Bits and Pieces – November 20, 2013

money mazeDOW AND S&P 500 AT RECORD HIGHS – The Dow Jones industrial average jumped more than 100 points on Tuesday, to finish at a record closing high. The S&P 500 ended Tuesday at a record high for the third straight day. The S&P 500 has risen 6.4% since October 8, when it hit its lowest point during the U.S. government’s partial shutdown and the debate over raising the debt ceiling. The benchmark index is up 23.6% for the year so far. Relief over the end of the political impasse and investor expectations that the Fed will keep stimulus measures in place for at least several months because of the 16-day shutdown have propped up prices.

ONE THING LEADS TO ANOTHER – Weakness in the September hiring figures released by the Labor Department, coupled with complications affecting the upcoming releases, is expected to further delay the Federal Reserve’s decision to start tapering its stimulus programs, reports The New York Times. The jobs report, which shows American employers added 148,000 jobs and unemployment of 7.2%, down 0.1% point from the month earlier, is based on data collected before the recent government shutdown even started, meaning it doesn’t factor in the resulting furloughs.

WORLD’S LARGEST COMPUTER “GLITCH” – The Federal government has now pumped about $650 million into the Obamacare website. The major contractor, CGI Federal, the U.S. arm of a Canadian company, was one of 16 companies qualified under the George Bush administration to provide certain tech services to the federal government. On the other hand, Kentucky, which developed its own state health insurance marketplace, seems to have done it right…

ACA SIGN-UP EXTENSION – The Affordable Care Act open enrollment period originally required that coverage be in effect by March 1, 2014 to avoid a possible tax penalty. This meant that people had to sign up by the middle of February in order to have coverage in effect by March 1. With a new extension, Americans now have until March 31, 2014 to sign up for coverage without facing a penalty.

MORE TRANSPARENCY – Some Senators believe FINRA is falling short in guarding clients from dishonest brokers and has requested that the SEC take action to toughen FINRA rules. “All arbitration awards and settlements should be reported by BrokerCheck. Expungement should truly be rare, and arbitrators should not be allowed to decide that an award should be expunged.”

POST OFFICE DEFAULT – With Congress and the media focused on the government shutdown and how to avoid default on the national debt, little attention was directed toward the USPS which earlier this month defaulted on a required $5.6 billion payment for the healthcare of its future retirees. The third default on the down-payment in just over a year underscores the necessity of much-needed reforms for the beleaguered Postal Service. The Postmaster General has been vocal about the need for Congress to implement legislative reforms, including elimination of the annual prefunding payments, and its need for greater autonomy to manage its healthcare system.

ANTIBIOTICS OVER – “We’ve reached the end of antibiotics.” So says a top CDC expert. Miracle drugs that have saved millions are no match against ‘superbugs’ because people have overmedicated themselves…both humans and livestock have been overmedicated to such a degree that bacteria are now resistant to antibiotics. About 10 years ago, we began seeing outbreaks of different kinds of infections, which previously had been limited to hospitals, in schools and gyms.

2014 INCREASES – Social Security announced a 1.5% benefit increase for 2014. That translates to a $19 per month increase on the average 2013 Social Security benefit of $1,272 per month. The Social Security taxable maximum will increase to $117,000 in 2014, up from $113,700 in 2013. On the college front, according to the College Board, the cost for an in-state student at a 4-year public institution increased just 2.9%, the smallest hike in 30 years.

TAX CREDITS – The Internal Revenue Service paid out more than $110 billion in tax credits over the past decade to people who didn’t qualify for them, according to a Treasury report released today. The Earned Income Tax Credits were intended for poor working families. The IRS inspector general says more than one-fifth of all credits paid under the program went to people who didn’t qualify. Get more details in the full story by The Associated Press.

2014 MEDICARE PART B PREMIUMS – Will not increase from 2013 rates, meaning that most Medicare beneficiaries will pay $104.90 per month for Medicare Part B in 2014.

ACA PREMIUMS – Click HERE to find a chart with state-by-state weighted averages for the cost by state for the silver plan for enrollees of all ages.

SHOP EXCHANGES – Interest in Small Business Health Options Program exchanges is growing. Officials in Minnesota, New York and Vermont report more businesses than expected have signed up for insurance plans. Oregon’s SHOP exchange is not open yet, but officials there report more than 16,000 visits to small-business parts of the exchange site. Some small-business owners say they are pleased with the rates they have found.