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Highlights—September 14, 2013

  • Poughkeepsie Journal: IBM retirees wary of change in health coverage. Benefits for Medicare-eligible residents to move to exchange. By Craig Wolf. Excerpts: The IBM retiree community is buzzing about the latest news from Big Blue shifting their health benefits to a national private exchange.

    In a YouTube video, Dr. Kyu Rhee, IBM chief health director, said nearly all Medicare-eligible retirees can use the Extend Health exchange to choose plans “equal or better than IBM can currently offer.”

    Chat boards used by IBM retirees have been busy with posts by people trying to get details. Rhee said enrollment starts Oct. 1 and ends Dec. 31. Extend Health advisers at 855-359-7380 can help participants with options, he said.

    Some retirees are skeptical. “Believe me, Monday morning the phones are going to start ringing,” said Bruce Williams, 74, of Red Hook.

    “Obviously it’s going to be cheaper for them if they’re doing this,” he said.

    Selected reader comments follow:

    • Wonder if the IBM Retired Executives who are Medicare eligible are going to be changed to this health exchange? If this change is good for the average IBM retiree who is Medicare eligible it should also be fine for those retired IBM executives.
  • Poughkeepsie Journal: ICYMI with VIDEO: Stalled jobs growth spurs new strategies. With IBM's latest cuts, Dutchess employers have dropped more than 8,000 jobs since 2006. By Craig Wolf. Excerpts: The engine of technology jobs that has powered Dutchess County’s economy for decades has gone into lower gear.

    It’s about to get 697 jobs worse. That is the count of workers the county’s largest employer, IBM Corp., will drop starting Tuesday from its two Dutchess sites, Poughkeepsie and East Fishkill.

    Dutchess’ high-tech sector has always been predominantly IBM or companies that supplied Big Blue. While there are still other high-tech companies in the category of manufacturing computers and electronic equipment, they are not nearly so large. ...

    IBM’s latest headcount of employees in Dutchess is 7,768 as of the end of April. That was down 248 from the same point a year earlier, and down 2,436 from April 2006.

    Those numbers come from reports IBM must make to the Dutchess County Industrial Development Agency under a deal that gives IBM a sales tax break on internal transfers of computers.

    Other than that, IBM no longer makes the annual update that was once its tradition, stating how many people work for it, site by site. They don’t say how many work in the United States, either.

    This has become a sore point for many. Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor, R-Fishkill, blasted IBM’s one-week furlough at one-third pay imposed on most workers in the Systems and Technology Group in August.

    “In this battered economy, families can’t afford another hit,” Lalor stated. “IBM owes the Hudson Valley answers about its long-term commitment to the region. IBM has been a critical part of our local economy for decades. In return, Dutchess County and New York state have provided IBM with valuable, sometimes controversial, tax benefits. We deserve answers.”

    In addition to the downsizings, IBM’s East Fishkill plant, known as the Hudson Valley Research Park, sits with 1.1 million square feet of empty space in five buildings offered for lease.

    In a statement, IBM spokesman Douglas Shelton said IBM remains strong throughout New York state and that its facilities in East Fishkill, Poughkeepsie, Yorktown and elsewhere in the state are world class. He said IBM had invested more than $10 billion in the Albany NanoTech center upstate. ...

    But for about half a century, the money mantra here has been, “So goes IBM, so goes the Dutchess economy.” And for now, IBM is still the top employer in Dutchess. For now.

  • Bloomberg Businessweek: GE, IBM Ending Retiree Health Plans in Historic Shift. By Alex Nussbaum. Excerpt: Ted Greenberg, 69, worked for IBM for 39 years and retired in 2007. He said he wasn’t sure what the changes would mean for his family and worried IBM will follow the lead of competitors and eliminate health-care subsidies altogether.

    “A couple of them basically did away with all subsidies and stipends and said to the retirees, ‘You’re on your own.’” Greenberg, a former director of billing and contracts, said in a phone interview. “Given the trends in the industry, I am concerned.”

  • NBC Nightly News: Companies push retirees (and soon, workers) into health exchanges. By Dan Mangan. Excerpts: With news that Time Warner and IBM are moving their retirees into private health exchanges—giving them money to pay for an insurance plan—those marketplaces are on track to explode with enrollments of retirees and active employees across the United States in coming years, experts say. ...

    Despite that, many Americans remain in the dark about how health exchanges work. "Right now, I'm completely in the dark," said IBM retiree Don Parry, 80. "I don't know what the hell to think about it." ...

    Thompson said the potentially seismic move from traditional company health benefits to exchanges mirrors the move from company-funded pensions to 401(k) plans, in which employees choose their retirement investments, often with a company subsidy.

    "And we know how rapidly retirement plans have shifted from a defined benefit plan (a pension) to a defined contribution," he said. ...

    IBM retiree, Allen Felstead, 75, said that although he recently received literature about the move to Extend Health's exchange from IBM, he still has many questions about how the switch will affect him and his wife, who live in Rochester, Minn.

    "You know how it is. You start reading it, but you don't have the slightest idea what they're talking about," said Felstead. ...

    Extend Health, the Towers Watson private exchange that now will be handling Medicare plan options for 110,000 IBM retirees, estimates it can save clients "3 to 10 percent per year" in costs, said Bryce Williams, who leads Extend Health. ...

    "I really think that within five years, the vast majority, I think 70 to 90 percent of companies, will be using exchanges for their active population and their retired population, and it will be the normal course of business," Cohen said.

  • Wall Street Journal: Time Warner Joins IBM in Health Shift for Retirees. By Spencer E. Ante. Excerpts: Insurance exchanges are the health-care experiment du jour. Retirees are the test case.

    The latest indication: Media-company Time Warner Inc. plans to move its U.S. retirees from company-administered health plans to private exchanges, according to a person familiar with the matter. The company will allocate funds in special accounts that retirees can use to go shop for coverage, the person said.

    The news comes as International Business Machines Corp. also plans to move about 110,000 of its own retirees off its company-sponsored health plan to a Medicare insurance exchange.

    President Barack Obama's health-care overhaul calls for such exchanges, which will go live next month, and employers are looking at similar, privately administered exchanges as an alternative to offering their own health plans. ...

    Extend Health, the Utah-based exchange owned by Towers Watson & Co. that IBM picked for its retirees, was founded in 2004 but has grown quickly recently as more employers have signed up.

    Extend Health has signed up around 300 companies, and the pace is quickening. It had just three corporate customers at the end of 2007 and just 76 at the end of 2010. About a third have joined in this year alone.

    Bryce Williams, managing director of Towers Watson Exchange Solutions, which runs Extend Health, said the exchange has moved more than 500,000 retirees over to its service. IBM will add to that total when it starts moving retirees over next year. Mr. Williams said the technology company will be one of the five biggest participants in the program. ...

    Instead of subsidizing retiree health premiums directly, IBM will give retirees an annual contribution through a health-retirement account that they can use to buy Medicare Advantage plans and supplemental Medicare policies on the exchange, as well as to pay for other medical expenses.

    IBM retirees have a big incentive to pick insurance through plans offered by Extend Health: Retirees who are eligible but don't enroll in a plan through Extend Health won't receive the company contribution.

    Selected reader comments follow:

    • Here's the real story. There is something called a FAS 106 liability. That is the reserve a company has to put aside to fund expected future costs of retiree heath insurance. Now that IBM has detached the company from the rising costs of Medicare supplemental plans by providing a fixed dollar amount, their actuaries can significantly reduce the reserve amount. That is what is behind this and they are just using ACA as a confusing smoke screen.
    • Another group of workers who cannot keep the insurance that they had notwithstanding the Presidents promise. I guess that really speaks volumes about how much you can trust his promises. He may use the excuse its not the government but it is the "greedy corporations". He knew or should have know that business would react to his takeover of the healthcare system. He has no real excuse.
      • Has nothing to do with ACA. Has everything to do with IBM and TW screwing their retirees on a promise that they made to these folks during their working years with these companies.
    • It seems to me that IBM was one of the first major companies to dump defined benefit pensions for 401(K) plans. Now, it's leading the way toward depriving its rank-and-file retirees of decent health care. IBM's executives clearly are great folks. They don't still have posh defined benefit retirement and health-insurance plans, do they?
    • Extend Health is not an exchange. They are a FMO (Field Marketing Organization)
    • It is stunning the growth of Extend Health as more of the Fortune 500 dump their retirees into their exchanges. And John T is right that this is all due to a FASB 106 accounting rule that forces companies to account for their retiree health care costs. IBM and other have capped this by putting them in a defined contribution plan, but it means the retirees will see their fixed dollars buying less and less health care and they will be stuck paying the difference. Or as IBM and TW would say, "not my problem, man".

      Eventually, Americans will wake up some day and realize how they have been royally raked over the coals. Maybe sooner than we realize, single payer will become more attractive as the only real winners here are Extend Health and the CEOs of IBM and TW.

  • Bloomberg: GE, IBM Ending Retiree Health Plans in Historic Shift. By Alex Nussbaum. Excerpts: America’s biggest employers, from GE to IBM, are increasingly moving retirees to insurance exchanges where they select their own health plans, an historic shift that could push more costs onto U.S. taxpayers. ...

    While retiree health benefits have been shrinking for years, the newest cutbacks may quickly become the norm. About 44 percent of companies plan to stop administering health plans for their former workers over the next two years, a survey last month by consultant Towers Watson & Co. (TW) found. Retirees are concerned their costs may rise, while analysts predict benefits will decline in some cases. ...

    Companies argue that many retirees can find more choice and a better deal on the exchanges, said John Grosso, head of the retiree health task force at Aon Hewitt LLC, a Chicago-based consultant. Instead of taking a one-size-fits-all company plan, a healthier retiree might find a less expensive policy with a higher deductible, or one that saved money by favoring generic drugs, he said in a telephone interview.

    Less healthy workers or those who need more comprehensive coverage may not fare as well, Grosso said. ...

    At the same time, retirees have expressed concern that subsidies provided by companies in private exchanges may not keep up with rising medical costs, potentially putting them at financial risk in the future. And an influx of retirees could put added pressure on public exchanges that provide taxpayer-supported subsidies. ...

    IBM capped its subsidies to retirees in the 1990s and “didn’t make this change to save money,” Doug Shelton, a spokesman, said in an e-mail. “It does not reduce our costs.” Rather, the company is making the change to help former workers, whose premiums and out-of-pocket charges are projected to triple by 2020 under the current plan, Shelton said.

    Ted Greenberg, 69, worked for IBM for 39 years and retired in 2007. He said he wasn’t sure what the changes would mean for his family and worried IBM will follow the lead of competitors and eliminate health-care subsidies altogether.

  • Triangle Business Journal (North Carolina): Don't panic if you got IBM's retiree health exchange memo. By Lauren K. Ohnesorge. Excerpts: A report that IBM is shifting Medicare-eligible retirees to a private health exchange hits the presses and the confusion begins. A lot of that confusion stems directly from folks in RTP, understandable, since the estimated 10,000 IBMers stationed there look forward to retiring some day. ...

    The move impacts only Medicare-eligible retirees – retirees who already have most of their medical needs paid for by Medicare.

    And it’s not a cut-off of supplemental retiree benefits.

    Instead of going with a chosen-for-them plan, courtesy of IBM, retirees will be able to select a plan that meets their own personal needs, says Williams, who doesn’t like to call it “an exchange.” ...

