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Highlights—November 2, 2013

  • Reuters: India asks IBM to pay $866 million in outstanding tax: reports. Excerpts: Indian tax authorities have asked IBM's Indian unit to pay 53.57 billion rupees ($866.20 million) in outstanding income tax on fiscal 2009 revenue, media reported on Saturday.

    In an emailed statement, an IBM India spokeswoman confirmed the company had received a tax notice, but declined to comment on the amount of tax liability or the nature of the notice.

    India's Income Tax office issued the company a notice for under-reporting revenue for fiscal 2009 by the Indian unit, the Business Standard newspaper said, citing a tax official.

    "IBM does not agree with the tax department's claims and will aggressively defend itself through the appropriate judicial process," the IBM India spokeswoman said.

  • The Register: IBM gives up fight to build CIA's $600m secret cloud, hands deal to Amazon. Withdraws injunctive action and scuttles back into shadow. By Jack Clark. Excerpts: IBM has stumbled away from its legal tussle with Amazon over a strategically important contract to build a $600m cloud system for the CIA. Today Big Blue withdrew its formal protest against the spooks' decision to use the online bazaar's technology, effectively ceding the massive contract to Jeff Bezos & Co. It also marks a shift in the balance of power among federal IT contractors.

    For years IBM and a coterie of other huge companies – Oracle, HP, Dell, SAP, SAS, Verizon, and so on – have taken the largest share of public cash for government computer projects.

    But all things come to an end, and the CIA's decision to plump for Amazon's private cloud over IBM's earlier this year signaled a changing of the guard. It also blew away some of the clouds of fear, uncertainty and doubt that incumbent suppliers had spread about upstarts.

    IBM protested the CIA decision, and Amazon unleashed its own lawyers to fight back. A federal judge struck down IBM's objection earlier this month, and now IBM has withdrawn its final complaint, effectively bowing out of the race.

  • Seeking Alpha: IBM's Enhanced Share Buyback Is Unfortunate, As Is Media Coverage Of It. Excerpts: In this and prior IBM articles, I criticized the company for engaging in too much financial engineering while its actual business results were suffering. IBM's hardware division actually operated at a loss in Q3. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, IBM's latest response has been to engage in yet more financial engineering. Further unsurprising has been Bloomberg.com's cheerleading of this step to the point of misleading readers in various ways. This is consistent with the point of my first IBM article on Seeking Alpha, IBM And The Media Attempt To Obscure Its Declining Business Results.

    My view is that in contrast to IBM's behavior, when the going gets tough, the tough get going and try harder to whip the competition, not pump the stock. Success in the former endeavor will let the stock price take care of itself. ...

    Bloomberg's and IBM's next error comes in the third paragraph:

    Chief Executive Officer Ginni Rometty is rewarding shareholders who held on as the stock fell 7.4 percent this year through yesterday, compared with the 24 percent gain in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index. With sales dropping, the company is counting on the buyback to help reach its goal of $20 in adjusted earnings a share by 2015, up from $15.25 last year.

    The whopper is that this is "rewarding" shareholders. It rewards selling shareholders. Since IBM has been adding to its net debt and has a negative tangible book value, it is in effect going to borrow money to reward these shareholders. With nominal sales and operating profits in a downtrend, how does more financial engineering reward remaining shareholders?

    Answer: It does not. Again, what would reward non-selling shareholders would be a renewed commitment to more productive research and product development. Why is a commitment to R&D missing from IBM's publicity these days? (Because the company has been cutting R&D to help "make" its EPS numbers, that's why.)

    My bete noire comes in the end of the above paragraph. IBM has almost bizarrely fixated on a Soviet-style set of 5-year plans to "earn" a specific dollar amount per share. Cutting R&D and staff is necessary to do this these days, and so it goes. This is not what great companies do; or at least they used to not do this. This behavior is more reminiscent of AIG raising its dividend near the end of its pre-bailout life, as its auditors were raising concerns about its internal controls well before its near-collapse later in 2008. ...

    IBM is doing what troubled large companies often do, which is point to their famous brand names and use their allies in the media and the financial establishment to promote the stock while they are losing ground to stronger competition. What IBM executives do not do is buy the stock that Mr. Buffett and implicitly Bloomberg.com recommend. ...

    In the prior 6 months, this data indicates that insiders bought no stock and sold 17.4% of the shares they held (the small amount of 1.1 million). Yet their pitch to you and me is that they have such confidence in the future that the best use of corporate cash and debt is the company's stock rather than expanding R&D and/or sales efforts. But they do not eat home cooking. ...

    Conclusion: It would be an exaggeration to say that I view IBM as ready to go fetal and stop competing, or that I have a directional point of view on the stock for any particular time frame (though I think $130 would be a reasonably attractive price for the stock based on current fundamentals). My view on the stock, again, is simple. I view it as unattractive for new money. As a non-IBM shareholder and not being an investment adviser, I have no opinion on what existing IBM shareholders "should" do. In my 35th year of investing, I have concluded that past patterns are often prologue. IBM appears to be putting more emphasis on its stock than on its actual business performance. This is the opposite of how Steve Jobs led Apple's revival after returning to it in the 1990s. Thus I want to see actual operational excellence across the corporation before I buy the shares.

  • The Register: RIP Bill Lowe: Father of the IBM PC no longer reading drive C. Computing pioneer dies after heart attack. By Iain Thomson. Excerpts: William (Bill) C. Lowe, the IBM manager who broke through Big Blue's corporate structure to build its first personal computer (and inadvertently made Microsoft the industry's powerhouse) has died at the age of 72 after a heart attack.

    Lowe joined IBM in 1962 and swiftly rose through the ranks to become lab director at the company's Boca Raton base in Florida. But in 1979 he was given what was, at the time, a seemingly impossible task – building a working personal computer in a year.

    Big Blue was the computing company in the 1950s and 60s, but it dealt in big-iron systems. In the 1970s companies such as Altair, Apple and others showed there was a booming market for small computers and IBM felt it had to get in the game, and quickly. ...

    Lowe, and his boss Don Estridge, convinced the IBM board that this particular strategy was the only way to go, and thus set up Project Chess: a team of a dozen engineers who would design and build the first IBM PC. Getting off-the-shelf components to power the system wasn't too big an issue, but getting the software to run it was, and Lowe and his crew went to two companies to get it: Digital Research and Microsoft. ...

    This left IBM in something of a quandary, so they went back to Gates and asked if he had any ideas. Seeing an opportunity, Gates said Microsoft could supply IBM with the operating systems it needed. The only problem was Microsoft didn’t have a working operating system, so it went to Seattle Computer Products, which had just written one called QDOS (Quick and Dirty Operating System), bought it for $50,000 and renamed it MS-DOS (but IBM branded it PC DOS).

  • Yahoo! IBM Employee Issues message board: "Here we go again..." by "trexibmer". Full excerpt: "IBM Corp was the top boost to both the Dow and the S&P 500, hitting a session high of $181 after the company announced its quarterly dividend and authorized a $15 billion stock buyback. Shares were recently up 1.8 percent to $180.51."

    Here we go again...

    You all must be so happy about this that IBM gives you no raise, lowers your PBC appraisal, hold backs your 401K match, makes you pay more for healthcare, makes you work extra hours, furloughed you for 1/3 pay, etc. but IBM has BILLIONS to invest in themselves to incestuously and artificially boost the share price, perceived profits and EPS without growing $.001 of revenue!

    IBM has done this practice for years, decades now it doesn't work historically, only for a very short term for the day trade investor and executive stock options.

    Einstein said that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is insanity.

    So is IBM really insane??? I say LIFE@IBM IS NOT GOOD and now more so.

  • Yahoo! IBM Employee Issues message board: "90% of market pay?" by "sby_willie". Full excerpt: IBM now is basically saying it is not committed to average competitive salaries. No new news. Walmart economics comes to IT. Supposedly now if you are less than 10% from midpoint for your job classification you are "considered" for an MBA (IBM wordspeak lingo for Market Based Adjustment to pay) if your job classification is considered worthy of the MBA.

    Who is worthy? Is it just IBM Director chiefs (3rd lines) and above? I know band 7's being paid low $60K who are PBC 2+ for years as IT Specialists. And Senior IT Specialists as band 8's not breaking 80K with PBC 2+ and haven't been promoted in 10 years or so. No MBAs for them for years.

    So IBM that's competitive or close to 90% market pay? No even close IBM!

    Respect for the Individual doesn't mean respect for the employee or resource. IBM is just a lumbering behemoth and as a corporate icon has seen it's best days long ago and will surely fall on it's own weight eventually. I think we are starting to see the real decline...2015 anyone?

  • Yahoo! IBM Employee Issues message board: "RE: 90% of market pay" by "older_bassman". Full excerpt: Some years back a change was made to the relationship between job classifications and salary bands. Prior to the change the 5X pay range was the same within pay corridors no matter what the job classification. After the change the bands were only valid within job classification. For example IT Specialist is a lower job classification than a Development Engineer. Accordingly IT Specialist pay bands are lower than Development Engineers.

    I remember there being a lot of uproar when the change took place as many people that used to be paid the same as developers such as product build and system support suddenly had their pay ranges lowered with the lowered job classification.

    While I was not a manager I did have manager friends who showed me the pay grids over the years. There were significant differences in the pay ranges for the different job classifications.

    That being said, before I retired I had not seen any raises four out of the last five years and the one raise was the RTP site being realigned into the national pay corridor.

  • The Register: Infosys set for $35m fine over US visa naughtiness. Report says company undercut rivals by using cheap B-1 visas instead of pricier H1-B. By Phil Muncaster. Excerpts: Indian IT services giant Infosys is bracing itself for a $35 million (£22m) fine from the US government for visa irregularities, in what will be the largest financial penalty ever handed out for an immigration infraction. ...

    The Indian IT giant is apparently being accused of routinely using B-1 visas for offshore workers to come to the US to service clients, rather than the harder-to-obtain H-1B visa.

    B-1 visas, which cost $160 (£100) a pop, are technically intended for those attending conferences or other short business-related trips, while H-1Bs are valid for three years but can take months to process and cost up to $5,000 (£3,116) each.

    As a result of its visa policy, it is alleged that Infosys managed to undercut its rivals in bidding for work on US soil. ...

    Back in August, a lawsuit filed in the US District Court in Eastern Wisconsin by VMware specialist Brenda Koehler, alleged just this. It claimed that 90 per cent of Infosys US hires are not local and that the firm abused the B-1 visa system.

    Allegations of discrimination against US staff were also made by ex-employee Jay Palmer, who brought a failed legal action against the firm. He claimed Infosys told staff to falsify letters of invitation to events to ease the B-1 application process.

  • Glassdoor IBM reviews. Selected reviews follow:
    • IBM—Intellectually Bright, social Morons” Managing Consultant (Former Employee), Phoenix, AZ. I worked at IBM full-time for more than 5 years.

      Pros: IBM has proven itself brilliant at nosing out where technology is heading and strategically placing itself at the front of the tech field. If you want to be associated with a winner and care about the social cachet of being associated with a well-recognized leader, you won't be disappointed.

      In the consulting arena you get to work with top-tier Fortune 500 companies and large-scale projects that are challenging and require you to bring your "A" game.

      The benefits are also among the best out there, even as they look for ways to scale them back.

      The success of your experience is very much tied to the manager you report to; a good manager is essential; if you can't get away from a bad manager you will be miserable. (This truth is not restricted to IBM, but very true at Blue.)

      Looking back on a consulting career, I'm glad I started with a Big 4 consulting firm, before IBM purchased us. If I had started at IBM I don't know that I would have lasted as long as I did (see Cons).

      IBM would be a good choice for a younger professional wanting to deepen their skill set and resume and then moving on. It would be very challenging for someone with shaky skills or someone who wants "work-life balance." That concept doesn't exist any more, per contacts I've had there until this year (they've all jumped ship after 12-15 years of service). Now it's called "work-life integration."

      Cons: In a nutshell, the cons of IBM can be boiled to the phrase "social morons." If people are constantly reminding you that you have a tin ear in social situations, you'll fit right in. If you expect to work with your IBM management team to get a relevant client outcome, good luck! IBM are notoriously socially clueless and I've run into more that a few managers who have fairly noticeable personality disorders. Sometimes it is mind boggling.

      Let's leave it at this: as sad as I was to lose a good job, I was VERY relieved to be away from the crazies. And when I was on an IBM-run project not too long ago, I was reminded of the number of dysfunctional people IBM employees. Good luck!

      Advice to Senior Management: I think the management hubris is beyond comment or advice. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend

    • Great place to work if you enjoy narcissism and other sociopathic personalities” Senior Engineer (Former Employee), Yorktown, NY. I worked at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Health benefits are good; 401k benefits also good.

      Cons: Working at IBM Research is similar to working in a prison in that you never know who is going to stab you in the back when you are not looking. I spent 15 years at the company and the environment got progressively worse every year. Much of the problem is a result in the way IBM handles yearly evaluations of people and in the communication it sends out globally about how and why the evaluations are done. In layman's terms it says something like "we only care about the top 5% and everyone else is just not cutting it; what will you do to be in the top 5%?"

