Monthly Archives: November 2013

T-Giving Travel Numbers Down Despite Falling Gas Prices And Improving Economy

by Categorized: Economy, Transportation Date:

Despite an improving economy and lower gasoline prices, the number of Americans expected to travel this holiday weekend is down slightly from last year and the amount they will spend is down considerably.

The annual forecast by AAA shows that 43.4 million Americans will travel at least 50 miles between Wednesday and Sunday, with the largest share — 37 percent — leaving Wednesday and about a third planning to wait until Sunday to return.

That’s down about 1.6 million travelers from 44 million people who made the trek to eat turkey 50 miles from home last year.  And in New England, according to the forecast from AAA by IHS Global Insight, the decline in number of travelers is expected to be 2.5 million.

Spending is expected to average $465, a hefty decline of 6.5 percent from last year’s predicted rate.  That’s especially odd since gas prices are down an average of 85 cents a gallon (down by 19 cents a gallon in Connecticut, to an average of $3.63 Monday).

Car travel is still the dominant mode, accounting for 90 percent, and air travel plans are down by 3.7 percent, the forecast said.

Anyone traveling on a bus could end up in one of the 42 new coaches outfitted with wifi and seat belts that were purchased in the last year by Springfield-based Peter Pan, that company announced Monday. Peter Pan said it will transport 1 million college students.

As for the rest of us, the forecast is unusual, showing an expected decline in travel amid lower gasoline prices and declining unemployment.  It points to the weakness of the recovery, AAA said.

I’d add that it shows the recovery is still not broad-based, and that lower median incomes, higher health care expenses and flat confidence trump moderately rising job totals and declining energy prices.  Come Wednesday if a storm rolls up the East Coast, we might find that weather trumps everything.

 

Malloy: Obama’s Health Plan Fix ‘Doesn’t Work In Connecticut’

by Categorized: Government, Health Care, Insurance, Politics Date:

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Friday that the state won’t allow insurance companies to reopen health plans through 2014 that did not comply with the Affordable Care Act and had been retired.

The decision was largely symbolic because insurance companies have already declined to offer the policies.  Malloy confirmed Friday that the companies would not reopen them even if they were permitted.

The move affects policies on the individual market only, not those sold through employers. Just under 53,000 Connecticut people are in policies that insurers are ending, either because their plans don’t comply with Obamacare standards, or for other reasons.

In a last-ditch hope for a fix on Nov. 14, President Barack Obama asked states to allow those plans to continue.  But despite criticism from Republicans aimed at Malloy, it’s unlikely that the governor could have changed the picture. Even if those policies were to continue for an extra year, prices would have been higher, Malloy said Friday.

“The solution offered by the president a week ago doesn’t work in Connecticut,” Malloy said in an appearance Friday morning at the Connecticut Convention Center, where he opened the Connecticut International Auto Show. “It would disrupt the industry, but more important, the industry made it clear that they were not going to offer these policies.”

Malloy said he asked Connecticut’s health exchange, Access Health CT, for a one-week extension of the deadline to sign up for plans that take effect Jan. 1, to Dec. 22, to help accommodate people shut out of plans.

SNAPSHOT OF CONNECTICUT’S MARKET

(figures show number of people in affected individual plans, not number of plans)

Total covered: 108,287 (four companies)

In grandfathered pre-Obamacare plans that are being moved to ACA-compliant plans: 25,097

In grandfathered pre-Obamacare plans that are continuing: 14,130

In non-exempt plans that accepted option for early renewal to continue in 2014: 30,459 (41,169 were offered)

In non-exempt plans that are migrating to ACA-compliant plans: 38,601

Malloy joins governors in a number of other states, including Massachusetts, who have already reached the same conclusion. Typically, according to the Washington Post, states that are accepting the fix are the ones that did not embrace health reform and do not have their own exchanges operating.

Friday’s events provided rich political intrigue. Obama is able to say he tried to offer a solution but the states wouldn’t take it. Democratic governors such as Malloy — who is likely to seek re-election next year —  are able to distance themselves from a Democratic president whose popularity is plummeting due to this very issue.

And Republicans took the opportunity to slam Malloy for rejecting a fix that they said would have helped Connecticut residents — even though Malloy had no power to compel insurers to offer plans they didn’t want to offer.

