Monthly Archives: October 2013

Insurers Caught In Obamacare ‘Cancellation’ Flap

by Categorized: Health Care, Insurance, Politics Date:

Two basic realities about Obamacare have been in obvious conflict since the law passed in early 2010.  Now the trains are heading for a collision with insurers standing on the tracks between them, trying to restore order.

No, it is not true that the insurers are “canceling” coverage for millions of people, as media outlets reported late Tuesday and today. But many people will have to pay more for better coverage, as has been widely reported all along.

We don’t yet know how many Connecticut people are affected by the change and it will be hard to ever know, since companies have totally revamped their coverage — so, in effect old plans on the individual market are going away.

The first Obamacare fact was that the president has often said the reform will not force people to lose their coverage or have to change doctors, if they like the insurance they have now. This is true for the vast majority of people, especially those on group plans through work.

The second fact, built into Obamacare, is that health plans starting Jan. 1, 2014 must offer a suite of coverage such as hospitalization, prescription drugs and maternity care. Many plans, especially in the individual market, which covers 15 million people nationwide, did not offer such coverage. So the prospect loomed that millions of people would have to pay far higher rates, or lose their insurance.

To ease matters, the Affordable Care Act allowed insurers to “grandfatfher” plans that were not Obamacare compliant. If you had a plan as of March, 2010, when the law was passed, and you never changed that plan, you could keep it indefinitely — even if it fell short of Obamacare thresholds.

Many people, however, have plans that can’t be grandfathered and are not compliant.  If they’re eligible for subsidies on the Obamacare health exchanges, they may find better plans for the same or even less money.

But the trouble is this: Many people are in plans that are ending, and will have to pay more for new plans. This is leading media outlets to report “cancelations” totaling as many as 2 million, The Washington Post reported – in apparent conflict with Obama’s promises.

The Post’s Fact Checker blog even gave Obama the dreaded four Pinocchios for what it said was his deceitful promise.

pinocchio_4

Now insurers are caught in between as Obamacare opponents howl, with the hot-button word “cancel” bandying about.

“We’re not canceling anybody or dropping anybody,” said Aetna spokeswoman Cynthia Michener. “Under the law we have to provide a minimum level of benefits, and so we did retool our plans to make them compliant.”

Semantics? I don’t think so. A cancellation is a notice from an insurer that you need to go away, we aren’t covering you anymore. This is more of an adjustment, albeit a big, nasty one for some people.  And even for exactly comparable coverage, many people will pay more in the individual market because of medical inflation, guaranteed coverage and federal taxes and fees.

“Health plans want to keep their customers,” the industry group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, said in a written statement.

The rules apply to plans that take effect as of Jan. 1, so if you have an Aetna plan that expires anytime up to Dec. 31, you can renew it for another year, Michener said. The new prices and coverage wouldn’t start until late 2014 for those people renewing now.

Aetna can’t say how many people have “non-compliant” plans because the Hartford-based company retooled all of its individual plans.

In a letter to individual policyholders whose plans were not grandfathered — the vast majority — Aetna said, “some people will pay more for their health coverage, and others less.”  All but a few, of course, will pay more for equivalent or better coverage.

Many health insurance customers are upset over the changes. My colleague Matthew Sturdevant reported that 1,400 of Fairfield insurance broker Alan Sheketoff’s 2,300 customers in the Connecticut individual market received letters saying their health plan was being discontinued because it didn’t meet the Obamacare thresholds.

“We’re calling it the ‘screw you’ letter,” Sheketoff told Sturdevant.

Cigna is letting people renew old plans even before they expire. So, for 99 percent of Cigna’s individual  customers who have a plan that’s not Obamacare compliant, they can roll it over now, and have it stay in force for another year.

“We’ve been communicating this to our members through the summer, through the fall,” Cigna spokesman Jon Sandberg said.

Cigna and Aetna are both small players in the individual market. In Connecticut, Aetna has 32,000 individuals covered and Cigna offers only a tiny number. Aetna CEO Mark T. Bertolini said Tuesday that the market represents only about 3 percent of revenues for the company, which has plans covering 44 million people.

The number of Cigna customers who can’t renew a plan this year is 1,500 nationwide, Sandberg said.

Just as Republicans handed Obama a free pass on Oct. 1 by forcing a government shutdown when the health exchanges went online unprepared, Obama handed Republicans a freebie with his coverage promise that was false under the law. He should have been less sweeping.

But neither the balky national exchange system nor the fact that Obama was wrong about everybody keeping their same coverage proves the health care reform act is bad policy. They just prove that change is painful.