      Other problems are related to the holier than thou attitudes of many people in the research division. So many times you see the case where a PhD employee feels that their intelligence is so superior that they must have super high intelligence in many other areas in life outside of their primary technology based studies including child raising, finance and accounting, politics, etc. Many employees in the research division would have a very hard time working outside of a research type environment, where you actually had to produce a working product, a point which is well lost of them.

      All you have to do is look at how many jobs have left this country and yet nobody in the rank and file would make a peep. The only thing that happens is that employees up their a-game of backstabbing and other non-productive techniques. I left the company four years ago, long before many of the big layoffs happening now. My only regret is that I did not leave sooner. The rest of the technology industry does look the same as IBM Research.

      Advice to Senior Management: Nothing. 1st line, 2nd managers (senior managers) are in survival mode. Advice would have to come at the VP level and drop downward.

    • Feedback only for Management Consulting - Flexible with very good opportunities to learn; wary of the future though” Management Consultant (Current Employee), Mumbai (India). I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: High levels of flexibility. An enterprising individual will find multiple avenues for learning and additional responsibilities, which will eventually contribute to growth. Cons: Merit is rewarded but the process of progressing the career can take more than industry average time. Compensation well below par compared to the likes of Accenture, Deloitte, AT Kearney, etc. Comparable to KPMG, E&Y. Advice to Senior Management: With faster execution of vision, IBM will remain an economic, technology and business game changer for another 100 yrs. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend.
    • A great corporate culture poisoned by executives” Senior Engineer (Current Employee). I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Some very talented people. In hardware development the employee culture is excellent, friendly and helpful.

      Cons: The executive strategy hits hard on two fronts: reducing US headcount and focus on EPS. US hiring has been frozen for years; in our are we have few people younger than 40. In a highly technical area you need to keep the pipeline of people coming in, which is not happening. Overseas hires have generally not worked out well, but management cannot change the executive direction. Focus on EPS at the expense of revenue means that when financial targets are missed, cost cutting is the way to make the EPS targets. We have no discretionary budgets or travel anymore, so layoffs are the only cost cutting method left. So they are doing layoffs even from areas they say are critical and strategic to IBM's future. And of course layoffs are mostly limited to the US workforce. And the stack employee evaluation system (PBC) is not helping anything, but of course that is the executive goal.

      Advice to Senior Management: I can't tell them anything they don't know. At this point they are clearly doing what they intend to do. What they should do if they want to turn around IBM: Oust Rometty unless she does something good for IBM. Start hiring in the US again. Restore power to local 1st and 2nd line management. Get rid of the PBC system, and use a system that evaluates group performance and allows group self evaluation. Make revenue growth targets vs. EPS. Restore a meaningful benefits program. Stop making HR/compensation changes which quite obviously hurt employees. Stop secretive layoffs and HR data. Focus on quality products and services. Restore awards for employee achievements.

      No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.

    • Great opportunity to learn and develop skills - in multiple industries” Anonymous Employee (Current Employee). Pros: - International community of peers; - Great knowledge sharing; - Opportunity to gain experience in many industries/areas of IT; - Fantastic learning/education opportunities; - Challenging projects; - Opportunity to work remotely. Cons: - Can be process heavy, action light; - Some groups have very narrow focus and are unwilling to step out of comfort zone; - Management positions are no longer attractive due to short term, financial oriented goals in many divisions (though not all). Advice to Senior Management: You must make first line management attractive again in order to maintain market share and grow as an organization. Many great potential leaders refuse to join management due to non-technical focus and constant downsizing. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • IBM - A miserable place to work” Technical Solution Architect (Current Employee). I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 8 years. Pros: Health benefits are second to none. Cons: Very small or no raises over the past 5 years. Morale is very low. Advice to Senior Management: Get to know your employees' strengths and place them on projects or positions where they can shine. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Painful, one sided, dissatisfied, frustrated!” Senior Learning Performance Consultant (Former Employee), Dallas, TX. I worked at IBM full-time for more than a year. Pros: If you love to work on your own this is the place to be! Cons: No team work, no connection with the organization, high expectations, low support. Advice to Senior Management: I was hired for one opportunity but it never materialized. I was assigned to another. What a painful experience. Open your eyes to what is happening around the world of IBM. We were just order takers; no consulting taking place. Paper work was never ending! No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • It's not your father's IBM, but still one of the best companies to work for” Senior Software Engineer (Current Employee), Raleigh, NC. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: IBM is very successful and manages the business well. Salary and benefits are good (even great). Cons: IBM manages the business very closely financially, which translates to reducing the workforce in reaction to quarterly sales and profits. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend.
    • Early retiree, invited to leave” Program Director, Manager (Former Employee). I worked at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: The best and brightest in industry. Very smart and interesting people working on great and innovative technologies. Benefits still above average. Cons: There are constant pressures to cut costs and do more with less. Layoffs occur quietly and often, in pockets small enough to escape publication. Employee morale has been declining and MANY of the long-term leaders are just tired of the grind. Advice to Senior Management: Invest for more revenue growth. You can't keep driving the stock up by more layoffs. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend.
    • Mostly good company, but huge enough that there is lots of variation” Senior Software Engineer (Current Employee), Durham, NC. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Relatively easy to move between groups over time. Lots of good developers around. Usually easy to apply yourself and do well. Cons: A bit behind technology wise. Executives pretty out of touch with the actual issues facing development teams. Stack ranking means that good developers on a team with great developers will be penalized. Palpable trend to reducing US headcount to move jobs overseas regardless of quality effects. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • IBM has provided me a depth of experience most other companies could not” Cloud Architect (Current Employee), Somers, NY. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: The people! I love (most) of the people I get to work with and the problems we get to solve. I have been able to move through a variety of jobs gaining very valuable experience and insight. Cons: The politics! I work on cloud which requires the ability of my company to adapt more quickly and change faster. However, many cycles are spent with in fighting and politics and we move far more slowly than we should. Compensation is not very competitive. Advice to Senior Management: Remember your most valuable asset is your people. Make them believe it. I'm optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • IBM is a decent employer, but not what it used to be” Project Manager (Current Employee), Austin, TX. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Brand recognition; flexible work options. Cons: Compensation not up to par with competition, especially for top performers; VERY limited career options/opportunities for WFH employees; lack of employee visibility to other areas of the business (employees are often pigeon-holed, especially top performers); typical bureaucracy inherent to large(r) companies. Advice to Senior Management: Creating shareholder value on the backs of employees, by way of reduced benefits and lack of salary increases or career opportunities, is a short term solution to cutting costs. The problem is much larger, and this approach suggests a lack of business vision. The "JAMs" are interesting and fun, but utterly meaningless if employee input is taken with a grain of salt—which they appear to be year after year. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend.
    • IBM is a global player in the IT.” Anonymous Employee (Current Employee), Zürich (Switzerland). Pros: Huge network. There's always someone that can help and support. IBM always reinvents itself. Has a lot of good products and technology. Cons: A lot of overhead. Salary is lower than compared to competitors. Many tedious internal tasks are purely to satisfy "the system". Advice to Senior Management: Foster and promote top talents (talents that are consistently over-contributing, not just once due to a lucky year). Pay them more money. Not just a 1-2% "market-based adjustment". Don't make band levels be dependent on job tenure. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Management by fire drill” Senior Advisor, Market Development & Insights (Former Employee). I worked at IBM full-time for more than a year. Pros: Numerous opportunities for those just starting their career. A good place to work once you have been there for 10+ years. Cons: Siloed processes make it difficult to get things done. Deep functional knowledge found, but limited interest in cross-functional impact. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Not a bad place to work, working from home is mostly great, but not always” WW Channel Marketing Program Manager (Former Employee), Boston, MA. I worked at IBM full-time for less than a year. Pros: People are very helpful. They almost have to be, given the heavy matrix organization. Telecommuting is a big plus most of the time. Large company means there's opportunity for growth and movement. Cons: Working from home is great, but harder to end the work day. Not always having the opportunity to meet co-workers to develop a good working bond, and understand individual working styles because you either never get to meet them or you might once or twice. Matrix management—this is a big matrix and not always easy to understand. Advice to Senior Management: The matrix needs to be more efficient. Matrix management may be a necessary evil but confusion can result when an individual works on various projects and one group doesn't necessarily align with work that that individual is doing on another project. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend.
    • Joined IBM Tivoli through an acquisition, it's now been over 5 years” Anonymous Employee (Current Employee). Littleton, MA. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 5 years. Pros: There is a lot of opportunity as long as you have the initiative and desire to get involved in key projects. IBM's compensation and benefits are very competitive. Cons: There can be significant demands coming around the clock; this typically leads to poor work/life balance. Advice to Senior Management: Make time to celebrate major product successes and recognize the work and efforts of the teams that make it happen. Too often it is only the lead players getting the recognition. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend.
    • Good company if you get the right manager” Anonymous Employee (Former Employee). I worked at IBM full-time for more than 5 years. Pros: Working at home is great. There is opportunity to move jobs/roles within the company. There a lot of great people working for IBM. Great products. Cons: Too much process. First line managers are rarely qualified to lead (and they can decide your career!) There are too many mediocre people "hiding out" who are very comfortable, but not motivated. The management team is aware of these people but rarely does anything about it, which is frustrating for the talented people. Advice to Senior Management: Value your employees and they will reward you. Yes, I would recommend this company to a friend.
    • IBM Hopewell Junction going away?” Unix/Linux Systems Administrator (Current Employee), Hopewell, NY. I have been working at IBM full-time for more than a year. Pros: High tech systems. Some great people make working for IBM bearable. Close to home. The people working for IBM really want to make a difference. Cons: Management is more concerned a process than product. Management places little value on people. Furloughs and layoffs abound. Zero growth opportunity for most. Most jobs moving overseas to lower cost employees. Advice to Senior Management: Treat your employees with the same respect you would want. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
    • Possibly on the wrong side of history” Executive IT Architect (Current Employee), London, England (UK). I have been working at IBM full-time for more than 10 years. Pros: Great people, amazing resources, opportunity to do your own thing and make a difference, the business card still opens doors. Cons: Cost cutting gone insane; senior management took far too long to realise that cloud means the world has changed; market "reference" salary points are a joke. No, I would not recommend this company to a friend. I'm not optimistic about the outlook for this company.
  • Glassdoor IBM Canada reviews
  • Alliance for Retired Americans Friday Alert. This week's headlines:
    • Social Security Benefits to go up just 1.5% in 2014
    • Tuesday, November 5 is Decision Day in Key Elections, Ballot Initiatives
    • Conference Committee Holds Meeting in Advance of December 13 Budget Deadline
    • Groups Act to Close Loopholes that Allow Many Companies to Pay No Taxes
    • Maryland-DC and Vermont Alliance Chapters Hold Annual Conferences
  • U.S. News And World Report, courtesy of Huffington Post: 7 Painless Ways To Cut Expenses In Retirement. By Tom Sightings. Excerpt: Those of us who are retired know it's hard to live on a fixed income, especially since low interest rates have squeezed extra income from savings accounts down to a trickle. The alternative is to lower our expenses. No one wants to give up the things they enjoy, whether it’s a membership to a fitness club, a trip to the mall or a warm home in winter. But sometimes we’re paying for things we don’t really use. Here are seven ideas for saving money without feeling any pain...
  • USA Today: Medicare Part B premiums won't go up in 2014. Premiums have either decreased or stayed the same for the past three years. The deductible will also remain at $147. By Kelly Kennedy. Excerpts: The premiums for Medicare Part B will remain flat in 2014 and seniors have saved $8.3 billion on Part D prescriptions since the Affordable Care Act was enacted in 2010, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday

    Medicare Part B covers medically necessary services, as well as preventive services. ...

    "For the third year in a row Medicare premium costs are meeting or beating expectations," wrote Jonathan Blum, CMS principal deputy administrator, in a blog post. "Monthly Medicare premiums in 2013 are lower than the $109.10 they were projected to be."

News and Comments Concerning ExtendHealth (New Medical Plan for Medicare-Eligible IBM Retirees)
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Has any Aetna Plan A asked" by "lastdino1". Full excerpt: So has any of the old Aetna Int Plan A folks asked the EH navigator if or what is the plan being offered that was equivalent to what they have. If so what was the answer they gave. Just wondering.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Survivor Coverage Letter" by "mtaquilts". Full excerpt: I have yet to see a survivor coverage letter as described in previous blogs. When did it come or is it included in some obscure propaganda we keep receiving? Where should I look for it, or possibly it hasn't been mailed yet. Anybody know? Linda.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: Survivor Coverage Letter" by "EG Fine". Full excerpt: Arrived here this week, in a #10 envelope. Two sheets of paper (actually one 11x17 sheet, folded, perfed). Not enclosed with anything else. Ernie.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: Survivor Coverage Letter" by " ileftibm". Full excerpt: I have received it but some of my friends have not. It is a single-purpose letter so there will be no confusing it with anything else. If you read it closely, however, you may get confused by what it says, since the message is muddled.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Medicare Advantage without drug coverage?" by "fhawontcutit". "'It's amazing to me how complicated it is. Which plan to buy, not buy, buy in combination. I'm not even sure I know about all the elements such a decision encompasses."