    But it is a big difference for retirees, nonetheless. Specifically? People who have, for their entire working lives, avoided making health insurance decisions, are about to to make some, cautions Paul Fronstin, director of the Health Research & Education Program at the Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington, D.C. ...

    “Some retirees are going to love it,” he says. “Some are going to hate it. If I’m an 85-year-old retiree, my reaction would be, in my 85 years, I’ve never had to shop for health insurance and I don’t want to start now.”

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "My observations after attending ExendHealth presentation" by "ibmexe". Full excerpt: Here's a couple of my observations:
    1. Apparently presentations are only made available in San Jose, Boca, Austin and Raleigh. Why not in New York...i.e. Poughkeepsie/Fishkill? Isn't that still the area with the most IBM Medicare eligible retirees?
    2. ExtendHealth has offices only in Utah and Texas...the reddest of red states. Does that combined with the first item above tell us anything?
    3. It came abundantly clear to me that EH significantly narrows the list of providers generally available in my area. When I asked how this was done, the answer is that EH only "partners" with a subset of these providers. The only plans available will be those of its partners. Some providers chose not to participate with EH and others were rejected by EH for one reason or other. It is reasonable therefore to suppose that EH makes it money through provider kickbacks and perhaps IBM accounting fees?
    4. One of my concerns was the Humana Walmart Part D plan. That's one of the EH plans.
    5. The other concern I had was whether their Medigap plans included all three varieties of age related issues...i.e. those whose costs only depend on "age at time of issue", those that are age dependent on each year of coverage, and those that do not cost more as one ages if bought at age 65. They apparently have plans in all 3 categories.
    6. I also asked if the subsidized HRA account will be split between the retiree and his spouse. What I heard was that there would only be one HRA per retiree on which both the retiree and his spouse would be able to draw on.
    7. As far as dental and vision plans in my area, it's a Hobson's choice. You can either take the only dental plan they offer in my area through EH or find your own outside EH. Same with the vision plan. Their dental plan at first glance appears similar to the Dental Plan Plus I had through IBM. Only significant difference was that instead of a $2K/year limit, their's had a $1K limit and cost a little more. Same with the Vision plan. The other drawback seemed to be the possibility that these plans may put the "kibosh" one swapping in and out of these plans every other year by imposing a "waiting period" on the beginning of coverage to discourage this switching.
    8. They did confirm the fact that that although switching from one Medigap plan to another was subject to "medical underwriting" as well as possible age considerations but that switching from a Medigap plan to an advantage plan was not subject to those consideration.
    9. Although they could not be specific on the amount of the subsidy, my own expectation is that it will be capped at $3K or $3.5K/year whichever you are entitled to. The cap will be imposed by the "use it or lose it" HRA end of the year forfeiture provision. The reasoning for this is that IBM has implicitly obligated itself to those amounts through the publication of their Summary Description Plans. These are actually legally binding UNLESS IBM formally and specifically changes them. Had they done so or planned to do that in the near future, we would already have needed to hear that.
    10. My net on our costs in general is that in the near term...next five years or so....our costs for the same coverage that many of us had will increase moderately. For others, the costs will remain the same or decrease due to choosing wisely and not overinsuring and taking advantage of the flexibility. In any case, the $3K subsidy surely continue to help...but our out-of- pocket costs will rise in the near term.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "Re: My observations after attending ExendHealth presentation" by "zer0t0l". Full excerpt: You can't have these types of meetings in the NY/NJ area because the presenters would be 'shouted down' on the way in.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "Re: There goes another one..." by "trexibmer". Full excerpt: Towers Watson (nee Watson Wyatt) tried to force feed you the the cash balance plan in 1999. There was uproar then, but not enough unified action by all to force IBM to backpedal and stop the change for EVERYONE. Some folks got the pension plan choice back, but others got singled out and got no choice and was force changed/converted. IBM divided and largely conquered the employee workforce in 1999.

    Need I say anymore about this IBM retiree medical insurance ex(change)?

    IBM is using the same vendor consultant partner in crime.

    So you know as a retiree you are likely getting screwed again benefit-wise by IBM.

    Retirees AND employees need to make constructive and unified action NOW to reverse IBM's action! I doubt IBM will backpedal like they did with the pension change in 1999 but you gotta at least try IBMers one and all!

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "Re: My observations after attending ExendHealth presentation" by "Bill". Excerpts: What I think *is* significant - and I cannot locate the post in which it was pointed out to me, thanks Yahoo - is that IBM had an open-ended commitment to health benefits up until 1993, at which time they put the caps in place. I had forgotten about this, and it certainly makes my statement about IBM having never backed off a commitment to a currently retired employee wrong; it's is a pertinent example of what IBM can do to the subsidy with the stroke of a pen.

    As to what word we use to characterize IBM's responsibility for subsidized health benefit, I would argue that the word commitment is O.K. If it wasn't a commitment, why would IBM still be giving the subsidy to us? After all, we all recognize that IBM top management will do whatever they can to improve the bottom line and make themselves richer. This subsidy is a big target, and here it is, untouched after 20 years, in more than all the time I've been getting it. Obviously, their (lack of) action, through several up and down business cycles, demonstrates that they feel they are committed to this subsidy.

    Is it a commitment based on ethical behavior? Hardly. Will the commitment change in October? It could. (I am guessing it doesn't.) Can the commitment be changed with the stroke of a pen? Certainly. But until it is, I would claim it's a commitment.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "Re: My observations after attending ExendHealth presentation" by Kathi Cooper. Full excerpt: You said "As to what word we use to characterize IBM's responsibility for subsidized health benefit, I would argue that the word commitment is O.K. If it wasn't a commitment, why would IBM still be giving the subsidy to us?"

    I think IBM is stuck with the subsidy commitment because of tax consequences. If they don't pay out the subsidies, they then have to pay the government $2,000.00 per employee for the 'dump' of the employee to the marketplace. Better to give $3,000 to the employee than give $2,000 to the government. Giving the 3,000 to the employee might keep them away from law suits over these changes.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "Re: My observations after attending ExendHealth presentation" by "madinpok". Full excerpt: "If they don't pay out the subsidies, they then have to pay the government $2,000.00 per employee for the 'dump' of the employee to the marketplace. Better to give $3,000 to the employee than give $2,000 to the government."

    The penalty for not providing health insurance is only for active, full time (30 or more hours per week) employees. There is no penalty for not providing retirees with health insurance that I am aware of.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "Re: My observations after attending ExendHealth presentation" by Kathi Cooper. Full excerpt: Thanks for the clarification Mad. At first I was worried IBM might dump my class (55-64.9 years old) and just pay the 2k per employee to the government to dump us. But now that I find out that there is no penalty to incite IBM to cover their retirees, no matter what age, that really scares me. Am I reading this right?
    "The penalty for not providing health insurance is only for active, full time (30 or more hours per week) employees. There is no penalty for not providing retirees with health insurance that I am aware of."
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "Re: My observations after attending ExendHealth presentation" by Bob Sutton. Excerpts: Here is yet another aspect of this change to EH to consider when I tried to benchmark my current IBM Survivor benefits; I just got off the phone with both IBM and EH.

    In the current IBM environment if you are on the (prior) SPD plan your survivor gets your current subsidy indefinitely; in my case on average $3k/yr.

    To qualify for the prior SPD (which I do retiring 2002 with 37 years) you need one of the following:

    • Have 30 years service at 7/1/1999,
    • Be within 30 years service in 5 years of 5/1/1999,
    • Have 15 years at 55 age as of 7/1/1990,
    • Have 5 years of service as of 7/1/1990, or
    • Have 1 yr of service at 65 as of 7/1/1990

    If you are on the current SPD you get the current subsidy (i.e. in my case $3k/yr) for one year and then IBM will offer your survivor a COBRA support for up to 36 mo.; after that there is no subsidy for the survivor.

    When I called EH and asked the same question I got the answer that the survivor would get 1/2 of the current retiree IBM HRA subsidy when the retiree died or in my case $1.5k/yr indefinitely (where is this written in stone, is there a IBM SPD after the transition?) into the HRA.

    This is all verbal with some unknown skilled representative (so that is a big caveat in itself ) but if true in my case spousal support will be cut in half after the transition and it seems for IBMers on the current SPD its a benefit after the above fours years expires.

    The insurance industry press is full of discussion of the next cost saving thrust for companies and its to end retiree spousal medical support.

    I therefore suggest you ask your EH rep at your Oct one on one discussion as yet another question to get as much objective information as possible to prepare for the new environment.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "Re: My observations after attending ExendHealth presentation" by "madinpok". Full excerpt: When you say "current SPD" I think you mean the FHA plan. The SPD for this plan says that if you are an Access Only participant (which means you have no FHA funds), then if you die, your survivors can continue coverage for 36 months under COBRA. After that, they are on their own.

    But if you have a balance in the FHA, then your survivors can continue to buy health insurance indefinitely. This is spelled out in sections 1.4.5 and 1.6 of USHR 117.

    For those on the prior plan, I will be very surprised if the survivors get cut to 1/2 the subsidy amount in the HRA. I think you may be getting incorrect information from EH about this.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "Re: IBM WILL MOVE RETIREES OFF COMPANY-SPONSORED HEALTH PLAN" by "fstephens". Full excerpt: This is only ROUND 1 of the SALVO BARRAGE. Be prepared for more and soon. In the first mailings to the Medicare Eligible, they state subsequent mailings will be made for those NOT Medicare Eligible. So get your DEPENDS ready; you will need them: either from JOY or ANGER!
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree Information Exchange: "NBC News Profile" by "Mad Men". Full excerpt: Hello, I am a researching the IBM healthcare exchange for NBC News. We are looking to do a story for Nightly News with Brian Williams on this and are looking for retirees who have been affected by this exchange. Those who are over 65, have gotten a notice from IBM, and would like to talk about their story, please contact maria.alcon@.... Thank you!
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree Information Exchange: "Re: Current Year Aetna Medicare Integration Plan A Costs" by "madinpok". Full excerpt: "If the FED PENALTY will be $2000, then you can expect to get at least that much. I expect it to be between $2000 and $3000, with a little luck. Reduce your Premiums by dividing your HRA by 12 and that will be what your premium costs will actually be."

    The "fed penalty" is a feature of Obamacare that applies to companies that do not provide medical insurance to active, full time employees who work 30 hours or more a week.

    There is no law with or without Obamacare that says an employer has to provide health insurance to retirees. IBM can discontinue all retiree medical coverage tomorrow and not have to pay one cent in penalties.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "Re: 2014 plan literature" by "netmouser". Full excerpt: Interesting differences between monthly premiums for F & G.

    The only difference in coverage is that G does not cover the Medicare deductible of $147 per YEAR while F covers it. So, G is far less costly on an annual basis. Am I missing anything here?

    I just received the package from Aetna on all their plans for 2014. I expect insurers in your area will do the same as they get your name from EH.

    EH tells me that insurer detail of their plans will be available on the EH website October 1st.

    Aetna's premiums for 2014 for my area (north NJ) are (examples).

