Employers Weighing Cost of Healthcare Coverage vs. New ObamaCare Penalties

Employers Weighing Cost of Healthcare Coverage vs. New ObamaCare Penalties

Healthcare costs concern businesses of all types photo.
One of the key policies of Barack Obama’s presidency is arguably the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that aims to provide universal health coverage to all Americans. However, Americans who do not participate in this universal health insurance program will have to pay a penalty. Furthermore, anyone who does not participate in a government-run or employer-provided health insurance program will have to enroll in a health insurance exchange in order to access federal health insurance as well as federal subsidies.

Nevertheless, ObamaCare has caused a lot of concern especially among business owners with some saying it will reduce insurance costs and others saying that the ACA will increase employer-provided healthcare costs. For instance, a study carried out by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the number of employers who offer health insurance to their employees currently stands at 57% from a high of 66% in 2003, which is a nine percentage point drop. One company that feels ACA will increase the cost of providing health coverage is United Parcel Services (UPS). According to a report published by CNNMoney, UPS has informed its employees that the ACA will increase the cost of healthcare by 4% in 2014. Other notable employers who echo the same sentiments as UPS include University of Virginia and Delta Air Lines.

To understand why employers are feeling jittery about ObamaCare, you need to take a closer look at the taxes and fees that businesses must cough up. To start with, employers must pay an annual health insurer fee set at about 2.5% of total premiums in 2014. However, this fee will rise to 4% by 2017. In general, the more a business’s premiums grow, the more the health insurance fee will rise.

Secondly, employees who fear penalties under the individual mandate will most likely enroll in employer-provided healthcare plans. As a result, employers will have to part with more cash to cover the cost of their employee’s insurance policies. In fact, Delta Air Lines reckons that this aspect alone will add as much as $14 million to its annual healthcare expenses.

Thirdly, employers will have to cough up a transitional reinsurance fee for the next three years. The aim of this fee is to help state-based insurance marketplaces settle large claims. Starting in 2014, business owners will have to part with $63 for every insured employee. The good news is the transitional reinsurance fee will drop during the last two years.

Fourthly, business owners will have to contend with the “Cadillac” tax staring from 2018. This target will specifically target employers who offer their employees generous benefit packages because such employers will have to pay a 40% tax on any amount of money over a certain threshold. For family coverage, this threshold is $27,500 while individuals have a threshold of $10,200.

Finally, employers must consider the cost of Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute fees that will initially cost $1 per insured person in 2013 and rise to $2 in 2014.

To allow businesses some breathing room, the Obama administration has said it would delay penalties on the employer mandate until 2015. This is certainly good news for companies with 50 or more full-time employees. Before the announcement of this extension by the US Treasury Department, businesses were facing the prospect of having to pay annual penalties of as much as $2,000 for every employee by the start of 2014. The International Franchise Association lauded this move saying that the employer mandate would have affected a large number of franchisees with more than 50 employees. However, the vice president of the Small Business Majority, Mr. Terry Gardiner, reckons that this postponement will not have a major impact on the operations of small businesses. In addition, he says that up to 96% of employers with 50 employees or more provide some form of health coverage.

Google Cuts Nexus 4 Price

Google Cuts Nexus 4 Price

Google Nexus 4 Phone. Photo courtesy of play.google.com.Google surprised everyone on Wednesday when it announced that it will be slashing $100 off the price of the Nexus 4. The device was launched in November 2012 with a debut price of $299, unlocked and untied to any contract. This was seen even then as an aggressive move for a flagship phone with stellar specifications. The generous reduction shifts the cost down to $199 and makes this model all the more tempting for fans of the Android operating system.

Industry analysts think that this is just the precursor of a much bigger announcement from the tech giant. When Google cuts Nexus 4 prices, it probably means that a new flagship is coming. The speculations are further fueled by the scope of the price cuts. Similar announcements were made for Canada, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Australia, Spain, France and Germany. More countries may be added into the list by the end of the week.