    Welcome to consumer-driven healthcare! Ain't it grand? (I tried to warn everyone.) Watch out for traditional Medicare going the "consumer-driven" route. You've been warned.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Medicare Advantage without drug coverage?" by "alwaysontheroad4bigblue". Full excerpt: Welcome to the free market! Amongst all first-world countries in the world, you are lucky to have a "free market" approach to health care where insurance companies are in business to make money by confusing you, offering multiple different plans, all set up to optimize their profits rather than providing you health care. It's not about health care...it's about profits and greed!"

    Contrast this with the rest of the world. I'll point out Canada, where my twenty-something son is on the British Columbia Medicare system. (Yup, it's called Medicare, but it's for *everyone* in the province). Canadians don't know what the terms "co-insurance, deductible, life-time limits, co-pays, etc., out-of-network" are, because they don't deal with them. My son pays a health care premium of $65 a month. So does a 58 year old that is working, or is retired. So does a retiree.

    The only paperwork he has ever filled out is an application to the B.C. government showing that he is a resident. (He's still not a Canadian citizen, but has lived there since going to college several years ago.) When he visits a doctor's office, he shows his Medicare I.D. card. He doesn't fill out any paperwork. He doesn't pay a co-pay. He never seens an "explanation of benefits." He doesn't get a statement from an insurance company. He can select any doctor he wants...every doctor is "in the network."

    Canadians actually have more office visits than Americans do, yet Canada pays less than half what we do for medical costs. And, despite the occasional scare story on Fox News, you'll find it very difficult to find a a Canadian that would trade their health care system for ours.

    Meanwhile, we in American spend inordinate hours on forums like this trying to decide how to select an insurance policy, while our insurance companies spend inordinate amounts of money to game the system against us, and to bribe Congress.

    It doesn't have to be this difficult. But, in the USA, it's all about greed...the system is gamed against citizens in favor or large institutions like insurance companies, hospital networks, and the pharmaceutical industry.

    Again, welcome to the free market! IBM retirees (those who are fortunate enough to be in the pre-1999 retiree medical plan) have been insulated from the "free market" of insurance until now. Now, you're experiencing what we "second choicers", "no choicers", and laid off employees have been dealing with for years!

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Medicare Advantage without drug coverage?" by "Bill". Full excerpt: Great post. So true. Of course Canadians like their system; they've seen ours.

    You didn't mention that Canadians live longer. I will. Canadians live longer.

    And before somebody tells me that I would have to wait 6 months for a new hip in Canada, let me say that I have a new hip. I understand hip failures. They don't creep up. They take a long time to develop. Anybody who doesn't have enough sense to get into the queue ahead of time is probably not going to do well in any system. The Canadian hip queue argument is tired.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Medicare Advantage without drug coverage?" by "egroups1bp". Full excerpt: Bill: Excellent post! We have several Canadian friends who think our heath care system is absolutely absurd. And on several occasions have told us they genuinely feel sorry for how we have to obsess about it...or possible lose all our money over it- or worse.

    But on the other hand they LOVE our southern weather, and they have a second home and winter in one of our southern states.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Medicare Advantage without drug coverage?" by Don Shuper. Full excerpt: torbill said ..."The Canadian hip queue argument is tired."

    Most do not plan ahead to fall on stairs, etc. In Canada, with a heart condition, may have to travel several hundred miles (depending on province) to get fixed. And may have to wait 3 to 8 months for hip or significant other semi-elective surgery. In addition, many provinces NOW allow private insurance coverage.

    I have close relatives living near the border with Canada in Maine, and living in Canada. Subject of medical care is generally not discussed in presence of der kinder, even with very mild mannered relatives who rarely swear. There is about as much variation in coverage- doctors available, etc as there is between states here in US Of A.

    That being said- what Canada does is of no concern re ACA Document Don

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Medicare Advantage without drug coverage?" by "Bill". Full excerpt: You have a relative in Canada who has had a problem with their system? Fine.

    Do you not have a relative in the U.S. who has had a problem with *our* system? If you don't, I can supply an entire list of my relatives who have had problems with our system.

    Yes, sometimes in Canada a person doesn't have immediate access, due to limitations in capacity. What kind of access do you suppose that the 50,000,000 uninsured in this country have, when they call to make an appointment, and the person on the other end of the phone says, "Who is your insurer", and they have to say "I don't have insurance". In Canada, this number is zero.

    Do we actually measure the effectiveness of a health care system this way? You provide a claim about your relatives, and I provide a claim about mine? Wouldn't it be a better thing to look at a broader picture of the two systems?

    Here is link that provides some actual data that compares the two systems: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_the_health_care_systems_in_Canada_and_the_United_States

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Medicare Advantage without drug coverage?" by "teamb562". Full excerpt: Great post alwaysontheroad. It's sure nice to see many other countries recognize and care for their customers, its citizens. Apparently the citizens in the US are greedy corporations. It amazes me that those against a Nationalized Health Care system (conservatives) would prefer to tolerate the endless/arcane/difficult paperwork without a care as to the difficulties it causes themselves, their parents and kids.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Medicare Advantage without drug coverage?" by "Bill". Full excerpt: Thanks. We know a number of Canadians, too. They seem to be satisfied.

    We have all been exchanging health insurance information on this list, for weeks. If there is one thing I think that we could have universal agreement on, it is that our health insurance system is beyond complex - it is incomprehensible and irrational. Every time we turn over a rock, we find a new, bizarre thing. We require an entire sub-industry of priests to make incantations that will hopefully deliver us a policy that does what we need it to do, because ordinary citizens cannot figure it out.

    Our per capita health care costs are 50% higher than anybody else's, and our outcomes are uncompetitive. Others have all of their citizens insured. We have fifty million uninsured. Is there a first-world country, other than the U.S., that believes that basic health care for ordinary citizens isn't a fundamental right? If there is, I don't know the name of it.

    It is one thing to be a proud American. It is quite another to wave the flag over our health insurance system. Our health insurance system is a disaster, and the evidence of it is on plain display in the messages that have gone back and forth on this list since we got cut loose by IBM.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Medicare Advantage without drug coverage?" by "harris_berman". Full excerpt: Jack, A good place to start is by downloading (or ordering) the publication "Medicare and You" http://www.medicare.gov/pubs/pdf/10050.pdf. This explains a lot about how all of the plans interact.

    The next resource should be the website "Medicare.gov" http://www.medicare.gov/ Create a userid on the website and you will then be able to enter all of your current physicians and prescription drugs into the database so that you can search all of the relevant plans. The costs for all of the plans will be visible for your zip code.

    The EH website, unfortunately, has only a subset of all of the plans available in your area. The most significant variable, in my opinion, is the cost of the Part D plan and the copays for the drugs contained on the drug formulary. All Medigap plans (designated A-N) by provider have the same coverage for each plan. The Medicare Advantage plans each have somewhat different features and costs.

    Again, it's the combination of physicians and drug coverage that is the most important. Unfortunately, there are just too many individual situations to create a specific decision table that will yield the optimum result. Hope that this helps.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Medicare Advantage without drug coverage?" by "Bill". Full excerpt: This is an interesting situation. When I was considering the Humana PPO that doesn't include drug coverage I talked to an outside insurance agent. She was recommending a Humana PPO plan that includes drugs. I told her I wanted to be able to buy my own Part D drug plan. She said that she believes this isn't allowed, but would check. She got back and told me that it *is* allowed.

    However, given that there is a perception on the part of both the insurance agent and EH, there must be something to this. I think a EH is good, and knows the rules. If true, it is not only irrational, it is going to trip-up a lot of people who think that they actually have options to buy separate drug and medical plans.

    I would not give up yet. Were it me, I would call Humana and talk to them; they are involved in both plans being considered, and undoubtedly have been asked the question many times. I have talked to Humana. They were helpful.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Part B Excess Charges and Plan N" by "netmouser". Full excerpt: About the Part B excess charge you might face. The below link to an article shows what part a doctor's fee might be for a major hospitalization bill. The heart surgeon's fee might be $2500, or an orthopedic surgeon might be $3000. Worst case say some surgeon charges a whopping $10,000 (it would be limited by the Medicare rate, however) - The Part B excess charge would be about $1000. This is because there is a reduced Medicare rate - 5% less - that doctors get if they do not accept assignment so the real Part B excess I read really turns out to be about 9.5% of the normal Medicare rate.


    If one has Plan N and can save in premium $500 to $900 (in my case) a year, put that aside and after a few years you have nice savings to meet unexpected excess costs. If you have good health you can change plan as you age if that is important to you, or change anytime in a state without underwriting or, as in my case, change anytime if an insurer does not have underwriting (I'm reading this is true in a number of other states, Arizona has such an insurer I recall, it seems possibly to be in zip codes with lots of healthy people).

    Or, if you have the "big surgery", you might go to another state where excess charges are not allowed. I am currently reading that NY does allow excess charges but limits it to 5%, CT seems to limit "no excess charges" to low income residents of CT, PA seems to not allow excess charges for anyone. It is hard to find state info on this, I will call insurers in the states next week to see what the law is.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Why is EH only offering Humana Plans in many states?" by "fstephens". Full excerpt: In many counties, in many states, EH is only showing offerings from Humana. In other counties, in the same state, they are offering plans form other insurers. Why? Is this even legal? The same was showing for Medicare Advantage Plans; where some were offered in one county and not the others in the same state! Is this a limitation on the setup of the EH site or are they dropping the others due to lower possible commissions on sales?
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: Why is EH only offering Humana Plans in many states?" by "netmouser". Full excerpt: Insurers choose to have all, none or some of their plans on an exchange.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Tier 5 drugs" by "mtaquilts". Full excerpt: I reviewed EH's "drug plan" for me. My call is scheduled for 11/2. According to their findings, they have no plan that covers Enbrel. NONE. I called SilverScript as was suggested in another link to this conversation. They are not accepting new enrollment for 2014.

    Does anyone out there take Enbrel and, if so, where does one go for coverage for this drug. Never having had to buy private insurance before, this is very disturbing and depressing. I am at a loss as to where to go for help. I think I have checked every plan on EH. Is there anything I can do to get EH to cover a necessary drug?

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Tier 5 drugs" by "jean_voldman". Full excerpt: Have you tried to search for plans Rx D on Medicare.gov. They do have ALL plans offerings for a given zip code. You can enter your medications and they will give you a list, hopefully not empty, of the plans covering a given drug. Jean
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Tier 5 drugs" by "egroups1bp". Full excerpt: mtaquilts: http://www.encouragefoundation.com/resources/index.jsp or if in California: https://www.blueshieldca.com/sites/medicare-2013/documents/PA_CY2013_ENBREL_Etanercept_MCweb.pdf

    I have a friend still working full time for IBM; retiring in Dec. She does the Enbrel injections, and said that the manufacturer offers discounts to people who can't get drug coverage...worth a try.

    Or, worst case, you'll have to drive to the Dr. once per week and have the Dr. inject you; then Medicare part B will cover 80% of it. And that might be worth it to save $12K per year.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Tier 5 drugs" by "Bill". Full excerpt: Mtaquilts, this is too bad. I looked at Canada drugs, but apparently they don't do biologics. I looked at medicare.gov and they all result in at least $4K out of pocket. And some of the plans with the highest out of pocket sell for over $130/month. And they come with names like "Rx Secure" and "Rx Premier". Yeah right. Not a one of them has decent coverage for Enbrel.

    The Walmart-Humana cheapie plan, incidentally, has the lowest out of pocket for Enbrel. This is what happened when I looked up Gleevec as a hypothetical case, too - Walmart-Humana was the lowest out of pocket. It's interesting. What is happening is that these expensive medicines are not being covered well by the Part D plans, so you blow through the donut hole and the federal government picks up the rest of the tab. And the Part D plan with the lowest monthly premiums has the lowest overall out of pocket.

    So... Who is benefiting from these expensive Part D drug plans? I don't see anything secure or premier about them, for the beneficiaries. Have the insurance companies fine tuned the formularies such that it is almost always best to buy one of the cheapie plans?

    I have for years been buying a cheapie plan and having any expensive drug that I need sent from a reputable Canada pharmacy. Canadians are not dying from their prescription drugs. I get Aciphex from Canada. It is $11/pill here and fifty cents there. I get Patanol there. It is $155 for a 5 ml bottle here and $85 for three of the bottles there. That's 22X as much for Aciphex and 5X for Patanol. But Enbrel is a no-go in Canada, sadly.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange: "Age-out for retiree dependent children" by "ileftibm". Full excerpt: What is the maximum age for IBM-subsidized health insurance of a retiree's child? And, where is this documented for 2014?
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange: "RE: Age-out for retiree dependent children" by "madinpok". Full excerpt: Children of IBM retirees can be covered under the IBM retiree plan until their 23rd birthday.

    Although the ACA increased the age to 26, that rule does not apply to grandfathered, retiree-only health plans, such as IBM's. IBM could allow coverage to age 26, but they choose not to.