“Instead of acting on my call to bring the General Assembly into session to amend state law so that these policies could be continued, the Governor rejected my request and his insurance commissioner has told us to ‘forget about the numbers.’” said Sen. John McKinney, the state Senate majority leader. “But we can’t do that.  Unfortunately for Governor Malloy, these ‘numbers’ represent real people.”

Based on figures released by Malloy’s office Friday, there are 52,988 Connecticut residents whose plans were dropped by insurers. That includes 27,891 people in 16,204 individual policies that were not compliant with the Affordable Care Act, but could have been extended for another year if insurers had opted to do so.  Another 25,097 people in 15,057 individual policies were in plans that could have continued indefinitely because they pre-dated Obamacare, but were dropped by insurers.

GOP state chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. said in a written release that Malloy  is “refusing to accept responsibility….By deciding to do nothing, Governor Malloy made sure that those with canceled policies will face higher costs for less coverage.”

They may have a legitimate beef with Obamacare for shutting out some customers’ policies but the fix was simply not workable in a state that carefully regulates the market. It’s too late for regulators to reconsider closed plans in time for a January enrollment.

And, insurers said, it might have led to higher prices on some other plans as insurers scrambled to rebalance their offerings.

“To those who think we should have a special session because there’s some magical way for us to fix the issue, I say you’re wrong,” Malloy said in response to the GOP critics.

For people closed out of old plans, the bad news is that prices on the individual market are up by 15 percent to 200 percent, Malloy said.  The good news is that many residents are eligible for federal subsidies — households of four with incomes as high as $94,000, and one-person households with income as high as $44,000.

“We’re going to work with people, walk them through their options, and get them covered either on the exchange or with a private plan that makes sense for their needs,” he said.

Keith Stover, a spokesman for the Connecticut Association of Health Plans, an industry loybbying group, hailed Malloy’s announcement. “We think staying the course is the right and wise decision,” he said.

Officials at Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Connecticut, the state’s largest insurer with 46,000 individual members, and ConnectiCare, the third largest with 12,700, issued statements supporting Malloy’s decision.

Connecticut was already among the states that allowed insurers to continue non-compliant plans into 2014 — if they went through the regulatory process. The companies and customers that did continue those plans –19,251 policies covering 30,459 people — are unaffected by Friday’s announcement. Those numbers can still rise over the next several days if more people who were offered extensions elect to take them.

CT Obamacare: Low On Young Adults, Better Than Feds

by Categorized: Government, Health Care, Insurance Date:

NOTE:  Click here for an updated version of this post, including details of Connecticut Insurance Commissioner Thomas Leonardi’s Oval Office meeting with Obama Wednesday on the subject of insurers dropping plans.

It looks like Access Health CT and the three insurers in the individual Obamacare exchange will have to step up their marketing to young adults.

Or, they can just hope that many more people age 18 to 34 are procrastinators waiting to sign up for health coverage on the exchange.

Through Nov. 14, there were 7,092 people enrolled in a private health plan, according to new figures from Access Health CT.   Of those, 1,322, or 18.6 percent, were between 18 and 34, a proportion that won’t cut it for insurers for most plans.

Click here to see the breakdown by age, insurer and type of coverage. Chart provided by Access Health CT. “QHP” is a qualified private health plan.

That group is key because they’re typically healthier, and requiring that they buy coverage is a way for insurers to keep the overall cost down. It’s too early to fret about the mix, and we know whether the group that did sign up is in fact healthier than the population as a whole. It’s possible that sicker young adults signed up first.

The largest age group signing up by far is 55-64, with 2,767 enrolled, or 39 percent of the total in the first six weeks of the Obamacare exchage operations.

Among health plans, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, with 62 percent, had the highest share. ConnectiCare had 35 percent and HealthyCT, a new plan formed by a group of doctors, had 2.4 percent, a total of 168 people.

Nationally, Connecticut was in the top three best performing states as of Nov. 1, when figures by state were released. The numbers are not comparable to Access Health CT’s figures because the federal report tallied it differently.

Hoping For Pipeline Work, A Union Trains Installers

by Categorized: Energy, Government, Jobs, Labor Date:

We could be years away from a big buildout of natural gas pipelines under the state’s long-term energy plan, but when it happens it could be big.