    Age, Medigap Plan: premium:

    65, Plan F, male: $176.82; female: $164.50
    65, Plan G, male: $159.77; female: $148.82
    65, Plan N, male: $126.06; female: $117.59

    66, Plan F, male: $185.10; female: $172.20
    66, Plan G, male: $167.44; female: $155.97
    66, Plan N, male: $132.26; female: $123.37

    70, Plan F, male: $218.10; female: $202.89
    70, Plan G, male: $198.01; female: $184.46
    70, Plan N, male: $156.97; female: $146.41

    89, Plan F, male: $397.78; female: $370.02
    89, Plan G, male: $380.51; female: $354.47
    89, Plan N, male: $316.44; female: $295.18

  • Yahoo! IBM Employee Issues message board: "Poughkeepsie site starting to look like Endicott, Kingston?" by "trexibmer". Full excerpt: The first page of the Sunday, 9/8/2013 Poughkeepsie Journal shows the empty, except for grass growing inside and on it, parking lot of Bldg. 415. This lot can be seen from the west end of DC Route 48 IBM Rd. Sure looks like an eyesore!

    In some communities this could be considered property abandonment and sometimes fines are imposed on the owner or landlord.

    So IBM can't offer weed killer or a thin topcoat asphalt (even tar and stone) to make this empty lot look maintained?

    Cost controls and cost cutting is one thing but not properly maintaining your property is just not a right thing. Do the right thing IBM and maintain the look of your property! The IBM Site Executive should be admonished, if not ashamed. Imagine if one of IBM's customers or potential customers seen this parking lot.

    It poses a thought that IBM Poughkeepsie is slowly, but surely, starting to look like Endicott and God forbid the former IBM Kingston site.

    As a former IBMer I am ashamed at seeing this.

  • Yahoo! IBM Employee Issues message board: "RE: Retiree Health Plan change, will the FHA change next?" by "fstephens". Full excerpt: The current letter and video to the Medicare-eligible retirees says that the other retirees will be getting a separate letter later this year stating what is happening to us. The Exchanges are "supposed" to be modified for 2014 to be geared to handle us, early retirees (i.e. ones not Medicare eligible). IBM is blocking the release of most info until October 1. Aetna and others have sites up and active, but you need the access code that IBM "should" give you to gain access to it.

    It looks like all retirees will be put to exchanges by 2015 and most likely for 2014, if the government does not delay the modification of rules for the exchanges.

  • IBM Medicare Blog: IBM Extend Health Questions and Answers. Excerpts: I finally reached an excellent Extend Health agent who seemed to know a lot. Here are the questions and answers he gave me. I cannot say for sure that he was correct so you should ask again when you talk to Extend Health. (Editor's note: The questions the blogger asked are shown here. Please see the original article for the answers.
    1. Are all the Extend Health plans traditional CMS Medicare plans that are currently in the marketplace? Will there be any unique offerings like the IBM secondary medical plan that only kicks in after $4000+ deductible? That was not a CMS approved plan.
    2. There are no CMS approved plans for dental or vision insurance as separate plans. Will these still be offered as separate insurance plans or is the only way to get this coverage through a Medicare Advantage plan?
    3. If the offerings are all traditional CMS plans are Medigap plans then subject to the same state rules as CMS Medigap plans? Like not being able to switch Medigap plan types once you make a selection unless that plan type goes away. Will Medigap plans be subject to state rules such as age rated premiums, zip code rated premiums or delayed coverage for preexisting conditions? Does Extend Health negotiate private plan premiums so they are lower than what is available to the general market place?
    4. Does Medigap ‘guaranteed right’ apply even if someone only used the IBM’s prescription drug plan and had no secondary insurance or used a Medicare Advantage plan in 2013? If someone buys a Medicare Advantage plan in 2014 do they lose their ‘guaranteed right’ to buy a Medigap plan in 2015?
    5. Will there be any non-CMS structured offerings like IBM’s prescription drug offering that had no donut hole and capped at $3500 of pay out – e.g., it was a CMS qualified plan because it was creditable coverage but not at all structured like a CMS part D plan. If there are any such plans will they still be subject to the higher premium rule for higher income individuals?
    6. Your brochure (page 6) implies you will only be offering Medicare Advantage plans that include prescription drug insurance. Is that true?
    7. Both my spouse and I are IBM retirees. Do we have to enroll separately versus as husband and wife to get our subsidies?
    8. If I don’t buy insurance through Extend Health in 2014 am I precluded from buying through the exchange in future years?
    9. My spouse receives a Medicare part B premium subsidy and gets reimbursed through SHAP reimbursement. Your brochure implies (page 9) that the process will be the same and it is not part of the HRA process and subsidized coverage. Is that correct?
    10. You say your current insurance pool covers about 500K users for the companies you serviced before IBM contracted with you. What is the current typical wait time for them to get answers to their questions? When IBM retirees join the pool how big will the pool become and what is your anticipated typical wait time to accommodate that big an influx of people?
    11. You say your current insurance pool covers about 500K users for the companies you serviced before IBM contracted with you. What is the current typical wait time for them to get answers to their questions? When IBM retirees join the pool how big will the pool become and what is your anticipated typical wait time to accommodate that big an influx of people?
    12. How are advisors compensated? Do they get a commission when the retiree decides to use an Extend Health offering and – if so – is it based on the premium of the offering?
    13. Can you put claims in for medical expenses against the HRA that are not covered by the insurance plans you have through Extend Health? Like dental expenses or dental insurance premiums?
    14. Will Extend Health allow us to enroll in any Medigap, Medicare advantage and drug insurance plans available in our zip code? If not, why not?
    15. Can you change your mind after an enrollment call and call again to switch to a different plan and do it through 12/31/13?
    16. What happens to unspent HRA subsidy money? Who gets to keep it?
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "EH getting set up" by "netmouser". Full excerpt: Like others, I found some people who answer the EH phone today seem to be reading a script and my questions were not answered that well.

    Some insight. You can always ask for a senior person (who are really busy training, but at least the person answering the phone can ask someone).

    What is going on now is a lot of training of new people to handle the huge addition of IBM retirees. They have customer service people mostly answer the phones and they do not have yet any real knowledge of the fine points of IBM documents. They speak well to EH, but the part on IBM gets a bit fuzzy sometimes.

    You will speak with the actual certified advisers when you have your appointment.

    My EH senior person tells me that IBM has 14 different campaigns/programs for IBM Medicare retirees and it sounds complex and a lot to learn for the senior people, who are just getting the IBM info, and they have to train all the new staff. A huge undertaking. The campaigns/programs vary based on what your current IBM plan is, it seems, like you had medical but not Rx, subsidy or FHA or nothing, these sort of differences.

    They have such a big job to do and the individuals have my empathy. And I seem to get to where I'm going without too much side-tracking. I remember when I began a new contract on an IBM account and scrambled to hit the ground running and learn new technologies over the weekend.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "Re: There goes another one...GE"by "hankharty". Full excerpt: trexibmer wrote: "Towers Watson (nee Watson Wyatt) tried to force feed you the the cash balance plan in 1999. There was uproar then, but not enough unified action by all to force IBM to backpedal and stop the change for EVERYONE."

    Once again, it appears IBM is screwing retirees and future retirees with the advice and help of Towers Watson Wyatt. Make no mistake, IBM is doing this to save money, as Dr. Rhee revealed when he claimed retiree health care costs will triple in the next few years.

    I have gleaned a few advantages of the EH conversion for Medicare retirees. The biggest one is that the company yearly subsidy is more transparent, which I believe will make it less likely that it will be taken away in the future. Make no mistake however, the company can discontinue the subsidy at any time they wish for any reason they wish, or no reason at all. There are no legal protections.

    I see a big trick with this new plan that will cost retirees beau-coup dollars in the future. This is similar to the trick Towers Watson Wyatt pulled with the cash balance plan where they claim employees wouldn't know they had been screwed until they retired and then found out how small of a pension they would actually receive.

    The EH conversion impacts are even more disguised. Fortunately, IBMers are smart enough to catch on to their tricks. The fact is, Medicare retirees will either get older or they will die. That is an undeniable fact of life (and death).

    The previous IBM health plan premiums were not age based, that is, everyone paid the same premium for the same coverage regardless of age.

    This does not appear to be the case with EH plans. As you get older, you will pay more for the same plan, and every retiree on the EH plans will get older.

    When retirees compare the cost of the EH plans to the cost of their current plan, they may find that the costs are not significantly higher, and may even be slightly lower. The exception may be older retirees. This may be why Dr Rhee claims many retirees will see equal or better value in EH plans. But in a few years, when these same retirees are a few years older, then reality will hit, with premiums going up as the retiree gets older. Beware of doctors from IBM bearing gifts.

    As usual, your mileage may vary.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "Re: There goes another one...GE" by "netmouser". Full excerpt: I agree the exchange will have a neutral effect on young retirees. I pay full premium as a no-access person, and I find the cost of my IBM plan premium is a more than Medigap Plan F from a few insurers. So I save money. And we do face increasing costs as we age, but that would be true whether IBM kept their plans and passed costs on to us (remember, any subsidy is a fixed amount), or we use the exchange plans where costs rise with age.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "Re: There goes another one...GE" by "chz_whiz". Full excerpt: Who gets impacted depends on how IBM allocates the HRA funding. Remember the $3000/$3500 is "on average." Presumably, older retirees are more costly than younger ones, so IBM today is contributing more to older retirees since premiums are not age-based. They can have a lot of slicing and dicing, and still keep "The aggregate amount of IBM's contribution to benefits consistent with previous years," as they've stated they will.

    Dr. Rhee says (and gestures) that he expects IBM's current plan options to nearly triple in cost by 2020. Actually, I'd be delighted if my Aetna Integration A went from $6/mo now to $18/mo in 2020. I think what he's talking about is that with very few young retirees entering IBM's insured retiree pool any more, the age (& cost) of the group will rise tremendously until all of us retirees and surviving (used) spouses have gone on to their reward. The individual policies thru the exchanges, (rather than thru IBM group coverage) should continue to add "young" baby boomer medicarers which will keep the insureds' age and presumably cost, and presumably premiums, lower. We'll see.

    Speaking of age based, could IBM determine the HRA contribution by age, or would that be age based discrimination? They obviously can decide benefits by retirement date, but what about age?

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "Still waiting for EH packet?--take action" by Tim Johnson. Full excerpt: I still haven't received my packet from Extend Health. I figured I'd try to register at the https://www.extendhealth.com/ibm site. My attempt failed with the explanation that IBM hadn't provided EH with information that I'm eligible for this program.

    I called the IBM ESC, and was told I am eligible, but perhaps the information hadn't been delivered to EH yet. I was told to wait until the end of next week, and if I still hadn't received my packet, to call EH and request one.

    I decided to call EH today and see what they knew. I related to the representative my lack of packet, and failed attempt to register on-line. I remarked that the IBM ESC said I was eligible. The EH rep. couldn't find my info, but created an account for me, and one for my wife. He then asked the pre-appointment questions, and set up the appointment for the interview in October. He even found a time slot for Oct. 16.

    So, if you are still waiting for your packet, I would recommend making a call to the IBM ESC to verify your eligibility, then call EH at 855-359-7380, and talk to them to get the ball rolling.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "Re: Still waiting for EH packet?--take action" by "Joseph". Full excerpt: I know a fellow-retiree, living in Santa Cruz CA, who has not yet received the package from either EH or IBM. He did not find out about the EH info meeting in San Jose until after it was all over.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "Costs to nearly triple. Why?" by "Kathi Cooper." Full excerpt: Dr. Rhee says that he expects IBM's current plan options to nearly triple in cost by 2020.