    This is documented in USHR 112, About Your Benefits - Post Employment. There is no update for 2014 at this point, but I wouldn't bet that this detail will change.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange: "RE: Age-out for retiree dependent children" by "fstephens". Full excerpt: It appears that this topic needs to be addressed. IBM NO LONGER has a RETIREE MEDICAL PLAN for MEDICARE ELIGIBLE RETIREES. Thus, the 26 year old rule should apply for them. Shouldn't make much difference, as the youngest ones in this situation would have had to have had the child after they turned 40.
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange: "RE: Age-out for retiree dependent children" by "madinpok". Full excerpt: So far, dependents who are under age 65 are still insured by the IBM retiree non-Medicare plan. Thus, the rules for them haven't changed and the grandfathering of the plan still applies.
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange: "RE: Age-out for retiree dependent children" by "hankharty". Full excerpt: "Children of IBM retirees can be covered under the IBM retiree plan until their 23rd birthday." There are additional requirements to have children covered under the IBM retiree plan (aren't there always). They also have to be full-time students. See a current USHR 112, About Your Benefits - Post Employment for a complete list of requirements.
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange: "RE: Age-out for retiree dependent children" by "hankharty". Full excerpt: "Thus, the 26 year old rule should apply for them." I don't think that is the case. I think that is only for employer plans. Retirees are not employees. Check with an expert to be sure.
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange: "RE: Age-out for retiree dependent children" by " Richard H.". Full excerpt: You can get to the document by logging into NetBenefits, health and insurance, reference library, summary of benefits and coverage – global assignee, about your benefits post employment summary plan. Page 17 talks to dependents.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Catastrophic Coverage" by "stevejm". Full excerpt: With the IBM plans, there was a limit on out-of-pocket expenses before the plan started picking up all costs. I don't see any equivalent in Medigap or Medicare Advantage. Am I missing something?
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Catastrophic Coverage" by "lobosphoto". Full excerpt: Original Medicare has no such limit. Medigap insurance has such limits based on which plan you choose. Example: Plan F ND has no out of pocket by you as long as you stick with Medicare facilities and doctors so your max OOP is $0.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "EH added "RX Plan Prescriber" but it is a LOSER" by "ibmexe". Full excerpt: Just logged on to EH and was surprised that they got the Plan Prescriber working...but they shouldn't have bothered. There estimated drug costs are not to be trusted.

    For example, they estimated my drug cost through Humana-Walmart to be one of the most expensive ones for me at over $3000! When I went to the Human-Walmart web site itself, it came in at under $1000!

    On the other hand their least expensive estimated plan was from CIGNA...but it also stated that their were no network or preferred network pharmacies in my area! On top of that it was still more expensive than the H-W plan.

    They also estimated that the Humana Preferred plan would cost LESS that the H-W plan...but again at the Human web site it came out as more expensive.

    This thing is a joke or a Halloween prank.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: EH added "RX Plan Prescriber" but it is a LOSER" by "bk2006pc". Full excerpt: If your statement is true then let do some comparison with reference and first post your findings with Plan Name, Link, and Cost references and copy to IBM, and EM management and inform these executives that you are sending these information to the media. This may be a fraud IBM and EH are committing knowingly or unknowingly.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: EH added "RX Plan Prescriber" but it is a LOSER" by "harris_berman". Full excerpt: I believe that the Plan Prescriber is working properly. I put my drugs into the Humana-Walmart Rx plan and received a drug cost of $3227, but using the BCBSNC Blue Medicare Enhanced Rx yields a drug cost of $2594 which is the consistent with the calculated costs from the BCBSNC website.

    Watch out for the differences in the Tiers for the drug formularies used by each plan. In my situation, two of my medications are treated as Tier 4 by Humana-Walmart Rx, but Tier 3 in The BCBCNC plan. Also, how the generic drugs are treated in the coverage gap additionally affects the total costs.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: EH added "RX Plan Prescriber" but it is a LOSER" by " hmcpeak". Full excerpt: Using the EH site I looked at Cigna and Humana-Walmart. Cigna showed as the lowest Out of Pocket shown for me.

    I compared Cigna on EH to the same plan on the Cigna site. The Out of Pocket was the same, local preferred pharmacies. No problems.

    Did the same for Humana-Walmart plan. The EH side showed $1518 Out of Pocket and the same plan on the Humana was $758.

    I did this a couple of times from scratch and got the same numbers so something is wrong.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: EH added "RX Plan Prescriber" but it is a LOSER" by "Bill". Full excerpt: Here's what I did. I didn't like any of the part D options offered by EH. So I found Medigap options that were similar to the Aetna plan we enjoyed this year. My HRA covers the cost of these plans for my wife and I at nearly 100%. I chose a Plan C and my wife has a Plan F which both pay for just about everything plus we can see any doctor we want. Then I went to Medicare.gov to find a decent part D plan. Found two, one for me and another for my wife since we have different drug requirements. Mine is the same as last year, my wife's is a bit more.

    The dental plan offered by EH is worthless as far as I'm concerned. I got an offer from my AAA provider for a dental plan from Physiciansmutual.com Much better coverage then either of the EH plans I was offered, plus no limits. Price is a couple dollars less then the Dental Plus plan from IBM this year.

    So overall, my premiums will be less then this year and I feel it will be better coverage. Now my problem is we will be moving to Florida next year, the plans all differ significantly from South Carolina.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: EH added "RX Plan Prescriber" but it is a LOSER" by "leftibm". Full excerpt: Bill -- I'm missing this part: What did you buy through EH?
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: EH added "RX Plan Prescriber" but it is a LOSER" by "dsandife". Full excerpt: Same experience here. The EH website shows different out-of-pocket costs for each of the 3 Rx's I entered. One of the showed my cost as being HIGHER than the stated REAL PRICE!! I bit of a joke, that.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "EH added "RX Plan Prescriber" but it is a LOSER" by "ibmexe". Full excerpt: Not only is something wrong...but through an agonizing process I was able to get EH to FINALLY agree not only that something was terribly wrong with the Humana-Walmart OOP costs but also got them to agree to FIX the 2.5-3.0X overestimation of my OOP costs.

    What finally convinced them was when we jointly visited medicare.gov and looked at their estimates....which closely agreed with the HUMANA website estimates and clearly showed that EH was using the wrong costs for my drugs. The HW plan turned out to easily be the lowest cost of all the 31 plans shown.

    My advice to one and all is to get estimates from medicare.gov in addition to those from EH and elsewhere.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: EH added "RX Plan Prescriber" but it is a LOSER" by "Bill". Full excerpt: Medicare.gov has a drug plan finder that seems to work well.

    Plus, if you want to get an idea of how accurate the drug pricing for a given plan is, you can go to the details of the Star Rating system for that plan. In the details you will find a field, "Plan provides accurate drug pricing information for this website".

    The idea is, that you run your drugs through the plan finder, pick the company you are most interested in, check the star rating details, as I indicated above, to see if the information you are basing a decision on has actually been accurate in the past.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Eligibility to stay with Medicare Advantage (Part C) - Aetna/PPO for two years?" by "bk2006pc". Full excerpt: I am completely confused with whole EH outsource and different interpretation. If I like my current MetLife dental and Blue Shield Blue Cross Medicare advantage plan for me and IBM Medical Supplement for my wife then why do I can not keep it?

    I have to wait until Nov 15th to find out the premium for my wife's high deductible IBM Medical Supplement plan before I make final decision. She needs that for next six month until she becomes eligible for the Medicare!

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Eligibility to stay with Medicare Advantage (Part C) - Aetna/PPO for two years?" by "netmouser". Full excerpt: It pays to shop with EH and compare. While I did not have your choice to stay with a plan, I did find a plan that cost a lot less than the Aetna Integration Plan A from IBM with just as good coverage. I probably should have changed plans a year ago when I began Medicare
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "IBM Grandfathered Plans" by "flatsflyer". Full excerpt: Based on the IBM Plans being grandfathered they where required to maintain the primary benefits, options, coverage, pricing and services. I think based on the change to Extend Health, plan changes and other factors, IBM should/would no longer be grandfathered. Anyone have any thoughts?
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: IBM Grandfathered Plans" by "hankharty". Full excerpt: I believe retiree plans are exempt from the ACA requirements.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: IBM Grandfathered Plans" by Sheila Beaudry. Full excerpt: The retiree plans never came under the ACA at all so they are not considered grandfathered plans. Only the plans for current employees would fall under the grandfathering option if that is how IBM chose to do it.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Minimum to get access to HRA funds" by "dimackinn". Full excerpt: I am a 1994 retiree. My spouse has AARP Medigap and Medicare D plans that suit him fine and I am fortunate to have the FEP BCBS subsidized coverage for both Medigap and drug coverage. So my need, and many other retirees need, is to avail ourselves of the HRA funds but not get locked into IBM/ExtendHealth. My strategy is to take a minimal Medicare D plan for myself as required to fund the HSA and then submit premiums, copays, deductibles for both of us to ExtendHealth for HSA reimbursement. That way I think I keep my options open but avail myself of HRA funds. I plan to do the minimum to get the funds but get the medical policies we want outside of IBM/ExtendHealth. There is no advantage to getting plans through ExtendHealth, the premiums are the same and reimbursement is still provided. Or am I very misguided?
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Minimum to get access to HRA funds" by "lobosphoto". Full excerpt: The requirement for an HRA is either a medical plan or a drug plan. Note that you can't duplicate coverages. One drug plan will cancel the other. Perhaps EH and IBM will give you the HRA if you buy your spouse's plans through EH. EH does carry AARP (at least here in CA).

    Also don't mix HSA and HRA. They are different. This IBM thingie is an HRA.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Minimum to get access to HRA funds" by " petorrey". Full excerpt: I am also a '94 retiree, but I am going through EH for my Medigap and Plan D because the premiums are the same as I would get outside EH. They happen to have the same policies I would buy outside. But by going through EH, I can enroll in the automatic reimbursement, which saves me the trouble of sending in the bills.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Minimum to get access to HRA funds" by "Bill". Full excerpt: If you buy through EH you can get automatic reimbursement of the premium. Fewer paperwork headaches. Also, they have said that in the case of a dispute with the insurance company, they will sit in on the dispute; I think there is potential value to this, for a person with a Medicare Advantage policy. For a person with a Medigap policy, I'm not sure there is any such value.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Minimum to get access to HRA funds" by "stretch1a". Full excerpt: Just an FYI, I asked about the option of using an outside insurance plan. They said it would not be covered from the IBM funds. Make sure to check this out before you make any decisions. Bob
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Minimum to get access to HRA funds" by "portsm1th". Full excerpt: Yeah, it's been pretty clear that the INTENT, at least, was for the IBM funds to be used in purchase of insurance from EH. I've been surprised at how many people have been parsing words to make the funds appear more generally available, and even more surprised at the number of people who've commented on this forum that they are planning based on those assumptions.

    It was pretty clear in my call that the IBM funds would be used to cover premiums for what I got through EH and resulting deductibles, co-pays, etc.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Minimum to get access to HRA funds" by "hankharty". Full excerpt: "But, it would sure be nice to see something in writing for those of you who want to get only your drug plans through EH."

    What benefit is it to IBM to let retirees know of this change? It will only cost IBM more HRA dollars.

    What benefit is it to EH to let retirees know of this change? It will only cost EH more commission dollars.

    It would be easy for IBM to set up a FAQ website with HRA/EH information, but it is not to their benefit.

    Only if enough people write Dr. Rhee asking the same question or ask for copies of the plan documents will they ever consider sending a letter to all affected retirees. A mailing would probably cost more that $110,000.

    It is not personal, it is just business economics.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Minimum to get access to HRA funds" by "harris_berman". Full excerpt: I was informed this morning during a call to EH that all of the rules/policies concerning the IBM HRA reimbursements are contained in an internal EH document entitled the "Client Guide". I inquired if this was posted anywhere on the website or if it could be sent to me via e-mail or USPS mail. The answer I was given was that it was an internal document only and could not be distributed. Time will tell.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Minimum to get access to HRA funds" by "hankharty". Full excerpt: "The answer I was given was that it was an internal document only and could not be distributed."

    Legally you have no protection unless you write and request a copy of the plan document from the Plan Administrator.

    Those that don't submit a written request are at the mercy of IBM/EH. Even if you had a Summary Plan Document, that doesn't have any legal significance per the Supreme Court (and Document Don).

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Minimum to get access to HRA funds" by "harris_berman". Full excerpt: Correct! Extend Health is not the Plan Administrator for the IBM HRA. I just find it interesting that after all of the posts that assert that the HRA may be accessed in a manner different than that stated in the original announcement letter we still hear about dialogs that various people have had with EH that don't seem to be consistent. My understanding is that the IBM HRA SPD and Plan Document will be available in a January, 2014 mailing.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Minimum to get access to HRA funds" by "rmeggy". Full excerpt: What good will that do if we have to sign up for some sort of medical plan by December 7, 2013? EH told me the same thing and I told them that dog wasn't going to hunt. That was when they sent me a detailed list of eligible medical expenses. I posted the information on this website (5 pages double spaced).
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Plan N, Vision & Dental Questions" by Jim Brighton. Full excerpt: I would greatly appreciate if anyone could offer any information to help answer some or all of the following questions. Thanks so very much.
    1. Does anyone know (especially if you have an authoritative reference) if a doctor's visit to a hospital room is counted as an "Office Visit" for Medigap Supplement Plan N?

      Plan N seems to be a really good deal, but far more people choose Plan F. What am I missing? There must be a catch. What medical condition(s) would lead someone to need to go for 25 office visits per year (enough to make up the premium difference between Plan N and Plan F minus the Part B Deductible)?

      What, if any, Part B Excess Charges could a NY State resident ever expect to ever face?

      Can a NY State resident freely switch between Plan F & Plan N (either way) in the years to come without any penalties or difficulties?