Lightning Quick Updates

For those who are unfamiliar with it, the Nexus 4 is a joint project by Google and LG. It is meant to carry the stock Android OS and be readily upgradable to the latest versions. Nexus owners have the advantage of being able to get all the new features as soon as they become available. This makes it a dream come true for power users who prize having the latest and greatest. There is no need to wait for the manufacturers to get their modified OS ready which generally takes many months. Some never get around to it at all so issues are never fixed.

Value for Money

As for the hardware, LG provided the phone with a very decent set of specs. The Nexus 4 is equipped with a Qualcomm 1.5 GHz quad-core processor and an Adreno 320 for the GPU. There is more than enough RAM at 2GB while storage comes in 8GB and 16GB varieties. It has a 4.7 inch IPS touchscreen with a resolution of 768 x 1280 and a density of 318 ppi. There should be no worries about scratches as it is protected by a layer of Corning Gorilla Glass 2. It has an 8 megapixel autofocus camera at the back and a 1.3 megapixel camera at the front. The downside for most is the non-removable battery, the absence of LTE support, and the lack of a microSD slot for storage expansion.

A Timely Step

The Nexus 4 is nearing its first anniversary and devices usually get price cuts around this time to make way for successors. Still, the 33% discount provided by Google is more than generous by industry standards. At this price point, few can claim to come close to what it offers among the big brands. In addition, Google has just released the latest major version of Android which is 4.3 Jellybean. It features 4K resolution support, performance improvements, and better battery life. Those who will buy the phone now can take advantage of the lower cost and the immediate software update.

What It All Means

Some analysts say that when Google cuts Nexus 4 prices, it is to enhance its position as the best budget phone. This is especially important given Apple’s expected release of the price-conscious iPhone 5C. Samsung is also ready to make similar announcements for its fall lineup. Google itself is known to be working on a Nexus 5 device. It seems like consumers will have plenty of choices this holiday season.

Will Hyperloop Make Bullet Trains Obsolete?

Will Hyperloop Make Bullet Trains Obsolete?

Driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles takes approximately six hours, with no stops. The shortest commercial flight takes just over an hour. The proposed California bullet train is expected to cut travel time for commuters to half that of driving. However, according to a recent news release, the Hyperloop could complete the trip in 30 minutes. This has many people asking, “Will Hyperloop make bullet trains obsolete?”
Concept illustration of Elon Musk's proposed Hyperloop.
The Hyperloop would work by sending pods through a tube. Each pod could hold up to 28 passengers and a new pod could be released every thirty seconds if needed during busy times. A similar system would allow travelers to go from LA to New York City in 45 minutes. Such travel could not only make bullets obsolete, but also be competitive with current domestic air travel.

The current cost of the proposed bullet project is $68 billion. California has set aside $9 billion and the federal government has promised most of the rest of the cost. However, with each delay of the beginning of construction, and there have been many, the cost continues to rise. In contrast, Elon Musk, who has proposed the Hyperloop, claims the project could be completed for $6 billion, far less than funds already set aside for the slower train.

While the proposed bullet would travel between 150 and 200 mph, the Hyperloop allows travelers to move at 800 mph. In contrast, once a jet plane reaches cruising altitude, it travels at about 550 mph. However, planes can fly without the construction of the tube.

Of course, the California High-Speed Rail Authority is offering strong opposition to the Hyperloop. According to Dan Richard, the Authority’s chairman, the Hyperloop cannot be completed any time soon. But, the California bullet does not seem to be making progress either.

In recent decades, mass transit systems have found it difficult to secure funding. In addition, environmental concerns have made it difficult to find the needed support. For example, the slow moving ferry system that serves Seattle and the Puget Sound came under fire a few years ago due to the impact they were having on shoreline erosion. Securing the approval of neighbors can also be difficult.

