Posts by Lisa Scherzer
Lisa Scherzer at Yahoo Finance 2 mths ago
After last year’s ugly rollout of the healthcare marketplace, the Obama administration is no doubt counting on a smoother course for its second enrollment period. The technical glitches that bedeviled HealthCare.gov a year ago may be largely gone. But those tasked with signing up consumers in health plans are sure to face plenty of challenges for the second open enrollment go-around. Throughout the Marketplace’s first year, healthcare navigators served a vital function. These workers, trained with federal grant funds to help consumers analyze insurance options, helped shepherd people through a new and cumbersome process. “In-person assisters have an impact on the lives of so many Americans, helping individuals and families across the country access quality, affordable health coverage,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a statement. According to a July Kaiser Family Foundation survey of the health insurance marketplace assistor programs, more than 4,400 of them, employing over 28,000 full-time-equivalent staff and volunteers, helped an estimated 10.6 million people during the first open enrollment period. The navigators typically work in local libraries, churches and food bank offices. Over 80% of those programs reported that most consumers who sought help didn’t understand the ACA or the coverage choices offered them, or simply lacked confidence to apply on their own. Almost 90% of programs reported the majority of consumers they helped were uninsured. (There are different types of assistor programs that provide outreach; they include navigators, in-person assistors and certified application counselors. Each receives training to provide enrollment assistance to consumers, but they differ in the extent of their duties.) HHS announced this month it’s giving $60 million in grants to 90 nonprofit groups that hire navigators and assistors nationwide. That’s down from $67 million for the first enrollment cycle. New challenges In some regards, navigators and assistors, considered the backbone of Obamacare’s ongoing outreach effort, are likely to have a tougher job this year for a few reasons. “I think the biggest challenge for assisters will be to help more people with more tasks in half the time,” says Karen Pollitz, senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation. The coming enrollment lasts three months (Nov. 15, 2014 -- Feb. 15, 2015), compared with six months for the launch. Many of the consumers who haven’t yet signed up for a plan are the hardest to get to. The 8 million newly insured people were the easier targets – out of more than 47 million nonelderly Americans who were uninsured in 2012 – and the 5 million people who the Congressional Budget Office forecasts will enroll for 2015 coverage may be less informed and resourced than the initial enrollees. And if that’s the case, consumers may require even more help from assisters than they did last year, Pollitz says. Another unknown is continuity among assistor-navigator programs. People who worked as assistors and navigators last time can work more efficiently because they’re experienced and have established systems and procedures. But almost 40% of 2015 navigator programs that received federal grants are new, which means these groups and the navigators they hire “will have to master the learning curve,” Pollitz says. And again this year, HHS awarded the navigator grants late in the season, so time to prepare for the second enrollment period is limited. “All these factors suggest a net increase in the workload, and intensity of workload, for this next class of marketplace assisters,” Pollitz says. The ABCs of health insurance The chief hurdle for navigators last year was a lack of consumer awareness and understanding of the law. A recent survey by Transamerica Center for Health Studies shows this ignorance hasn’t dramatically abated. It found that 46% of those who remain uninsured have still not heard of the individual mandate, and 43% haven’t heard of the health exchanges. Answering questions about what the ACA was and its impact on consumers was the most important part of many navigators’ jobs in the first go-round, and it’s likely to be so again this year. Fully comprehending the details of an insurance plan can be a struggle for someone who’s had it their whole working lives, but for those who’ve never carried an insurance card, it’s a whole other language. Julie Leon, a navigator with the Ohio Association of Food Banks, last year helped enroll many people who had been uninsured before the ACA kicked in. Explaining the basics of having health insurance was a prodigious effort, says Leon, who plans to work as a navigator again this year. The slogging nature of navigators’ work has been universal. “Getting into the basics of insurance with an individual who’s never had insurance is complicated,” says Jodi Ray, principal investigator for the University of South Florida Navigator grant. (USF got a $5.38 million grant, the largest in the country.) “You’re talking about deductibles, co-insurance, how do you pick a network, a plan. It’s very time-consuming.” Shopping for a