Friday :: Sep 10, 2004

Awarding the Purple Heart Band-Aids(tm)

by pessimist

GOP Conventioneers who sported the above-cited health care item demonstrate that the Republican Party is not in agreement with its own principles. They claim to be against fraud and waste, and yet those political slurs personified both simultaneously. The fraud is in falsely charging John F. Kerry with malingering, and the waste is in using up a resource that American workers are having a tougher time keeping on hand for when they are needed.

Jobs and health care have become intertwined over the years, with one affecting the other in a never-ending death spiral. The only 'solutions' that seemed to come out of the Congress were the ones that helped to create the current membership of the Top 1%. In an effort to 'conserve' their tainted wealth, these Toppers seek to screw the workers one more time by making radical changes to the long-standing provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

For once, there seems to be a real resistance in Congress to this Bu$hCo move.

House Votes to Block New Overtime Rules

In a sharp rebuke of a new administration policy, the House moved Thursday to block the Labor Department from carrying out overtime rules that critics argued could deprive millions of workers of their overtime pay. The 223-193 vote in favor of blocking the rules defied the White House. A threatened veto applied to a massive spending bill, now on the House floor, if it contains any language tampering with the rules that took effect Aug. 23. The Obey-Miller language blocks all aspects of the rules except those that extend overtime to lower-paid workers.

Democrats, united against the rules, were joined by 22 Republicans in voting for the amendment to a $142.5 billion health and education spending bill. Republican Rep. Steven LaTourette of Ohio, who voted for the amendment, suggested there was a middle ground. "I would hope this vote, taken together with some votes in the Senate, will let the administration say, `Well, wait a minute, let's go back and revisit this case.'"

Democrats and pro-labor Republicans have fought for more than a year to stop the Labor Department from going ahead with the proposed rules. In May, the Senate, by a 52-47 vote on a different bill, approved language stating that no worker who currently qualifies for overtime should lose that eligibility.

The vote was Bush's second election-season defeat in Congress in two days. On Wednesday the Senate disregarded a White House veto threat and voted to prohibit Bush from giving federal immigration jobs to private workers. "The administration has chosen this time to institute new regulations which for the first time in 80 years scale back workers' entitlement to overtime pay," said Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., a sponsor of the overtime proposal.

"For those who receive overtime it's as high as 20 or 25 percent of their income," said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., co-sponsor of the provision with Obey. "It's the largest government-imposed pay cut in the history of this country."

The AFL-CIO, which has lobbied against the new rules, said the 6 million workers facing weakened overtime protections include foremen and assistant managers, nurses, workers in the financial services industry, journalists and others who do small amounts of administrative work. "Especially hard-hit are police, firefighters, construction workers and others whose overtime rights were explicitly guaranteed for the first time in the new rules," said Alfred B. Robinson, Jr., acting administrator for the Wage and Hour Division.

Anyone who works for a living knows that things aren't so good as we're being told they are by Bu$hCo. If one looks about carefully, one can find supporting evidence:

US economic outlook downgraded: WSJ survey

US economists have trimmed their forecasts for hiring and economic growth in view of steep energy prices and other factors, a Wall Street Journal survey showed. The survey also showed that the economists expect 182,000 new jobs a month for the next 12 months, down from an average forecast of 194,000 jobs a month in the August survey and from 207,000 in May.

Note how the estimates of new job creation keeps dropping? I read that as reality seeping into the calculations these forecasters make. They almost admit the same:

The daily said the economists pointed to crude oil prices, which approached $50 a barrel in New York last month, as a factor in the lower forecasts, along with sagging business confidence. They noted that although the economy has been expanding for more than two years, executives remain hesitant to take new employees because of a cautious outlook. "Businesses have been through a lot over the last few years, and many of them don't have a great deal of tolerance for uncertainty," Stephen Gallagher of Societe Generale in New York was quoted as saying. "They reacted to their worry that consumers may be cutting back."

Now let's see, if I lose my overtime pay, then I'm supposed to continue spending at the same rates I had been??? What if I get sick on the job?