USA Baby Closes On Berlin Turnpike

by Categorized: Retail Date:

USA Baby & Big Kids Too, an independently owned franchise on the Berlin Turnpike in Berlin, has closed after nine years and the bank that took over its merchandise will hold a liquidation sale starting Friday.

The retailer “has fallen prey to the overall economy and generally declining birth rate in the region.  It’s a sign of the times that another family owned business has closed,” said a written release from the Hamilton Group, a Clinton auctioneer that will run the sale.

USA Baby was one of eleven franchised locations in the United States, Mexico and Puerto Rico. News of the closing follows an announcement that Mortensen’s Restaurant on the Berlin Turnpike in Newington will close, but will reopen as an ice cream purveyor.

A call to the USA Baby store (860) 829-0009 or visit to the web site, www.usababyct.com, offers information about the sale.

 

 

Sandy’s CT Tally: $505 Million In Federal Aid, And Counting; Damage Over $1B

by Categorized: Government, Housing, Public finance Date:

Connecticut sustained damages from storm Sandy totaling at least $1 billion, a total that includes direct public and private losses but not the economic effects of lost work due to the power outages.

And to help compensate, the federal government has kicked in $505 million so far, including $65 million in a second round of housing repair money that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and federal officials announced Monday.

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A Year Later, Homeowners’ Relief Centers To Offer Sandy Aid

by Categorized: Government, Housing, Public finance Date:

We’re coming up on the anniversary of storm Sandy but the government is not done handing out aid to hard-hit homeowners. On the contrary, the state is opening four relief centers Thursday, to deliver a new cache of $30 million in federal aid to Sandy victims and their neighbors.

The “Owner Occupied Rehabilitation and Reconstruction intake centers” in East Haven, Fairfield, Milford and Norwalk will offer grants from $10,000 to $150,000 for repairs and for upgrades of damaged homes to gird against future storms.

Silver Sands Beach in Milford after Sandy. Michael McAndrews/The Hartford Courant

Silver Sands Beach in Milford after Sandy.
Michael McAndrews/The Hartford Courant

Money is available for residents of Fairfield, New London, New Haven, and Middlesex counties and the Mashantucket Pequot tribal area, the office of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said in a release.

The money is for costs that were not eligible and covered by flood insurance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency or other sources. It’s part of a $72 million Community Development Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development “to address the critical needs of residents, businesses, and communities affected by Sandy.”

Residents can also apply online. Click here for the link.

Separately, the state set aside $26 million for multifamily homes, which are also eligible for repair work.

Preference will be given to low- and moderate-income families, and for now, the money will cover repairs that have not been done yet, said Evonne Klein, the state Department of Housing commissioner.  The grants are open to homeowners seeking reimbursement for work that’s already been done but the department has not yet determined whether reimbursement money will be available, she said.

Following are the addresses. Centers are open weekdays starting Thursday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m.to 3:30 p.m.  Homeowners may call 1-866-272-1976 Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. to make appointments or for information.

  • EAST HAVEN — 52 South End Rd. Unit A
  • FAIRFIELD — Fairfield Senior Center, 100 Mona Terr.
  • MILFORD — Parson Government Center, 70 West River St.
  • NORWALK — Old fire department, 100 Fairfield Ave.

 

 

New Supermarket Chain Comes To CT: Best Market Opening In Newington

by Categorized: Consumer, Retail Date:

Best Market, a chain of 17 supermarkets in Long Island, New York City and New Jersey, is making landfall in Connecticut with a store set to open as early as Friday in Newington.

The store, near the town center at the site of a former Waldbaum’s Food Mart that closed a few years ago, is about 32,000 square feet — and is not likely to remain as the chain’s only Connecticut location. The company is hiring as many as 150 people and is scrambling toward a possible “soft” opening Friday with a grand opening a week or so after that, if all goes well.

The sign went up just before noon at Best Market in Newington. Rick Hartford/The Hartford Courant

The sign went up just before noon at Best Market in Newington.
Rick Hartford/The Hartford Courant

 

 

CEO and President Rebecca Philbert, busily overseeing the scene as a sign company installed the large letters above the front door late Tuesday morning, stopped for a minute to describe Best Market’s strategy — not an easy task for a full-service market that appears to combine several niches.

“We’re a fresh foods store that sells groceries,” Philbert said, with a disproportionate share of sales coming from perishable foods, including meats and dairy and features such as an olive bar.

The company bought the entire Northwood Plaza shopping center on Lowrey Place where the store is located, indicating its commitment, Philbert said.

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Zygo Ousts CEO; Former Chief Is Interim Leader

by Categorized: Manufacturing, Technology Date:

Zygo Corp. said late Monday that Chris L. Koliopoulos had resigned as chairman and chief executive officer effective immediately, by mutual agreement with the company’s board.