    Seriously, why?

    Is it IBM's cost? Is it Health Care Insurance Company's cost? Is it pharmaceutical's cost? Is it employee's cost, Is it retiree's cost? Is it pre-retiree's cost?


  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "RE: Costs to nearly triple. Why?" by "alwaysontheroad4bigblue". Full excerpt: I don't get it either, unless he is referring specifically to retirees on the old (pre-FHA) plan. FHA retirees are a known entity...we have a fixed amount in our account and IBM will never make another contribution.

    The only thing I can think of is that he's talking about the post-Medicare population of pre-FHA retirees. That population is becoming older and older, as we know, and there are *no* younger retirees being added to that pool. Even then, not to be too morbid, but the number of retirees in that pool is decreasing. But, on a per-retiree basis, the costs are likely increasing rapidly.

    I think "ibmexe" nailed it in this post: http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/ibmpension/conversations/messages/77342.

    And, I think Dr. Rhee is using selective facts to justify his "triple the cost" argument.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "Extend Health meetings" by "An American". Full excerpt: Hi, I just received in the mail an invitation to the seminar in Poughkeepsie on either Sept 25 or 26 for Extend Health. There are others planned for Binghamton, NY, Rochester MN and Burlington VT.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "How does Extend Health Work? - A LTD employee" by "house2021". Full excerpt: I've read the package from IBM Extend Health and registered on their web site and looked around and read the threads on this forum and I'm confused and worried about this. I am on LTD and on Medicare (Disability) for over 10 years. The package from IBM says I should do everything as if I'm retired. But my situation is not the same as a retired IBMer in many ways. For example, I do not get a pension, I get a check from MetLife (acting as the agent for IBM).

    I'm a second choicer so I have a FHA. My wife is 60, not eligible for Medicare I know that IBM currently helps to pay for my health insurance from United Healthcare for both my wife and I. I have not had to use my FHA virtual money account.

    In 2014 will IBM contribute to help pay for the insurance I select with Extend Health? Will IBM contribute to help pay for the insurance for my wife that she selects from the non-EH enrollment (that I assume will be similar to the way it's worked from several years)? Will I have one of those new HRAs; will I use my FHA money?

    I appreciate any insight on this. As a LTD person I have large and recurring medical expenses and have enough trouble dealing with the existing maze of insurance bureaucracy.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "Notes from Extend Health site meeting" by "chz_whiz". Full excerpt: Some notes about statements made by the speaker from the site meeting with Extend Health with additional comments [in brackets]. I encourage y’all to post additional gleanings and also if there is anything notable within the hour-long phone announcement. Don, I know such statements are not “worth the paper there not printed on,” but may identify areas to further question or explore. These are all new quagmires we’re all trying to navigate.

    You are eligible for HRA funding if IBM is contributing to your coverage now. [Which means traditional contribution or FHA.] Several questions of “How do I know if IBM is contributing?” [Well, “Duh?”] [Answer was] Ask ESC.

    2014 Plan details cannot be legally disclosed until 10/1/2013. Eligible plans will be posted on EH website at that time.

    EH speaker didn’t know how the HRA amount was calculated but said it will be based on what you’re paying now [!!!???] and a very complicated formula including your expected cost. EH doesn’t currently know your HRA funding, but the advisor will know at your enrollment appointment. You will be notified with a letter [letter???!!!] in early October with the individual amount.

    Direct payment [meaning the doctor bills Medicare; Medicare pays allowable and bills supplement for the balance] continues.

    SHAP eligibility continues.

    You will need to pay first month’s premium on enrollment [plus your 3 months of Medicare Part B premium]. You will also need to pay in 1/2014 for your 12/2013 IBM coverage [paid in arrears]. Automatic payment of premiums from the HRA can take a few months to set up.

    Spouse can use HRA if now covered.

    Dental and/or Vision can be added at any time; does not have to be within enrollment period. May be 6-month waiting period if you alternate year’s coverage [as a lot of folks do now].

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "Re: My observations after attending ExendHealth presentation" by Bob Sutton. Excerpts:
    1. The decision between Medigap F or HD F is determined by developing a total yearly out of pocket cost using monthly premiums and then adding both max and min deductions if HD; HRA is plan agnostic and reduces out of pocket no matter what plan. Examine the medical cost history or each spouse for several years. The current HD deduction is $2110 or $10550 of gross Medicare billing at 20%.

      If the spouse has a history of exceeding that upper limit or near it then go with the Full F plan especially if the cause is chronic in nature not one time events like accidents; conversely go with the HD. Even at the most probable mid point you are still saving significant money using the HD. Although it is possible to be exposed to the max deductible for both spouses in the same month the real world of Medicare billing makes this impossible and you will see bills over a bell shaped curve of several month. Try various age settings in the EH site to determine if the plan is the preferable community based price which is not age based and verify with your adviser.

    2. Pick the Medigap company that is going to replace your long term partner of IBM by using their customer service now and ask about their Medigap programs as determined on the EH site. In my state of Ct I have two choices for Medigap according to the EH 2013 plans, Human and Anthem. Anthem clearly has the better customer service. Ask the adviser if the state has a guarantee law with means you can upgrade to a higher plan with no underwriting event.
    3. Buy plans for both spouses if applicable from the same company and get a usual 5% discount.
    4. Ask about dental or vision riders for their Medigap program; its always cheaper than a stand alone plan.
    5. Ask about gym membership privileges like Silver sneakers; you can save a $500-600 YMCA membership. Don't forget about the $250 IBM exercise discount or the $900 SHAP Part B from Netbenefits site that IBM is continuing.
    6. EH dental plans have $1000-1200 yearly caps while IBM dental Plus is $2000/person. EH plans have a first year delay in coverage for certain procedures to encourage retention of same plan.
    7. Always get a Plan D to get the catastrophic coverage after the doughnut hole (currently just short of $7k) even if it's the cheapest and consider combining it with legitimate Canadian drugs that beat the Plan D prices by significant amounts. The latest generically modified drugs are extreme in cost and if your back is against the medical wall so you will likely try anything; catastrophic coverage is what insurance is all about.
    8. Buy at least one plan from EH to insure access to the IBM HRA for both spouses and then search external sites for possible better plans.
    9. If you have considered discretionary procedures in the past for medical or dental and have IBM integration A or Dental Plus do them this year; you will not get them cheaper with less hassle later unless you become a Medical tourist and go out of the country.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension and Retirement Issues message board: "Re: My observations after attending ExendHealth presentation" by "netmouser." Full excerpt: AARP plans are also available at EH, but are not visible due to the advertising agreement AARP has with their insurer UHC. An EH adviser can tell you about AARP plans and you can select them.

    For those who want a good basic health club, Plant Fitness is great with excellent equipment (view lots of TV choices) and free personal trainers. Only $10 a month, no contract. Very comfortable for and lots of seniors and women among the muscle men.

    About access to one EH plan to keep the HRA, it must be medical. Not sure if that is self or spouse.

  • Alliance@IBM Job Cut Reports comments:
    • Comment 09/05/13: The IBM help desk is reporting a major issue that has increased call volume above capacity. How is that furlough working out? -Anonymous-
    • Comment 09/05/13: IBM Burlington posting jobs for engineers with graduation dates 2010 or later. Nice. I'm sure they let a seasoned vet go only to replace with a lower salary. -fool_me_once-
    • Comment 09/06/13: Posting jobs for engineers with graduation dates 2010 or later. Truth or consequences; fact or fiction? Answer me this: Does IBM (RE)TRAIN anyone anymore they employ? IBM Employee Education and Management Education (at the MDC) continuing career education used to be a cornerstone of the philosophy of IBM. Now it is RA the experience and hire the neophyte. IBM's motto used to be THINK. Now it is REACT or $AVE? -Pravda?-
    • Comment 09/06/13: I was RA'd 7/12, but am in the process of getting an offer (from a slightly different division); does anyone have experience with bridging one's service upon returning to IBM -Recent-
    • Comment 09/06/13: "I was RA'd 7/12, but am in the process of getting an offer (from a slightly different division); does anyone have experience with bridging one's service upon returning to IBM -Recent-" Until you have signed the paperwork and management has given you the separation check, your employment is intact. I was RAed twice, and both times managed to obtain a new job in different divisions. My service was continuous and was not effected as far as time, or benefits. Good luck. -Ich Bin Muede-
    • Comment 09/06/13: Dear -Recent-: Please explain why you think re-entering the lions' den will save you from being a meal for the next hit? Another division; how did you remove yourself from the blacklist? Is it really worth the medical issues that will come from another stab in the back? -WhyThere-
    • Comment 09/06/13: Since my loyalty to IBM is gone, so is my work ethic. I do not turn my computer on until 8:30 am which means I cannot participate in Think Fridays which start at 8 am. Ginni, you need to schedule Think Fridays to accommodate those of us who will not work any extra hours for IBM since the resultant rewards only go to a select few. -Anonymous-
    • Comment 09/06/13: The first "Think Friday" presentation is this morning, the subject is Cloud computing. Guess what, the web site for the presentation is not responding! -Anon-
    • Comment 09/06/13: Re: Web site non response during Ginni's 'Cloud Computing' "Think Friday" this AM. Jeff Bezos should be LHAO (laughing his ass off) holding it up to the CIA during the contract battle. "See, IBM can't even deliver services to its own employees!" -Anonymous-
    • Comment 09/07/13: RA'd in June in Poughkeepsie, NY. My last day is this Tuesday. Good luck to everyone left behind. How ironic that the contractor I hired back in November of this year to 'help me' with all the work gets to stay, but I am the one to go. Now the contractor is complaining that there is too much for her to do alone and she is going to talk to the manager about it. LOL. She better be careful or they will get an off-shore resource to 'help her' with the work and she will be gone. -dun-4-
    • Comment 09/07/13: I recently left IBM voluntarily after being there for 25+ years. I didn't get a package (surprising to many); I just wanted to move on to an environment that wasn't so toxic. While at IBM, I saw my benefits eroded to nearly nothing, averaged less than 1% pay increases for the last 10 years, and basically felt that my job existed at the will of some lottery in the sky. So I started at the beginning of this year getting ready and looking for something that I would love doing. It was scary leaving, but I figured I had nothing to lose. Sure, a package would have been nice, but it took me 6 months to find a job, so I didn't see it as a real loss. I and now with a company that values its employees, and provides benefits like IBM did 20 years ago...and oh yeah, more pay to boot. Stop waiting for your number to come up in an RA and move on to a company that values you! -RecentlyDeparted-
  • Glassdoor IBM reviews. Selected reviews follow:
    • Great place to work” IT Special; List (Current Employee), Atlanta, GA. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Good training, and excellent growth opportunities. Excellent medical, vision, dental benefits as well as short and long term disabilities insurance. Great for newly grads or for seasoned professionals. Cons: With the outsourcing of a great deal of the positions certain departments like customer services, technical support, employees services and others have suffer in the quality of services. It is frustrating to call and hardly understand the person that is trying to help you. Advice to Senior Management: Bring back to the US as many positions as you can. Particularly those related to services in the US. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend.
    • Very Hard to transfer, Lousy Raises” Software Developer (Current Employee), Research Triangle Park, NC. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Secure, at least it used to be. Cons: Underpaid after working there long enough. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Why IBM Is Never On a 'Top Company to Work For' List” Senior Hardware and Software Support (Current Employee), Atlanta, GA. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Fairly decent salaries and benefits, but on a downward spiral. It's OK if you're young and don't plan on staying more than a few years. There is no longer any IBM-to-employee loyalty, no "golden handcuffs". Don't expect a career there. Get hired, get some training and experience, build your resume and 401k, then move on. 4 to 5 years tops.

