Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Something to keep in Mind when you enroll in Medicare Advantage Plans

It is not a dirty or hidden little secret. Insurance companies offering MA plans do not tell you that once you are in their plan, you are there potentially forever. Returning to traditional Medicare is ok but, getting a Medigap Plans to supplement the gap may lead to rejection or much higher premiums if you choose to come back and especially if their are pre-existing conditions.

The same as the Commercial MA companies, Medicare.gov websites are not always clear about the process of transferring out of MA to traditional Medicare and obtaining a Medigap plan. Being unconditionally accepted by a Medigap plan is guaranteed only within the first 12 months after enrolling in Medicare at age 65.

In 2019, one-third (34%) of all Medicare beneficiaries, 22 million seniors were enrolled in Medicare Advantage (MA) plans.

As most know, Medicare consists of Part A, B, C, and D plans. Part A has no premiums, Part B has a premium (paid to the Gov), and Part D (prescriptions) has a premium which is paid to commercial healthcare insurance. To cover the gaps in A & B and the gap, you buy supplemental insurance which is about the same as Part B in premium cost. Unless Medicare rules change, the most one can experience is changes in premiums.

In contrast, Part C or Medicare Advantage plans can cover a broad array of health services at a low cost. Unless one gets sick, the price for MA Plans can remain low. If one does gets sick, out-of-pocket costs can increase in later years. Once in an MA plan, getting out can result in less affordability. Medigap plans in all but four states can and do reject people or require higher premiums if you caome back to them after Medicare Advantage Plans. Diabetes, heart disease, or even a knee replacement can be criteria for exclusion.

“After Mills underwent a mitral valve repair and suffered a mild stroke with no lasting effects, the San Diego resident’s plan now charges him hundreds of dollars in monthly copays for drugs and other medical services. He had to pay $295 a night for his hospital stay.

But there was a much bigger shock. Mills, 71, learned that switching out of his MA plan he would incur exorbitantly higher costs the next time he needs a serious medical intervention. If he moves to traditional Medicare and a prescription plan, he will still need a supplemental Medigap plan to pick up his 20% copays and deductibles.”

Again, this is something most people do not know, an should know before they make any move to Medicare Advantage plans. Furthermore, there are many MA plans which have narrow networks to which you must go to. In comparison, traditional Medicare pays where ever you go in the United States.

Medicare Advantage Enrollees Discover Dirty Little Secret – Getting Out is a lot harder than Getting In, MedPageToday, Cheryl Clark, December 3, 2019.

A Dozen Facts About Medicare Advantage in 2019, Gretchen Jacobson, Meredith Freed, Anthony Damico, and Tricia Neuman, KFF, June 06, 2019

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SECURE Act Up for Consideration in the Senate – A Rehash

I covered the House SECURE Act and the Senate RESA version last July. The House RESA Act is up for consideration in the Senate now. It does not look like it is going to make it due to the impeachment process going on and a potential trial in the Senate. There is also a small matter of a budget needing to be passed. It was to be considered under an unanimous consent vote; however, three Republican Senators (Mike Lee of Utah [unidentified reason], Ted Cruz of Texas (529 Accounts), and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania [Gold Star tax exemption]) put holds on the bill (reasons in parenthesis). Then there is McConnell, who will not bring it to the floor for a vote.

Congress has been working on a much-needed improvement for “Middle Class” savings and growth over the span of employment in order  to boost retirement resource for citizens who can afford to save. Both the Senate and the House versions have been sitting since July. Whata surprise, heh?

Dueling bills to restructure IRAs and 401ks appear to be redundant; but, there are differences.  Better known as the “Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Act” (SECURE Act) H.R.1994 and the Senate has the “Retirement Enhancements and Savings Act” S.792 (RESA) version. Both bills were passed with bipartisan support. Both bills for the Middle Class had pluses and rather big negatives also. It appears the House RESA Act is going forward for a vote.

The RESA Act is mostly for the masses who may be able to save some money for retirement in spite of stagnant wages. No worries for the for the rich in income (unless something has changed since I last looked at this).  A major outcome of the Trump tax bill were tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations. Besides much of the resulting income increases going to 1% of the household taxpayers, the same 1% were given the ability to shelter large amounts of income in gifts to their heirs. It is a great time to be rich in income and have the ability to shelter it by making gifts of it to your heirs’ tax free! Keep in mind, seven or so years out and those income tax cuts will disappear for the middle income brackets. Somebody has to pay for the overall breaks otherwise their tax relief will sunset as they were passed under reconciliation in the Senate.