Health concerns stop production

The McAlester Army Ammunition Plant has shut down a production line charged with filling 2,000 pound penetrator bombs with TNT. McAAP Commander Gary Carney ordered the production line shut down Monday, after members of two separate work crews who work with TNT were diagnosed with hemolytic anemia. The first crew had been pulled from the line after 14 of the original 17 crew members were diagnosed with the illness. Hemolytic anemia causes the blood stream to carry lower than normal levels of oxygen, because red blood cells that carry the oxygen have been prematurely destroyed. Blood samples taken last Thursday resulted in a similar diagnosis for nine workers in a crew which replaced the first group.

In a Sunday article in the News-Capital & Democrat, state Poison Control Center Director Dr. Lee McGoodwin had expressed skepticism with McAAP's claim that the affected workers would return to normal within 30 days of being removed from exposure to TNT. "It takes about 120 days for the red blood cells to regenerate themselves," McGoodwin said.

McAPP Commander Col. Gary B. Carney made the decision to close the line on Tuesday, said McAAP spokesman Mark Hughes. "The intent was we're not going to continually expose our workers while we try to figure our how they're being exposed to this," Hughes said. So how did the problem occur? "That's what has us baffled," Hughes said.

And how am I supposed to keep spending at the same rates if I LOSE my job?

Delta to Cut Up to 7,000 Jobs in 18 Months

Delta Air Lines is axing up to 7,000 jobs, cutting employee wages and shedding its Dallas hub as part of a sweeping turnaround plan aimed at helping the nation's third largest carrier cope with high fuel costs and competition from low-fare rivals. In his speech to employees, CEO Gerald Grinstein said that the airline will cut 6,000 to 7,000 jobs, or about 10 percent of its overall work force, over the next 18 months. More job cuts are likely in the future, he told reporters afterward.

I guess one thing they could consider would be to offer early retirement to some - What? They want to do WHAT Because WHY???

Grinstein warned on Wednesday Delta would seek bankruptcy court protection if Delta can't slow the pace of pilot retirements by the end of September. The normal pilot retirement age at Delta is 60. Senior pilots with enough years of service can retire early at age 50, and roughly 2,000 are currently eligible, Grinstein said.

Grinstein told reporters that he fears pilots could jump ship en masse because they are worried about their pensions and keenly aware of UAL Corp.'s threat to terminate the employee retirement plans at its United Airlines unit. Several hundred Delta pilots have retired early in recent months, and more have threatened to do so, he said. "We have to know what we're dealing with before the end of the month," Grinstein said, after delivering a speech to 300 middle managers that was broadcast on the Internet. If that many retired early, it would hurt Delta's ability to operate the international flights that many of its senior pilots handle, Grinstein said.

Pilots union spokesman Chris Renkel said pilots would be less likely to retire early if Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc. would heed the union's request for the company to promise not to try to take away any employees' accrued benefits. So far, Renkel said, Delta has refused to guarantee the future availability of lump-sum payments pilots can get if they retire early. "It is unfortunate that our management has chosen a Webcast environment to deliver this ultimatum," Renkel said in a memo to pilots. Neither the airline nor the union would say what the maximum lump-sum payment is.

Delta pilots who retire can elect to receive 50 percent of their pension benefit in a lump sum and the other 50 percent as an annuity later, regulatory filings show. Pension benefits paid to Delta pilots and other retirees rose almost 23 percent to $1.1 billion in 2003 from $888 million the year before, regulatory filings show. The increased pace of early pilot retirements would likely push that number even higher this year.

Before the retirement issue escalated, Delta had been warning investors for months that it may have to file for bankruptcy protection if it didn't get deep wage cuts from its pilots. Management said on July 30 it needed a minimum of $1 billion in concessions from pilots to survive. Pilots have offered up to $705 million. Grinstein told reporters Wednesday that talks with the pilots are continuing, "but time is running out" to reach an agreement. He declined to be more specific.