      Cons: Management concentrates on keeping stock prices and dividends stable, instead of employee well being. There is no long term vision for IBM, no 10 years, 20 years, 50 years. Management can barely see beyond the next quarter. The company chisels away at salaries and benefits each year. They demote entire classes of employees, take away shift premiums and overtime, reduce headcount, yet expect continued high levels of productivity. Morale is in the toilet, yet management fails to acknowledge the problem. Employee buying power is eroded due to IBM's no raise policy and inflation. Even 1 performers may go without an increase for years and years.

      Advice to Senior Management: Happy people work better. Pick the people right, treat them right, keep out of their way and let them do their jobs. Don't burden them with rules, processes, policies. You, the manager, should prevent upper management, from destroying productivity in their pursuit of stock option profits. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.

    • This year's extra effort is next year's baseline performance.” Systems Administrator (Former Employee), San Francisco, CA. I worked at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Excellent salary and benefits. Good employee perks. Up-to-date technology, if you can get to it.

      Cons: Work/life balance: 90% work, 10% life. If you do an extraordinary job this year, that will be your expected performance next year. You are never good enough. The US work force gets smaller every year, and the workload increases every year. There's a lot of emphasis on getting training, but never time to get away from your work long enough to actually get it. Which counts as a failure, come annual review.

      Advice to Senior Management: You cannot increase the workload and shrink the workforce indefinitely. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend. I'm optimistic about the outlook for this company.

    • Politics and propaganda, not hard work will get you to places” Staff Software Engineer (Current Employee), São Paulo, São Paulo (Brazil). I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 5 years. Pros: Home office, flexible work hours, access to lots of information and products. If you are efficient with your work/time you can learn new stuff. Computers tend to not have the performance you need to perform the job, refreshes every 3-5 years.

      Cons: IBM will not prepare you for the job; it does not want you to move fast. It is a sales corporation, more than IT. You do not get points for doing technical work; you get points for brown nosing and letting everybody know you are the "something" guy (even when you don't know it). Management is bad, catastrophic bad with very few exceptions.

      Advice to Senior Management: Tell the truth to employees on where they can get in a time frame, do not build false hopes. People will leave eventually, just make sure they know what they will be given and they may not leave angry. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend

    • Long fruitful and satisfying career” Executive IT Architect (Current Employee), Charlotte, NC. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Interesting technical work on some of the most complex IT projects. Cons: Company is run by marketing and sales which can be frustrating to technical professionals. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend.
    • TERRIBLE place to work as a contractor” Immigration Case Manager (Former Employee), Durham, NC. I worked at IBM as a contractor for more than a year. Pros: None? Leaving at 4:30 was nice, although this means that you have to eat lunch at your desk. In slow periods there is some downtime.

      Cons: Worked as an immigration case manager, contractor position through Manpower. It was absolutely awful. People are unprofessional, employees are treated like 5th graders.

      Morale is incredibly low. We would routinely get the most asinine emails about things like packing up our things before exactly 4:30pm. At one point they asked us to clock out for bathroom breaks, but people revolted.

      Managers are busybodies that walk around the cubes trying to make chit chat/look over your shoulder while you attempt to get work done. Work from home was promised during hiring, and then delayed indefinitely once you start (although contractors who already had a work from home day were allowed to continue working from home).

      Manpower management has NO CLUE what the actual job entails and yet tries to give input as to policy. Manpower HR is unresponsive to complaints about issues in the workplace. It was crappy to begin with, but things have really gone downhill lately. Everyone I knew working there was looking for a new job.

      Advice to Senior Management: Start treating people like adults. Use positive reinforcement to motivate workers and recognize those who are performing well rather than micromanaging via email and pointless meetings. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.

    • IBM is not the company to work for that it used to be.” Advisory Software Engineer (Current Employee), Research Triangle Park, NC. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: IBM is large enough that employees can find a wide variety of challenges without switching companies as long as they are lucky enough to keep their jobs through IBM's downsizing. Cons: IBM seems to focus more on the bottom line and less on technical innovation and leadership. The workforce is shrinking as IBM slashes domestic resources while the workload continues to grow. Advice to Senior Management: Get back to the basics of technical innovation and leadership instead of focusing on the bottom line. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • The cogs turn, but very slowly.” Senior Consultant (Former Employee). London, England (UK). I worked at IBM full-time for more than 5 years. Pros: IBM is big enough to weather the storms in the economy and also a good place to work. There are many enthusiastic employees who thrive on challenges and there is a good sense of team within the organisation. There appears to be a wealth of job opportunities within IBM, but it is often difficult to move across teams if your skills are in demand. Cons: Policy, policy, policy and too many of them which handcuffs the lower management into being messengers rather than managers. During my time at IBM I saw different CEOs brought in to do specific tasks, such as close the final salary pension, reduce employee benefits, cut the majority of travel expenses, and seek a share price high over everything else. Some of this is good for the company, and mostly to the detriment of the employee. Advice to Senior Management: Keeping the accounts balancing is important, but keeping the employee morale is also key. Don't lose sight of this. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend.
    • Nice corporate name, shame about the bureaucracy” Software Engineer (Former Employee). I worked at IBM full-time for more than 3 years. Pros: Great pension. Extra holidays can be gathered/bought (or, indeed, sold). Some of the 'You' benefits such as cars compared nicely to civil service. The IBM name still has an eyebrow raising cachet. Cons: Salary wasn't great. Had to train clueless 'colleagues' who were brought in on a greater salary than I. You need to play corporate email games to justify your yearly review score. Too many layers of bureaucracy to getting anything actually done. Some days wasted just stuck in meetings instead of getting actual work done. Corporate indoctrination. Lotus Notes is still the corporate email client. Advice to Senior Management: Value your software engineers! While they don't bring in immediate cash flow like your sales people do, nor have the corporate rank of your management, they're the feet on the ground making the products you sell! No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Not the same company anymore” Business Operations Manager (Former Employee), East Fishkill, NY. I worked at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: The people and the innovative culture of behind the products. Cons: Work-life balance has gotten out of balance and is more like work-work balance. Advice to Senior Management: Past executive decisions and poor leadership are the cause of low performance and margins in hardware units, but after the recent lay-offs, it's interesting to see that the executives are still employed. Time and again executive decisions have chosen to diminish, weaken, or sell off competitive advantage in the market place. The knee-jerk reaction to layoff so quickly in 2Q13 without an option to fill the many openings in growth areas of the company makes the corporate mantra of "respect for the individual" sound very hollow. At least when the PC division was sold to Lenovo, people still had their jobs and hope the next day. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Not the company it used to be.” IT Architect (Former Employee), Phoenix, AZ. I worked at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Work from home. First-line management was great. Coworkers were great. Pay was great. Cons: Too many layers of management. Zero loyalty to employees; no one is safe from layoffs (resource actions)—many, many quality and highly-skilled employees were RA'd. Company is slowly removing good benefits one at a time. Pay increases nearly non-existent. IBM has become a software sales company; service and delivery is out the window. Advice to Senior Management: Value your employees. Retain your skilled employees. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Good for young students...” Systems Administrator (Former Employee), Brno (Czech Republic). I worked at IBM full-time for more than a year. Pros: - A good place to start your IT career. - And, a good place to get IT Education (at least it was during my time there 2011-2013). - Learn the hard way doing repetitive tasks. - Learn how enterprise-level work is done and learn to communicate with various teams. Cons: - Worst management I've ever had. - People managers are anything else but people manager, more like budget managers. - Family and relatives come first principle, and most of the promotions are based on that. - Chaotic behavior coming from unskilled people, not know what to do. Advice to Senior Management: Have some or rather more than some, people management education. And people skills lessons. Stop promoting people from first-level IT technicians to management levels just because they are old enough in IBM. It does more damage than you think. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Far too many managers and forecast reports” Rational Sales (Former Employee), Boulder, CO. I worked at IBM full-time for more than 3 years. Pros: Good benefits; nice name to have on your resume. If you're young and have a MBA there are some good opportunities for you. Cons: A lot of dead weight and company is very slow to respond to change. Be prepared to spend too much time on calls with upper management tweaking your forecast and making your pipeline align to theirs. Advice to Senior Management: You're losing young talent because it's not a fun work environment and there are very few opportunities to move up. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Not what it used to be” Anonymous Employee (Former Employee). I worked at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Great knowledgeable peoples to work with. Flexible hours and workplace. Cons: Insane amount of overhead. Bad services given to paying clients. Workers forced to work overtime without being fairly paid. Forced 'furloughs' making difficult to meet deadlines. Advice to Senior Management: Get out of your big offices and go see the people at the bottom who are getting the bread and butter for you; they have insight knowledge on the business that so called 'experts' cannot have. Don't just go there to talk to them; you need to also listen. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Excessively process driven, but without resources or systems to support.” Anonymous Employee (Current Employee). Pros: Genuinely inclusive regardless of race, gender, religion or age. Cons: Micromanagement; and they view the value of IBM lies in the company, rather than its employees. They feel they do not have to try too hard to look after its people. They seem to think it is a privilege to work for them, and you have to put up or shut up. They do not countenance even constructive criticism. Management is always right. There is a culture of everyone having to tell their boss what they want to hear. Advice to Senior Management: Empower your people and trust in them, and you will be amazed how they will respond positively and exceed expectations. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend.
    • Company has no respect/regard for employees” Anonymous Employee (Former Employee) Pros: None none none none none. Cons: Multiple work furloughs...just to save a few bucks at budget review times. Advice to Senior Management: Employees should be considered your greatest asset for keeping and pleasing customers...don't layoff staff to improve stock value or increase CEO bonus.
    • Different roles at IBM for over 13 years” Anonymous Employee (Former Employee), Armonk, NY. I worked at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Was great early in my career; had excellent benefits, excellent talent...etc. Cons: * Gets worse every year for the non-executive workers. * Benefits have been getting worse to the point where smaller companies have better benefits now. * Most workers are either, young in their 20's (first job) or have been in the company over 30 years (there for old retirement plans). Everyone in between has left the company. * Bonuses (profit sharing) is a joke even for highest performers (not even 5%). Promotions are even a bigger joke (4-5%). If you're not a top performer, you can go 3-4 years or more without a raise, even though your responsibilities keep increasing due to "resource actions" aka layoffs. Advice to Senior Management: I understand you're in the business of making money, because it's your fiduciary duty to your shareholders, but you can't and aren't a world leader anymore when you keep losing top talent, because you're not flexible enough to reward them correctly. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend.
  • Glassdoor IBM Canada reviews
  • Alliance for Retired Americans Friday Alert. This week's headlines:
    • U.S. Income Inequality Reaches Highest Level Since 1928
    • Affordable Care Act Will be a Boon for Early Retirees
    • Alliance Members Share Their Personal Medicare Stories
    • Far-Right House Republicans Continue to Threaten Government Shutdown
    • AFL-CIO Delegates Elect Richard Trumka, Liz Shuler, and Tefere Gebre
    • Colorado Alliance Holds its Tenth Constitutional Convention
  • Washington Examiner: Companies lay off thousands, then demand immigration reform for new labor. By Byron York. Excerpts: On Tuesday, the chief human resources officers of more than 100 large corporations sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urging quick passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill. The officials represent companies with a vast array of business interests: General Electric, The Walt Disney Company, Marriott International, Hilton Worldwide, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, McDonald's Corporation, The Wendy's Company, Coca-Cola, The Cheesecake Factory, Johnson & Johnson, Verizon Communications, Hewlett-Packard, General Mills, and many more. All want to see increases in immigration levels for low-skill as well as high-skill workers, in addition to a path to citizenship for the millions of immigrants currently in the U.S. illegally.