health plan involves evaluating multiple price points – for instance, some plans have lower premiums but smaller doctor networks, while others have higher premiums but lower co-pays – adding another layer of complication to navigators’ work. “That conversation really takes a long time – longer than we ever anticipated. Oftentimes it took several visits,” says Zach Reat, who oversees the navigator program at the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, which received a $2.18 million grant this year and $2.05 million last year. Tax complications For the second enrollment period navigators expect inquiries similar to those they received the first time around, along with an increased focus on questions around tax subsidies. Insurers are sending customers auto-renewal notices now, and many, if not most, of those already enrolled should go back to Healthcare.gov to review their plan choices and subsidy eligibility, says Pollitz. Plans and premiums have changed. Consumers who don’t review their options may get the incorrect credit amount for 2015 and risk over-collecting on the subsidy (which they’d have to ultimately pay back) or not collect all the subsidies they’re entitled to. For example, if a consumer received subsidies for a silver plan last year that became cheaper for the following year, they may end up owing the IRS money when they file their 2015 taxes, even if their own income remained steady, Pollitz says. Also, consumers’ subsidy eligibility may change if their income for 2014 looks like it will be significantly higher or lower than they estimated originally. Though navigators aren’t tax experts and are not tasked with helping consumers file their tax returns, they have to be ready to answer these kinds of questions, Ray says. “Navigators need to take time to be sure that consumers walk away with an understanding of how to pick a plan and what they do with the plan once they get it,” she says. “It’s not just filling out a form.” Read more in our Obamacare series: The Obamacare marketplace one year later: How you’re faring How to see through opaque health care costs
Lisa Scherzer at Yahoo Finance 9 mths ago
Consumers have been forever "this close" to making every purchase with just a tap of their smartphones. For years we’ve been told cash and credit cards will be obsolete as technology makes mobile payments more convenient and worthwhile than pulling out your wallet. That hasn’t quite happened yet. There is, apparently, strong consumer interest in mobile payments. But despite an array of players – including Google Wallet (GOOG), PayPal, Isis, LevelUp, Square and Loop – widespread adoption has not occurred. According to a study published last week by Yankee Group, just 16% of mobile device owners have used their phone to make an in-store payment in the past three months, while two-thirds of consumers are interested in doing so. Mobile payment transactions more than tripled from 2011 to 2012 in the U.S., reaching $539 million that year, according to eMarketer, which expects these transactions to increase and reach an estimated $58 billion by 2017. But in a report eMarketer said the market is growing slower than expected, noting how it scaled back estimates of user adoption and transaction value from its initial projections in 2012. Part of what’s holding consumers back, analysts say, is that using credit cards isn’t that much of a hassle. “It’s not solving a clear customer problem. Taking out your card and paying is not a problem or inconvenience in the U.S.,” says Kebbie Sebastian, president of Penser Consulting, a firm focused on the payments industry. Where’s the value? A bigger factor keeping consumers from embracing mobile wallets is the lack of incentive. “There’s not a lot of value around it,” says Jordan McKee, an analyst at Yankee Group. Consumers need a financial reason to make the change. “Loyalty, offers, coupons – things that add immediate value that your credit card can’t do – should take a front seat. It should be about the overall value proposition, not just the payment,” McKee says. Mobile payment systems could take a page from the playbook of the very successful Starbucks (SBUX) app. The app, which generated $1 billion in transactions in 2013, not only lets customers pay for their daily coffee quickly and easily but also lets them refill their loyalty accounts with a few taps, offers instant discounts on menu items and links directly to Starbucks’ reward program. “It’s a great example of what a mobile wallet should be – it’s not only about payment, but the loyalty and offers,” McKee says. So in an ideal scenario, for instance, your mobile wallet app would track your movement and know you’re turning the corner at Baby Gap and you’ve shopped there before, then send a coupon to your phone to entice you to go in, Sebastian says. Name recognition Of all the mobile payment options and players jockeying for position, who’s set to come out ahead? Leading the pack is PayPal, whose clear advantage lies in the company’s 143 million active user base. In the Yankee Group’s survey, 15% of mobile phone owners said they used PayPal’s app in a store in the past month, by far the most of any wallet app.