A little history (past the leap) on why Congress did something which will help those who can afford to save presently, penalize those bequeathed whatever is left over after death, and pay for the IRA and 401k break.

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S&P 500 BY PRESIDENTIAL TERMS

With the presidential election still a year away, Wall Street is starting its normal analysis that if a democrat is elected it will cause a devastating stock market crash.  One would think that after all these years of such claims being proven dead wrong that the street would finally give up on it. In the post WWII era from Truman to Obama it is 70 years and each party has had bad candidates in office for half that time.  Truman was only President for seven years and five months so the Democrats only had 35.4 years in office while the Republicans had 36 years in office.  Over these years the average annual S&P 500 gains was 15.9% for Democrats and 6.6% for Republicans. If you look at the actual returns, you would think if anything; Wall Street analyst would be warning about the dangers of a Republican President for the stock market.

Because the chart is already so cluttered I left Truman and Ike off.  But it seem so obvious that the record shows that it is Republican Presidents that investors should fear.  Just to clearly show that stock market gains have been more that double under Democrats versus Republicans I’ve also presented the data in a table.

 

 

 

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DC Circuit grants Postal Watchdog’s challenge to PRC’s approval of rate hike on Forever stamps

An introduction to Save the Post Office and Steve Hutkins. I am not quite sure how I got to Steve; but, I do remember chatting with Mark Jamison who also wrote at Save the Post Office and posting his words up at Angry Bear (Asking the Wrong Questions: Reflections on Amazon, the Post Office, and the Greater Good earlier this year. Mark and I still exchange emails and I owe him a trip out to western North Carolina. Steve is the blog owner, a Prof. of Literature teaching “place studies” at the Gallatin School of New York University. Prof. Steve Hutkins has been writing about the Post Office for at least a decade and the attempts of government, UPS, Fedex, etc. to close it down or limit its operations.

“Save The Post Office” has been writing about the last 5 cent increase in First-Class mail earlier this year.

Back in January 2019, the Postal Service raised the price of a First-Class stamp from 50 to 55 cents. Postal watchdog Douglas Carlson filed a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (aka the DC Circuit) challenging the Postal Regulatory Commission’s decision to approve this rate hike.

Carlson argued that in approving the rate hike on Forever stamps the Commission had failed to consider the statutory pricing factors and objectives in the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) and the public comments questioning this increase. He also argued that the Commission did not reasonably explain its decision. Therefore, he claimed, the Commission’s decision was arbitrary and capricious.

Today the court issued a ruling granting Carlson’s petition and vacating the PRC’s approval of the rate increase on First Class postage. (The court’s opinion is here; the order vacating the PRC ruling is here.)

It’s not clear what will happen next. The PRC could file a petition for a hearing en banc, meaning that it will ask the entire DC Circuit to review the case, as opposed to the three-judge panel that issued today’s ruling. Apparently anticipating such a possibility, the DC Circuit today also issued an order “that the Clerk withhold issuance of the mandate herein until seven days after disposition of any timely petition for rehearing or petition for rehearing en banc.”

If such a petition is not granted, the PRC could even appeal to the Supreme Court. (After the DC Circuit ruled against UPS on an unrelated case involving postal rates, UPS took both of those steps, to no avail.)

In the meantime, we don’t know what impacts today’s ruling will have on the rate hike, which has been in effect since January.

Under the PAEA, the Postal Service has the right to request its next inflation-based rate increase this fall, with an effective date in January 2020. How the next increase will interact with today’s court decision is also unclear.

Past the leap is the section of a court determination that reviews the main issues in the case:

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STOCK MARKET DOWNSIDE RISK VS. UPSIDE POTENTIAL

Despite all the recent stock market volatility the actual S&P 500 PE on trailing operating earnings is almost exactly where my model says it should be.

The biggest problem is that the market PE  is about 19 and bond yields are under 2%.  The quick and dirty rule of thumb is that a 100 basis point change in yields should generate a 100 basis point change in the S&P 500 PE.    With bond yields already under 2% the upside potential for the market PE is under 200 basis points — driving the PE to the upper limit of the fair value band.