      Any warnings or cautions against Plan N and for Plan F would be appreciated since I've really started to think (after initially preferring Plan F) that I might be better off with Plan N.

    2. Do Medicare and/or the Medigap Supplement Plans (like Plans F or N) cover a visit to the ophthalmologist? In other words, do we definitely need a vision plan to be covered for an appointment with an ophthalmologist? (Is the ophthalmologist able to submit a different code than he or she would to a Vision Plan to get Medicare & the Supplement Policies to cover it?)

      Does anyone have a recommendation for a Vision Insurance Plan or Vision Discount card that is better than Extend Health's only plan in NY state, the "VSP Choice Plan for Individuals (NY)"

    3. Can anyone possibly recommend a Dental Insurance Plan or Dental Discount Card that is better than Extend Health's only NY State offering "Delta Dental Individual Plan III."
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: Plan N, Vision & Dental Questions" by "redrock_5432". Full excerpt: Ophthalmologist—I don't know the whole story but the ophthalmologist I see said that she could file either with the vision plan or Medicare part B because I have cataracts that are mild enough to not interfere with my vision. So my plan is to consider a vision plan only in those years I plan to purchase new glasses. I also figure I will meet the part B deductible every year so this analysis is the 'last dollar' and I would be charged 20% sans a supplement plan.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: Plan N, Vision & Dental Questions" by "netmouser". Full excerpt: I myself did the turn around on Plan F and ended up choosing Plan N. I recommend you call an insurer in NY state and chat with an agent. I learned a lot that way and they are more expert than what you will find here. I found the insurer I chose has no underwriting or health questions on the application, not true for other insurers in my state. What a nice surprise that was. Read some insurer websites for their Medicare plans and you will learn a lot about that.

    You are in NY, and NY limits Plan B excess to 5% (instead of 15%). My agent in NJ believes NYC is where you might find more Plan B excess, usually specialists with big equipment costs. You can control this based on selecting a doctor or other Plan B practitioner.. So if you have a colonoscopy you can ask before hand if the doctor accepts Medicare assignment - you can also look up a doctor on the CMS database to see if they have Y (yes) they do accept assignment. And if there will be an anesthesiologist involved in the procedure, ask if they accept Medicare assignment or you can choose instead mild sedation.

    NY is also a state that does not permit underwriting when changing a Medigap plan, and is a reason why Plan F premiums are so high - people who are healthy choose plans with lower premium so Plan F has a lot of sick people. Read this as one article: http://www.healthplanone.com/healthinsurance/newyork/

    As for vision or dental, any supplemental plan only covers what Medicare covers. You can go to Costco for a great vision exam and glasses paying out of pocket a low cost, and no one is finding a dental plan worth the premium from what I'm reading.

    Doctor services at a hospital can fall under Part B, depends if one is admitted I believe. If you are using the emergency room as a doctor visit, you will pay the $50 copay that is waived only if you are admitted - an incentive to stop using the emergency room instead of a doctor.

    In NY, you can change from Plan N to Plan F anytime and it'll be effective the coming month.

    Some of us are finding that if there is a good difference in premium between Plan N and Plan F, go with Plan N and pocket any difference after you pay the Part B deductible of 147 and 20 per doctor visit. You'd probably have to see a doctor every other week to spend the premium difference.. If you get that sick, in NY you can change to Plan F.

    If I were in a different state where you are subject to underwriting when switching plans, and if there were a low difference in premium, I'd maybe think twice before choosing Plan N. However, in my state of NJ it is the insurer who has no underwriting and no health questions on the Medigap application.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: Plan N, Vision & Dental Questions" by "tested". Full excerpt: I would agree with you regarding Plan N versus Plan F when it comes to Plans with no deductible if this is the type of insurance you need. However, if you do have high medical expenses, the best is Plan F with a high deductible. In New York, you can always change to a Plan F no deductible in the following year when needed. I also think if you are in Plan F HD, you can change to Plan N with no deductible. So my thinking is take the lowest cost and then when need move up. These are community rated so they do not increase premiums based on age,
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: Plan N, Vision & Dental Questions" by "egroups1bp". Full excerpt: Jim B: I can only answer your questions by giving my opinion on my (and my husband's) present medical conditions, and IMO that's what you should look at first.

    Do you live in a state where laws are protective of their citizens, i.e. requiring that plans be "community rated" which will control the initial buy-in price somewhat, and not allowing underwriting which allows you to change plans within the same provider without medical scrutiny.

    And I'm not going to run the numbers on what I'd save in premiums between plans N and F. I've already learned my crystal ball to predict the unexpected is flawed.

    I learned I cannot reliably predict whether I or my husband will fall ill- even though we are in great shape. Three years ago my husband had an emergency while out of state before he was on Medicare We were both insured by IBM with the IBM high deductible PPO which had served us very well for years because we were both so healthy and not on any drugs. He fell ill on Dec 17th 2010 and we had $10K out of pocket for that year, and then because Jan 1 was right around the corner and he didn't get out of the hospital till mid Jan 2011 we had another $10K out of pocket expenses. So in about a month we spent $20K, which pretty much wiped out what we had saved in premiums for about 10 years prior.

    SO NOW... I'm not messing around without saving a few $$ on premiums. I'm going with Plan "F" so we will have no out of pocket costs.

    I tell this story, because you can have a problem after your enrollment period ends—so won't be able to move up to a better plan. Already been there done that...i.e. saved a load of money on premiums, then in one month paid out what we'd saved in about 10 years.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: IBM Grandfathered Plans" by Sheila Beaudry. Full excerpt: "What medical condition(s) would lead someone to need to go for 25 office visits per year?" After a car accident that hurt my neck and back. Visits 3 times a week to the physical therapist were common and I ended up with 40 visits that year.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: IBM Grandfathered Plans" by "lobosphoto". Full excerpt: "What medical condition(s) would lead someone to need to go for 25 office visits per year?" My wife's arthritis gets her drug every 4 weeks via infusion. That's 13 visits a year. She had both knees replaced and that caused another 10 or so visits. Add in the other docs and she does more than 25 easily.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: IBM Grandfathered Plans" by "Bill". Full excerpt: Jim, here are some comments to your questions. I hope they help.

    If you have been formally admitted to a hospital your coverage comes from Medicare A. Outpatient doctor visits are subject to the Part B annual deductible and the Plan N co-pay.

    I would never base a decision, were I you, on "everybody's doing it". You have to analyze the relative costs. There is no catch on Plan N. These Medigap policies are easy to compare, because benefits are standardized. No hidden insurance company tricks. WYSIWYG. Plan N was a much better deal than Plan F for my wife and I, and we are going with it. In some localities Plan F is a better deal. I think that, when all is said and done, you will see a lot of people using Plan N.

    Your Medicare book tells you what eye services are covered by Medicare Typically, eye refractions and eye glasses are not considered medically necessary and are not covered by Medicare Eye medical conditions are covered by Medicare I have high eye pressures. All of my ongoing tests and checks for glaucoma are considered medically necessary by Medicare Again, the Medicare book is very helpful.

    I was hoping that you would recommend a dental plan to me. :-)

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: IBM Grandfathered Plans" by "netmouser". Full excerpt: I just wish Plan N had an annual cap, say $3000, similar to Plan F HD's high deductible. Plan N only makes sense if you can switch to a different plan (Plan F) without underwriting.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Thanks! & Some Useful Web Sites" by Jim Brighton. Full excerpt: A million thanks to each of you for so much helpful information and advice.

    Rather than thank each of you in an individual reply, I'd like to share some URLs to some useful documents I found on-line. While they may not help the more knowledgeable members of the discussion, who most deserve my thanks, I'm sure that some people just beginning their research might benefit from them, and I'm just so grateful to you all that I want to give back what I can.

    This site lists the current premiums for All Medigap plans from each company in NY State: http://www.medicarerights.org/fliers/Medigaps/Whole-Medigap-Packet-%28NY%29.pdf?nrd=1

    Other states may have similar sites with all of the information compiled so people don't need to check with each company individually.

    Delta Dental's Dentist Search Page (Best Dentists in my area aren't in their network): http://www.deltadental.com/DentistSearch/DentistSearchController.ccl?DView=DentistDentistSearch

    I really wish I had more answers to share and fewer questions to pose in this discussion group. Maybe in a few weeks, I'll be able to provide guidance to others in the way that so many of you have shared with me.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "HRA Guide will be available in December" by "harris_berman". Full excerpt: The HRA guide from IBM will be available, according to EH, in a December mailing. It will contain the form(s) needed for the manual reimbursement of eligible charges (premiums, copays, coinsurance, etc.) as well as the instructions for enabling direct deposit of the reimbursement claim amounts from the HRA.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: HRA for Medicare Premiums" by "oldgolfballs". Full excerpt: In case you wish to complain about EH you can call the Netbenefits people and they will take your complaint and forward to IBM, I suggest we swamp them as the reps at EH are incompetent. I called back to try to resolve the part B question and got someone dumber than the first, when I asked to speak to a manager he kept asking my questions even after I told him several times I did not want to talk to him then when he transferred me to manager we "accidentally" got disconnected, I called back again and they same guy answered so I hung up. Will try later.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: HRA for Medicare Premiums" by "rmeggy". Full excerpt: Ernie, I don't disagree with you. I have been in a heated dialogue with an Fidelity Net Benefits manager regarding this rollout of the Extend Health/IBM offering for 2014. I have sent her this list and asked her to go back to IBM and verify the items on this list. You can't get to talk to anyone from IBM directly and have to go through Net Benefits. They don't know what is going on either. I will keep pushing NB for certifiable answers and will share with everyone as soon as I can obtain them.

    I have also been working with an Extended Health Senior Client Support Specialist who works on other companies beside IBM. After raising Cain with NB with many examples of the incompetence of EH reps, I was assigned this senior client rep for conducting any business with EH. I have asked her to get EH to publish the HRA details on the EH/IBM website and she will take this forward.

    Either I get Net Benefits to do their job and provide a useful interface back to IBM or I will continue to make life miserable for them until they do. I don't have any qualms about going to the next level of management at NB or EH. Roger

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: Plan N, Vision & Dental Questions" by "jes95135". Full excerpt: Here's the email I received from Dr. Rhee. There's no ambiguity about the question of take ANY Medigap plan or drug plan and you have access to all the HRA funds.
    Dear Mr. .....

    We are working with Extend Health to determine why you have received inconsistent responses and will ensure this is addressed going forward.

    To answer your specific question regarding enrolling in a plan outside of the Extend Health Medicare Exchange, as long as you enroll in a medical plan or prescription drug plan through Extend Health, you will receive the HRA.

    Therefore, if you enroll in a Medigap Plan F through Extend Heath, and enroll in a prescription drug plan outside of Extend heath, you can use your HRA to reimburse yourself for premiums for your coverage, including for medical, prescription drug, dental and vision, as well as out-of-pocket expenses such as copays and deductibles.

    We have also asked Extend Health to contact you directly to clarify how the HRA works.

    Thank you for writing.

    Kyu Rhee, MD, MPP, Vice President Integrated Health Services

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "Re: IBM Extend prices higher than open market" by Craig Smith. Full excerpt: This entire process has certainly been time consuming and frustrating, and we aren't even half way done yet!

    My wife and I both want the Anthem BC/BS plan F Medigap coverage, which is the only F Medigap here in Colorado that EH is offering other than Humana. I went to the Anthem website to check to see if the EH quoted premium ($175.48 for me) was valid. Big surprise - the rate on the Anthem website for my age and zip code was HIGHER - $195.67. But the $175.48 price does appear on their premium matrix, but for a different nearby zip code. Same situation for my wife. My first thought was that EH made a mistake and plugged in the wrong premiums on their website when reading the Anthem table. So I sent an email to EH asking them to double check the premium and get back to me.

    To their credit, they did respond by email the next day. Quoting the portion of their response dealing with the premium, they said:

    "Anthem may be offering the plan to Extend Health for a cheaper rate, for individuals who enroll through Extend Health, verses ones who don't."

    I don't have the feeling that they actually double checked the rate for correctness, but they are essentially saying that some of their rates might be lower than the same policy elsewhere. Not sure if I believe this or not, and won't be sure until I see the first actual invoice from Anthem for my policy. EH also pointed out that the premiums are subject to going up at any time. So still kind of a crapshoot in terms of pinning down the exact costs.

    We wanted to avoid the dreaded 3 hour phone call (scheduled in late Nov), so I attempted to enroll online this morning. This experience was no doubt better than the phone call will be, but far from perfect. Here are some of my experiences with it:

    I put the plan into my "shopping cart" and went to check out. Throughout the entire enrollment process, the premium consistently remained at $175.48. There are about 3 pages of questions to answer, some of them worded poorly and quite confusing. I had to stop about halfway through to try and figure out how to respond to some of the questions, and after about 10 minutes of thinking about it the web access timed out and I got dumped off. So had to log back in and start all over again. Not pleasant.

    From the Anthem website info on this policy, there should be options available on payment method (check, automatic bank account withdrawal, Visa, etc.), payment period (monthly, quarterly, annually), and discounts available based on both of us having Anthem BC/BS policies, paying other than monthly, etc. NONE of these options show up on the EH online enrollment. The only choice I had was to pay monthly via automatic bank account withdrawal. Absolutely zero information on available discounts to help make payment decisions, etc. If you check for automatic reimbursement of premium from EH, only option shown is for them to send checks each month - seems kind of backward and limiting. The entire process took about 45 minutes.

