Tag Archives: tax credit

Electrifying auto news: Top car award goes to Chevy Bolt

The Chevy Bolt has been named top car in North America, a milestone for a car General Motors hopes will finally get Americans hooked on electric vehicles.

The Honda Ridgeline grabbed the honor for top truck.

Utility vehicles were honored separately for the first time, with the Pacifica minivan from Fiat Chrysler snagging that award.

The honors were announced at Detroit’s Cobo Center as the North American International Auto Show’s press preview days kicked into high gear.

The Bolt beat out the Genesis G90 and Volvo S90 for the car award.

The electric car from Chevrolet went on sale late last year.

It gets more than 200 miles per battery charge, which is more than the average American drives in a day.

The Bolt also sells for around $30,000 when a federal tax credit is included.

Electric vehicles have failed to catch on with most American consumers, but General Motors hopes the improved range and price help shift opinions.

Mark Reuss, GM’s head of global product development, described the Bolt as a “moon shot.”

“We didn’t have all the answers when we started the program — in terms of how far we were going to get range-wise, how light are we going to get the car and … sell price,” he said. “We hit on all cylinders on this, so to speak, even though there’s not any in the car.”

The Ridgeline scored the truck award over Ford F-Series Super Duty and the Nissan Titan. Pacifica got the nod for the utility award over the Jaguar F-Pace and Mazda X-9.

Timothy Kuniskis, Fiat Chrysler’s car chief, said he’s “amazingly proud” that a minivan scored the utility honor. The award recognizes the automaker’s commitment to the foundation it established for the family hauler while reinventing it some three decades later, he said.

“This is really all-new from the ground up,” Kuniskis said of the Pacifica, a sleeker, swept-back minivan that hit showrooms last spring as a replacement for the Town and Country and Dodge Grand Caravan. Among its firsts: hands-free sliding doors that open when the driver sticks a foot under them.

“We love minivans — we sold a quarter-million minivans this last year that just ended,” he added. “Our designers just did an amazing job of taking something that has to be very functional and making it look very beautiful at the same time.”

About 60 automotive journalists serve as judges for North American Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year awards. Eligible vehicles must be new or substantially changed.

Organizers accept no advertising, though automakers try to capitalize on the marketing value of the awards, in their 24th year.

The awards program launched in 1993, and patterned itself after the European Car of the Year. Organizers accept no advertising, though carmakers try to capitalize on the marketing value of the honors.

Study: Under Trump’s health plan, 20M would lose coverage

A new study that examines some major health care proposals from the presidential candidates finds that Donald Trump’s health plan would cause about 20 million to lose coverage while Hillary Clinton would provide coverage for an additional 9 million people.

The 2016 presidential campaign has brought voters to a crossroads on health care yet again. The U.S. uninsured rate stands at a historically low 8.6 percent, mainly because of President Barack Obama’s health care law, which expanded government and private coverage. Yet it’s uncertain if the nation’s newest social program will survive the election.

Republican candidate Trump would repeal “Obamacare” and replace it with a new tax deduction, insurance market changes, and a Medicaid overhaul. Democrat Clinton would increase financial assistance for people with private insurance and expand government coverage as well.

The two approaches would have starkly different results, according to the Commonwealth Fund study.

The analysis was carried out by the RAND Corporation, a global research organization that uses computer simulation to test the potential effects of health care proposals. Although the New York-based Commonwealth Fund is nonpartisan, it generally supports the goals of increased coverage and access to health care.

Economist Sara Collins, who heads the Commonwealth Fund’s work on coverage and access, said RAND basically found that Trump’s health plan isn’t robust enough to make up for the insurance losses from repealing the Affordable Care Act. “Certainly it doesn’t fully offset the effects of repeal,” Collins said.

One worrisome finding is that the number of uninsured people in fair or poor health could triple under Trump’s health plan. It would rise from an estimated 2.1 million people under current laws to between 5.7 million and 7.1 million under Trump’s approach, depending on which of his policy proposals was analyzed.

When uninsured people wind up in the hospital, the cost of their treatment gets shifted to others, including state and federal taxpayers. Trump has said he doesn’t want people “dying on the street.”