Delta also is trying to restructure its roughly $20 billion in debt, and Grinstein said private discussions with creditors are going well. Despite the latest measures, Grinstein said "bankruptcy is a real possibility. We're working hard and fast to avoid it." But he added, "If the pilot early retirement issue is not resolved before the end of the month, or if all of the pieces don't come together in the near term, we will be required to restructure through the courts."

In addition, Grinstein said Delta will no longer use the Dallas-Fort Worth airport as one of its four hubs as of 2005. Instead, Delta will expand its hubs in Cincinnati, Atlanta and Salt Lake City with redeployed aircraft from Dallas-Fort Worth. About 2,000 of the jobs to be cut will come from Dallas-Fort Worth and significant management cuts are expected at the airline's Atlanta headquarters, Grinstein said. Delta has lost more than $5 billion $25 million alone in the last month because of the two hurricanes that hit Florida and already reduced its work force by 16,000 in the last three years. The changes announced Wednesday are part of Delta's goal to save more than $5 billion by 2006.

As of June 30, Delta and its subsidiaries had 70,300 full-time employees and 842 total aircraft, regulatory filings show.

Joel Denney, an airline analyst for Piper Jaffray & Co. in Minneapolis, said the changes Grinstein announced are essential to Delta's survival. "No one likes to take wage cuts," Denney said. "No one likes to go through this type of reorganization. But, unfortunately, the industry has forced this where people have to now."

Sounds like management should forfeit their bonuses for misfeasance! It isn't just airline employment that is crashing and burning:

US layoffs up 6.6 percent in August to 6-month high

Job cuts announced by US companies increased 6.6 percent in August to 74,150, a six-month high, according to a monthly tally released by outplacement firm Challenger Gray and Christmas. Layoff announcements have settled to a range between 65,000 and 75,000 per month after averaging just over 100,000 a month in 2003, the firm said.

And we all know how much Bu$h bragged about the booming economy that year!

The 12-month moving average of layoffs fell to 88,109 in August from 88,590 in July. The average is little changed over the past six months. "It appears that job-cut activity is holding steady in the 60,000 to 70,000 range, which is above pre-recession levels, but still encouraging nonetheless," said John Challenger, CEO of the outplacement firm. "The problem is that this holding pattern is being mimicked when it comes to hiring."

In June, for instance, 4.3 million workers were hired and 4.1 million were separated from their jobs. "There probably has never been a time when companies were this cautious to add new workers in a recovery," Challenger said. "There is undoubtedly a lot of concern about the fragile state of this recovery and the fact that it could be easily derailed by a sudden and significant shock, such as a terrorist attack or a major disruption to the country's oil supply."

So I dodge the layoff, and I adjust to the lost overtime. How do I continue to spend at the same level when my health care costs are going up?

Health Care Premiums Jump 11.2 Percent

Health care costs continued to surge this year as family premiums in employer-sponsored plans jumped 11.2 percent, the fourth year of double-digit growth, according to a new study. The cumulative effect of rising health care costs is taking a toll on workers: There are at least 5 million fewer jobs providing health insurance in 2004 than there were in 2001, according to the survey of 3,017 companies by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust.

This year, 63 percent of firms offered health benefits to workers, down from 68 percent in 2001. The change is primarily driven by a decrease in the number of small firms, those with 3 to 199 workers, that offer coverage. Firms with between three and 24 workers reported the biggest hike in the average family premium, 13.6 percent. "Health insurance is becoming unaffordable, especially for small employers. We should expect the ranks of uninsured to grow as small employers can't afford health insurance," said Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation. Altman noted that the hike in health premiums outpaced both the 2.2 percent growth in wages and 2.3 percent growth in inflation by five times. "There is a great sense that there is just no answer to this problem," Altman added.

The percentage employees paid toward the premiums remained steady with singles picking up 16 percent of the tab, the same as 2003. Employees paid 28 percent of the family premium, up from 27 percent a last year. However, singles' out of pocket costs for the premium rose 9.8 percent to $558 annually while a worker's cost for family premium rose 10.3 percent to $2,661. Since 2001, employee contributions increased 57 percent for single coverage and 49 percent for family coverage.

