Monthly Archives: September 2013

Obamacare and Spousal Coverage

The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is changing the health insurance landscape.  It is not simply the obvious provisions of new employer requirements and mandates for insurance, the Obamacare changes are introducing or enhancing new variables that employers may use in their calculus for employee benefits packages.  One area that businesses have been focusing on for some time is spousal coverage; it looks as though the Affordable Care Act is going to offer a new opportunity for businesses to review their approach.

Attention to spousal coverage is hardly new.  For years employers have wrestled with an approach to covering the families of employees in a complex environment where a spouse might be eligible for coverage under another plan or may have no access to insurance whatever.  Historically employers have varied from complete coverage for a spouse or family to various levels of participation up to full payment for the incremental costs of spousal or family coverage.  As health care costs and premiums have risen, more employers are developing strategies to share the costs of insurance with employees.  Spousal surcharges, for example, are charges you pay on top of your regular premium to include coverage for your spouse on your plan; graduated dependent plans charge more for each dependent added to a policy.

In general, the direction is to place increasing responsibility on the employee or insured person to make informed – and sometimes expensive – decisions about coverage.  The latest news to come out of this changing health insurance landscape is that Kroger has become the latest major employer to cut health care coverage for workers’ spouses.  This was the outcome of a negotiated union contract in Indiana, but it is believed to be a potential model for more employers.   The contract is on the heels of news a month ago that UPS would no longer cover spouses who could get insurance elsewhere.

These two developments appear to be outgrowths of Obamacare.  The creation of insurance exchanges, including the exchange in Washington State, made it easier for the unions to swallow the elimination of spousal coverage because the exchanges, which will allow people to shop for insurance without going through an employer and because underwriting will now preclude the denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

While some critics have decried this change, many believe the changes are part of a trend that began long before the new health care law came along.  In fact, for the informed consumer, it may be beneficial to have options.  In the past, employees whose spouse or family members had pre-existing conditions, they were locked in to whatever terms the employer set simply in order to retain continuous coverage.  Now families can shop for the coverage most suitable to their needs.  It could be that one family member is in good health and can choose a high deductible, low cost plan while another family member needs more comprehensive coverage.  It may be more affordable for an employee to take employer subsidized coverage and shop for the best plan available for a spouse rather than simply purchase the employer plan.

According to William Arthur Ward, “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”  The changes that are coming with the Affordable care Act will present both problems and opportunities.  Smart consumers will shop the plans available and be able to take advantage of many more options as underwriting concerns about pre-existing conditions are relieved.

Winds of Change – 1973

The year was 1973 and the term “politically correct” was not even in use as the pejorative it is today.  .  The notion of gender equality was not only contentious, but very much open for public discussion.  It was the year of the “battle of the sexes” a major media event that sort of got several very large balls rolling.  The date was September 20, 1973 and the antagonists were Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.

battlesexesFrom the 1960’s to the early 70’s Billie Jean King was the queen of Women’s Tennis.  She racked up 39 Grand Slam Titles in her career and became the first woman athlete to win over $100,000 in prize money in a year – 1971.  Bobby Riggs was an aging professional but one with a very credible resume.  He had been a number one ranked player in his prime – the late 1940’s – and was renowned for the breadth of his skills.  He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1967 having won a number of international and US championships as both an amateur and a professional.
After his active playing years, Riggs apparently earned his money by hustling tennis matches, sometimes cajoling players into playing by offering odd s such as using a frying pan instead of a tennis racket.  In early 1973 Riggs engineered a challenge match with Margaret Court – the women’s number 1 player.  He won handily in what was then dubbed the “Mother’s Day Massacre.”  That match set up the hoopla surrounding the King-Riggs match.