One of the criticisms of the Hyperloop today is that so far, it is nothing other than a good idea on paper. Bullet trains have been in use in Japan for decades. Before totally abandoning the plans for the Bullet, California may want to see more than just drawings on paper. If nothing else, the publicity concerning this possible mode of transportation will remind locals that the current plan for installation has some serious shortfalls. It has now been several years since the initial funding was approved by California voters and inflation will mean that the construction will take even more. As mentioned as a potential problem for the Hyperloop, the bullet continues to face both legal and environmental challenges. An additional hurdle is that the federal grant that was to provide most of the funding expires in 2017, and with the Tea Party movement to cut government spending, it could be very difficult to extend.

Because the technology is already in existence for the bullet train, it is currently the most likely option to be built. The state has already spent a lot of time as well as money on the plan for the bullet. Unfortunately, if the state actually spends the money to develop the bullet, which will reduce the travel time between LA and San Francisco to less than three hours, finding funding for the Hyperloop may be even more difficult.

Will Hyperloop Make Bullet Trains Obsolete? It is a possibility in the future. However, if the bullet train is built in California, it is more likely that money will continue to be spent on the obsolete technology instead of developing the Hyperloop. Which then leads to the question, “Will the first Hyperloop be built to replace Japan’s aging Bullet train?”

Finding the right place to get safe, low-cost and reliable STD testing

Finding the right place to get safe, low-cost and reliable STD testing

HIV test results photograph.
Millions of people around the world become infected with an STD at some point in their lives, and even if you take every precaution while having sex it is still possible to catch something. One big problem when the person who has an STD feels guilty or embarrassed about it for some reason, and chooses to avoid heading over to a clinic or hospital to get tested. This is actually one of the main reasons why STDs are passed around so easily, but just because you have an STD does not mean you should feel so bad about it.

STD testing is now faster and more reliable

The first step to take is to recognize that you have caught an STD. You may not have ever wanted something like this to happen, and you may have thought that you always took special care to ensure safe sex practices, but the fact remains that you now have a sexually transmitted disease or infection. Once you are able to recognize this you can move on to finding out exactly what that STD is so that treatment can be provided and you can learn how to keep it from spreading.

While it is certainly true that some STDs can be fatal, the vast majority of them can be cured within a short amount of time. Some of them, like HPV, will remain with you for life, although the virus may clear over the course of several years. It is important to avoid transmitting any STD that you get to someone else, even if it is a close partner of yours. STDs can seem really scary at first, but the minor ones are not much of a problem to live with once you do your research and find out more about them.

Learning more about HPV

The most common STD in the world is HPV, and it is generally estimated that one out of every four people will contract the virus at some point in their lives. There are a few different types of HPV, some of which can lead to cervical cancer and genital warts. The safest way to ensure against HPV is to always use a condom when having sex and make sure that your partner is tested prior to having sex. This can sometimes be difficult to do but it really can help to drastically lower the rate at which the transmission of this virus spreads.

Other STDs

STDs like gonorrhea or syphilis can be a lot more frightening. If you feel that you might have contracted one of these STDs the first thing you should do is try to find a good place to get tested. You should not feel too worried but make sure to get tested as quickly as possible. STD testing is now faster and more reliable than ever, and you can have results and treatment turned over to you within a very short amount of time. You really want to go out of your way to seek out a clinic where comprehensive STD testing is performed, including blood work and pap smears in the event of an HPV infection.

Coping with sexually transmitted diseases

There is little doubt that it can be difficult to live with an STD. This could cause breaches of trust between you, your family, and your sexual partners. However, the single best way to approach this situation is to be honest. You do not want the people you love and care about to experience the same problems you are going through just because you did not let them know that you had an STD. Make sure to receive the right treatment from a well-known clinic in your area known for its ability to provide safe, low-cost and reliable STD testing and treatment. Note that while state and federally funded clinics may provide free or nominal-cost testing, you would be wise to inquire whether or not your test results will become part of the public record.