The average premium for a family of four grew to $9,950 annually. The average premium for single coverage rose 9.2 percent to $3,383 annually. The family premium for a preferred provider organization, the most common type of insurance, hit $10,217 the first time it broke the $10,000 barrier. PPOs are plans that provide members with a network of discounted providers that charge a copayment but also allows for the opportunity of using other doctors and hospitals.

I have a PPO plan. About a year ago, every one of my familiy's doctors dropped their membership in the plan, forcing us to seek new doctors. I got lucky and found one I like after only two changes, which wasn't easy - the lousy (and outsourced) customer service system makes it difficult to make changes. And, the odds are increased against you by the fact that your personal information is likely to be incorrect, making it difficult to find you in their system.

This year's increase in family premiums was below the 13.9 percent reported in 2003 and shifting costs to employees was less pronounced than in previous years, but Altman said such figures didn't signal any significant changes in the direction of health care costs. He said the increase was lower because health plans were paying less for hospital care, doctors and some drugs while cost shifting has moderated somewhat because employers wanted to give their workers a break after years of demanding they pay more for their care. For example, the average deductible for a preferred provider organization rose 4.3 percent to $387 for a family of four. But in 2003 the deductible rose 9.5 percent, after a 43 percent surge in 2002.

Deductibles for using a provider outside the PPO were essentially flat at $558 this year after soaring 20 percent in 2003.

Still, some types of cost sharing did increase. For example, the proportion of workers facing a $20 copayment for an office visit increased to 27 percent from 19 percent in 2003. Employers say that they have to do a certain amount of cost-shifting to keep costs down. Klickitat County in Washington state was facing a 22 percent premium increase for a year that would begin in November. Instead of paying it, the county which employs 225 people, worked with its insurer to lower the increase. Now the county's increase will only be 11.5 percent but employees will be paying more for certain services.

Beginning in November county employees will have to pay 20 percent of their hospital stay. Currently, they pay $200 a day with a five-day limit. Employees currently pay 10 percent of services such outpatient surgery and chemotherapy. That will rise to 20 percent in November. Personnel director Lori Wolford said the county considered changing plans but employees were happy with the current provider.

Overall, 56 percent of firms said they shopped for a new plan in the past year. Of those that looked, 31 percent changed carriers while 34 percent switched the type of plan they offered.

Overall employers are skeptical about whether tools such as disease management and consumer plans really lower costs. Only 42 percent of employers believed disease management and consumer driven plans were somewhat effective in lowering costs. "Such efforts nibble at the edges," said Altman. He said controlling health care costs was a vexing problem because no one wants to pay more, but people also aren't willing to accept less service.

"I don't see any solution in the short or immediate future," he said.

All of these 'management' plans merely add layers of expensive bureaucracy and significantly delay needed care. All I can conclude is that the 'managed care' scam is about to explode from overloading, and those who took all the money once used for health care better hope their coverage is adequate, because they just might need it. Those who are retired certainly do.

Largest-Ever Jump In Medicare Premiums Coming In 2005
Premiums To Surge 17 Percent Next Year

The Bush administration says Medicare premiums for doctor visits will rise 17 percent next year. It'll be the largest increase in the program's 40-year history. Monthly payments for Part B of the government health care program will jump from a little under $67 to just over $78. Medicare B covers doctor visits and most other non-hospital expenses. The premiums are updated each year under a formula set by law. The federal government picks up about 75 percent of the cost of Part B benefits. Beneficiaries pay the rest.

Mining Salt While Treading Water

This has to be an issue the Democrats can be using against George Worthle$$ Bu$h, especially in the Red States where employment isn't in such good shape. Anyone who gets around the country knows that wages in the Red States are generally lower to begin with, due to the fact that many of these small businesses cited above - the ones that employ 3 to 199 workers - are located there. Their increased health care costs, as I present above, aren't adjusted for the locations of the state lines. And should someone there lose a job, replacing it isn't quite so easy as in the larger communities.

Calling John F. Kerry and John Edwards! Your campaign topic is ready!

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pessimist :: 7:24 AM :: Comments (1) :: Digg It!