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Study shows employers shifting more medical costs to workers

Employers are leaving a bigger chunk of the bill for care to workers who use their health insurance, and benefits experts see few signs of this trend slowing.

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Most companies now offer health coverage that requires employees to pay an annual deductible before insurance kicks in, and the size of that deductible has soared in the past decade, according to a survey released Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research amp; Educational Trust.

The average general deductible for workers with single coverage totaled $1,077 this year, compared to only $303 in 2006. That deductible has climbed nearly seven times faster than wages, on average, over the past five years.

That has an impact on family budgets, Kaiser CEO Drew Altman said.

The study also found that 46 percent of workers with single coverage have a deductible of $1,000 or more. Thats up from only 10 percent in 2006. Kaisers study didnt measure family coverage deductibles, which can be more complex, but researchers say they those have grown as well.

Altman calls this cost shift a quiet revolution in health insurance, obscured in recent years by the health care overhauls coverage expansion for people who dont have coverage through work.

Its funny, we used to think of $1,000 as a very high deductible, and now its almost commonplace, he said. Consumers have much more skin in the game, and that may be fine if youre healthier and dont use a lot of health care. That could be a real problem if youre chronically ill.

Employer-sponsored health insurance is the most common form of coverage in the United States, with about 147 million people enrolled. Companies of all sizes offer coverage as a way to keep workers and make sure they stay healthy. But years of rising costs have forced many businesses to scale back their coverage. One of the quickest ways they have to control the growth in premiums, or cost of coverage, without significantly changing the insurance is to raise an employees deductible.

Altman said the increase in deductibles has helped restrain premium growth for the past several years. In 2015, premiums rose an average of 4 percent for single and family coverage.

The employer generally pays most of the premium and has the remaining share taken out of the employees pay check before taxes.

Kaisers research found that the size of a health plans deductible can depend on the employer. Small firms had an average of $1,836, while big businesses had $1,105. Many companies pair that coverage with accounts that let employees set aside money before taxes for medical expenses.

Commercial painting company Steve Reiff Inc. offers single coverage with a deductible of $5,950. The South Whitley, Indiana, company also helps cover about half the cost of that deductible with contributions to an employee health reimbursement arrangement account, Controller Eric Trump said.

The business switched to a high-deductible plan several years ago to help restrain premium growth. That move helped, but Trump worries about leaving the roughly 30 people on their coverage with the high deductible.

Its really hard to like a lot of health insurance options right now, he said. Its still a big expense for people that are making $10 to $15 an hour.

Paducah, Kentucky, resident Emmett Krall says the annual deductible of $3,500 on his employer-sponsored health insurance makes him think about cost more than he wants to, especially since his 10-year-old son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes last year.

Krall said he has to come up with about $200 a month to cover his sons insulin, needles and pump. The 46-year-old carpet manufacturer sales representative said he has cut down on going out to eat, and hes watching where he spends his money.

It causes an anxiety and a stress on my part, because I do get stressed about it, and I dont want him to know about it, he said.

College professor Bill Cantor said hes seen his premium fall to only $95 a month for family coverage from around $300 since he switched to a high-deductible health plan a few years ago. He uses a health savings account to set aside money for expenses, and he likes how the plan has made him more aware of costs.

The 53-year-old said he caught a $200 mistake on a medical bill that he might have missed if insurance had just covered the claim.

I think it would hold down insurance rates more if people thought about their spending, said Cantor, who teaches information science and technology at Penn States York, Pennsylvania, campus.

Kaisers survey focused on benefits for this year and doesnt predict what will happen in 2016, something many workers will learn about in a couple of months when their employers detail coverage plans for the new year.

Kaiser Vice President Gary Claxton said he doesnt expect the trend toward higher deductibles to ease much in 2016. He noted that employers tend to make their coverage more generous as the economy improves. But companies still will be intent on controlling costs to prepare for an overhaul-imposed tax on expensive benefit plans that starts in 2018.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)



Small shops weigh the risks of staying open later

It took years for Jazams in downtown Princeton to get a handle on when their business was needed and when it wasnt. Now, the independent toy shop in Palmer Square essentially has customer activity down to a science and knows when and for how long to keep the doors open.

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Unfortunately, many small-time shops in New Jerseys downtown districts arent so lucky. Theyve been battling with the same question for ages: should we stay open later?

Closing at 6 pm could upset potential customers, but there may also not be enough of those potential customers to justify the extra hours. After all, money is going out the door each second the lights are still on and the air conditioner is still running.

Joanne Farrugia, co-owner of Jazams, said it takes patience to adjust hours and hope for a spike in business.

I would say, as a business owner, you have to give it a year, she said. (Customers) dont come until you change their habits because they dont know youre open, and that takes a year.