The Middlefield-based maker of precision optics and optical measuring equipment named former CEO Gary K. Willis as interim CEO and Michael A. Kaufman as chairman. No reason was given for the change in a written release from Zygo.

Carol Wallace, a Zygo director and CEO of Middlefield-based Cooper-Atkins Corp., said in the release that the board is “focused on achieving Zygo’s full potential for the benefit of our shareholders, and continuing to enhance Zygo’s leadership position in its markets. We believe that Mr. Willis has the requisite experience and leadership qualities to lead the company forward.”

Koliopoulos joined Zygo as CEO in January, 2010 and was named chairman a month later. An expert in optical interferometry — measuring waves of electricity — he holds a doctorate and had long competed against Zygo, launching two companies and heading a third.

Koliopoulos, listed as age 60 in last month’s annual report, led Zygo’s expansion in California and Taiwan in its post-recession recovery, returning yearly operating profit to nearly $30 million in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012. But in the recent fiscal year, sales slipped to $149 million to $167 million and operating profit fell to $12 million.

Shares of Zygo closed at $16.24 on the Nasdaq Monday before the announcement, ahead of the 12-month average of $15.56, and up more than 60 percent from the time Koliopoulos arrived — the same month when Zygo rejected a takeover offer of $10 a share.

“It has been a privilege for me to work with many fine colleagues at Zygo” he said in the release. “I am proud of Zygo’s many accomplishments, and look forward to its continued success.”

Willis has helped make Zygo a homegrown Connecticut success story in technology. He has been a board member from 1992 to 2000 including two years as chairman, and from 2009 to the present. He was the Zygo CEO from 1993 through 1999.

Zygo last month named Tony Allan as chief operating officer. He joined the company in February as senior vice president. It’s unclear whether he’ll be a candidate to lead the company.

Labor To Larson: Vote No On Free Trade Deal

by Categorized: Commerce, Labor, Politics, Trade Date:

Free trade is one of those wedge issues that cuts across party lines, dividing Democrats and Republicans not between the parties, but within each party.

It’s coming to a head now as a coalition of labor and environmental groups pressures U.S. Rep. John B. Larson to vote against an upcoming free trade bill — with a rally scheduled for Saturday.

Larson, Democrat of the 1st District, is normally one of the best friends to labor and environment groups. But the coalition says he has yet to oppose “Fast Track” trade authority, which is crucial to the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement — dubbed “NAFTA on steroids” by its opponents.

“If enacted, the TPP would off-shore American jobs, flood the U.S. with unsafe food imports, increase the cost of medicine, increase fracking, and make the global race to the bottom even worse,” the group said in a written release.

Proponents of free trade, including Clinton Democrats, say reducing barriers is the best way to reach economic growth even if it means some displacement and pain in the short run. Larson has generally supported free trade.

The rally is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Larson’s office at 221 Main St. in Hartford. The Connecticut AFL-CIO, part of the group, originally put out word of the rally, then said the event was off. Organizers from a group called Activate CT later said the event was on.

“As a Member of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade, my primary goals are to ensure any agreement we enter into aims to build on American innovation and expand our export opportunities while protecting jobs here at home,” Larson said in an emailed statement.

The takeaway: Activists are fighting over whether to protest or negotiate. For Larson, a lifetime labor supporter with multinational corporations directly responsible for tens of thousands of jobs in his district, it’s virtually a no-win issue.

CT’s Financial Lost-And-Found — You Could Claim $100,000!!!

by Categorized: Consumer, Government, Public finance Date:

The annual list is out: State Treasurer Denise L. Nappier’s CT Big List shows 1.2 million lost or unclaimed assets worth $627 million, and the office wants you to make your rightful claim.

“The Treasury is one of the few agencies in government that gives money back to people,” Nappier said.

Items on the list include long-closed bank accounts, unredeemed shares of stock in companies that no longer exist, money from expired bank checks and other financial assets. More than 54,000 new assets were added this year, never before published.

Click here or go to www.CTBigList.com to see whether you’re on the list.

Or call 1-800-833-7318 during business hours.

Feeling lucky today? No fewer than 65 owners have lost assets totaling at least $200,000 apiece. Some firms known as “finders” are scouring the list and contacting rightful owners to “help” recover lost assets, but that isn’t necessary.

I just checked, and I had seven claims on the list, so I’m sending in my claim today.

The Top 10 Numbers to Know:

1,160,661: Total owners on this year’s list

$627 million: Total amount of lost assets on the list

454,543: Total owners with lost assets between $50 and $100

105,345: Total owners with claims of at least $1,000

63,115: Number of owners in Hartford, the No. 2 city after Stamford (66,204)

54,845: Total owners on this year’s printed list of never-before published lost assets, in today’s newspapers and also available at libraries and town halls

$150.4 million: The total amount returned to 36,000 owners in the two years ending June 30, 2013 — an average of $4,175 per claim.