After the defeat of Margaret Court, Billie Jean King accepted Riggs’ challenge to a match and the trash talking began.  For Riggs, evidently, the match was a payday and an opportunity to headline again; he was successful there, making the cover of Time Magazine.  King was a reluctant standard bearer who had to take up the gauntlet after Court was unable to do the job – a fact she remarked about mentioning that Court played like a donkey!  The hype surrounding the match was monumental.  The match was to be played in the Houston Astrodome and Las Vegas casinos were bringing in planeloads of spectators while Ms. Magazine was packing the stands with women supporters.

winner

The match itself was an anticlimax. With Howard Cosell – a sportscasting legend – doing the play-by-play, King destroyed Riggs in straight sets 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. Riggs, who was famous for lobs, drop shots and position play, never got an opportunity to play his game. The match established for all time that women were tough enough to stand the pressure of big time events and skilled enough to perform on a par with men. It is a lesson that has been repeated again and again in other contexts – women in space, women in combat, women in auto racing and women in executive suites.

The match also went on in the context of “equal pay for equal work.”   This year is the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, but in the 1970’s women earned about 59% of men’s earnings on average and the number hadn’t budged much since 1963.  The years since 1971 have brought us closer to pay equity ever so slowly – about one-half cent a year – to the 77% mark in 2010.  There is still a ways to go and there are more explanations for the gender gap than discrimination, but one thing for sure, the “battle of the sexes” forty years ago got us well started down the road toward greater opportunities for women in occupations and in sports.

OlyCAP Presents Freddy Pink Benefit Concert In Sequim

We, at Homer Smith Insurance, are thrilled that OlyCAP has chosen the Freddy Pink band to entertain for their fundraiser on Saturday, September 28, in Sequim. Several of us saw this band perform in July during a benefit concert for the Quilcene Historical Museum, and we were not the only ones giving rave reviews for their lively and entertaining show.  The Freddy Pink band got their start in Port Townsend many years ago, and has been performing their music, much of which is from the 60s, 70’s and beyond, throughout Washington State ever since.

OlyCAP has been providing vital services across the Olympic Peninsula since 1966.  They help everyone from children preparing to enter school and seniors maintaining their independence in the home, to homeless families or those without the basic needs.  Their programs and services reach across all of the Jefferson and Clallam Counties. They serve thousands of people and invest $8,000,000 in local communities each year.  Homer Smith Insurance appreciates OlyCAP and the many services it provides, and has supported this organization for decades.

The benefit concert is being held at the Guy Cole Convention Center in Sequim from 7 to 10pm and the cost is $60 which also includes drinks and appetizers.  We hope to see you there, and please leave us a comment on our Homer Smith Insurance Facebook page and let us know what you think of Freddy Pink and OlyCAP!  If you “like” our Facebook page, we will keep you informed of other local non-profit and fundraising events that benefit our community.

Auto Fatalities – Good News; Bad News

Want some good news?  The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) drew together some new data on motor vehicle crash fatalities and looked at that in a historical perspective.  The news – 2011 fatalities were down 30% from the numbers in 1975.  The bad news, of course, is that 32,367 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2011.  We were reporting just a couple of days ago on developments around “black boxes” in cars that could go a ways toward helping reduce fatalities even more in years to come.

Our friends at Statisticbrain.com have some data for us that provide insight into the causes of fatalities presently.  Again, we have a kind of good news, bad news situation. The good news is we are making gains in some areas; the bad news is they are being eaten up by new technologies that are, literally, killing us.  Assuming Statisticbrain is right – and their 2011 numbers do square with IIHS – the death toll in 2012 fell even further to 25580 which is about half the figure in the 1970’s when deaths were over 50,000 per year.  A lot of this decline has come in drunk driving fatalities where enforcement efforts have cut fatalities greatly.   However drunk driving still remains the leading cause of fatalities, dipping just under the one-third mark.  Speeding remains the second leading cause at 31% but modern technology is coming up fast with distracted driving accounting for 16% of deaths.  Our addiction to texting or talking on the phone when driving could prove as intractable a problem as alcohol.