Consequently, further market increases are almost completely dependent on earnings growth. But currently, unit labor cost are rising faster than prices as measured by the non-farm business deflator and world economic growth remains very weak.  While this spread is a powerful determinate of earnings growth you have to be careful with it as the most recent observations are subject to significant revisions.

Given these conditions the stock market downside risks clearly looks larger than the upside potential.

 

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Weekly Indicators for September 23 – 27 at Seeking Alpha

by New Deal democrat

Weekly Indicators for September 23 – 27 at Seeking Alpha

My Weekly Indicators post is up at Seeking Alpha.

If you’re wondering why it’s so late, it’s because SA pretty much shut down between Friday afternoon and this morning.

Anyway, recession risks are rapidly receding, at least through the 4th Quarter.  As usual, clicking over and reading puts a little jingle in my pocket, as well as brining you up to the moment on the economy.

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Affordable Housing

The other night, ten Democratic presidential, hopeful, nominees took stage and debated their plans for America’s future. There never was a mention beyond a few garbled words hastily thrown together about an issue which is plaguing many young voters ing to raise families and one which has surfaced in my community, the shortage of affordable homes. Senator Elizabeth Warren knows of the issue as she has discussed it in one of her talks, “The Two Income Family.”

Moderators have bypassed the issue and not asked the question of a candidate’s plan for Affordable Housing which is a growing problem for many people in the US especially young people. In lieu of their not asking, here is a site 2020 Because Housing is Built with Ballots from which you can read each of the candidate’s plans.

The housing crisis has hit urban, suburban, and rural areas with some states being worst(see chart above) than others with regard to supply. Nationally, there is a shortage of 7 million homes affordable and available to the lowest-income renters. Rents have risen faster than renters’ incomes over the last two decades, more people are renting than ever, and the supply of apartments they can afford has lagged. Fewer than four affordable and available rental homes exist for every 10 of the lowest-income renter households nationwide. People of color are disproportionately impacted. Racial segregation persists and concentrated poverty is growing.

Meanwhile, policy makers have disinvested in the nation’s public housing infrastructure, leaving families living in unsafe, unhealthy, and unacceptable conditions. After almost a decade of decline, homelessness is back on the rise, and is in the news in an adversarial manner. The same as with immigrants, people do not want to provide solutions and they want the homeless to disappear. Where they should go has not been determined.

Jumping on this bandwagon pre – election, the one man who has a history of discrimination as learned from a father who was depicted by in song by Woodie Guthrie, President Donald Trump has signaled his intentions to address California’s homeless crisis in a harmful, unjust, and unlawful manner. Involving criminalization, sweeps of unsheltered people living on the streets, they will (potentially?) be moved to federal homeless camps.

Affordable housing and homelessness has been in the news across the country and debate moderators have yet to ask the question of what can be done or what are your solutions to the crisis.

While providing good and affordable healthcare is important; housing, besides a cardboard box, is one of the prerequisites to having good health. One way or another, we will be paying for it.

The Question the Presidential Candidates Don’t Get Asked, City Lab, Diane Yentel

The GAP, A Shortage of Affordable Homes March 2018

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F**king Old Enough to Vote

It’s That Day again. I mostly stayed off Facebook (except for birthday greetings) and Twitter, but even LinkedIn has posts of now-yellowed newspaper articles of survivors–and probably some of those who didn’t.

In another ten years, it will be as far from 11 Sep 2001 as that date was from 11 Sep 1973.

At least now, most people know what a sh*t Rudy Giuliani was, both in setting up the firefighters for disaster and moving the NYC Office of Emergency Management Command Center from the safest location in the city–the basement of 1 Police Plaza–to the 23rd floor of a building in a complex that had already been bombed once before he did it. While he and Bernard Kerik got to Be Adulterers on taxpayer money, somewhere between one-third and one-half of the 343 firefighters they murdered outright certainly could have been saved. Though that would have been more people who, but for the grace (and anger) of Jon Stewart, would still be trying to get health care. Rudy’s tombstone should read: ““This group’s finding is that the security of the proposed O.E.M. Command Center cannot be reasonably guaranteed” — July 1998″

Yes, I’m still bitter. No, I’m not going to post anything nearly as subtle as this, which is probably my ultimate contribution to the genre of In The Shadow of The Towers. I’m going to talk about Milton Friedman. Because it’s the 18th anniversary, so it’s now old enough to vote–or, especially in the pre-26th Amendment world–be drafted.