 

 

In Rare Gathering, Lawyers Celebrate Their Man At UConn

by Categorized: Education, law Date:

They compete by day and they don’t usually gather at night as a group, but late Wednesday some of the most prominent partners of greater Hartford’s 17 largest law firms united for a cause — joined by the governor, attorney general, state treasurer and the UConn president.

Their purpose: Not to raise money for a charity, though there was a pitch. They came to honor one of their own, Timothy Fisher, who just left his job as a partner at McCarter & English to become dean of the UConn law school — and to make the point that law schools in general, and UConn especially, must be tied ever closer to the region’s law firms as the profession fights through a siege.

UConn law school Dean Timothy Fisher jokes with Dan Papermaster of Bingham McCutchen, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Marie Herbst, the UConn president. Rick Hartford/The Hartford Courant

UConn law school Dean Timothy Fisher jokes with Dan Papermaster of Bingham McCutchen, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Susan Herbst, the UConn president.
Rick Hartford/The Hartford Courant

Most law school deans come from the ranks of legal scholars and educators, so it was something of a surprise that UConn president Susan Herbst and the search committee plucked a partner in corporate practice.

“This is nothing short of remarkable that we’re all here together,” said Dan Papermaster, managing partner at Bingham McCutchen LLP, which held the reception, co-hosted by all 17 firms, at its office at One State Street. “We’re here to speak with one voice to let the UConn community know that you made a great choice in selecting our colleague, Tim Fisher. He’s going to lead this law school with distinction as we navigate a new normal in legal education.”

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STR Takes Extraordinary Measure As Partial Meltdown Continues

by Categorized: Corporate finance, Economic Development, Energy Date:

The long, slow meltdown at STR Holdings Inc. intensified Wednesday as the solar materials maker announced it was firing four ranking executives including Barry A. Morris, the chief operating officer.

This isn’t a shakeup. No, in a federal filing, the Enfield-based company said it’s eliminating the four positions “in connection with ongoing cost-reduction measures.” Also leaving next month are the vice president for human resources, the chief technology officer and the vice president for finance.

Remaining executives, including CEO Robert S. Yorgensen, will pick up the slack, the filing said.

Robert Yorgensen in 2010, better times for STR Holdings. Michael McAndrews/The Hartford Courant

Robert Yorgensen in 2010, better times for STR Holdings.
Michael McAndrews/The Hartford Courant

While some people might take pleasure in seeing a company eliminate jobs at the top rather than just laying off rank-and-file workers, this is not a good development for anyone. Cutting four top jobs to save money is the sort of measure that happens at the most desperate firms, and STR has posted operating losses totaling $8.7 million in the first two quarters of 2013 on sharply lower sales.

STR, in fact, had the ignoble distinction of trading at a market value below the level of its cash on hand for a few weeks this summer, according to Forbes. That means the market is basically saying the firm is worth more dead than alive.  On Wednesday, shares closed at $2.26, down just 2 cents, perhaps partly due to its strong, debt-free balance sheet and the fact that Wall Street likes cost-cutting.

Morris made $440,000 in 2012, according to federal filings, including value realized from stock and stock options. The salaries of the other executives were not listed.

The near-demise of STR proves the shakiness of picking winners — by investors and by public agencies that hand out loans, grants and tax credits — even in industries that apparently can’t fail.  There is no record of any backing by the state Department of Economic and Community Development, but in 2010, STR received federal tax credits totaling $829,000 as the government attempted to build up the solar industry.

STR, which had revenues of $288 million in 2008, went public at $10 a share in November, 2009. A year later the shares hit a high of $27.68, as STR, which makes encapsulation materials for solar panels, seemed impervious to the collapse of solar panel prices caused by China’s entry into the industry.

In 2010, with 290 employees in Connecticut, STR decided to move its local plant from Somers to East Windsor, expanding its work force further. But it’s been mostly downhill from there. STR has closed the plant, relying on operations in Malaysia and Spain, and in January of this year, announced it had lost its biggest customer, First Solar.

I couldn’t find the number of employees the company now has in Connecticut — some of the decline was due to the sale of a business a couple of years ago — and a spokesman did not return calls seeking comment.

Sales in the first half of this year fell below $20 million, but as with any public company CEO, Yorgensen  put his best spin on his Aug. 7 earnings release. “Despite continued headwinds, we have begun production-scale shipments of our next-gen EVA-based encapsulants to three new customers in China,” he said in the release.