    So I THINK I'm enrolled but don't have much in the way of warm fuzzies about it. At the end of the process there is a PDF of a 14 page application that prints out with all the info I entered plus spaces for all the questions they didn't ask, such as choice of payment method, etc. They are supposed to send some kind of confirmation email but I have not received this yet.

    Tomorrow we will try the same thing for my wife.

    Looks like we will need to keep the Nov phone appointment after all, for the purpose of getting our policies fine-tuned the way we want them in terms of payments, discounts, reimbursements, etc. Hopefully doing some of this online first will shorten the call. Also not buying anything else from EH since the two medigaps more than used up our $3000 HRA. Not looking forward to the call.

    Craig in Colorado

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "Re: IBM Extend prices higher than open market" by Ralph H Ross. Full excerpt: I helped my wife with her call and we decided to do it via the phone versus on-line enrollment this time. Be sure to read the last couple sentences here for important info. Yes it was tedious as many questions were repeated for each type of insurance. We needed to have both a credit card and also a check ready, since if you want auto-reimbursement, some insurers wanted your checking account and some wanted a credit card. Anyway it took 1 hour and 15 minutes and we were pretty much decided on the coverage, so it was only a matter of enrolling.

    One annoyance was that we had to listen to 4 taped messages that seemed to be CYA’s for the insurers. When these taped messages finished, our adviser got back on the call. Kudos for her as she has to do this all day.

    One last point that might be helpful and feedback would be appreciated if I got this wrong: When I now check the coverage on-line, good news is that my ‘Shopping Cart’ lists the 4 plans that are applied for; and says “Application Submitted” for each one. My understanding is that ‘each’ carrier will now separately process and approve the insurance.

    If you look at ‘My Accounts’, ‘View All Information’, and ‘Open applications’ it will tell you that the application is with the carrier and you need to wait 2 weeks for them to process/approve and then you can contact each of them for status. Hmmm, I wonder if some people will find out next year that they never got insurance – seems like EH should make sure we get coverage. This is a loophole I bet IBM doesn’t know about.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Dr. Rhee" by "mtaquilts". Full excerpt: How do I contact Dr. Rhee?. Is there an e-mail address for him or a phone number? or do I have to actually "write" a letter which will be received too late.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Dr. Rhee" by "justa_bean_counter". Full excerpt: What is with this fascination with Dr Rhee? He is a talking head. His letters are boilerplate copies. He has no legal standing. You need to write the Plan Administrator with your questions, in Cincinnati.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Dr. Rhee" by "netmouser". Full excerpt: Justa - I was kind of wondering myself if Dr. Rhee is like Betty Crocker. The email replies are actually from retiree@.... There is a Dr. R. signature. I email questions to both Dr. R and Retiree as well as a senior HR person at headquarters (I believe actually in Somers) who I've communicated with many times in the past.

    The replies are always from retiree. That tells me there is a central Lotus Notes mail database for Retiree with question/answer emails, and the HR headquarters department for healthcare is responsible. Being in Lotus Notes, they can copy/paste answers given previously (a form of boilerplate, I guess), which makes sense and I would not expect each email reply to be from completely from scratch.

    I don't know Dr. R's actually involvement, perhaps as consultant.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Dr. Rhee" by Don Shuper. Full excerpt: Why not simply email and ask if Dr. Rhee is either a Plan Administrator (which is actually a committee) or responding on their behalf, and if not, what is the correct address for the Plan Administrator. Yes, I know the latest address is probably correct, but it should be enlightening as to the answers one gets. Posting that answer should let everyone know of decide whom to trust or go to to get a correct answer.
  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "RE: Dr. Rhee" by "chz_whiz". Full excerpt: The Plan Administrator for the IBM Medical and Dental Plans for Retired Employees is a committee which consists of three or more executive level employees appointed by action of the IBM Retirement Plan Committee. The address for the Plan Administrator is:
    Office of the Plan Administrator
    IBM Employee Services Center
    PO Box 770003
    Cincinnati, OH 45277-1060
    Telephone: 800-796-9876

    The committee is (or will) be the Plan Administrator for the HRA. IBM is getting out of the insurance business (so far) only for retirees, so the agreement is between the retiree and his/her insurance providers. IBM will not be providing Medical and Dental plans for retired employees. The Plan Administrator, so to speak, will be in the insurance providers and CMS.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Enrolling in your 2013 Health Plan through EH for 2014" by "rmeggy". Full excerpt: I presently have a Medicare Advantage plan that I like. This plan is also offered through EH. However I was concerned about doing this after reading the bottom paragraph on page 6 of the October Announcement Newsletter. Also, Q4 on page 11 addressed this same issue. It talked about some rule. No one at EH or Net Benefits could provide details.

    My current EH senior specialist was able to explain it to me. I am working with her (EH) and my insurance carrier to get around this issue. If this works I will post it in this topic.

    These are the details that I have so far.

    Changing Agent of Record for a Medical Plan 10/26/2013. This question is from the October 2013 Announcement Newsletter that discusses a new way that IBM Retirees can get health care coverage.

    Why aren't we allowed to keep individual policies purchased through a local broker or directly through an insurance company, if they're offered through the Extend Health Medical Exchange?

    "You will not be able to enroll in your current medical plan option through Extend Health for 2014 – even if it's available through the exchange. If you would like to enroll in a medical plan option through Extend Health (and receive your HRA), you must choose a new medical plan option. This rule is required by law and is not a decision made by IBM."

    "You may continue your current medical plan option through your current carrier for 2014 and beyond, however, you will not be eligible for an HRA funded by IBM."

    I was able to work with an Extend Health Specialist that was familiar with the problem as described in Q4. This is a procedure that will allow you to obtain your current plan through Extend Health, if offered, for 2014. That should allow us to obtain our HRA.

    To be able to enroll in the same medical plan, which you currently have, from a different vendor or medical exchange for the following year, it is necessary to do the following. The current vendor (the one that sold you the policy) is called the Agent of Record. That vendor receives the commissions for the sale and is responsible for providing the insurance benefits provided in the contract with them.

    The CMS (Medicare) rule says you can't obtain the same medical plan from a different vendor, in this case, Extend Health, because Extend Health is Not the Agent of Record.

    You have to get the present vendor to agree to relinquish AOR to Extend Health. This can be done by having the present vendor's AOR department, write a letter on their letterhead agreeing to change AOR. I am working with my present carrier to do this.

    Note: The present vendor is not required to do this. I would use the argument that they will lose me as a customer because I will be forced to choose another provider or else give up my HRA, which I am not prepared to do. You need to work with an Extend Health CSR who is knowledgeable on this subject. Most are not. Insist on someone who is.

    I will provide follow-up as soon as I get it. Roger

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: Enrolling in your 2013 Health Plan through EH for 2014" by "harris_berman". I understand what you are doing, but I don't believe that the process is very difficult. I was able to change my BCBSNC Medigap policy on Oct 1 by having EH submit a form that requested BCBSNC to change the Agent of Record to EH while they were changing the plan from HD Plan F to ND Plan F. BCBSNC, the provider, changed the AOR to EH from the previous agent, the producer, in short order. All my cards were issued within 3 days of the request. Each state has its' own rules and regulations governing AOR so it's hard to generalize the specific process/form.

    It's worth noting that people who do not currently have the IBM Medical Supplement are not guaranteed to be able to obtain a Medigap policy because there is NO employer plan being terminated. Some states allow Medigap policies to be sold without the need for underwriting, but the basic rules from CMS state that underwriting may be applied. No underwriting is used for Part C or Part D plans.

    The rules surrounding reimbursement from the HRA are set by the employer within the constraints of the IRS regulations. Not all expenses may be applied in some cases. The SPD or the Plan Document will set out the policy in January, 2014 when it is published for us (unless IBM decides to make it available at an earlier date).

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: Enrolling in your 2013 Health Plan through EH for 2014" by "hankharty". Full excerpt: "The rules surrounding reimbursement from the HRA are set by the employer within the constraints of the IRS regulations. Not all expenses may be applied in some cases. The SPD or the Plan Document will set out the policy in January, 2014 when it is published for us (unless IBM decides to make it available at an earlier date)."

    It appears the IRS gives IBM a lot of leeway to set the rules regarding the HRA, including reclaiming unused balances each year. When the IRS says unused balances MAY be rolled over, it doesn't mean a company MUST roll them over. The IRS sets the broad guidelines, and IBM sets the rules within those guidelines.

    To get the full details, request in writing a Plan Document from the Plan Administrator. They must respond within 30 days. Request your copy today and be one of the first to receive a copy. You may also want to reserve your right to change your plan choice until you have had sufficient time to read and review the Plan Document, e.g. 30 days after you receive the document.

    Put all of your requests into one letter since you are allowed only one request letter per year. If they do not fully respond to your first letter, you are allowed to follow up with requests for additional clarifications. Make your request very clear and concise.

  • Yahoo! IBM Pension, Retirement Issues & Extend Health message board: "Re: Enrolling in your 2013 Health Plan through EH for 2014" by "harris_berman". Full excerpt: Good advice, of course, but unfortunately most, if not all, of the decisions we are making regarding medical and drug plan enrollments through EH and the assumed reimbursement of expense types from the HRA will have been made before the Plan Document or the SPD will be available in January, 2014. Sort of like driving down the highway at night w/o your headlights working. I'm sure that we'll all have more experience for the next time.'
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "Extend Health - HRA - Kaiser" by "chh6". Full excerpt: We are a group of retirees in Atlanta who had purchased the Kaiser Sr. Advantage Plan on our own and not through IBM. As a result we are told by Extend Health that if we stay in the Kaiser plan we are not eligible for the HRA. Is anyone in the same boat. We would like to know and figure out a strategy.

    The reason we did not purchase the Kaiser plan through IBM was because it was cheaper to purchase it directly from Kaiser. We pointed this out to IBM in 2008 and they responded by doing nothing.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "RE: Extend Health - HRA - Kaiser" by "Mary". Full excerpt: I have the same problem; been a Kaiser member for a long time. Been told by EH rep if you don't pick a med plan, can't get HRA for vision & dental.
  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "RE: Extend Health - HRA - Kaiser" by "icarlosdanger". Full excerpt: Get the insurance broker in Atlanta that got paid all those commissions to get Kaiser and EH to talk about your specific needs that affect many IBM retirees in your area, perhaps?

    Remember: Advantage Plans pay the highest commissions.

    Or, ask EH if you buy an EH-sourced drug plan, dental, or optical plan, if that will free up HRA money to keep paying Kaiser broker for plan you all want to keep.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "RE: Extend Health - HRA - Kaiser" by Carl Heller. Full excerpt: This is in answer to the suggestion about purchasing another EH plan such as drug, dental or optical.

    A dental or optical plan purchased from EH does not qualify for a HRA per IBM rules. You must purchase a medical or drug plan to qualify for the HRA per IBM rules.

    Under our Kaiser plan we have drug coverage. If we purchase a drug plan from EH it would cancel our Kaiser plan per Medicare rules.

    Needless to say, we are stuck but keep the suggestions coming. Carl.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "new health insurance" by Gene Ehrich. Full excerpt: Well I just recorded all of our doctors and prescriptions and then transferred all of the information to Extend health which took a while due to the number of doctors and prescriptions involved. That turned out to be the easy part. The daunting part was still to come with choosing which plans we wanted. There are so many plans to choose from. We have always been big fans of the IBM plans in the past. I am definitely not happy with having to go to an HMO.

    My wife takes very few meds and sees only a few doctors. I am just the opposite. I always go a little over the limit on the 3500 drug benefit. My wife does not

    Looks like the Medicare advantage plans fits best for me but there are 15 to choose from here in Florida. Some have drug benefit and others do not. An awful lot of decisions to make. I do need a drug plan with the Medicare advantage plan or a separate additional drug plan.

    Have not yet looked at the plans for my wife.

    I have not yet scheduled my appointment which I will do tomorrow (Monday).

    The Tampa IBM club has a medical seminar this Thursday which we will be attending.

    Hope I can get answers this week.

    Any comments nor suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "Re: new health insurance" by "Jerry". Full excerpt: I recently began sorting through the ExtendHealth choices. If someone who takes more than one or two generic drugs, I don't see how to select an Advantage plan because their formularies are unsearchable. This did not appear to be as difficult if I separately select a drug plan and a Medigap plan.

    Also, because the Medigap plans are defined as class A, B, C, etc., comparison of one plan to another seems more direct than with Advantage plans.

    Am I missing something?

  • Yahoo! IBM Retiree - Information Exchange message board: "Re: new health insurance" by "lefutrell". Full excerpt: I will be choosing a Medicare Advantage with Part D plan for myself, and just as you say, little information is available from the Extend Health web site. I am in Ulster County, NY, and the Extend Health site takes me to this company's list of providers for Western NY rather than the list for Eastern NY and Vermont which is applicable to my location. Also, the Extend Health prescription profiler shows that one of my drugs (not available as generic) is not covered by any part D plan, whereas it is actually covered by most of them, including the one I intend to buy.

