That Silence You Hear Is the Sound of Working Just Fine

hcrThat ruckus you didn’t hear over the weekend was the sound of Obamacare online marketplaces not failing to work. went fully operational in the wee hours of early Saturday morning, without technical difficulties, and most of the state marketplaces did too—although California and Washington state had some glitches. By the time Saturday was over, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell reported, more than 1,000,000 people had shopped for coverage on and more than 100,000 people had successfully completed applications to buy insurance.

That’s a nearly 1.7 million percent increase over last year’s day one performance, when just six people were able to complete an application on the non-functional website. Yay!

The price of the second-cheapest silver plans, which the law treats as a benchmark, also went up very slowly. Health insurance premiums go up almost every year, just because of inflation and ever-improving technology, so modest hikes like these are good news. Even better news is the fact that, in some markets, the price of the benchmark silver plan has actuallydeclined—something that almost never happens health care. As Larry Levitt, senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, observed earlier this year when such changes first became apparent, that’s like “defying the laws of physics.”

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Few employers dropping health benefits, surveys find

doctor-babyThe Affordable Care Act so far has not prompted the nation’s employers to drop health benefits for some or all of their workers as critics of the law had predicted, according to two major surveys released Wednesday.

A year after the advent of new insurance marketplaces for individuals and small businesses under the health-care law, just 1 percent of employers said they have decided to stop offering health coverage for 2015, one survey said. There was relatively little difference between larger employers and those with fewer than 50 workers, which qualify for new small-business marketplaces, known as SHOPs, that are part of the health-care law.

That survey of more than 3,000 employers, conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management, also found relatively little tendency for companies to narrow the groups offered coverage. One in 12 employers said they are eliminating coverage for workers’ spouses, while 1 in 76 said they are dropping insurance for part-time employees.

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Dangerous Premature Births Decline In States That Expanded Medicaid

babyThe percentage of babies born prematurely fell to 11.4 percent in 2013, its lowest level in 17 years, according to an annual March of Dimes report released this week. While many factors contributed to the decline, officials say the health law’s expansion of Medicaid to adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level has played a role.

Going forward, other health law provisions will likely contribute to further reductions in preterm births, defined as live births at less than 37 full weeks, women’s health advocates suggest.

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Senate sends childcare bill to White House

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Child Care & Development Block Grant (CCDBG) reauthorization, S. 1086, provides block grants to states to help low-income, working parents obtain childcare for more than 1.5 million children under age 13.

“I cannot be more pleased that we’re sending this important legislation to the president’s desk,” Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said Monday. “We know that education begins at birth.”

In March, the Senate passed the bill 97-1 after allowing several amendment votes. The House passed the measure with minor tweaks in September.

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Republicans Branded This Obama Program A ‘Colossal Failure’ — And Now It’s Turning A Profit

Dollars seamless background.The Loans Program Office became a stick to beat President Barack Obama with during the campaigning for the 2012 election, after the solar energy company Solyndra defaulted on a $535 million loan it received from the Department of Energy.

It was followed into bankruptcy by the startups Fisker Automotive and Abound Solar, all of which received loans from the office.

Now, it has reported a profit of $30 million, after collecting interest payments of $810 million on total loans of $34.2 billion, Reuters reports.

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Renewable Energy ‘Creates More Jobs Than Fossil Fuels’

new studrejobs2y by the UK’s Energy Research Centre (UKERC) took a deep dive into job creation claims made by proponents of renewable energy and energy efficiency, looking at the figures and projected figures for the EU from a number of angles. It came to the conclusion that in the short run, moving to renewables and ramping up energy conservation would create more jobs than the fossil fuel sector, at a rate of about one job per gigawatt hour of electricity saved or generated by a clean energy source, with the long-term picture murkier because of factors in the economy and government policy that are hard to predict.

Building new renewable generation capacity or investing in greater energy efficiency to avoid the need for new generation would create more jobs than investing in an equivalent level of fossil fuel-fired generation. Photo credit: Shutterstock

The report, Low Carbon Jobs: The evidence for net job creation from policy support for energy efficiency and renewable energy, said, “‘Green’ sectors account for as many as 3.4 million jobs in the EU, or 1.7 percent of all paid employment, more than car manufacturing or pharmaceuticals. Given the size of the green jobs market, and the expectation of rapid change and growth, there is a pressing need to independently analyse labour market dynamics and skills requirements in these sectors. What is more controversial is the question of whether policy-driven expansion of specific green sectors actually creates jobs, particularly when the policies in question require subsidies that are paid for through bills or taxes. Politicians often cite employment benefits as part of the justification for investing in clean energy projects such as renewables and energy efficiency. However, other literature is more sceptical, claiming that any intervention that raises costs in the energy sector will have an adverse impact on the economy as a whole.”

The report focused not simply on job creation, but on net job creation, subtracting the number of fossil fuel-based jobs that could potentially be displaced by spending on green infrastructure projects. It also employs “counterfactuals”: what other power generation sources would have been built instead without green policies. It says that over-optimistic green jobs figures don’t take this into account. But it also says that jobs skeptics tend to be overly broad in their application of counterfactuals.

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Obamacare Premiums Falling in Major Cities

obamacareA new Kaiser Family Foundation analysis finds that, on average, premiums for Obamacare’s benchmark silver plan are falling by 0.2% across 48 major cities.

Vox: “Falling is not a word that people associate with health-insurance premiums. They tend to rise as regularly as the morning sun. And, to be fair, the Kaiser Family Foundation is only looking at 48 cities, and the drop they record is modest (though this is the same methodology they used in 2014, and to good results). But this data, though preliminary, is some of the best data we have — and it shows that Obamacare is doing a better job holding down costs than anyone seriously predicted, including Kaiser’s researchers.”

“Keep in mind that the 0.2 percent drop is the average across all the measured cities. There are places where prices are skyrocketing (like Anchorage, AK, where they’re rising by 28 percent; or Minneapolis, MN, where they’re rising by 18 percent) and places where prices are plummeting (in Jackson, MS, prices are falling by 24 percent; and in Denver, CO, they’re falling by 15.6 percent). So the average here masks considerable variation. Someone going to buy insurance in Minneapolis isn’t going to feel like Obamacare is holding down costs — because it isn’t. But someone going to buy insurance in Denver is in for a very pleasant surprise. On average, though, Obamacare is holding down insurance costs — and that’s a surprise.”


L.A. mayor trumpets jobs to be created as energy use is cut

windmillsMayor Eric Garcetti said Monday that Los Angeles could reap thousands of jobs from its commitment to cutting energy consumption by 15% across the city.

If L.A. meets that goal — which Garcetti and Department of Water and Power officials declared the most ambitious goal set by a major municipal utility nationwide — it would have the same effect on carbon emissions as pulling 440,000 cars off L.A. streets annually, officials said Monday.

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