Let’s be clear: Milton Friedman had one good idea in his life, and that was that his alma mater should not sponsor a football team. Even a broken clock, and the program whose highlights are Ray Rice and Greg Schiano (whose skills included guiding the team to a money-losing Bowl appearance) isn’t exactly something that could justify Superstar Economics Theory.

Milton Friedman, like Gary Becker, was wrong about almost every social policy recommendation he made. While it might be difficult to identify what he was most wrong about, a leading contender is The Elimination of the Draft, which he championed for years and finally shepherded through the Nixon Administration.

After all, people should be Free to Starve Choose, and conscription is certainly not a “choice.” Choice can discriminate; conscription means mandatory attendance or a demonstrable reason to be excused. Friedman’s ghost, twirling at Mach 3 in the Eighth Circle, probably rues that males still must register for Selective Service.

So we have a story published just over two years ago on America’s only remaining news source becoming evermore real. While before people who didn’t want to be subject to two years of training and possibly warfare had to at least come up with a somewhat reasonable excuse (*cough* bone spurs *cough*) or face jail time, the scions of the elite have no “skin in the game.” So the Longest War in U.S. History continues: planned as well as it was executed, executed as well as its objectives were planned. While the planners well know that their sons (and daughters) will not even have to come up with the lies they did to avoid any chance of being killed.

Because Milton Friedman said that would not be Freedom. And people believed him, because “freedom” means you don’t have to “have skin in the game” (literally, in this case) if you don’t want to, even if your actions caused the problem.

I suspect Rudy Giuliani approves.

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IS TREND PAYROLL EMPLOYMENT REALLY WEAK?

For seven years from 2012 to 2018 the monthly payroll employment showed a solid trend of around 200,000 gains each and every month.  If it was much above or below this trend, analysts found some excuse to explain the difference and expected the off-trend observation to be quickly reversed.  So far this year most analysts continued to act as if this pattern was being repeated.

However, in August the Bureau of labor Statistics (BLS) rebenchmarked the data to more recent Census data. They announced that it would lower reported employment growth but they did not release the revised data until the August employment report last Friday.  The new data shows that 2019 payroll employment was significantly weaker than originally reported. The January monthly increase was still around the old 200,000 trend.  But in the seven months from February, 2019 to August,2019 the average monthly gain was only 123,000, roughly 60% of the old trend. Moreover, the 12 month moving average fell from 225,000 in January to 165,000 in August and every observation from February to August was below the still declining  12 month moving average.

Seven consecutive months should be enough to clearly demonstrate that trend payroll employment growth has fallen to a new, significantly lower trend than the old 200,000 trend.

 

Figure 1

 

Analysts tend to focus on the month over month change so it was understandable that they did not notice that the revised data was showing much more weakness than the old data. Remember,guessing monthly economic releases was a game created by the brokerage house, especially the bond houses, to generate volume because their earnings was much more sensitive to volume changes than other variables.

 

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The Truckers are not happy

I’ll just post this link and let it speak for itself.

Truckers voted for Trump in droves. Now they say his trade war is ‘killing’ their ability to make a living.

Its starts wtih:

Morris Coffman has been a truck driver for 35 years. And he’s been a conservative for even longer than that — his whole life.

“That said,” Coffman told Business Insider, “[Trump] is absolutely a moron. His idiotic ideas will tank the economy even further.”

Truckers, like Coffman, lean conservative. A Verdant Labs analysis of Federal Elections Commission data found that nearly three-quarters of truck drivers are Republican — one of the most conservative jobs in America, along with surgeons and farmers.

 

Maybe they should have been listening to music instead of talk radio while driving.

There is this headline also:

At least 2,500 truck drivers have lost their jobs in 2019 as the transportation ‘bloodbath’ unfolds. Here’s the full list of bankrupt trucking companies.

A tough lesson this group of salt of the earth, heartland breed American citizens are learning.  I hope they are learning.

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