It can definitely take time to learn to cope with an STD, especially if it is a life threatening one like HIV, but you want to do everything you can to deal with things gently. Try not to panic, and realize that since STD testing is now faster and more reliable, you will have a major advantage in the war on sexually transmitted diseases. While in the past having an STD might have led to more social ostracism, it is clear that more and more people around the world are becoming more accepting of the fact that STDs are rampant in society, and until major cures are developed, we have to learn to deal with them as they are.


While in the beginning it might be very threatening to find out that you have an STD, after receiving safe and reliable testing you will then find a solution to the problem in a short amount of time.

Cushion your investment portfolio by investing in precious metals

Cushion your investment portfolio by investing in precious metals

Despite inflation, gold and silver tend to retain their value over time.
Precious metals such as gold, silver, platinum, and palladium feature prominently in many diversified investment portfolios. This is because they tend to retain their value even when other investment options such as stocks lose some of their value. In addition, the price of valuable metals such as gold tends to increase in tandem with inflation. According to figures published by Investopedia, gold averaged a real return on investment of 130.4% in 1946, 1974, 1975, 1979, and 1980. In comparison, the Dow Jones Industrial Average averaged a real return of -12.33% during the aforementioned years. In view of this, when all else fails, you can count on such investments. Some of the ways you can invest in such metals include:

Buy Bullion or Coins

Here, you can opt to buy physical assets in the form of bullion or coins. However, you should be diligent when buying bullion coins because their value depends on factors various factors including finish, rarity, and design. Some examples of popular coins that you can buy and sell in the future include Kruggerands, Maple Leafs, and American Eagles.

Besides coins, you can buy ingots weighing anywhere from one troy ounce to as much as 400 troy ounces. To be on the safe side, you should buy such coins or ingots from reputable precious metal dealers. Furthermore, you should consider storing your bullion coins or bars in a bank vault. Keeping them at home is not a good idea.

Invest in Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs)

If you do not fancy owning physical gold or silver, you might want to consider investing in exchange traded funds. Such funds track a particular precious metal. All you have to do is buy the shares offered by a fund that owns physical assets. This approach has several advantages. Firstly, you do not have to worry about where to store your gold or silver bars and coins. Secondly, you do not have to pay a bank storage costs. Thirdly, you do not have to buy an insurance policy or pay assay costs for your collection of valuable metals. This does not mean that ETFs do not charge any fees. On the contrary, investors have to pay a certain amount of money.

Buy Precious Metals Futures and Options

If you have a large appetite for risk, you may consider investing in futures and options. In general, a futures contract is an agreement to receive or deliver a specified quantity of valuable metals at an agreed price in the future. In most cases, the buyer must deposit cash that is a fraction of the price of the underlying asset, which in this particular case is a metal of high value. The price of most futures contracts is higher than that of the underlying precious metal’s spot price.

Alternatively, one can invest in precious metal options. These give one the right but not the obligation to participate in transactions in the future at an agreed price. Unlike other forms of precious metal investing options, one can leverage a small amount of money to buy large amounts of precious metals. For instance, figures published by the New York Mercantile Exchange show that an investor can control gold worth as much as $130,000 but just investing $8,800. However, this kind of leveraging is quite risky and novice investors should never try it at all.

Invest in Mining Stocks

According to the World Gold Council, there are more than 300 gold mining companies listed on various US stock exchanges such as the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). You can opt to invest in the stocks of such companies. In return, you will benefit from the dividends that such companies pay shareholders. At the same time, if the shares appreciate, your portfolio will increase in value as well.

Unlike ETFs, the stocks of companies that mine metals of high value do not typically track the price of gold, silver, palladium, or platinum. Instead, the price is a reflection of factors such as proven precious metal preserves, mining royalties, cost of extracting the mineral, balance sheet strength, and outstanding debts. Of course, you would not to invest in a company that seasoned investors shun.