The study panned one of the main ideas of Trump’s health plan: allowing insurers to sell private policies across state lines. Collins said insurers would cherry-pick the healthiest customers and steer them to skimpy plans. Other experts don’t see it as bleakly, believing that interstate policies could attract customers through lower premiums.

A prominent Republican expert who reviewed the study for The Associated Press questioned some of its assumptions, but said the overall conclusion seems to be on target. “You could quibble about some of the modeling, but directionally I think it’s right,” said economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum, a center-right public policy center.

Collins said the analysis examined some major proposals from each candidate, but did not test every idea.

Trump’s health plan proposals included repealing the Obama health care law, as well as a host of replacement ideas consisting of a new income tax deduction for health insurance, allowing policies to be sold across state lines, and turning the Medicaid program for low-income people into a block grant, which would mean limiting federal costs.

The study estimated that Trump’s repeal of “Obamacare” would increase the number of uninsured people from 24.9 million to 44.6 million in 2018. But then his replacement proposals would have a push-pull effect. The tax deduction and interstate health insurance sales would help some stay covered, but the Medicaid block grant would make even more people uninsured.

“The people who would actually gain coverage tend to have higher incomes,” said Collins.

The result would be an estimated 45.1 million uninsured people in 2018 under Trump — an increase of 20.2 million, reversing the coverage gains under Obama.

The Clinton proposals analyzed included a new tax credit for deductibles and copayments not covered by insurance, a richer formula for health law subsidies, a fix for the law’s “family glitch” that can deny subsidies to some dependents, and a new government-sponsored “public option” health plan.

Taken together, the analysis estimated that Clinton’s proposals would reduce the number of uninsured people in 2018 to 15.8 million, which translates to a gain of 9.1 million people with coverage. Not included were Clinton’s idea for allowing middle-aged adults to buy into Medicare and her plan to convince more states to expand Medicaid.

Collins said the researchers will update their estimates for both campaigns as more details become available.

The health care report follows another recent analysis that delved into the candidates’ tax proposals. That study by the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget found that Trump’s latest tax proposals would increase federal debt by $5.3 trillion over the next decade, compared with $200 billion if Clinton’s ideas were enacted. The Trump campaign disputed those findings.

 

Spurning Wisconsin offer, Ashley Furniture Industries takes jobs and safety issues to N.C.

Last year, Gov. Scott Walker’s job-creation agency struck a deal with Ashley Furniture Industries Inc. that would have led to a loss of 2,000 jobs.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, which Walker chaired at the time, offered Ashley a $6-million tax credit in 2014 for agreeing to invest $35 million to expand its headquarters in Arcadia. But, as part of the deal, WEDC accepted the company’s plan to eliminate nearly half its labor force of about 4,000 workers in the state.

Company president Todd Wanek explained that he couldn’t find the kind of skilled workers he needed in the area near the company’s Whitehall plant.

So how could a jobs agency negotiate a deal to kill jobs? It turns out that Wanek and members of his family made donations totaling $20,000 to Walker about two weeks after the deal was struck.

“Pay-to-play certainly comes to my mind and I know I’m not alone,” said Scot Ross, executive director of the progressive group One Wisconsin Now. 

According to an investigation conducted by One Wisconsin Now, 60 percent of the companies that received grants from WEDC were Walker contributors.

Better luck down south

Engulfed by bad publicity, Ashley decided to decline the $6-million tax credit and instead looked south.

According to a recent story in Business North Carolina, Ashley plans to create 454 new jobs in that state during the next five years and invest upward of $8.7 million there through the end of 2019, the magazine reported.

Not only did North Carolina get far more jobs than Walker’s team negotiated, but North Carolina appears to have gotten a better overall deal for less money than WEDC was willing to pay. North Carolina offered tax credits of $4.6 million from 2016 through 2027.

According to Business North Carolina, Ashley’s latest deal with the state comes on top of “the initial phase of development where it committed to create 550 jobs and invest $80 million between 2012 and 2015. Ashley exceeded these commitments by creating more than 1,100 jobs.”

Part of the initial phase in North Carolina included job training provided by Ashley to prospective workers.

By comparison, Ashley added 300 employees at its Wisconsin locations in Arcadia and Whitehall through 2014.