Lisa Scherzer at Yahoo Finance 11 mths ago
How much do you need to save for a comfortable retirement? The answer is “it depends.” (If you don’t like that, try “as much as possible.”) The problem with retirement planning is that so much is unknowable – no one number or percentage rate quite cuts it – and any formula depends on a mountain of factors, including: your savings rate, how many years of work remain, the rate of return on your investments, and how long you live. We took a look at some retirement planning strategies to help savers figure out if they’re on track. As with most tools and calculators, these are guides – not hard and fast decrees. The “16.6% rule” One study by Wade Pfau, CFA and professor of retirement income at The American College in Bryn Mawr, Pa., analyzes what he calls “safe savings rates,” which is how much of your income you need to save per year to fund your retirement. What he's found is that saving 16.6% of your salary every year is the safest minimum rate you can use to finance a comfortable retirement.
Consumers who shopped at one of Target’s 1,778 stores between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15 should check their credit and bank card statements for any fraudulent activity. Target ( TGT ) confirmed Thursday that it’s investigating a security breach that may have impacted as many as 40 million people. The stolen data include customer names, credit and debit card numbers, card expiration dates and the three-digit security codes located on the backs of cards. The breach affected transactions at Target’s bricks-and-mortar locations nationwide, not online purchases. Security blogger Brian Krebs first reported the breach on Wednesday. Krebs wrote that the type of data stolen “allows crooks to create counterfeit cards by encoding the information onto any card with a magnetic stripe. If the thieves also were able to intercept PIN data for debit transactions, they would theoretically be able to reproduce stolen debit cards and use them to withdraw cash from ATMs.” The incident may have involved tampering with the machines customers use to swipe their cards when making purchases, according to the Wall Street Journal . In a statement on its site Target said the breach may impact shoppers who made credit...
It’s been a year of CEO walkouts…and push-outs. Whether they retired, stepped down or were ousted, more exited their companies in the past 11 months compared with the same period last year. There were 1,147 CEO changes so far this year, 3.2% more than the 1,111 departures announced in the first 11 months of 2012, according to outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas. Some of these executive exits were expected, while others took investors by surprise – Men’s Wearhouse chairman George Zimmer and Groupon CEO Andrew Mason, most notably. Here we highlight some of the most headline-grabbing chief executive and chairman moves of the year (ordered by date of announcement). 1. Louis D'Ambrosio — Sears Holdings (SHLD) Sears announced in January that D'Ambrosio, CEO since February 2011, would step down because of “health issues” involving his family. He was replaced by company chairman and main shareholder, Edward Lampert on Feb. 1. Weighed down by operating losses and falling sales, Sears said last week it would spin off its Lands' End clothing business, adding to assets the company is shedding to bolster its balance sheet. Last year Sears split off its smaller-format Hometown and Outlet stores to raise $446 million. Total compensation 2012: $1.29 million 2. Andrew Mason — Groupon (GRPN) Mason, founder of the online deals company, was fired in February amid increasing concerns around the stock performance and long-term viability of the business. Shortly after the news broke he published a goodbye note to his employees, saying they "deserve the outside world to give you a second chance. I'm getting in the way of that. A fresh CEO earns you that chance." Groupon named co-founder Eric Lefkofsky permanent CEO last month. The Chicago company reported a 7% increase in revenue for the second quarter. Mason left with a headline-worthy severance package: $378.36. According to regulatory filings, Mason was due six months’ salary plus health care coverage if he left the company (or was fired). Mason's base annual salary was just $756.72 in 2012, but he holds about 46.6 million shares in Groupon, worth approximately $292 million. The former CEO, often described as “quirky,” has been exploring new career options; this summer he released a seven-song album called “Hardly Workin’.” Total compensation 2012: $5,291, base salary $757 [2011 compensation: $7,943] 3. Joe Kennedy — Pandora Media (P) In March the Internet radio company said Kennedy, who led the company as chairman and CEO since 2004, would step down at the same time as announcing stronger-than-expected quarterly sales. The company went public in 2011, and Kennedy helped grow Pandora to a platform that has more than 67 million monthly active listeners, despite increasing competition from online music services such as Spotify and iTunes radio. On Sept. 11 Pandora named former head of digital advertising company aQuantive, Brian McAndrews, as its new CEO. Total compensation 2012: $732,425 4. John Riccitiello — Electronic Arts (EA) The videogame publisher announced on March 18 that CEO Riccitiello, who had been in the position since 2007, would step down. In a note to employees he said: "My