Buy Precious Metal Certificates

A certificate confers to the holder ownership of a specified quantity of precious metals held by a bank. The precious metals could be in allocated, pool allocated, or unallocated accounts. Just Similar to ETFs, you would not have to worry about storage or insurance fees. The drawback with certificates is you might end up empty handed in the case of a run on precious metals.

Investors turn to precious metals to protect their portfolios during times of geopolitical uncertainty as well as when volatility in stock and currency markets increases.

Red light cameras make the news

Red light cameras make the news

Don't be the victim of an automated traffic summons.
In a time when big cities like Detroit are literally going bankrupt, local governments are having to find creative ways to make extra money. With the development of new technology, traffic law enforcement has become one of the ways that authorities can enforce red-light laws and make money off of violators’ tickets. Red light cameras make news all over the United States, and while they were actually invented in the Netherlands in the 1960s, they did not get serious attention until the 1980s, after a red-light runner hit a toddler in a stroller.

The idea behind red light cameras is quite simple. The mechanism automatically photographs vehicles driving through them, thus providing photographic evidence that allows authorities not only to prosecute light runners, but to find them in the first place. After a law enforcement official reviews the photograph evidence to determine whether a violation has indeed occurred, it is an easy next step to mail the citation to the car’s registered owner based on the license plate information.

Although they have been in use for decades, there continues to be debate and research about the use of these cameras. Although authorities cite the public’s safety as the primary reason why they have been installed, opponents point out that the obvious financial gain from implementing them is hard to downplay. Some argue that the presence of these lights scare drivers, causing more sudden stops, which may increase rear-end collisions – thus not improving public safety. Studies have confirmed that there are more rear-end collisions when red-light cameras are installed, but this is under debate. Some municipalities have addressed this by increasing the length of the yellow light so that drivers have more warning. However, a 2005 study by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration has suggested that red light cameras actually can reduce certain kinds of car accidents, although the study has faced accusations of being methodologically and analytically flawed.

Despite assurances as to the importance of safety, there have been instances where the fiscal uses of red-light cameras have been made glaringly obvious. The city of San Bernardino, CA, installed the lights in 2008. But it wasn’t long before they were caught using yellow lines timed too short for state law. When the issue was rectified, red light violations revenue sunk so much that San that the city was actually losing money to the company hired to operate the camera system. Coincidentally, San Bernardino filed for bankruptcy in 2012, a year before Detroit did the same.

There are instances in which a positive identification of the red light runner cannot be made. Instead of a citation, a notice of traffic violation (otherwise known as a “snitch ticket”) is issued requesting identifying information about the person driving the vehicle during the (alleged) violation. Despite the fact that they seem official, these notices have not been filed at court, and therefore carry no legal weight; due to this, the recipient is under no legal obligation to respond. Drivers should be aware that there is a difference between a traffic citation and a notice of a traffic violation.

As with any controversial topic, politicians have been eager to place themselves on one side or the other of the debate. Many of those against red light cameras on principle have offered alternatives to the practice. For example, Ohio Representative Margaret Ann Ruhl has proposed legislation which would require a safety study of the intersections or locations where such cameras are to be installed. This recommendation is consistent with reports released by the National Traffic Safety Board, which has endorsed a study of intersections as well as approaches to determine why red-light accidents happen. Even in 2013, many local governments are still in gridlock over whether the red-light cameras increase public safety or endanger it. In any case, more analysis by unbiased parties needs to be conducted.

The good news for motorists is that cutting-edge products and services have been developed to combat these automated traffic monitoring installations.

A beginner’s guide to working at home with online surveys

A beginner’s guide to working at home with online surveys

Consumer feedback is crucial to most businesses.
Whether you are a frequent or even occasional internet browser, you have probably seen numerous advertisements about earning extra income online by taking surveys at home. Your feedback may be valuable for a variety of reasons, and this is why many business owners seek out and appreciate consumer feedback. Detailed responses are often invaluable in terms of assessing product quality, level of service, and customer satisfaction. With days packed with important activities and responsibilities, however, many people would probably not take the time to give their useful opinions without some sort of meaningful incentive. This is why offering payment for your opinions often makes good business sense.