“It seems that even after his privatized commerce department agreed to give millions to a company run by his campaign donors, that Scott Walker has failed Wisconsin again,” Ross said. “Rather than create jobs in its home state, the company has decided to cut and run on expanding in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin.”

Since the Ashley Furniture scandal, Walker has stepped down as chair of WEDC, which even Republicans have declared a disaster. 

Corporate culture

The case raises a broader question about WEDC’s approach: Is Ashley Furniture the kind of employer that Wisconsin should support?

Earlier this year, Ashley was hit with a $1.8-million fine from the U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration for safety violations in Wisconsin. More than 1,000 worker injuries were officially recorded at the Arcadia plant in three and a half years. All of the incidents were serious enough to have been reported by someone other than the injured employee.

“Ashley Furniture has created a culture that values production and profit over worker safety, and employees are paying the price,” U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in a strong statement.

In early 2013, the company came to national attention for a discrimination suit. A lesbian worker sued the Ashley Furniture HomeStore of Secaucus, New Jersey, claiming she was grilled about her religious beliefs and then fired. According to court filings, former employee Isabel Perez said she was told that she didn’t fit in with the company’s “culture.”

Perez said the furniture store’s manager “spoke in tongues,” a state of babbling hysteria induced by religious fervor, which Pentecostal Christians believe is the result of possession by the Holy Spirit. Two managers at the store told Perez that God ordered them to let her go.

The same store was sued in 2013 for alleged harassment of two Muslim employees, who said they were repeatedly accused of being terrorists and were tormented with racial slurs.

The two employees were fired after they complained about the verbal abuse. 

According to the website Back2Stonewall, the Waneks support the Christian-right organization FamilyLife, an anti-gay group that lobbies against same-sex marriage and LGBT civil rights.

Back to U.S. Supreme Court: Justices ‘Obamacare’ subsidies

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a new challenge to President Barack Obama’s health care law — a case that threatens subsidies that help millions of low- and middle-income people afford their health insurance premiums.

The justices said they will review a federal appeals court ruling that upheld IRS regulations that allow health-insurance tax credits under the Affordable Care Act for consumers in all 50 states. Opponents argue that most of the subsidies are illegal.

The long-running political and legal campaign to overturn or limit the 2010 health overhaul will be making its second appearance at the Supreme Court. The justices upheld the heart of the law in a 5-4 decision in 2012 in which Chief Justice John Roberts provided the decisive vote.

The case probably will be argued the first week in March, with a decision expected by late June.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest promised a vigorous defense before the high court.

“This lawsuit reflects just another partisan attempt to undermine the Affordable Care Act and to strip millions of American families of tax credits that Congress intended for them to have,” Earnest said.

In the appeal accepted late last week, opponents of the subsidies argue that the court should resolve the issue soon because it involves billions of dollars in public money.

“The need for a quick and final resolution of this question is undeniable. This ‘subsidies-for-everyone’ rule affects nearly every person across the country, health insurance policyholders, workers and employers, taxpayers, and state and local governments,” said Sam Kazman, general counsel of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which is paying for the legal challenges to the health care law.

The health care law provides taxpayer-subsidized private health insurance for people who don’t have access to coverage on the job. More than 7 million people are currently enrolled and most are getting help, which is keyed to household income and the cost of a benchmark plan.

The issue at the Supreme Court is whether the wording of the law limits insurance tax credits only to consumers who live in states that have set up their own insurance markets, known as exchanges.

Only 16 states have set up their own exchanges, the Obama administration said in court papers.

In the other 34 states, including Wisconsin, more than 4.5 million people are receiving subsidies to pay their insurance premiums. And the aid is considerable, covering an average of 76 percent of the premiums.

Customers now pay an average of $82 on total monthly premiums averaging $346. The federal subsidy of $264 a month makes up the difference.

What made the court’s intervention surprising was the lack of disagreement among federal appeals courts that typically is a requirement for Supreme Court review. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg cited the absence of conflicting rulings when the justices rejected gay marriage appeals last month.

But at least four justices, needed to grant review, apparently agreed with the challengers that the issue is important enough to decide now.

Supporters of the health care law were flabbergasted and accused the court of veering into politics. The news came a week ahead of the second open enrollment season for subsidized private health insurance under the law.