The improving safety of motor vehicles themselves is probably reflected in the statistics on fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.  This number, which is now nearing one fatality per 100 million miles traveled, really reflects all of the efforts – auto safety, traffic law enforcement, infrastructure improvements and educational efforts to make auto travel safer.  Since 1952, fatalities per 100 million miles traveled have decreased an astonishing 85%.  Washington State has certainly benefited from this reduction since we stood 42nd of the 50 states in fatalities per 100 million miles in 2006.

The people most likely to die in motor vehicle accidents are the old and the young.  Fatality rates for seniors 75 and older are very close to the rates for those 15 to 24.  There are also differences in fatality rates by day with Saturday rates the highest and the early weekdays the lowest.

We probably don’t even need to mention it, but if you are an area senior, the last thing you need to be doing is drinking, driving and talking on your cell phone on a Saturday night.  Statistically speaking, that is suicide.

The Time Machine: Highway 101

The Olympic Peninsula is a relatively young area of the country.  A lot of our settlement here came after the Civil War and our history doesn’t include witch trials or the industrial history of the east and Midwest.  Still, we have a rich history of farming, mining, logging and industrial pursuits on the Olympic Peninsula and for much of that early period we have a daily account of life here through the eyes of the Port Townsend Morning Leader.  While there were other papers on the Peninsula, the Port Townsend Leader is the only newspaper continuously published since the early years.  It started publication as a daily in 1889 and many issues from that period are available online.  There is an excellent overview of the Leader’s history on the Port Townsend Public Library website. 

If you enjoy history, it is interesting to look back a century to see how our forebears lived and what they were doing. Recently we looked back a century and discovered the beginnings of Route 101 – then the Olympic Highway.  We thought you might be interested.  The first stretch was from Hama Hama to Duckabush  a distance of 22 miles.   If you follow the link there are also other hints of daily life at the turn of the twentieth century.  We talk about a litigious society today, but the story of the Port Townsend lady who sued the fortune teller may remind you of W. C. Fields “You Can’t Cheat and Honest Man.”    

   If September 1913 was the beginning of the highway, it was a long time a-building. The stretch of highway along Lake Crescent was completed in 1922.  Pictures from that period show the timber rails that kept cars out of the lake.   The whole 300 mile plus loop of the highway wasn’t completed until 1931.  It cost $10 million to build but it did open the peninsula to the outside world.  Then, as now, tourism was important and the dedication of the highway in August of 1931 in Kalaloch was a big deal drawing dignitaries from Seattle and elsewhere to what we still consider a pretty remote part of the peninsula.     



The photo here shows  the Storm King Ranger Station in the background as well as a government trout hatchery that operated there until 1943.  Our peninsula was a beautiful and wild place in 1922 and if you have driven the 101 through the Lake Crescent area you know it still is.  
 

Dove House Benefit Golf Tournament at Port Ludlow

On Saturday, 9/7/13, Homer Smith will participate in the Second Annual Dove House Benefit Golf Tournament at the Port Ludlow Golf Course.  He encourages anyone who likes to play golf, even occasionally, to join him on the greens (and he says he guarantees he will make you look good).

The tournament is hosted by the Olympic Peninsula Boeing Bluebills, a group of retirees and their spouses who donate time and skills to community projects, with the proceeds going to The Dove House in Port Townsend.

The entry fee is $90 for the general public, and $45 for Port Ludlow Golf Club members.  Included in the entry fee are green fees, Golf cart, box lunch, winner prizes and hors d’oeuvres. The tournament will end with an awards ceremony.

Dove House provides crisis intervention, emergency food and shelter, medical advocacy, legal advocacy, individual support and counseling support groups, and therapy for child and adult victims, and maintains a 24-hour crisis line.

Last year $6500 was raised to benefit the Dove House.  It should be a fun day. If you wish to join Homer’s team or talk with him about the tournament, please call him at the Port Townsend Homer Smith Insurance office at 360-385-3711.