Nearly 20 years ago, Jazams was open every day of the year until 9 pm The owners gradually got the hint that their services werent needed so late seven days a week. Now, Jazams closes at 5 pm on Sundays and 6 pm on Mondays. After the holiday season, the store will remain open until 9 pm only on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Michele Siekerka, president of the New Jersey Business amp; Industry Association, said downtown boutique shops are faced with a chicken or the egg scenario. Is the demand there, and thats why you remain open, or do you extend hours, and thats what attracts the customers?

But, she said, these businesses wont learn unless they try.

I think you need the right campaign, and I think you have to be able to deliver it and execute it and maybe take a chance and see what happens, Siekerka said. And then learn from that, maybe recalibrate and try again.

Siekerka pointed to safety as an added obstacle in the downtown districts of urban cities such as Newark and Trenton. Fewer people are likely to stay downtown in the later hours if their safety isnt guaranteed.



US stocks slip after Greek 'no' vote; European markets sink

NEW YORK (AP) Stocks in the US slipped in midday trading Monday, while markets in Europe and Asia sank following a Greek vote that overwhelmingly rejected terms of the countrys latest bailout package.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

US government bond prices rose as investors sought safe places to park money. Oil drillers and other energy companies fell as the price of oil dropped 5 percent.

The market declines were not as bad as many had feared, something analysts are crediting to the resignation of the Greek finance minister, which might help bailout talks resume. The International Monetary Fund has also pledged to help the country if asked.

In Sundays referendum on creditor proposals, 61 percent of Greeks voted no, a much higher proportion than anticipated. Many in the markets fear that the decision has pushed Greece one step closer to leaving the euro. Greeces banks may soon run out of money and the country could be forced to issue its own currency.

A so-called Grexit from the euro is considered to be one of the biggest risks facing the global economy.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 28 points, or 0.2 percent, to 17,702 as of 12:27 pm Eastern time. The Standard amp; Poors 500 index gave up three points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,073. The Nasdaq composite fell 11 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,998.

The US market is coming off its sharpest weekly decline in three months.

In Europe, Germanys DAX fell 1.5 percent while the CAC-40 in France fell 2 percent. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was 0.8 percent lower.

Russ Koesterich, chief strategist at giant money manager BlackRock, wrote in note to clients that he doesnt think the Greece crisis poses a longer-term threat to the global economy or financial markets.

But others arent so sure.

Sung Won Sohn, an economist at California State University, said that he expects a Greek exit to push up the value of the dollar as investors scramble for safety, making US exports more expensive. He also thinks the European economy will slow.

Our economic growth will be slower, and in Europe, whose economy is the most important for the US, growth will slow, he said.

There was little evidence on Monday, however, that Greeces troubles might affect other eurozone countries immediately. Government borrowing rates for Italy and Spain rose only marginally.

Oil prices took a big hit. The benchmark US contract tumbled $2.91 to $54.02 a barrel in New York.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.32 percent from 2.39 percent late Thursday. US markets were close Friday for Independence Day.

With Greek banks still shuttered and the European Central Bank under pressure to stop its emergency liquidity measures, Greece may not have long to secure a deal with creditors. A meeting of the eurozones 19 leaders has been called for Tuesday.

Some hopes for progress in the talks grew Monday after Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis quit. His replacement, who has yet to be announced, may help unblock discussions with peers in the eurozone. Finance ministers also meet on Tuesday.

Over months of negotiations, Varoufakis relations with his peers in the 19-country eurozone had deteriorated significantly.

The fact that Varoufakis has resigned hints that the Greek government may at least be offering an olive branch given his reputation for using aggressive terms such as `water-boarding to describe the creditors actions, said Jane Foley, a senior currency analyst at Rabobank International.

The euro fell 0.4 percent to $1.1081. The dollar slipped 0.1 percent to 122.55 Japanese yen.

Earlier in Asia, Chinas benchmark index, the Shanghai Composite climbed 2.4 percent, rebounding from last weeks heavy losses, after regulators and the securities industry intervened to prop up the market.

Elsewhere, Japans Nikkei 225 stock index dropped 2.1 percent, while Hong Kongs Hang Seng sank 3.2 percent. South Koreas Kospi fell 2.4 percent.

Among US stocks making big moves, Aetna sank $7.53 to $117.98, a 6 percent loss. That was the biggest slide in the Samp;P 500. The company agreed last week to buy rival health insurer Humana for $35 billion. Humana rose $4.74, or 2.6 percent, $192.24

In economic news, US service firms grew at a slightly faster pace in June, as business activity and new orders increased. The Institute for Supply Management said its services index edged up to 56 in June from 55.7 in May. Any reading over 50 indicates that services firms are expanding.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)



Dealers describe special treatment, abuse of high rollers

UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — One high roller requests a refrigerator full of bananas that he squeezes and throws as he gambles. Another urinates against a wall. Other high-stakes players described by a pit manager at Mohegan Sun, one of the world’s largest casinos, throw chairs, scream at dealers and expect rules to be bent at the tables.