So on Tuesday, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 478 flexed some muscle by demonstrating its new training program for unemployed and underemployed workers hoping to get into the pipeline pipeline. The Meriden-based union local would like the work to go to its members, of course, and is offering up $4 million worth of equipment for training, along with experts.

“For over 100 years, Local 478 has been a top provider of highly skilled operating engineers in the state of Connecticut,” said Craig Metz, business manager for the local, in a written release.

The idea, pushed hard by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who was on hand Tuesday, and encoded in an energy bill adopted earlier this year by lawmakers, is for the state to take advantage of natural gas supplies by building out a transmission and distribution system that regulators said could exceed 900 miles.

Predictions call for a shortage of crews in a state that now adds just a tiny fraction of that pipeline amount in a typical year. The operating engineers’ training program drew a lot of cheers from labor, construction and political quarters, as Lori Pelletier, executive secretary treasurer of the state AFL-CIO called it a perfect example of government-labor cooperation.

It does look like a good idea and it’s better to be ready than not ready. The danger is that worker training programs are rife with potential pitfalls — especially if the work never materializes. Natural gas could spike in price, the planned buildout could face delays or another shock to the labor market could create a glut of pipeline workers.

But in both energy planning and labor markets, educated guesses are all we have. And for now, we think we’ll need pipeline installers for the next decade.

The Hartford Welcomes Junior Achievement To Asylum Hill In Historic Style

by Categorized: Education, Financial Services, Real Estate Date:

A grand, wood-paneled space in a 1925 building in Asylum Hill that once served as the main hall of a bank is coming back to life in a new financial role, this time to draw youths into the world of money and business.

The two-story room dominates the historic building at 70 Farmington Ave. in Hartford, which has long been owned by The Hartford. Now the insurance company has renovated it for Junior Achievement, which recently moved from cramped quarters on Main Street.

Click here for a photo gallery showing the building

Lou Golden, president of Junior Achievement of Southwest New England, in an office overlooking the main room at the group's new digs.  John Woike/The Hartford Courant

Lou Golden, president of Junior Achievement of Southwest New England, in an office overlooking the main room at the group’s new digs.
John Woike/The Hartford Courant

The move gives Junior Achievement a 6,100-square-foot location not only for offices for its 13-person staff, but a central place in a neighborhood on the edge of downtown for programs that bring thousands of volunteers together with tens of thousands of students. These programs, such as start-up enterprises and financial literacy events, happen largely in schools and at agencies such as Boys and Girls Clubs.

Continue reading

Sennheiser Snags an Emmy

by Categorized: Media, Technology Date:

The Sennheiser Group, the German audio electronics firm with its U.S. headquarters in Old Lyme, has won an Emmy award.

Daniel Sennheiser accepting the award Photo by Frank Micelotta/Invision for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences/AP Images

Daniel Sennheiser accepting the award
Photo by Frank Micelotta/Invision for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences/AP Images

No, the maker of microphones is not joining Netflix and Amazon in creating its own entertainment content. Sennheiser won the Philo T. Farnsworth Award at the 65th Primetime Emmy Engineering Awards in Hollywood — for television technology.

Sennheiser was one of seven recipients of Engineering Emmys at Thursday night’s ceremony, including YouTube.

 

 

 

 

CT Health Exchange Enrollments Speeding Up In November

by Categorized: Government, Health Care Date:

New figures show that Access Health CT, the Obamacare exchange for Connecticut, is accelerating its enrollments in November, compared with October’s numbers.

That’s good news for the exchange, which already was one of the best performing systems in the nation according to federal data released Wednesday. The total number of people enrolled was 13,128 through Nov. 14, with a first-year goal of 100,000 through March 31.

Here are the latest Connecticut numbers released Friday, for the period of Nov. 1 to 14. Numbers for all of October are in parentheses.  All figures include small business totals, which are low.

Number of People Enrolled:  5,207 (7,921)

Applications Completed: 2,819 (4,626)

Private Plans: 3,207 (4,371)

Medicaid: 2,006 (3,550)

The federal numbers, issued by the Department of Health and Human services Wednesday, used different categories that are not reported by Access Health CT.  Those figures showed that Connecticut was among the highest states in per-capita enrollment, trailing only Kentucky in private plan enrollment per-capita, and trailing only Vermont in private plan enrollment per completed application.