“All of the general guidelines that the court traditionally uses in determining whether it should schedule an appeal are totally absent in this case,” said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, an advocacy group that supported Obama’s health overhaul from its inception. Pollack called the court’s action “an unusual political act.”

The legal challenge to the subsidies is “the most serious existential threat” facing the Affordable Care Act, said Pollack.

When the court upheld the law in 2012, it still made a major change by ruling that the law’s Medicaid expansion for low-income people was optional for states. So far 27 states and the District of Columbia have accepted it. This week’s Republican election success makes it unlikely that the remaining 23 states will move any time soon.

The subsidies issue is being fought in several courts. In July, the Richmond, Virginia-based appeals court upheld Internal Revenue Service regulations that allow health-insurance tax credits under the law for consumers in all 50 states.

On that same July day, a panel of appellate judges in the District of Columbia, sided with the challengers in striking down the IRS regulations. The Washington court held that under the law, financial aid can be provided only in states that have set up their own exchanges.

In October, the entire Washington appeals court voted to rehear the case and threw out the panel’s ruling, eliminating the so-called circuit split. The appeals argument has been scheduled for Dec. 17, but that case now recedes in importance with the Supreme Court’s decision to step in.

The case is King v. Burwell, 14-114.

New year, big tests for Affordable Care Act

The new year brings the big test of President Barack Obama’s beleaguered health care law: Will it work?

The heart of the law springs to life on Jan. 1, after nearly four years of political turmoil and three months of enrollment chaos. Patients will begin showing up at hospitals and pharmacies with insurance coverage bought through the nation’s new health care marketplaces.

The course of 2014 will show whether Obama can get affordable care to millions of people in need, without doing intolerable damage to the 85 percent of U.S. residents who already were insured.

Lots of Americans are nervous.

Will their new coverage be accepted? It’s a concern because insurers have reported problems with the customer information they’ve gotten from the government, including missing data and duplication.

How many more people will see old individual plans that they liked canceled? Will a flood of newly insured patients cause doctor shortages? Will businesses respond to the law by ditching their group plans or pushing more health costs onto workers?

About three-fourths of people who face changes to their job-based or other private coverage in 2014 blame the health law, a recent AP-GfK poll found. Yet the trend of employers trimming costly health benefits predates the law now widely known – by critics and advocates – as Obamacare.

Many people should benefit immensely.

People previously locked out of individual insurance by high prices or pre-existing health problems can get coverage to stave off the threat of medical bankruptcy. More low-income workers will come under Medicaid, in states that agreed to expand the safety-net program. Middle-class families without workplace coverage can get tax subsidies to help pay for their insurance. How much patients like the new plans, and whether they can afford the co-pays and deductibles, will become clear as they start visiting doctors.

The new year also launches the most contentious aspect of the law: the mandate that nearly everyone in the U.S. have health coverage, or pay a fine.

All this will unfold during the super-heated politics leading to November’s midterm elections.

Republicans and Democrats will jostle all year to influence the public’s assessment of changes to American health care not matched since Medicare and Medicaid were launched nearly a half-century ago.

Some dates – and moving parts – to watch in 2014:

JAN. 1

Coverage begins. Many low-income Americans who didn’t qualify for Medicaid in the past can use it now. People who signed up for private insurance in a state or federal marketplace by Dec. 24 (or later in some states) and have paid their first premium are now covered, too.

Coverage begins for workers at companies that have signed up for new small business plans through the marketplaces, also called health care exchanges.

Coverage lapses for people whose existing plans were canceled, if they haven’t signed up for a replacement or received an extension. At least 4.7 million people got cancellation notices, despite Obama’s promise that Americans with insurance they like could keep their old plans. Obama recently gave insurance companies the option of extending old plans for existing customers for a year, but only where state insurance commissioners give their OK.

The clock starts on the “individual mandate.” Nearly all U.S. citizens and legal residents are required to have “minimum essential coverage” for most of 2014, or pay a penalty. Most people already are insured through their jobs, Medicare, Medicaid, or military coverage and so don’t need to do anything.

Insurance companies are no longer allowed to turn away people in poor health or kick customers out of plans when they get sick.

Women and people with pre-existing conditions pay the same rates as healthy men in the new plans. The law also limits how much more insurers can charge older people.