From a business point of view, offering money may make sure that feedback surveys are not ignored by online browsers, potential customers, or regular clients. A new business owner in particular may learn what strategies or products are working and which ones are not, thanks to the customer feedback they receive. Even established businesses need this sort of information, because the survey information may show how satisfied their existing customers are, and help attract new customers as well. As a consumer, this can give you a voice in how new products are introduced, how much you enjoy current offerings, and what changes you may prefer. Even reporting a bad experience with a product or service may be mutually beneficial, as this may inspire product or service updates that benefit both the business and future customers.

You can work at home with online surveys in several ways, including waiting for an invitation to participate after you have made a specific purchase. You may decide to seek out paid surveys online from time to time as a way to fill your downtime with a productive activity, as well as express how you feel about important issues. To earn as much money as you possibly can, you may join paid survey sites that will send you a continuing stream of potential survey opportunities. This will keep you from having to search out surveys, and simply checking your email may alert you to paid surveys that you may be eligible to take. You may even select surveys according to compensation type and frequency, which will further ensure that you are satisfied with your survey taking experiences.

While paid surveys may not make you an overnight millionaire, your compensation may be well worth the time you take to participate. Some rewards include discount offers and gift certificates to specific establishments, while others may pay you by issuing physical or virtual debit cards preloaded with your reward amount. Many survey sites encourage their members to receive their payments through their online payment accounts, and this can mean virtually instant access to your reward money. Depending upon the survey specifics, you may be paid per survey or once you reach a certain dollar amount threshold. Either way you can usually allow your account balance to grow as you prefer, and request payments when you are ready.

If the amount you are looking to earn is especially important, you should choose surveys that will help you achieve this goal. Shorter surveys typically pay the least amount of money, but longer surveys may require you to devote twenty, thirty, or more minutes to complete. Still other surveys may require you to evaluate products either for free or for a price and then give feedback before you receive compensation for your participation. This may require a fair amount of involvement, but these surveys often pay the most to qualified participants. Shorter survey payment amounts may add up quickly if you complete them often enough, and even infrequent payments may be fair compensation for the time you put into taking surveys.

As you experiment with different types of surveys, you may find sites that may be less beneficial than you anticipated. Other paid survey offers, however, may turn out to be extremely rewarding in terms of your actual compensation and the number surveys that you are typically eligible for. Either way you can increase, decrease, or end your participation easily, and participate as infrequently or frequently as you prefer. While many people prefer to be paid in cash, other offers such as discounts and special promotions may be appealing as well. Even with frequent participation, your payments may have little if any impact on your yearly tax liability, but still provide an appreciable amount of income to take advantage of.

In addition to earning, your survey participation may mean that you are one of the first consumers to view new or potential products or marketing strategies. You may even get to display some writing creativity, as many surveys include areas to expand upon simple yes or no responses. This may make particularly lengthy surveys more enjoyable and taking shorter surveys with greater frequency more appealing as well. Some paid surveys may last for more than one day or one session, and involve sampling products that are sent to you for free. This may mean that you get free products to sample and receive a cash payment as well.

Many survey sites are as secure as other online sites, and revealing your name, address, and date of birth, for example, can be done without fear of any negative consequences. Providing additional general information such as what hobbies you enjoy and whether or not you have children may increase the likelihood that the surveys you are invited to take will result in your being qualified and paid for your participation. This can save you a lot of time, since you will not have to spend so much of your valuable time randomly checking to see if there surveys available and whether or not your profile is compatible with what the survey requester is looking for. Ultimately, what you make from taking surveys from home usually depends upon how much of your time, effort, and information you are willing to invest in these activities.