Patrons play craps at a table at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

In the increasing competition for the biggest spenders, casinos are known to pull out all the stops with comped hotel rooms, meals and rebates for a percentage of their losses. But some dealers say efforts to satisfy and retain the players known as whales go much further, with casinos tolerating abuse and extending courtesies that test the integrity of the games.

All men are created equal except in the casino, said Glen Costales, the pit manager, in a recent hearing before the tribal gaming commission. If it’s a premium player, he gets away with a lot more than the five dollar player would get away with.

Costales was testifying in support of a pit boss, Maria DeGiacomo, who was fired this year after the casino accused her of helping a high roller to cheat by allowing late bets at a blackjack table. DeGiacomo and other employees say dealers frequently grant similar requests from top players.

The player, golf professional Matthew Menchetti, was a regular who lost about $50,000 to Mohegan Sun on each visit, and a total of more than $1 million last year alone. Casino security flagged his play as suspicious in February and asked state police to arrest him and two dealers, but the detective concluded DeGiacomo and another dealer apparently took it upon themselves to allow rule violations to keep Menchetti happy and playing, according to a police report, and no charges were filed.

Mohegan Sun’s president, Raymond Pineault, said its termination of the dealers involved and its ejection of Menchetti demonstrate it does not tolerate any bending of the rules.

Shane Kaufmann, a vice president for a branch of the Transport Workers Union in Las Vegas, which represents several thousand casino dealers, said rules are frequently ignored at high-stakes tables.

The casinos pretend they have rules that are set in stone, like going into a bank or dealing with a police station. Are they supposed to allow late bets? Absolutely not. Do they do it all the time? All the time, said Kaufmann, a dealer who sees plenty of crude behavior himself. The abuse, the screaming, the cheating, the sexual harassment. Throwing things around. It’s worse all the time.

Gaming commissions enforce the rules at casinos across the country, but the level of scrutiny can vary by jurisdiction. Dealers say state inspectors in Atlantic City, New Jersey, for one, have a reputation for toughness. In Connecticut, the state does not have any oversight of table games at Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, where the tribes that own the casinos also control their own gaming commissions.

Costales, who described the banana squeezer and public urinator without revealing their names in his testimony, said such outrageous behavior is tolerated more these days than when he joined the business three decades ago because of growing competition.

In Menchetti’s case, he told the gaming commission that in most cases when he said he’d forgotten to post a bet, DeGiacomo and others made accommodations. He said the intention was never to steal at most, it prolonged his stay at the stable but he expected special treatment, given his level of play.

It’s no different in my mind than me calling my host and asking him for an extra 2,500 points on my account so I can go purchase something at a Lux, Bond amp; Green, he said, referring to a jewelry store.

Menchetti said in an interview with The Associated Press he was puzzled over why he was ejected and believes he was used by a casino manager who wanted a reason to fire DeGiacomo. DeGiacomo said she concluded that Menchetti had fallen out of favor with casino management.

DeGiacomo, who is still fighting her dismissal, said rules shifted depending on the player and pit bosses were encouraged to keep high rollers happy. She testified during her hearing: I have to make sure that we get our money, which we did, every time he played. There’s maybe two times he won.

As part of the state police investigation, the detective interviewed several dealers who said Menchetti would often hit the table, curse and scream at them. They told the detective that in cases where he or other high rollers asked to post a late bet or for other considerations, they would defer to a superior.

(Â 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed)



APD warning public about tree trimming & spraying scams

Amarillo, TX - In the past few weeks, the Amarillo Police Department has received complaints on individuals doing landscape and tree trimming work. The "victims" in these cases were approached by individual(s) offering to do some tree trimming or some spraying for various insects.

Shortly after beginning the work, the worker approaches the homeowner stating that some of their equipment has broke and they need to be paid in advance to get the equipment fixed and will return shortly. The homeowner agrees to pay in advance and the worker takes the money and never returns.

Most of this type of business transaction becomes a civil dispute between a company and an individual and not a criminal matter. Unfortunately the people doing this type of "work" know that law enforcement are generally unable to file criminal charges on the suspect and the homeowners only option to get some of their money back is to file a law suit through the small claims court.

Police are asking people to please be very careful paying for any type of service in advance. Most reputable businesses do not require payments in advance. Also check references or contact the Better Business Bureau to check their work history.