    A new immigration law, the corporate officers say, "would be a long overdue step toward aligning our nation's immigration policies with its workforce needs at all skill levels to ensure U.S. global competitiveness." The officials cite a publication of their trade group, the HR Policy Association, which calls for immigration reform to "address the reality that there is a global war for talent." The way for the United States to win that war for talent, they say, is more immigration.

    Of course, the U.S. unemployment rate is at 7.3 percent, with millions of American workers at all skill levels out of work, and millions more so discouraged that they have left the work force altogether. In addition, at the same time the corporate officers seek higher numbers of immigrants, both low-skill and high-skill, many of their companies are laying off thousands of workers.

    For example, Hewlett-Packard, whose Executive Vice President for Human Resources Tracy Keogh signed the letter, laid off 29,000 employees in 2012. In August of this year, Cisco Systems, whose Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Kathleen Weslock signed the letter, announced plans to lay off 4,000 — in addition to 8,000 cut in the last two years. United Technologies, whose Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Organization Elizabeth B. Amato signed the letter, announced layoffs of 3,000 this year. American Express, whose Chief Human Resources Officer L. Kevin Cox signed the letter, cut 5,400 jobs this year. Procter & Gamble, whose Chief Human Resources Officer Mark F. Biegger signed the letter, announced plans to cut 5,700 jobs in 2012. ...

    "It is difficult to understand how these companies can feel justified in demanding the importation of cheap labor with a straight face at a time when tens of millions of Americans are unemployed," writes the Center for Immigration Studies, which strongly opposes the Senate Gang of Eight bill and similar measures. "The companies claim the bill is an 'opportunity to level the playing field for U.S. employers' but it is more of an effort to level the wages of American citizens."

  • IEEE Spectrum: What Ever Happened to STEM Job Security? By Robert N. Charette. Excerpts: Figuring out how to get more students drawn into the “STEM education pipeline” has been a major concern of those arguing that there exists an acute shortage of STEM workers, be it in the U.S., the U.K., Brazil, Australia, or almost any country you choose. Typically, the arguments made to encourage students to enter the STEM pipeline center around how interesting STEM careers are and especially how much money you can earn over pursuing non-STEM careers. ...

    Another factor little talked about that I personally witnessed has been the changing social compact between STEM workers and employers over the past several decades and the impact it has had on convincing students today to pursue a STEM career. When my father, an electro-optical engineer was laid off from his company late in the recession of 1957-1958, he assumed the company would be rehiring him a few months later when the economy got better. His wasn’t an unreasonable assumption, since that was the general practice in the 1950s. When he wasn’t soon rehired, and with a new house mortgage to pay and three children under age 5 to feed, my father left his temporary job of selling Electrolux vacuums door-to-door and found another electro-optical engineering job. He stayed with that company for another 25 years when he retired with the usual gold desk pen-set, which now sits on my desk.

    When I graduated with my undergraduate computer systems engineering degree in 1977 after a stint in the military, my expectation of a generally comfortable career working for at most a handful of companies was similar to my father’s. I remember when my friends and I were looking for jobs, our discussions often centered on whether a company we were planning to interview with was one worth spending a career with. IBM, for example, had a commitment to a life time job for its employees while Digital Equipment Corporation had a no lay-off policy. Other companies were offering similar types of inducements as a reason to work for them. Even so, part of our employment equation now included the possibility of layoffs, given that between 1968 and 1970, aerospace employment (which had been up to that point was promoted as the most exciting industry to be a part of) had dropped from 1 418 000 to 1 177 000 workers as the Vietnam War wound down and the Apollo space program's end was coming into view. ...

    But mostly throughout the late 1970s and into the mid-to-late 1980s, engineers (and the ever-growing number of IT professionals) identified themselves with their company, and as a member of the upper middle class. Compensation for fully employed electrical engineers, believe it not, was higher than that of the average salaried doctor. The 1979-82 period with recession and high inflation (inflation hit 14.76 percent in 1980) was no fun, but for the most part engineers thought the company they were working for—and were loyal to—would mostly likely be the one they retired with, or if not, then surely the next one. Companies still offered decent pensions (which also helped keep job hopping, which has highly discouraged, down) as well as good educational benefits to keep you current; but you put in a lot of hours in return. ...

    Also in 1990, the H-1B visa program was started (pdf) as a way for U.S. employers to hire temporary, foreign workers in specialty occupations, mainly because of a perceived (but as it soon became apparent vastly exaggerated) engineering and IT “skills gap.” Ever since, there have been arguments over whether the program has helped (pdf) or hurt native U.S. engineers and IT professionals’ employment prospects and salaries. Regardless, a “temporary” guestworker program for hard to fill jobs has become a permanent fixture affecting STEM career discussions.

    If I were to guess, probably the watershed year for engineers and IT professionals in their realization that they had now become independent, expendable employees was in 1993. That was the year that IBM announced, in the wake of a previously unimaginable US$15 billion in losses racked up in a mere two years, that it was no longer going to honor its 70 year commitment of life time employment to its employees. IBM had 406 000 employees in 1986; it had 207 000 by 1994. Also in the late 1980s and early 1990s saw several major computer companies struggle like Control Data Corporation, Wang Laboratories and Digital Equipment Corporation (IBM's biggest competitor) which had to end its own no-layoff policy in 1990. Each fell to young, aggressive entrepreneurial software and hardware companies led by Apple, Microsoft, Oracle, Intel, Dell, Compaq among others, who radically changed the face of corporate and personal computing. ...

    Nor did I face a job market where the occasional tech layoffs turned from an accepted occupational hazard into a way of life, or where human resource managers frankly consider job skills to be nothing more than commodities that should be valued in the same manner. For STEM graduates today, especially in the IT profession, this “skill as a mere commodity” perception means they are increasingly considered technology obsolete and therefore ripe for replacement at the age of 40 or less, little matter the experience in many cases.

New on the Alliance@IBM Site

Job Cut Reports

  • Comment 09/07/13: I recently left IBM voluntarily after being there for 25+ years. I didn't get a package (surprising to many), I just wanted to move on to an environment that wasn't so toxic. While at IBM, I saw my benefits eroded to nearly nothing, averaged less than 1% pay increases for the last 10 years, and basically felt that my job existed at the will of some lottery in the sky. So I started at the beginning of this year getting ready and looking for something that I would love doing. It was scary leaving, but I figured I had nothing to lose. Sure, a package would have been nice, but it took me 6 months to find a job, so I didn't see it as a real loss. I and now with a company that values its employees, and provides benefits like IBM did 20 years ago... and oh yah, more pay to boot. Stop waiting for your number to come up in an RA and move on to a company that values you! -RecentlyDeparted-
  • Comment 09/07/13: Don't forget that you are capitalists too, and thus the measure of your success is the ratio of the amount of your profits to the amount of your work. Doing whatever it takes to maximize profits while minimizing work and results is all that matters. There's no place for guilt in any of this, because you're competing with "people" also known as "corporations", which are incapable of guilt. Guilt only puts you at a disadvantage in that competition.

    When it comes to dealing with IBM, you must be as heartless and ruthless as they, or they win, pure and simple. It is your good little capitalist duty to do the least work and provide the least results for the most returns. That's what they do. You will not survive against them unless you not only do the same, but do it better than them. Sure, it's a very sad state of affairs legitimate people, but perfectly reasonable in the context of pretending that corporations are "people". Congratulations, unbridled capitalism! -capitalist-hal-

  • Comment 09/07/13: @Think2x. Seen on a door in Yorktown "THINK - But Don't Get Any Ideas" -Anon-
  • Comment 09/08/13: Something just doesn't pass the smell test here with the announced IBM plan to move Medicare retirees to health exchange plans and the supposed reasons for it. I retired from IBM after 35 years with them and during all those years I was always told by IBM management that IBM was "self-insured" and that the only thing the insurance companies did for IBM was to manage IBM's claims and make sure the claims were valid and pay the claims out of a pool of money that IBM provided to them to pay claims. The claim money came out of IBM's deep pockets and not the insurance company.

    So now here is where the smell really takes effect, as we all know the people with the highest medical claims are the senior citizens. SO... if that is the case and IBM is really self insured as they always professed to be, then what they are doing right now is ridding themselves of the highest cost medical group to them that comes directly out of IBM's pockets and transfers those costs to real insurance companies. -Something just doesn't add up-

  • Comment 09/09/13: For the Dubuque GDF. Iowa state law demands employees who are on-call/standby be compensated. Keep in mind that the customer has already been billed the standby pay premium in their contracts with IBM. Yet the rumors are spreading around that the standby pay will soon come to a stop, hence breaking Iowa state labor laws. Standby [11 IAC 53.9(3)] http://das.hre.iowa.gov/html_documents/ms_manual/05-25.htm -gollygwill-
  • Comment 09/10/13: Heard the cuts aren't over at IBM. Watch out for BPO and the tens of thousands of employees in that division. I left IBM 6 years ago, haven't looked back, but I hear morale is at an all time low. -mike in ny-
  • Comment 09/11/13: IBM promises with respect for the individual, but couldn't care less about their retirees. Worked thirty years of service with this lousy company, promised retirement health benefits with IBM. My monthly premiums were going to be 0 dollars for retirement medical Aetna Medical Plan PPO and my dental was going to be 21.00 per month and vision 4.90. Within 2 weeks after I enrolled into my retirement health plan, IBM puts their retirees turning 65 and older into an exchange, and we will loose all our health care benefits from IBM and our premiums will increase 100 to 200 percent So much for if you like your health care you can keep it. All you employees who are still with IBM join the union so IBM does not screw you out of your health benefits, like IBM did their retirees. -ANA-
  • Send the RA pack to ibmunionalliance@gmail.com so we can validate and count the number of workers fired. Names are confidential.

How Does the Furlough Affect You & Your family

  • Comment 09/10/13: I learned a valuable lesson for during my furlough last week. The lesson was that I really could go an entire week without checking email or voicemail. This new lesson will now be applied to vacations as well. IBM gets a lesson as well about lost loyalty and dedication to the job. -Anonymous-
  • Comment 09/11/13: First line in New York actually called furloughed employee at home and demanded that the employee complete a task from home to save the department a few bucks. Employee was brow beaten into doing the job while furloughed. Ginnie has lost all control over the management team. They are doing as they please. Also told not to put the time on Totals!!!!! -Worthless CEO-
  • Comment 09/12/13: -Worthless CEO-: That furloughed employee should file a charge with NY DOL. A furlough is a furlough; Am emergency callout is an emergency callout. With a union this would definitely not happen! -sby_willie-
News and Opinion Concerning Health Savings Accounts, Medical Costs and Health Care Reform
  • New York Times: When Health Deductibles Rise, Men Delay Emergency Care. By Ann Carrns. Excerpts: Here’s a situation that may sound familiar to you: A man visits his doctor’s office with his wife, who laments how stubborn he is about seeking medical care. Frank Wharam, a doctor and researcher at Harvard Medical School, says he often hears these words, “My wife made me come.”