decision to leave EA is really all about my accountability for the shortcomings in our financial results this year." EA bungled the launch of its SimCity game earlier this year but reported an increase in second-quarter profit and raised its full-year earnings forecast. Total compensation 2013: $15.84 million 5. Ron Johnson — JC Penney (JCP) Appointed CEO in November 2011, JC Penney’s board fired Johnson in April and brought in his predecessor, Myron E. Ullman III, on an interim basis. Johnson, who came from Apple and pioneered the concept of Apple Retail Stores and the Genius Bar, was brought in with the hope of turning around the ailing retailer. But several initiatives launched during Johnson’s tenure proved to be flops, including eliminating discount sales without testing the concept. Penney reported a loss of $489 million for the third quarter, while the stock is down about 60% year-to-date. Total compensation 2012: $1.88 million 6. Bob McDonald — Procter & Gamble (PG) McDonald, appointed CEO in 2009 and at P&G for 33 years, was replaced in May by his predecessor, A.G. Lafley, who helmed the consumer products company from 2000 to 2009. P&G was under pressure from activist hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, who held a 1% stake in P&G and agitated for change. The maker of household brands including Tide, Charmin and Old Spice has been in a turnaround phase since early 2012. Total compensation 2011-12: $15.19 million 7. Tom Ward, Ray Irani, Aubrey McClendon — Energy companies The energy space saw quite a bit of turmoil this year as three big companies pushed their executives out the door. Tom Ward, founder, chairman and CEO of SandRidge Energy (SD), was fired from the gas and exploration firm in June after activist investors accused him of strategic mistakes and self-dealing at the expense of shareholders. Ray Irani had been facing heavy criticism over his compensation before investors overwhelmingly voted to remove him in May as executive chairman of Occidental (OXY), where he was CEO from 1990 to 2011. And finally, in January, Chesapeake (CHK) CEO Aubrey McClendon said he would retire; “philosophical differences with the company's new board of directors” were cited. McClendon was stripped of his chairmanship last year after claims he was using his personal stakes in company wells to get huge loans, and other conflicts of interest. Ward’s total compensation 2012: $20.7 million Irani’s total compensation 2012: $45.6 million McClendon’s total compensation 2012: $16.9 million 8. Christine Day — Lululemon Athletica (LULU) The Canadian yoga apparel maker announced on June 10 that Day, who had been CEO since 2008, would step down. The move came three months after Lululemon had to pull some of its popular Luon yoga pants off the shelves for being too sheer, driving down shares in the process. "It was a personal decision of mine," Day said in a call with investors. "It's never a perfect time to leave a company that you love." The pants recall was still hanging over the retailer last quarter; the company last week lowered its guidance for full-year sales and profits, saying tougher quality controls have spawned delivery delays.
Is no password hacker-proof anymore? Researchers at cybersecurity firm Trustwave said this week they found a stash of about two million passwords to major sites, including Facebook (FB), Twitter (TWTR), Google (GOOG) and Yahoo (which operates Yahoo Finance). The database included stolen information from some 320,000 email accounts, 318,000 Facebook accounts, and 21,000 Twitter users, nearly 60,000 Yahoo accounts, more than 8,000 LinkedIn accounts, and 70,000 Gmail, Google+ and YouTube accounts, Trustwave said. Two Russian social-networking sites, vk.com and odnoklassniki.ru, were also targeted, as well as 8,000 accounts at ADP, the payroll service provider, according to Trustwave. "We don't have evidence they logged into these accounts, but they probably did," John Miller, a security research manager at Trustwave, told CNNMoney. You have ‘terrible’ passwords Trustwave’s researchers combed through the data to analyze users’ password selection habits – and they weren’t impressed. More than 15,000 of the affected users had “123456” as their password, followed by “123456789,” “1234” and “password.” The firm said only 5% of the passwords were considered “excellent,” which means they used all four character types (uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers and special characters), and 17% were “good.” Passwords with four or fewer characters of only one type are considered “terrible” – and there were more terrible passwords -- 6% -- than excellent ones. Every year or so, a report comes out that highlights how vulnerable our passwords are to hackers and identity thieves. And a different list from 2011, for instance, shows the most common passwords are nearly identical to the ones found in Trustwave’s trove. In short, they’re way too simple. Protect yourself We asked Nick Berry, data scientist at Facebook, for guidance on how users should go about creating passwords to their myriad email, social networking, banking and other accounts they want to remain private. “I can confirm from my research that people really are staggeringly unimaginative in their selection of passwords,” says Berry, who founded technology consulting firm Data Genetics and has done extensive research on password security. Check out Berry's TEDx Seattle talk about the subject.