 

Bradley’s Old Terminal Has Date With Destiny

by Categorized: Real Estate, Transportation Date:

It was the heart of Bradley Field, later Bradley International Airport. It harbored the great American post-World War II transition to mass commercial flight, starting with a groundbreaking by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower 63 years ago.

Now Bradley’s Murphy Terminal has its date with destiny. It is set for demolition, starting next August — though there’s no contractor in place yet, said Kevin Dillon, executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority.

Cost to build it between 1950 and 1952: $2 million.

Cost to tear it down, complete with hazardous waste removal: $2 million.

Courant file photo (1983)

Courant file photo (1983)

 

Long before the tan, brick edifice closed in 2010 as the oldest active terminal of any major U.S. airport, it was the source of embarrassment for Connecticut, symbol of the aging infrastructure in a rich state with a long history.

“That’s why it is one of the most important projects for us,” Dillon said.  “Look at the deterioration of that building — that is the entry to Connecticut.”

Sturdy old Murphy Terminal remains in use today, believe it or not. It’s home to offices of the Transportation Security Administration and the state police — both of which are now being moved, Dillon said.  The building, dubbed Terminal B after the airport’s ’80s expansion, was named for Francis S. Murphy, publisher of the Hartford Times newspaper and head of the old Connecticut Aeronautics Commission.

THREE REASONS TO TEAR IT DOWN

1. End the embarrassment of having millions of visitors see a crumbling relic on their way into the state.

2. Clear the way for expansion and modernization. “The demolition in and of itself gives us the ability to realign the roadway system and pave the way at some point for a new terminal to be built there,” Dillon said.  Long before a new terminal rises, the current plans call for a consolidated rental car center where the short-term parking lot is now located in front of the terminal — perhaps by 2016.

3. Open or relocate a time capsule which, Dillon said, is supposedly next to the cornerstone. “We will certainly be very careful as we uncover that,” he said.

THREE REASONS TO RECONSIDER, AND SAVE THE TERMINAL

1. We could use it as a movie studio, with its ’50s-era control tower backdrop and plenty of paved, back-lot area for chase scenes.

2. It’s perfect for a higher-profile location of the New England Air Museum, now located around the back side of the runways.

3. We’ve torn down so much historic architecture in the past, maybe we’ll someday yearn to have Murphy back. Not likely, but possible.

CT Jobs Forecast: Better, Not Great

by Categorized: Economy, Housing, Jobs Date:

NOTE: Click here for an updated version of this post — but look at the chart first.

Connecticut’s economy will build steam in 2014 and 2015 with healthy if not spectacular job gains, but will continue to lag the nation and the New England region, a new forecast shows.

Job totals, on track for just over 14,000 new positions in 2013, will climb to 18,700 in the gubernatorial election year of 2014, then 24,900 in 2015 before slowing somewhat after that, said Edward J. Deak, Fairfield University economics professor and Connecticut manager for the New England Economic Partnership, which released its twice-yearly forecast Wednesday.
Chart shows predicted job changes by percent.   Courtesy of New England Economic Project

Chart shows predicted job changes by percent.
Courtesy of New England Economic Project

