- Created on 17 October 2013
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- Created on 16 October 2013
About 5.2 million poor, uninsured adults will fall into the "coverage gap," created by 26 states choosing not to expand Medicaid under the federal health law next year, according to a study released today by the Kaiser Family Foundation. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)
These people are projected to have incomes too high to qualify for their state's existing Medicaid programs, but below the federal poverty level (nearly $11,500 for an individual) required to be eligible for federal subsidies to buy private coverage on the new online insurance marketplaces set up by the Affordable Care Act. Medicaid is the state-federal health insurance program for the poor.
"Millions of adults will remain outside the reach of the ACA and continue to have limited, if any, options for health coverage," the study concludes.
The law provides full federal funding for three years to states that expand Medicaid to cover residents under 138 percent of the poverty level (or just under $15,900 for an individual). But the Supreme Court made that requirement effectively optional for states, and most Republican led-states have opted against expanding the program.
There is no deadline by which states must opt to expand Medicaid, and a few states are still considering it.
Nearly half of the uninsured in the coverage gap live in Texas (1 million), Florida (763,980) and Georgia (409,350) — largely because those states have the most uninsured and limited Medicaid eligibility today.
Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana also will be especially hard hit, with more than a third of their uninsured adults falling into the coverage gap next year, the study shows. These states will feel the pinch because they have higher rates of poor uninsured adults and their existing Medicaid programs have some of the nation's the tightest eligibility rules. Nationally, about 27 percent of uninsured adults in states not expanding Medicaid will find themselves in that gap, the study said.
The study excludes illegal immigrants because they would not have been eligible for coverage under the law. The study was based on Census data from 2012 and 2013 as well as on state Medicaid eligibility rules for 2014.
Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.
- Created on 14 October 2013
Chocolate lovers beware! The price of your favorite treat is on the rise.
Growing demand in emerging markets and bad weather in major cocoa producing countries is pushing up the cost of key ingredients, leaving manufacturers little choice but to pass on some of that pain to consumers.
The price of cocoa butter, for example, stands at a four-year high, having risen by 70% over the past 12 months, according to Mintec commodity consultant Liliana Gonzalez.
And the production cost of an average milk chocolate bar has surged by 25% over the same period, she wrote in a report for British trade magazine The Grocer.
"If manufacturers are bearing an increased cost over an extended period of time, it's no surprise they'll have to pass that cost along," said Peter Greweling, an artisan chocolatier and professor of baking and pastry arts at the Culinary Institute of America.
But don't expect jaw-dropping surprises when you next visit the vending machine or grocery store. Manufacturers don't want to scare away loyal customers.
"What the industry usually does is either increase the price, reduce the cocoa content or reduce the size of their products," explained Laurent Pipitone, a director at the International Cocoa Organization.
Susan Smith, a spokesperson for the Chocolate Council at the National Confectioners' Association in Washington, acknowledged that ingredient costs have been rising but manufacturers have been doing their best to spare their consumers.
"Chocolates are supposed to be an affordable treat," she said. "They do what they can to not increase the prices -- but if their costs go up over time, they do have to make some adjustments."
Over the past 12 months, retail chocolate prices in the U.S. have risen by 7%, Smith said. That compares with annual consumer price inflation of about 1.5%.
Those who crave high-end dark chocolate, with a higher cocoa content, are likely to be hit hardest.
"Those [chocolates] are made by smaller manufacturers and they're less able to absorb extra costs compared to the bigger manufacturers," said Greweling.
The global chocolate confectionery market, already worth $110 billion, is growing by more than 6% per year, according to Euromonitor. Demand in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa is expanding at an even faster pace.
And as demand rises, cocoa shortages due to bad weather in major producing countries such as the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Indonesia, are squeezing suppliers.
Cocoa has been the best performing agricultural commodity so far this year, according to Macquarie agricultural commodities analyst Kona Haque. Prices have risen by nearly 20% since hitting a low point in March 2013, and Haque expects further gains in 2014.
- Created on 14 October 2013
In this Feb. 11, 2005 file photo, trays of printed social security checks wait to be mailed from the U.S. Treasury's Financial Management services facility in Philadelphia. For the second straight year, millions of Social Security recipients can expect an historically small increase in benefits come January 2014. (AP Photo / Bradley C. Bower, File)
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Another year, another small raise for millions of people who rely on Social Security, veterans' benefits and federal pensions.