It should come as no surprise that the troubles bedeviling Obamacare’s exchanges have sunk the law’s popularity. But according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Friday, the gap between positive and negative views of the law is almost the largest it’s been since Kaiser began tracking consumer sentiment about Obamacare in April 2010. Nearly half (49%) of Americans have an unfavorable view of the law and a third have a favorable view, a 16-percentage-point difference. The only time it was bigger (17 points) was in October 2011 – in the midst of the 2012 presidential campaign – when Republican candidates amped up their critique of the law. What’s more, favorable views of Obamacare dropped most among Democrats, after rebounding in September and October. The past few weeks have brought a mix of news as the Obama administration works to fix HealthCare.gov’s technical snags in time for the promised end-of-November deadline. The administration said Friday it would give consumers until Dec. 23 – an additional eight days – to sign up for coverage that takes effect Jan. 1. The move allows more time for people to compare and shop for plans on the notoriously glitch-filled federally run exchange.
At long last, Congress reached a deal Wednesday to reopen the government after 16 days of impasse, letting the American public exhale a bit and bringing a modicum of stability to the weakened economy.
The compromise, which President Obama signed off on last night, funds the government through Jan. 15, 2014, and suspends the debt limit until Feb. 7 (so get ready for another go-round then).
But what about the present? For a handful of major companies that rely on a confident U.S. consumer to bolster the bottom line, the government logjam is being blamed for potentially weaker sales in the upcoming critical holiday season.
Indeed, a Goldman Sachs report published this week said that, at least partially because of the government shutdown, 40% of consumers surveyed have curbed their spending. Those with household income under $35,000 were particularly impacted, with 47% indicating they were, compared with only 32% of those earning more than $100,000.
In a CNBC interview today, Warren Buffett likened the debt ceiling to a “political weapon of mass destruction” being used against the American public. Like poison gas and nuclear weapons, the debt ceiling is “too powerful” and Congress "shouldn't touch it," he said.
Buffett’s warnings add to the already-heated rhetoric around the debt ceiling debate that’s griped Congress in the days leading up to Oct. 17 – when the Treasury says the U.S. government will run out of cash to pay its bills.
As the Senate readies for a last-ditch attempt to end the stalemate, here's a rundown of what some of the nation's top lawmakers, CEOs, business leaders and pundits have said about the potential for a U.S. default.
Warren Buffett, Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, in an interview with Fortune magazine:
Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D.-Calif.:
Correction: A previous version of this article said it costs 7.8 cents to produce each $100 note. The correct amount is 12.5 cents.
The Federal Reserve on Tuesday will begin circulating a new $100 bill with a fresh design and smarter security features. And it’ll be more than two years after it was originally scheduled for release.
The new design for the $100 note was unveiled in 2010, but its actual release was pushed back because of production delays. In December 2010, a printing problem that caused the bills to crease and therefore become unusable meant the new bills couldn’t be released in 2011 as originally scheduled. The last redesign of the $100 note began circulating in March 1996.
A new, high-tech hundred
The well-known image of Benjamin Franklin will still be on the new design, but he won’t be surrounded by an oval. The new design is also supposed to make it harder for counterfeiters to copy and easier for the public – and store cashiers – to authenticate.