The reason for Connecticut’s gains is simple: A rising national economy, which is expected to add jobs at nearly twice the rate of Connecticut in the next few years, will bring this state along in its coattails.
And the reason for Connecticut’s continued sluggishness, Deak said, is the same as what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing: High energy costs, constrained land use and, mostly, no great engine of growth, despite stirrings from the state-sponsored biotech industry.
Headwinds include continued restructuring in finance, especially as interest rates rise as expected; and competition for the casinos in neighboring states.
Manufacturing is forecast to remain flat or lose jobs.  The traditional factory strength, defense, will be bolstered by the latest jet fighter for the Pentagon, though that program is advancing more slowly than planned in part because of the federal sequester.
“It’s quite clear on the basis of what the Department of Defense is doing here that they want to see the F-35 go forward, plus that’s going to be a big export item,” Deak said Wednesday, ahead of the economic partnership’s Boston conference scheduled for Thursday.
Unemployment, which should average 7.9 percent in 2013, is forecast to drop to an average of 7.5 percent in 2014, then 7.1 percent in 2015.  It will reach 6.4 percent in 2017, Deak predicts, and even that number is well above the 4 percent to 5 percent levels of earlier boom times.
All of the predicted figures for Connecticut are weaker than those of the rest of New England and well below that of the nation.  But Connecticut doesn’t need fast growth, some experts say, because it’s adding population more slowly.
Deak, in fact, predicts that the total number of people working or actively looking for work — the labor force — will rise by about 20,000 people over the next three years, which would be good for job totals but would temper the decline in the jobless rate.
The best year upcoming is clearly 2015 in the forecast, as job totals return to a semblance of boom times and home construction reaches 8,500 new units, from a 2011 low of 3,000.  But the job totals won’t return to the pre-recession high of 1,713,000 until mid-2016, and the home construction levels will not return to their 2005 peak of 11,000, let alone the heady buildups of the 1980s.
As decent as the numbers look in 2014 and 2015 — both years well north of 1 percent job gains — Deak pulled them back from much higher baseline forecasts for Connecticut by Moody’s Analytics.  Under the New England Economic Partnership model, Moody’s projects numbers for each state based on the U.S. economy, and the state managers adjust based on local conditions.
Moody’s forecast gains of 25,000 jobs in 2014 and a wild and crazy 35,000 for 2015 before Deak made his adjustments.
All of this crystal ball stuff is just that, as Deak and the partnership turned out to be way off last year, when they predicted a disaster resulting from the sequester.  But barring unforeseen events, the direction of things seems clear: The 2014 economy might help Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in his re-election effort, and if he can win, he’ll be able to claim credit for more gains in 2015.

Bradley Keeping Seatbelts Fastened For American-USAirways Merger

by Categorized: Aerospace, Transportation Date:

As USAirways and American Airlines prepare to merge with a federal antitrust deal in hand, all commercial airports including Bradley International are watching closely for fear of losing flights and competition.

The outlook is decent for Bradley for two reasons. First, USAirways and American don’t compete against each other in their Bradley routes, said Kevin Dillon, executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority, which runs Bradley and five small airports. American flies to Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and Dallas, while USAirways serves Pittsburgh, Charlotte, Philadelphia and Washington, DC.

“There would be a high likelihood that you won’t see a reduction of those flights,” Dillon said.

That’s mostly true across the country. The second good sign for Bradley is that even with the merger, Connecticut’s flagship airport would still be far more balanced than other regional airports, what Dillon calls “a healthy mix.”

Based on the current flights, the merged airline would have 28 percent of all passenger traffic at Bradley — 18 percent from USAirways and 10 percent from American. That would make it the largest airline locally, barely edging out Southwest, which has 27 percent.

Those two carriers alone are balanced, and Delta has 21 percent, while United and JetBlue add 10 percent each. The small remainder is either Air Canada or commercial charters, Dillon said.

One wild card is whether the merged airline reduces Bradley flights as a result of cutbacks elsewhere. For example, at Reagan National Airport in Washington, USAirways and American are forced to sell off “slots,” or landing rights, which are controlled at a small handful of airports.

If they give up a slot for a Hartford flight by USAirways, which has six round-trips a day to Bradley, that could mean a lost flight or more here. But it could also be good for this market if, say, JetBlue picks up those slots and adds Hartford service from Reagan National.

That move would seem to make sense since JetBlue is growing in this market, and since the current USAirways flight to Reagan National is generally very expensive, catering to business travelers.

Another concern is that while American and USAirways have 28 percent of passengers, they have a slightly larger share of flights — 32 percent — meaning they have fewer customers per flight than, for example, Southwest, which has just 20 percent of flights. That could point to the demise of less profitable trips.

And USAirways and American could give up some facilities at Bradley, where they now hold a total of six gates. That could happen even if they didn’t curtail flights, Dillon said. “Of course we like to get the rental income that comes from those gates,” he said, but a cutback would free up those gates for future use.

At the moment, Bradley has three unused gates among its 22 available, and plenty of times available for flights to be added to the existing gates. So, growth is far off.

Bottom line: Nothing is certain but Bradley has a good seat assignment going into the merger.  Just keep those belts fastened for more turbulence.