    But I was able to download the correct list of providers as well as the part D formulary from the plan's own web site. And the plan's web site also has a prescription profiler which showed me exactly what I would end up paying over the next year. I should note that I trust this particular plan provider since I have had my IBM provided insurance with them for quite a few years and I know from experience that their customer service is first rate.

    Have you tried looking at the web site for the plan you are interested in, rather than Extend Health's site, for the information you need? Larry.

New on the Alliance@IBM Site

Job Cut Reports

  • Comment 10/26/13: Received .09% MBA, at low end of band. Joked with mgr that it was 'stock market' based, he winced. He said some areas received 0%. -Longtimer-
  • Comment 10/27/13: I can confirm the salary plan rumblings -- target is "90% of market," meaning if you are above that salary-point, you get nothing (could possibly get a 1% 'good job' bonus, but not likely), if you are at 90% of market, you get the same, and if you are below 90% of market pay, you might get a 1% or 2% salary bump. This isn't quite the same as "moving everyone to 90%," of course, but, if done over multiple years, it would effectively freeze the high-earners and (slowly) boost the low-earners until everyone was at approx. 90%. In reality, no one will see any significant cash, low-paid or otherwise. -Simple_Math-
  • Comment 10/28/13: So the story from GBS management is - all top performers - PCR 1 - got a 2% bonus this year from the CEO herself. All resources at or below 90% pay range with PBC of 1 or 2+ got MBA adjustment and some resources were selected by the data-mining tool for a one time pay increase of 1 to 10% based on their likelihood of leaving IBM. -nopayraise-
  • Comment 10/28/13: Just realize that the target of 90% is really 90% penetration to the mid way point of the salary range (50%). Example> salary range is 50K to 100K with mid point of 75K. The 90% is really 75K times 90% or 67/5K. I use to think when they said 90%, I thought it meant 90% into the entire range or much closer to 100K than the other formula. if You make 75K in that range of 50-100K, then you are 100% penetrated from their view point. For years, 100% really meant reaching the 50% point in the scale. -blueladydiPOK-
  • Comment 10/30/13: In IBM Australia a couple of years ago the max redundancy package was 65 weeks for someone with say 25 years or more service...then 52 weeks this up till middle of this year...last round decreased to 26 weeks max...supposedly next round will be the Government minimum of 12 weeks...disgusting...you only find out what you get after getting told. -Anon-
  • Comment 10/30/13: You are only eligible for a minuscule MBA bump if you are not within 90% of the midpoint?? Yet the HR promo material indicates IBM pays competitively. Is competitive 10% less than average? Conflicting message. I thought the midpoint was actually the midpoint. Is this new this year? -MBA_IS_A_JOKE-
  • Comment 10/31/13: IBM aims to pay 90% of average means they want less than average employees. Soon as I find an alternative to this hell hole I am gone. Used to be great, now it is just a job. -Oh-god-take-me-now-
  • Comment 11/01/13: New IBM paradigm: IBM only hires the best and the brightest. IBM only pays below the average market rate. In Lake Wobegon Days it was said that it was a place "where all of the children are Above Average "IBM" where all of the employees are paid Below Average" It doesn't matter if you are a Top Contributor. This company is like one of those muzak radio stations that is run by computer. 5 year roadmap, salary rules, HR practices. Who needs managers. Just let Watson spit out the rules. -Blue_Flu_Lou-
  • Comment 11/01/13: What an irony. IBM was not selected to help out with Obamacare website issues. Companies selected are FB,RH, Oracle. So much so for WebSphere stack of products. Even if they wanted to help, where will they get people from? India, China? No one here. -Anonymous-
  • Comment 11/02/13: GDF model is to hire non-technical leads to boss around the technical admins? Who was the brainchild who thought this up? So now we have to first explain everything to the dimwit lead then have them send an email telling me what I just told them the day before. And yes, all the FLM's and SLM's are POS too. Take your GDF model of BS and stick it where the sun don't shine. Just waiting for Dec 15th for my 401k match and I am long gone. What a bunch of horrible people to work for. -gdf'd up-
  • Comment 11/02/13: I'll never be surprised to hear that others are out innovating IBM. After all, in my last calendar year there, I implemented a personal "Think 40" to improve my skills, and even did so such that my studies led to useful tools for my team. What was the reward? Demeaning castigation in my PBC review for "seeming distracted", despite the fact that I not only exceeded in all the areas of my PBC, but I'd even volunteered for - and delivered - additional work throughout that year. It's a good thing I frequently instituted a what I want to call a"personally directed 'Think 40'" throughout my career, or I'd have absolutely no marketable skills. -thankfully the distractable type-

IBM Retiree Issues

  • Comment 10/29/13: Is the MetLife dental plan still available? -Teddy64-
  • Comment 10/30/13: "Is the MetLife dental plan still available? -Teddy64-" If you are retired and on Medicare where you have to find your own dental policy- the answer is NO. MetLife only sells their dental plans to group employers. They do not offer dental plans directly to individuals. -here's the answer-

How Does the Furlough Affect You & Your family

News and Opinion Concerning Health Savings Accounts, Medical Costs and Health Care Reform
  • The Fiscal Times: CBO: GOP Medicare Tweak Won't Save Much Money. By Brett Logiurato. Does it make sense to increase the age of Medicare eligibility in order to lower entitlement spending? A new study shows that this is clearly a bad idea because it would hardly save any money.

    The Congressional Budget Office dramatically reduced its projection of the deficit savings that would come from raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67, perhaps providing even less of an incentive for lawmakers to consider what was already a politically risky option.

    The nonpartisan CBO now estimates that raising the eligibility age would reduce the federal budget deficit by just $19 billion over 10 years. That's down from $113 billion it projected in savings last year. ...

    The reasoning for the CBO's massive shift is pretty simple. Most 65- and 66-year-olds who enroll in Medicare are healthier than those already enrolled at 65 because of disability. It also projects that these 65- and 66-year-olds will have greater access to employer coverage. Both of these factors mean that the beneficiaries will cost the federal government substantially less money.

  • Washington Post opinion: Deja vu on Obamacare. By Matt Miller. Excerpts: Voiceover: It’s December 1, 1936 — in the Crossfire tonight — Americans begin signing up for FDR’s new “Social Security” program — but can the post office handle the volume? And is it essential protection for seniors — or the slippery slope to socialism? In the Crossfire — Frances Perkins, secretary of labor, who supports the program — and congressman Daniel Reed, Republican of New York, who opposes it. ...

    Sinclair: After 18 months of planning, President Roosevelt’s breakthrough Social Security program to ease poverty among senior citizens recently began its rollout, with application forms sent to post offices across the country — and with employers forced to register as well. Freddy, I think it’s a milestone for a civilized nation. After all, two dozen countries already have systems of social insurance on the books. And the whole idea was invented by a conservative, Otto von Bismarck, back in the ’80s as a shrewd way to assure social peace. Can’t you concede that morality, not to mention the survival instincts of the ruling class, requires a decent society to offer something like Bismarckcare to protect against destitution in old age?

    Hayek: Spoken like a communist out to weigh the economy down, Up. Don’t you lefties see that your taxing and spending will put us on the road to serfdom?

  • The Brookings Institute opinion: The Truth About Those Obamacare Coverage Letters. By Henry J. Aaron. Excerpts: Of late, numerous reports have told of people surprised by letters telling them that insurance plans they now have will not be renewed. Many are puzzled. Weren’t they told that if they like their insurance they could keep it? Opponents of health reform in general are seizing on the fact and asking in an accusatory manner: “Isn’t this a betrayal of trust?”

    No. To see why, imagine a new law enacted to promote food purity. As it is being debated, you are told: “If you like what you eat, you can keep on eating it.” The new law takes effect, and one day, you find that the market no longer carries certain foods you have been buying. As it happens, those products included elements found to be bad for your health. The pure food act barred their use.

    Obamacare is analogous to the pure food law. It bars certain common practices of insurance companies that most people find unacceptable at best, outrageous at worst. These include:

    • Denying care for preexisting conditions, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently;
    • Charging higher premiums to women of child-bearing age than to men of the same age;
    • Charging 65-year-olds rates that are as much six or eight times higher than they charge 25-year-olds;
    • Cutting benefits entirely when annual or lifetime treatment costs exceed specified amounts;
    • Omitting coverage of particular services that are basic and important, such as rehabilitation after serious injury;
    • and Canceling coverage when a customer presented very large bills and was expected to have very high bills in the future.

    As of January 1, 2014, insurers will be barred from doing any of these things. Currently available insurance plans that include such practices will not be allowed on the market.

    Let’s be clear. Not all plans have these noxious provisions, but some do. And let’s also avoid demonizing the insurance executives who sold policies with these provisions. Many people look hard for the lowest premium and pay less attention to coverage in circumstances they see as unlikely. So, there has been a market opportunity for insurers to lure customers willing to accept substandard coverage at rock-bottom premiums, and canny insurance executives have tried to seize it. ...

    Are those denied access to “adulterated” insurance going to have to pay more than they did in the past? The answer in most cases is no. First, many of them will be eligible for financial help — payments to lower the net cost of insurance and to help with cost sharing when they use care. Four-person families with incomes up to $94,200 in 2014 will be eligible for such help. ...

    People should be no more shocked when substandard insurance plans are removed from the market than they would be if food purity legislation caused some products to be removed from a grocer’s shelf. Obamacare is removing insurance products from the market that are bad for your health.

  • New York Times opinion: Why Not Medicaid For All? By Ross Douthat. Excerpt: My Sunday column on the potential consequences of Obamacare’s botched rollout ended by sketching a scenario in which the program’s Medicaid expansion is deemed a success while its reform of the individual market leads to much-higher-than-expected costs and much-lower-than-expected participation rates. This combination would no doubt be politically helpful to the Republican Party in the short run, but (I argued) it would actually leave liberals with a fairly clear path forward: Keep pressing the Medicaid expansion on states that haven’t taken it (and look for John Kasich-style Republicans to partner with), return to the Joe Lieberman-killed idea of expanding Medicare to 55-and-overs, and basically try to further shrink the percentage of Americans who aren’t eligible for one or both of those single-payer programs. This wouldn’t amount to the full-on push for single payer that some people expect from the left if Obamacare fails or gets repealed, but it would move the U.S. toward the closest thing to single payer that we’re ever likely to get: A system in which both the late middle-aged and the lower middle class gradually get folded into government-run insurance alongside the poor, the disabled, and the aged; the individual market survives as a kind of de facto high risk pool (overpriced but technically accessible); and the employer mandate helps prop up employer-based health insurance for a shrunken but still substantial share of the population.
  • Computerworld: Healthcare.gov website 'didn't have a chance in hell'. The failure rate for software development projects is high generally, particularly large ones like Healthcare.gov, says Standish Group data. By Patrick Thibodeau. Excerpts: A majority of large IT projects fail to meet deadlines, are over budget and don't make their users happy. Such is the case with Healthcare.gov. ...

    President Barack Obama said Monday that there is "no excuse" for the problems at the site.

    But his IT advisors shouldn't be surprised -- the success rate for large, multi-million dollar commercial and government IT projects is very low.

    The Standish Group, which has a database of some 50,000 development projects, looked at the outcomes of multi-million dollar development projects and ran the numbers for Computerworld.

    Of 3,555 projects from 2003 to 2012 that had labor costs of at least $10 million, only 6.4% were successful. The Standish data showed that 52% of the large projects were "challenged," meaning they were over budget, behind schedule or didn't meet user expectations. The remaining 41.4% were failures -- they were either abandoned or started anew from scratch.

    "They didn't have a chance in hell," said Jim Johnson, founder and chairman of Standish, of Healthcare.gov. "There was no way they were going to get this right - they only had a 6% chance," he said. But Johnson said he does believe the project is fixable, and doesn't see the rollout problems as "life threatening at this point."

  • New York Times opinion: Raising The Medicare Age, Revisited. By Paul Krugman. Full excerpt: Back in 2011, we almost had a “grand bargain” whose centerpiece would have been a rise in the Medicare eligibility age. Liberals were horrified, but it actually would have happened if Republicans hadn’t balked at the idea of any revenue increases at all.

    Now we learn that it would have been not just cruel and a betrayal of promises, but bone-stupid too. Many of us pointed out that raising the Medicare age would actually raise the cost of health care, that any apparent savings to the Federal government would result simply from shifting costs onto others — and because Medicare has lower costs than private insurance, this would result in a net loss. But now CBO has redone its analysis, and finds that raising the Medicare age would barely reduce federal spending.

    The basic reason is selection bias: many seniors get Medicare before 65 because of disability or specific medical conditions. The ones who have to wait until the headline age are, on average, relatively healthy and hence relatively cheap.

    So here’s my question: will people stop talking about raising the Medicare age? My prediction is that they won’t — because it wasn’t really about saving money in the first place. Degrading the safety net and pushing people into more expensive private insurance weren’t bugs, they were features. The usual suspects, I predict, will just keep pushing for the same thing, and dismiss the evidence.

  • Government Executive: Issa: Let All Americans Into Feds’ Health Plan. By Eric Katz. Excerpts: Most Republicans do not like the Affordable Care Act. But one Republican leader has proposed a supplement to the law referred to as Obamacare: Allow all Americans to enroll in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

    Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, officially unveiled the Equal Healthcare Access Act Wednesday. “The American people should have as easy a consumer experience as federal employees do,” he said.