    That gender dynamic may provide fodder for stand-up comics, but it can have serious health implications, especially given the increasing use of high-deductible health insurance plans.

    Men, it turns out, are more likely to delay treatment for serious conditions under high-deductible plans, in contrast to women, who tend to be more selective and cut back care for minor ailments only. ...

    Such plans generally have lower monthly premiums than traditional health plans but higher out-of-pocket costs — sometimes, $4,000 or $5,000 for a family, or even higher. About a third of workers now have such plans. And that number is likely to grow, since lower-cost plans on the new health care marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act are likely to have relatively high deductibles. ...

    The study compared emergency room visits for about 12,000 people — roughly half men and half women — for a year before, and two years after, they were involuntarily switched by their employers to a high-deductible plan. For the first year after the switch, men’s use of the E.R. dropped across the board, even for severe conditions, like irregular heartbeat. Women cut back too, but mostly for less threatening symptoms, like headache or sore throats. ...

    Jim Kiefert, who runs an “Us Too” prostate cancer support group in Olympia, Wash., said men often worry that spending on their own care may lead to economic hardship for their families. “That is a reality with men,” he said, adding that with a costly illness and a high deductible, “You can deplete your savings in a very short period of time.”

  • Wall Street Journal MarketWatch: What you’ll really pay for health care. Ready or not, more patients will need to comparison-shop. By Elizabeth O'Brien. Excerpts: Imagine if your auto insurance worked the way your health insurance does. For years, you probably would have paid a fixed monthly premium plus, say, $20 every time you took your car to the body shop, regardless of whether you got an oil change or your entire engine replaced.

    Now, your plan has switched, and in addition to premium payments you’re responsible for the first few thousand dollars of bodywork each year. And here’s an extra wrinkle: The mechanic won’t tell you how much you owe until after your car has been serviced.

    That pretty much sums up the state of affairs with health insurance today for millions of people in the U.S. What people pay for health care can be all over the map depending on their health care provider, facility and plan type. A study released last week by the Center for Studying Health System Change found that hospital prices for privately insured patients vary widely even within individual communities; and the study also noted that these prices can be tough to obtain in advance. “It’s very hard to find out how much you’re on the hook for until you get the bill,” said Katy Kozhimannil, assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. ...

    Yet it’s tough for anyone to be a savvy shopper when price info is scant. The rates that insurers negotiate with health-care providers are often closely guarded as proprietary information. Competitive concerns aside, sometimes doctors and hospitals have trouble giving a hypothetical quote because they need to assess the patient’s needs first, according to Chapin White, senior health researcher at the Center for Studying Health System Change and lead author of the Center’s recent study. Other times, the billing office doesn’t know the amount negotiated with the patient’s insurer, or the patient hits a wall due to “plain bad customer service,” White wrote in an email message. ...

    Certain preventative services—for example, screening colonoscopies for people 50 through 75 on a certain schedule—are free to members of most plans under the Affordable Care Act. Note, however, that routine screenings can turn into different procedures midway through. For example, if a doctor discovers and removes a polyp during a colonoscopy, that procedure will be billed differently than a preventative screening that turned up nothing, and you might owe something out of pocket. ...

    Those with the hardest time researching prices are people considering joining a plan with a new insurer. Since they’re not yet members, they can’t call member services or use estimator tools available only to members. One website that can help is fairhealthconsumer.org, run by FAIR Health, a national, independent nonprofit corporation. It includes a medical and dental cost estimator based on extensive claims data. Consumers can get estimates by ZIP Code, for non-discount prices if they’re uninsured or for discounted rates if they’re insured. The latter estimates are only for out-of-network costs; in other words, they won’t tell you the negotiated rate for in-network care. Experts suggest carefully researching what would happen if you go out of network, since out-of-network charges can be much higher, especially under high-deductible plans.

  • Associated Press, courtesy of Yahoo! News: Haves and have-nots as health care markets open. By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar. Excerpts: Having health insurance used to hinge on where you worked and what your medical history said. Soon that won't matter, with open-access markets for subsidized coverage coming Oct. 1 under President Barack Obama's overhaul.

    But there's a new wild card, something that didn't seem so critical when Congress passed the Affordable Care Act back in 2010: where you live.

    Entrenched political divisions over "Obamacare," have driven most Republican-led states to turn their backs on the biggest expansion of the social safety net in a half century. If you're uninsured in a state that's opposed, you may not get much help picking the right private health plan for your budget and your family's needs.

    The differences will be more glaring if you're poor and your state rejected the law's Medicaid expansion. Unless leaders reverse course, odds are you'll remain uninsured. That's because people below the poverty line do not qualify for subsidies to buy coverage in the markets.

    "We are going to have a new environment where consumers may be victims of geography," said Sam Karp of the California HealthCare Foundation, a nonprofit helping states tackle practical problems of implementation. "If I'm a low-wage earner in California, I may qualify for Medicaid. With the exact same income in Texas, I may not qualify." ...

    In Texas, Republican Gov. Rick Perry has vowed not to facilitate "Obamacare." But Cecilia Fontenot of Houston is looking forward to the opening of that state's federally run insurance market.

    A part-time accountant in her early 60s, Fontenot is uninsured and trying to stay healthy while coping with diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. She walks twice a day, early in the morning before it gets hot, and in the evenings.

    Also on her mind is a breast lump detected about a year ago. Her doctor recommended a digital mammogram, but she has not been able to afford the more involved test.

    "I try not to worry and just pray on it," said Fontenot.

  • New York Times op-ed: The Wonk Gap. By Paul Krugman. Excerpts: On Saturday, Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming delivered the weekly Republican address. He ignored Syria, presumably because his party is deeply conflicted on the issue. (For the record, so am I.) Instead, he demanded repeal of the Affordable Care Act. “The health care law,” he declared, “has proven to be unpopular, unworkable and unaffordable,” and he predicted “sticker shock” in the months ahead.

    So, another week, another denunciation of Obamacare. Who cares? But Mr. Barrasso’s remarks were actually interesting, although not in the way he intended. You see, all the recent news on health costs has been good. So Mr. Barrasso is predicting sticker shock precisely when serious fears of such a shock are fading fast. Why would he do that?

    Well, one likely answer is that he hasn’t heard any of the good news. Think about it: Who would tell him?

    My guess, in other words, was that Mr. Barrasso was inadvertently illustrating the widening “wonk gap” — the G.O.P.’s near-complete lack of expertise on anything substantive. Health care is the most prominent example, but the dumbing down extends across the spectrum, from budget issues to national security to poll analysis. Remember, Mitt Romney and much of his party went into Election Day expecting victory.

    About health reform: Mr. Barrasso was wrong about everything, even the “unpopular” bit, as I’ll explain in a minute. Mainly, however, he was completely missing the story on affordability.

    For the truth is that the good news on costs just keeps coming in. There has been a striking slowdown in overall health costs since the Affordable Care Act was enacted, with many experts giving the law at least partial credit. And we now have a good idea what insurance premiums will be once the law goes fully into effect; a comprehensive survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that on average premiums will be significantly lower than those predicted by the Congressional Budget Office when the law was passed.

    But do Republican politicians know any of this? Not if they’re listening to conservative “experts,” who have been offering a steady stream of misinformation. All those claims about sticker shock, for example, come from obviously misleading comparisons. For example, supposed experts compare average insurance rates under the new system, which will cover everyone, with the rates currently paid by a handful of young, healthy people for bare-bones insurance. And they conveniently ignore the subsidies many Americans will receive. ...

    Political conservatism and serious policy analysis can coexist, and there was a time when they did. Back in the 1980s, after all, health experts at Heritage made a good-faith effort to devise a plan for universal health coverage — and what they came up with was the system now known as Obamacare.

    But that was then. Modern conservatism has become a sort of cult, very much given to conspiracy theorizing when confronted with inconvenient facts. Liberal policies were supposed to cause hyperinflation, so low measured inflation must reflect statistical fraud; the threat of climate change implies the need for public action, so global warming must be a gigantic scientific hoax. Oh, and Mitt Romney would have won if only he had been a real conservative.

    It’s all kind of funny, in a way. Unfortunately, however, this runaway cult controls the House, which gives it immense destructive power — the power, for example, to wreak havoc on the economy by refusing to raise the debt ceiling. And it’s disturbing to realize that this power rests in the hands of men who, thanks to the wonk gap, quite literally have no idea what they’re doing.

  • Washington Post: Consumers With Serious Medical Problems Need To Carefully Assess Total Plan Costs. By Michelle Andrews. Excerpts: One of the health care overhaul's most far-reaching provisions prohibits health plans from refusing to cover people who are sick or charging them higher premiums. Still, for people with serious medical conditions, the online health insurance marketplaces present new wrinkles that could have significant financial impact.

    Obviously, premium costs will be an important consideration for consumers. But just as important will be a realistic assessment of what kinds of out-of-pocket costs they could expect with different types of policies and what subsidies they will be eligible for.

    “Everybody should be factoring in cost sharing along with the premium to try to assess what their total financial exposure is,” says Jennifer Tolbert, director of state health reform at the Kaiser Family Foundadtion. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.) ...

    For people who expect to hit their spending cap, buying a pricier platinum plan may actually result in lower total spending, says Marc Boutin, executive vice president and chief operating officer at the National Health Council, a patient advocacy organization. ...

    If only one member of a family has high medical expenses, families may want to consider splitting coverage between different plans. “Many insurers are expecting that savvy families will enroll a sick family member in a platinum plan and the rest in lower level plans,” says Tolbert. ...

    In addition to how much the plan costs overall, people with serious medical conditions need to carefully review whether the drugs they take are on the plan formulary, and the specialists and facilities they visit regularly are in the plan';s network, say experts, as well as their out-of-pocket costs to go out of the network.

News and Opinion Concerning the "War on the Middle Class"
Minimize "It is a restatement of laissez-faire-let things take their natural course without government interference. If people manage to become prosperous, good. If they starve, or have no place to live, or no money to pay medical bills, they have only themselves to blame; it is not the responsibility of society. We mustn't make people dependent on government- it is bad for them, the argument goes. Better hunger than dependency, better sickness than dependency."

"But dependency on government has never been bad for the rich. The pretense of the laissez-faire people is that only the poor are dependent on government, while the rich take care of themselves. This argument manages to ignore all of modern history, which shows a consistent record of laissez-faire for the poor, but enormous government intervention for the rich." From Economic Justice: The American Class System, from the book Declarations of Independence by Howard Zinn.

  • New York Times editorial: Mindlessly Gutting Food Stamps. Excerpts: Among the many scars of the recession, the most intolerable should be the pangs of chronic hunger that still assail a stunning 14.5 percent of the nation’s households, according to the Department of Agriculture’s latest survey. A decade ago, the figure was 11 percent — a group defined as regularly suffering food “insecurity,” or having 26 percent less to spend on food than households not going hungry. The survey shows that food insecurity rose with the recession and has remained stubbornly high.

