to learn what they are interested in and talking about.
And, for anyone out there looking for a job: Good luck!
Join us for our week-long series on education on The Willis Report 6pm & 9pmET on FOX Business. When it comes to paying for college, desperation was the soul of invention for Jay Cross, the founder of www.doityourselfdegree.com. As a junior at the University of Connecticut, Cross was in the uncomfortable situation of needing 30 credits to graduate and get his bachelor’s degree, but the college was not offering the classes at the time. Infuriated, he began researching how he could get the course credit and get out into the real world without spinning his wheels.
“I came across this credit-by-examination strategy where you could take a test instead of a course,” Cross recalls. Inspired, he decided to join the few thousand students across the country who were already testing out of course work and he finished his degree and promptly started the website to help other students get access to the information on credit-by-exam which had been scattered all over the Internet.
Cross admits that a DIY degree isn’t for everybody and says that some study areas are more likely candidates than others, such as business, accounting, psychology and computer science. However, many of the so-called STEM courses in math, engineering and the sciences are not a good fit because of the need for hands-on learning.
Cross’ solution is one of many that parents and students across the country are seeking out to reduce the costs of going to college. With outstanding student loan balances approaching $1 trillion, the heat is on to find ways to lower fees and tuition. Lynn O’Shaughnessy, author of The College Solution, says that one of the problems is that parents have no idea what they will end up paying. Most of them see the “sticker price,” that is, published tuition numbers, but it’s difficult to know exactly how much aid your child might get. Fortunately, the College Board has a net price calculator that can help you figure out what your real costs will be. Go to www.netpricecalculator.collegeboard.org for details.
She also suggests getting off the beaten trail. Big schools in big cities along the coasts, she says, have the highest prices and skimpiest aid packages, like New York University, Santa Clara, and Northeastern. Value schools can be found throughout the Midwest, mid Atlantic, the South, and interior West.
And, finally, she recommends choosing a school that has high graduation rates. Only 31 percent of students at public schools and 52 percent of students at private schools graduate in four years. You can find that information at the Chronicle for Higher Education’s College Completion website, at www.collegecompletion.chronicle.com.