New insurance plans can’t put an annual dollar limit on care, or require individuals to pay more than $6,350 in out-of-pocket costs per year.

JAN. 10

Payment due. In most cases, marketplace customers who signed up by Dec. 24 have until now to pay the first month’s premium and get coverage for their January medical bills. Major national insurers agreed to accept payments 10 days into the month because of technical troubles plaguing online enrollment at HealthCare.gov. But buyers should check early with their insurance companies – some may not honor the grace period. A few states running their own marketplaces are granting even more time. Those who miss their deadline can get coverage starting Feb. 1.

JAN. 31

A temporary program for people denied coverage because of poor health ends. Tens of thousands of Americans with serious illnesses such as heart disease and cancer were in the special program and needed new coverage for 2014. The Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, originally set to expire Dec. 31, was extended one month to help sick people whose enrollment was stymied by HealthCare.gov computer crashes.

Some people could lose coverage for a prescription they’ve been taking. The Obama administration urged insurers to temporarily let customers keep filling prescriptions covered by a previous plan, but not their new one, through January.

LATE MARCH

The patched-up health care website will face a major test if too many people rush to sign up in the final days of open enrollment. Watch for a possible return of rampant crashes and error messages.

On the other hand, low enrollment signals another danger. The law’s design relies on younger, healthier enrollees to offset the cost of older and sicker consumers. If the numbers stay low, it’s likely that enrollees will be disproportionately people with more expensive medical needs, putting a financial strain on insurers. The White House set a goal of 7 million sign-ups for private coverage. More than 1 million had enrolled by Dec. 20, Obama said.

MARCH 31

Last chance for open enrollment through the federal marketplace or 14 states running their own exchanges. Late March enrollees will be covered beginning May 1. (It’s possible the administration could decide to extend open enrollment, if major website problems resurface and interfere with sign-ups.)

This is the deadline for most people to get coverage to avoid a fine. The Obama administration says, however, that those whose existing health insurance was canceled because of the Affordable Care Act will be exempt from the penalty. People who lose coverage during the year can go without for three months before facing a penalty.

The enrollment deadline doesn’t apply to people signing up for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, based on income. People can apply for those programs at any time and coverage begins at once.

The March 31 deadline also won’t stop those who need to sign up later in 2014 because of a “qualifying life event.” The events include things like getting married, having a baby, or leaving a job that provided insurance. Qualifying events trigger a special enrollment period lasting 60 days.

APRIL 15

No worries yet. Those who go without insurance won’t owe penalties until federal taxes are due in 2015 for the previous year’s income. Tax returns filed in 2015 will include health insurance information; insurers will send notices to confirm that taxpayers were covered in 2014. People who bought plans in the marketplaces and received either too little or too much in premium subsidies during the year also will square things with the IRS in April 2015.

NOV. 4

The midterm elections will be yet another referendum on the health care law passed in March 2010 with no Republican support. Obama will still be in the midst of his final term, however. So even if Republicans emerge with control of both chambers of Congress, they will still face two more years with Obama in the White House to veto attempts to undermine his signature law.

NOV. 15

Open enrollment for 2015 begins. Americans can sign up for insurance or switch to a different plan. And they’ll see what rate increases are in store for the coming year.

DEC. 31

The extension ends today for people who were able to keep their old individual plans for an extra year, even though the coverage wasn’t up to the law’s minimum standards.

COMING IN 2015

JAN. 1

Large employers – those with more than 50 employees – that don’t offer health plans face a possible tax penalty. The penalties are designed to discourage businesses from dropping their existing health plans, although some have already begun to do so.

JAN. 15

Open enrollment for 2015 ends.

APRIL 15

Penalties for individuals who weren’t insured in 2014 kick in. The penalty is $95 or 1 percent of income, whichever is higher. It goes up in later years. The IRS can deduct the penalty from a taxpayer’s refund.

COMING IN 2018

So-called “Cadillac health plans” offered by some employers come under a new tax. It hits plans that spend more than $10,200 per worker or $27,500 for a family. Most job-based coverage isn’t that generous, but corporate executives get such plans, and so do some workers in jobs with strong union contracts. Some companies will pass the tax on to workers and others may trim employee benefits to avoid it.