    Instead of providing aid for the hungry, House Republicans want to reduce the food stamp program — the most basic part of the social safety net — with $40 billion in cuts across the next decade. A showdown vote over this cruel plan is expected this month. The House majority leader, Eric Cantor, is leading a propaganda drive that invokes reform as its cause while blaming the victims of hunger simply because the food stamp rolls had to double to nearly 48 million people in the crunch of recession. ...

    The Cantor plan would force an estimated four to six million people to lose the food stamps that now sustain them. It would invite state governments to ratchet benefits back further because they could use savings wrenched from the pantries of the poor for various other programs, including tax cuts. The measure’s “work requirements” provide no job training funds yet mandate that able-bodied, childless adults who cannot find at least part-time employment will lose their food stamps after 90 days, even if the local unemployment rate is prohibitively high. ...

    The falsehood that cutting food stamps is about saving government money is evident when the House plans rich increases in crop insurance subsidies for farmers. Representative Stephen Fincher of Tennessee, a Tea Party favorite who wants food stamps cut, collected nearly $3.5 million in government farm subsidies from 1999 to 2012. Yet he declared in a debate over food stamps, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

    The Republicans play up a few abusers of the program to mask the central fact of their plan: the tens of millions of Americans who rely on food stamps are children, the disabled, the elderly and low-wage families. For their sake, Congress should reject the Cantor proposal as the national embarrassment it plainly is.

  • CNN/Money: SEC considers rule comparing CEO pay with workers. By Jennifer Liberto. Excerpts: Last year, Oracle CEO Lawrence Ellison made $96.1 million, Exxon Mobil's R. W. Tillerson made $40.2 million and Wal-Mart's Michael Duke made $20.7 million. Soon, the SEC might require those companies to say how those salaries compare with the folks who work for them. ...

    The rule is a result of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms of 2010. But little progress has been made, partly because the rule lacked a deadline and partly because big companies lobbied against it. ...

    Companies say it's not so easy. Nearly two dozen groups and associations -- including those representing the petroleum, retail and financial services industries -- sent a letter to the SEC in 2012 complaining about the "significant hurdles and burdens " of collecting such information. They also say it's not useful to investors. ...

    While median wages aren't known for each company or industry, the average wage for all kinds of U.S. workers was roughly $43,000, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics August data.

    That puts Oracle's Ellison's pay at 2,236 times the average worker's pay, Exxon's Tillerson at 936 times the average worker pay and Wal-Mart's Duke at 481 times the average worker pay.

  • Washington Post opinion: Capitalists wait for the recovery, while labor loses out. By Robert J. Samuelson. Excerpts: In the struggle between capital and labor, capital is winning — and that’s hurting the feeble economic recovery. To simplify slightly: Labor (wage-earners and consumers) can’t spend, and capital (businesses and shareholders) won’t spend. Without a powerful growth engine, the economy advances haltingly. I wrote about this last week from labor’s perspective, but the subject deserves deeper treatment.

    One way to chart the fortunes of capital and labor is to show how much of the nation’s income goes to each. Labor’s share is straightforward. It covers workers’ wages, salaries and fringe benefits. Capital is more complicated. It includes corporate profits, the income of small businesses and professional partnerships, rents from real estate and net interest on bank deposits, bonds and loans.

    Since World War II, labor’s and capital’s shares of income have fluctuated within a narrow band, reports the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA). Prosperity boosted both groups by roughly equal proportions. In 1947, labor’s share of nonfarm business income was 65 percent; in 2000, it was 63 percent. Everyone benefits when labor and capital work in tandem, not in opposition. But as I reported last week, labor’s share has plunged in the past decade. In 2013, it’s 57 percent. This shifts about $750 billion annually from labor to capital. ...

    Corporate America is husbanding its profits. It invests mainly in the safest projects. From 2007 (the previous business cycle peak) to 2012, domestic corporate profits climbed 35 percent while investment in plants and equipment rose only 2.6 percent. U.S. companies have accumulated a huge cash hoard of $1.8 trillion as of the end of 2012.

    A well-functioning economy is a circular process by which one person’s spending becomes another person’s income, which is then spent again. Today, there’s a damaging disconnect between capital’s rising share and its subsequent spending. So the economy sputters. ...

    What would improve the odds is more exuberance from the custodians of capital. CEOs seem content to sit on their profits and invest only when the needs and the returns are indisputable. Careless capital, which fostered the financial crisis, has given way to ultra-cautious capital, which is making a lackluster economy self-fulfilling.

  • AlterNet: Elizabeth Warren: Supreme Court In the Pocket of Big Business. The progressive Senator from Massachusetts denounced the courts at a labor convention over the weekend. By Alex Kane. Excerpts: The firebrand progressive Elizabeth Warren, a Senator from Massachusetts, went on the offensive against the Supreme Court at a labor convention Sunday. Warren told attendees at the AFL-CIO convention that the Supreme Court was too close to big business and warned of a “corporate capture of the federal courts,” Politico reported.

    “You follow this pro-corporate trend to its logical conclusion, and sooner or later you’ll end up with a Supreme Court that functions as a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Business,” said Warren.

    The Massachusetts Senator also lashed out at big banks for lobbying against more regulation. “The big banks and their army of lobbyists have fought every step of the way to delay, water down, block or strike down regulations,” she said.

  • AlterNet: Elizabeth Warren's Powerful Speech: Supreme Court Is on the Path to Being a "Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Big Business." The five conservative justices currently sitting on the Supreme Court are in the top ten most pro-corporate justices in a half century. Excerpts: When important decisions are made in Washington, too often, working families are ignored. From tax policy to retirement security, the voices of hard-working people get drowned out by powerful industries and well-financed front groups. Those with power fight to take care of themselves and to feed at the trough for themselves, even when it comes at the expense of working families getting a fair shot at a better future.

    This isn’t new. Throughout our history, powerful interests have tried to capture Washington and rig the system in their favor. But we didn’t roll over. At every turn, in every time of challenge, organized labor has been there, fighting on behalf of the American people. ...

    And in 2008, when the economy crashed and it was time to reign in financial predators and Wall Street banks, labor was there—you were there—standing shoulder to shoulder with me, standing with President Obama, and fighting for consumer protection. And thanks to those efforts, we now have a strong Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – with a confirmed Director to lead it. And just so everyone knows, that little agency has already returned half a billion dollars to families who were cheated by big financial institutions and helped tens of thousands of consumers solve their problems with big banks. ...

    According to a recent study, the five conservative justices currently sitting on the Supreme Court are in the top ten most pro-corporate justices in a half century – and Justices Alito and Roberts are numbers one and two – the most anti-consumer in this entire time. The Chamber of Commerce is now a major player in the Supreme Court, and its win rate has risen to 70% of all cases it supports. Follow this pro-corporate trend to its logical conclusion, and sooner or later you’ll end up with a Supreme Court that functions as a wholly owned subsidiary of big business. ...

    Five years ago, experts said the banks had to be bailed out because there was too much concentration in banking and one failure would bring down the entire economy. Now the four biggest banks are 30% larger than they were five years ago. The five largest banks now hold more than half of all banking assets in the country. Because investors know they are too big to fail, those big banks get cheaper borrowing, which, according to one study, adds up to an annual $83 billion subsidy from taxpayers—another benefit of being Too Big to Fail.

  • Huffington Post: Happy Anniversary Lehman Brothers, and What We Haven't Learned About Wall Street Over the Past Five Years. By Robert Reich. Excerpts: While attention is focused on Syria, the gambling addiction of Wall Street's biggest banks is more dangerous than ever.

    Five years ago this September, Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, and the Street hurtled toward the worst financial crisis in eighty years. Yet the biggest Wall Street banks are far larger now than they were then. And the Dodd-Frank rules designed to stop them from betting with the insured deposits of ordinary savers are still on the drawing boards -- courtesy of the banks' lobbying prowess. The so-called Volcker Rule has yet to see the light of day. ...

    Consider JPMorgan Chase, the largest of the bunch. Last year it lost $6.2 billion by betting on credit default swaps tied to corporate debt -- and then lied about it. Evidence shows the bank paid bribes to get certain counties to buy the swaps. The Justice Department is investigating the bank over improper energy trading. That follows the news that the anti-bribery unit of the Security and Exchange Commission is looking into whether JPMorgan hired the children of Chinese officials to help win business. The bank has also allegedly committed fraud in collecting credit card debt, used false and misleading means of foreclosing on mortgages, and misled credit-card customers in seeking to sell them identity-theft products. The list goes on. ...

    No company, least of all a giant Wall Street bank, will eschew a chance to make a tidy profit unless the probability of getting caught and prosecuted, multiplied times the amount of any potential penalty, is greater than the expected profits.

    Have we learned nothing since September, 2008? Five years ago this month Wall Street almost went under. We bailed it out. Millions of Americans are still suffering the consequences of the Street's excesses. Yet the Street's top guns and fat cats are still treating the economy as their own private casino, and raking in even more than before.

    The fact is, the giant Wall Street banks are ungovernable -- too big to fail, too big to jail, too big to curtail. They should be split up, and their size capped. There's no need to wait for Congress to do it; the nation's antitrust laws are adequate to the job. There is ample precedent. In 1911 we split up Standard Oil. In 1982 we split up Ma Bell. The Federal Reserve has authority to do it on its own in any event. (Would Larry Summers take such an initiative?)

  • New York Times opinion: Republicans Who Meddle With Profit-Making Business. By Vikas Bajaj. Excerpts: It’s no secret that many Republican lawmakers dislike labor unions, which are big supporters of Democrats. But it’s unusual to see a politician willing to castigate an employer in his state just for talking to union officials about setting up a union at its factory.

    Consider the case of Bob Corker, the Republican senator from Tennessee, and Volkswagen, the German automaker that employs 2,000 workers at a plant in Chattanooga. As my colleague Steven Greenhouse reported last week, the company is working with the United Auto Workers on a plan to unionize its factory so it can establish what is known as a “works council” in Germany. These councils are essentially committees of workers that meet with management to discuss how to improve conditions and productivity. Some studies have found that plants with such committees have higher productivity and wages than factories without them, which is why both workers and management might want them.

    But Mr. Corker appears to have never seen a union he liked. In an interview with the Associated Press, he called Volkswagen’s decision to engage in these talks “incomprehensible” and said the company would become a “laughingstock in the business world” if it went ahead with the plan. His criticism is particularly strange because he is reported to have played a big role in bringing Volkswagen to Chattanooga, where he was once mayor. To be fair, Mr. Corker is not alone; the governor of his state, the Republican Bill Haslam, is also opposed to the Volkswagen-U.A.W. plan. ...

    The strangest thing about Mr. Corker’s and Mr. Haslam’s criticism of Volkswagen is that Republicans are usually on the ones telling everybody else in government not to meddle in the affairs of profit-making businesses. After all, it’s their mantra that businesses, not lawmakers, create jobs. But I guess none of that matters in this case because even a company as successful and profitable as Volkswagen, which is competing with Toyota and General Motors to be the world’s largest automaker, must be deluded if it’s entertaining the possibility of working with a dreaded union.

If you hire good people and treat them well, they will try to do a good job. They will stimulate one another by their vigor and example. They will set a fast pace for themselves. Then if they are well led and occasionally inspired, if they understand what the company is trying to do and know they will share in its sucess, they will contribute in a major way. The customer will get the superior service he is looking for. The result is profit to customers, employees, and to stcckholders. —Thomas J. Watson, Jr., from A Business and Its Beliefs: The Ideas That Helped Build IBM.

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