    The proposal would not repeal any elements of Obamacare, but would enable all Americans to enter into the same exchange markets as federal employees, allowing all citizens access to the 230 plans -- in 2014, that number will grow to 256 -- in which feds currently enroll. The bill would authorize the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees FEHBP for the federal workforce, to transition the program to include non-federal worker beneficiaries.

  • New York Times opinion: The Uproar Over Insurance ‘Cancellation’ Letters. By David Firestone. Excerpts: Kathleen Sebelius, the Health and Human Services secretary, took a lot of grief Wednesday from Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee who were outraged that some people’s individual insurance policies had been “cancelled” because of health care reform. ...

    But in between lashings, Ms. Sebelius managed to make an important point. Yes, some people will be forced to upgrade their policies, she said. But that’s preferable to the status quo before the passage of the Affordable Care Act, when insurers could cancel policies on a whim.

    “The individual market in Kansas and anywhere in the country has never had consumer protections,” she testified at the hearing. “People are on their own. They could be locked out, priced out, dumped out. And that happened each and every day. So this will finally provide the kind of protections that we all enjoy in our health care plans.”

    A true cancellation is when someone gets a letter saying that she’s losing her insurance and cannot renew. That was common practice in the individual market for people with expensive conditions. Under the new law, no one will ever get a letter like that again. They cannot be turned down for insurance.

    The so-called cancellation letters waved around at yesterday’s hearing were simply notices that policies would have to be upgraded or changed. Some of those old policies were so full of holes that they didn’t include hospitalization, or maternity care, or coverage of other serious conditions.

    Republicans were apparently furious that government would dare intrude on an insurance company’s freedom to offer a terrible product to desperate people. ...

    Luckily, a comprehensive and affordable insurance policy is no longer a Ferrari; it is now a basic right. In the face of absurd comments and analogies like this one, Ms. Sebelius never lost her cool in three-and-a-half hours of testimony, perhaps because she knows that once the computer problems and the bellowing die down, the country will be far better off.

  • New York Times op-ed: Why the Government Never Gets Tech Right. Getting to the Bottom of HealthCare.gov’s Flop. By Clay Johnson and Harper Reed. Excerpts: For the first time in history, a president has had to stand in the Rose Garden to apologize for a broken Web site. But HealthCare.gov is only the latest episode in a string of information technology debacles by the federal government. Indeed, according to the research firm the Standish Group, 94 percent of large federal information technology projects over the past 10 years were unsuccessful — more than half were delayed, over budget, or didn’t meet user expectations, and 41.4 percent failed completely.

    For example, Sam.gov, a system for government contractors developed by I.B.M. that started in 2012, has cost taxpayers $181 million and is just now beginning to work as expected. Before that, a new version of USAJobs.gov landed with a thud, after years during which millions were spent. In 2001, the F.B.I. started a virtual case file system, and after dumping the project, renaming it, and finding new vendors to build it, the project, “Sentinel,” managed to see the light of day just last year. ...

    So why is it that the technology available to Mr. Obama as president doesn’t compare to the technology he used to win an election? Much of the problem has to do with the way the government buys things. The government has to follow a code called the Federal Acquisition Regulation, which is more than 1,800 pages of legalese that all but ensure that the companies that win government contracts, like the ones put out to build HealthCare.gov, are those that can navigate the regulations best, but not necessarily do the best job. That’s evidenced by yesterday’s Congressional testimony by the largest of the vendors, CGI Federal, which blamed everyone but itself when asked to explain the botched rollout of the new Web site. ...

    The president should use the power of the White House to end all large information technology purchases, and instead give his administration’s accomplished technologists the ability to work with agencies to make the right decisions, increase adoption of modern, incremental software development practices, like a popular one called Agile, already used in the private sector, and work with the Small Business Administration and the General Services Administration to make it easy for small businesses to contract with the government,

    Large federal information technology purchases have to end. Any methodology with a 94 percent chance of failure or delay, which costs taxpayers billions of dollars, doesn’t belong in a 21st-century government.

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.

  • Smirking Chimp: 7 Reasons to Take 7 Seconds to Save Social Security and Medicare By Richard Eskow. Excerpts: A broad coalition of organizations, including the Campaign for America's Future and Social Security Works, is joining Sen. Bernie Sanders in a petition drive to resist cuts to Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare It only takes a few moments to sign; it's that easy.

    This is one of the most important and urgent issues facing us today. Republican leaders are pressing for these cuts, even though they're opposed by an overwhelming 82 percent majority of Republican voters (according to recent polling by Lake Research). The President's budget proposal includes some of these cuts already, despite the fact that Democrats and independents oppose them by similarly large majorities. ...

    Republicans are still demanding "entitlement cuts." Some elected officials are saying there will be no "Grand Bargain" this year. But when it comes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, the difference is purely semantic. Representative Paul Ryan, the lead Republican negotiator, is saying that a "grand" deal is unlikely this year. Instead, says Ryan, we should focus on "achievable goals ... which are already in the President's budget." Ryan specifically cites "mandatory" cuts, which in government parlance means Medicare Medicaid and Social Security. ...

    The "chained CPI" is a deep cut to Social Security benefits. The chained CPI is not a "modest tweak," as those promoting it like to claim. If it went into effect today, as both the President and leading Republicans have proposed, a person turning sixty-five this year would receive $658 less per year in benefits by the time he or she were 75, and more than $1,000 a year less by age 85.

  • Huffington Post: Labor Secretary Thomas Perez Says More Employers Need To Follow Costco's Example. By Dave Jamieson. Excerpts: Count Labor Secretary Thomas Perez among the many admirers of Costco. In a speech in the nation's capital on poverty Tuesday, Perez singled out the big-box retailer as one chain that's managing to pay decent wages in a service industry that employs millions of the working poor.

    "There's this notion out there -- and it's a categorically false notion -- that the only business model in the service industry is the minimum-wage business model. I say phooey to that," Perez said at the event, which was hosted by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. "You go to a Costco store and you see people there who've been working there for years and years. They're making $15, $20 an hour, plus health benefits."

    Perez went on to praise Costco co-founder Jim Sinegal, saying the former CEOs business philosophy valued workers as much as investors. Sinegal, Perez argued, "debunked" the notion that retail wages need to be rock-bottom in order for companies to turn a profit.

    "I went to a [Costco] grand opening in Northern Virginia," Perez said. "The woman who was the manager at that store, she started out pushing carts, to use her term. And the remarkable loyalty that they have to Jim is a function of the fact that he categorically rejects the notion that, 'I either take care of my shareholders or my workers'. That is a false choice."

  • truthOut: The Triumph of the Right. By Robert Reich. Excerpts: Conservative Republicans have lost their fight over the shutdown and debt ceiling, and they probably won't get major spending cuts in upcoming negotiations over the budget. But they're winning the big one: How the nation understands our biggest domestic problem.

    They say the biggest problem is the size of government and the budget deficit.

    In fact our biggest problem is the decline of the middle class and increasing ranks of the poor, while almost all the economic gains go to the top. ...

    Many Americans have stopped looking for work. The official unemployment rate of 7.2 percent reflects only those who are still looking. If the same percentage of Americans were in the workforce today as when Barack Obama took office, today's unemployment rate would be 10.8 percent. ...

    Meanwhile, 95 percent of the economic gains since the recovery began in 2009 have gone to the top 1 percent. The real median household income continues to drop, and the number of Americans in poverty continues to rise.

    So what's Washington doing about this? Nothing. Instead, it's back to debating how to cut the federal budget deficit.

    The deficit shouldn't even be an issue because it's now almost down to the same share of the economy as it's averaged over the last thirty years. ...

    The central issue of our time is the reality of widening inequality of income and wealth. Everything else — the government shutdown, the fight over the debt ceiling, the continuing negotiations over the budget deficit — is a dangerous distraction. The Right's success in generating this distraction is its greatest, and most insidious, triumph.

  • New York Times editorial: In Search of Republican Grown-Ups. Excerpts: Mr. Hatch and other establishment senators believe that grown-ups would not threaten the country’s full faith and credit, or keep the government closed, in order to get their way. That’s true, but it’s a rather pallid definition of maturity. A mature and responsible political party would do more than prevent a government default; it would offer serious solutions to the nation’s most pressing problems instead of running from them.

    And it is there that Republicans — whether adults or Tea Party members — continue to let the public down.

    At a time when the economy is desperate for federal help and 11.3 million people are still unemployed, the party — and not just its far-right wing — is still pretending that cutting spending and lowering the deficit remain the country’s most urgent priorities. Republicans won’t acknowledge that tax increases, along with spending cuts they have forced on the country, have already driven the deficit down to 4 percent of the aggregate economy, from 10 percent in 2009. Their appetite for billions in further cuts has only grown. ...

    Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, ostensibly an anti-shutdown “adult,” wants to use the conference to cut social-welfare entitlements and relieve the tax burden on corporations. “We have to make a down payment on the debt and deficit,” he told Congressional Quarterly.

    That down payment has already been made, many times over, and Democrats have vowed not to even consider entitlement changes in the absence of big tax increases on the rich. What ails the economy now is not corporate taxes but the iron lid on spending, clamped tight for two years.

    The obsession with deficits is already taking a huge toll on the poor, who have seen cutbacks in vital programs, and could well see more if the Republicans have their way. Next week, for instance, a House-Senate conference on the farm bill will consider a proposal from allegedly “grown-up” House Republicans that would cut $39 billion from food stamps, which would push three million people off the program a year. Democrats will be so busy fighting off that proposal that they will have a hard time reversing the scheduled cut for all food stamp recipients that begins next Friday.

  • New York Times: House, Set to Vote on 2 Bills, Is Seen as an Ally of Wall St. By Eric Lipton and Ben Protess. Excerpts: To Wall Street, this town might seem like enemy territory. But even as federal regulators and prosecutors extract multibillion-dollar penalties from the nation’s biggest banks, Wall Street can rely on at least one ally here: the House of Representatives.

    The House is scheduled to vote on two bills this week that would undercut new financial regulations and hand Wall Street a victory. The legislation has garnered broad bipartisan support in the House, even after lawmakers learned that Citigroup lobbyists helped write one of the bills, which would exempt a wide array of derivatives trading from new regulation.

    The bills are part of a broader campaign in the House, among Republicans and business-friendly Democrats, to roll back elements of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, the most comprehensive regulatory overhaul since the Depression. Of 10 recent bills that alter Dodd-Frank or other financial regulation, six have passed the House this year. This week, if the House approves Citigroup’s legislation and another bill that would delay heightened standards for firms that offer investment advice to retirees, the tally would rise to eight.

    Both the Treasury Department and consumer groups have urged lawmakers to reject the bills, warning that they could leave the nation vulnerable again to excessive financial risk taking. The House proposals stand little chance of becoming law, having received a much chillier reception in the Senate and at the White House, which on Monday threatened to veto the bill on investment advice for retirees.

  • Bill Moyers: The Great American Ripoff: The High Cost of Low Taxes. By Joshua Holland. Excerpts: The American people pay a similar amount for social services – health care, retirement security, disability and unemployment insurance and the like – as citizens of European countries with supposedly lavish social safety nets.

    But there are two significant differences. First, we pay a hugely disproportionate share of the costs out-of-pocket*, through the private sector. And when things go badly – when misfortune hits — the safety net that we fall back on is truly pathetic in comparison. Call it the great American rip-off.

    Nobody needs to tell Leslie Boyd, a former newspaper reporter in North Carolina, about the human costs of this. Her son, Michael Danforth, was born with a defect that made him more likely than most to contract colon cancer. “He could not get insurance at any cost,” she told Moyers & Company, “and he needed colonoscopies every year” to screen for the disease. Danforth’s doctor demanded immediate payment for services rendered – $2,300 for the procedure. “My son was a student so he didn’t have the money,” recalls Boyd. “He didn’t tell me because he didn’t want me to worry.”

    Danforth skipped the screening. Two years later, he got sick. He went to emergency rooms for the acute pain he was suffering, but was misdiagnosed three times. The six-footer weighed just 110 pounds when he was finally admitted to a hospital. “His kidneys had already shut down and they found cancer,” says Boyd. “And it had spread — it was too late to save his life.”

    Danforth’s wife had a part-time job, which gave the couple too much income to qualify for Medicaid, so they split up as his condition worsened. He applied for Social Security disability benefits but it took 37 months for his application to be processed.

    “The first check came nine days after he died,” says Boyd. He was 33 years old. ...

    The Great Risk Shift. That Americans pay through the teeth for social services isn’t an accident. It’s the result of decades of policymaking based on what’s been sold as an “ownership society.” Yale political scientist Jacob Hacker called it a “personal responsibility crusade” that’s been firmly embraced by corporate America and conservative politicians.

    In his book, The Great Risk Shift, Hacker detailed how a huge share of the retirement security and health care burden has been shifted from employers and the government onto the backs of working people themselves. These are the insurances that mitigate one’s risk in a capitalist society, and their loss has left American families exposed and economically insecure. “Social Security, Medicare, private health insurance, traditional guaranteed pensions – all sent the same reassuring message: someone is watching out for you, all of us are watching out for you, when things go bad,” wrote Hacker. “Today, the message is starkly different: You are on your own.” And it turns out that it’s a pretty costly message.

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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