Preliminary figures suggest next year's benefit increase will be roughly 1.5 percent, according to an analysis by The Associated Press. The increase will be small because consumer prices, as measured by the government, haven't gone up much in the past year.
For the second year in a row, it would be one of the lowest raises since automatic adjustments were adopted in 1975.
The exact size of the cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, won't be known until the Labor Department releases the inflation report for September. That was supposed to happen Wednesday, but the report was delayed indefinitely because of the partial government shutdown.
More than a fifth of the country is waiting.
Nearly 58 million retirees, disabled workers, spouses and children get Social Security benefits. The average monthly payment is $1,162. A 1.5 percent raise would increase the typical monthly payment by about $17.
The COLA also affects benefits for more than 3 million disabled veterans, about 2.5 million federal retirees and their survivors and more than 8 million people who get Supplemental Security Income, the disability program for the poor.
The COLA is usually announced in October to give Social Security and other benefit programs time to adjust January payments. The Social Security Administration has given no indication that raises would be delayed because of the shutdown, but advocates for seniors said the uncertainty was unwelcome. Social Security benefits have continued during the shutdown.
David Certner of AARP said seniors are getting squeezed financially from many sides. Retirement portfolios took a big hit when the markets collapsed a few years ago, and even though the markets have rebounded, safer investments favored by older Americans are paying relatively low interest rates.
"Social Security COLAs have been low and anybody who's trying to live off interest rates and getting returns on any of the meager savings they have is getting killed because there's no return on your CDs or other fixed income assets," Certner said. "The one bright spot is that health care costs have slowed down. But at least on the income side, it has been a pretty tough few years in terms of trying to keep up with expenses."
Automatic COLAs were adopted so that benefits for people on fixed incomes would keep up with rising prices. Many seniors, however, complain that the COLA sometimes falls short, leaving them little wiggle room.
David Waugh of Bethesda, Md., said he can handle one small COLA but several in a row make it hard to plan for unexpected expenses.
"I'm not one of those folks that's going to fall into poverty, but it is going to make a difference in my standard of living as time goes by," said Waugh, 83, who retired from the United Nations. "I live in a small apartment and I have an old car, and it's going to break down. And no doubt when it does, I'll have to fix it or get a new one."
Since 1975, annual Social Security raises have averaged 4.1 percent. Only six times have they been less than 2 percent, including this year, when the increase was 1.7 percent. There was no COLA in 2010 or 2011 because inflation was too low.
By law, the cost-of-living adjustment is based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, or CPI-W, a broad measure of consumer prices generated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It measures price changes for food, housing, clothing, transportation, energy, medical care, recreation and education.
The COLA is calculated by comparing consumer prices in July, August and September each year to prices in the same three months from the previous year. If prices go up over the course of the year, benefits go up, starting with payments delivered in January.
This year, average prices for July and August were 1.4 percent higher than they were a year ago, according to the CPI-W.
Once the September report - the final piece of the puzzle - is released, the COLA can be officially announced. If prices continued to slowly inch up in September, that would put the COLA at roughly 1.5 percent.
Several economists said there were no dramatic price swings in September to significantly increase or decrease the projected COLA. That means the projection shouldn't change by more than a few tenths of a percentage point, if at all.
Polina Vlasenko, a research fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research, projects the COLA will be between 1.4 percent and 1.6 percent.
Her projection is similar to those done by others, including AARP, which estimates the COLA will be between 1.5 percent and 1.7 percent. The Senior Citizens League estimates it will be about 1.5 percent.
Lower prices for gasoline are helping fuel low inflation, Vlasenko said.
Gasoline prices are down 2.4 percent from a year ago while food prices are up slightly, according to the August inflation report. Housing costs, meanwhile, went up 2.3 percent and utilities increased by 3.2 percent.
Medical costs went up less than in previous years but still outpaced other consumer prices, rising 2.5 percent.
"In years with high COLA's, a lot of that had to do with fuel prices and in some cases, food prices. Neither of those increased much this year," Vlasenko said. "So that kept the lid on the overall increase in prices."
Social Security COLA: http://www.ssa.gov/cola/