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New From the GAO

October 20, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office

1. Food Safety: USDA Needs to Strengthen Its Approach to Protecting Human Health from Pathogens in Poultry Products. GAO-14-744, September 30.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-744
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/666230.pdf
Podcast – http://www.gao.gov/multimedia/podcasts/666518

2. Changing Crude Oil Markets: Allowing Exports Could Reduce Consumer Fuel Prices, and the Size of the Strategic Reserves Should Be Reexamined. GAO-14-807, September 30.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-807
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/666275.pdf

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CRS — Cybersecurity: Authoritative Reports and Resources, by Topic (October 14, 2014)

October 20, 2014 Comments off

Cybersecurity: Authoritative Reports and Resources, by Topic (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

This report provides references to analytical reports on cybersecurity from CRS, other government agencies, trade associations, and interest groups. The reports and related websites are grouped under the following cybersecurity topics:
• policy overview
• National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC)
• cloud computing and FedRAMP
• critical infrastructure
• cybercrime, data breaches, and data security
• national security, cyber espionage, and cyberwar (including Stuxnet)
• international efforts
• education/training/workforce
• research and development (R&D)

In addition, the report lists selected cybersecurity-related websites for congressional and government agencies, news, international organizations, and organizations or institutions.

CRS — Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA): Resources for Frequently Asked Questions (October 10, 2014)

October 20, 2014 Comments off

Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA): Resources for Frequently Asked Questions (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA; P.L. 111-148, as amended) has numerous provisions affecting private health insurance and public health coverage programs. Many of these provisions take effect in 2014. This report provides resources to help congressional staff respond to constituents’ frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the law. The report lists selected resources regarding consumers, employers, and other stakeholders, with a focus on federal sources. It also lists CRS reports that summarize ACA’s provisions.

The report begins with links to contacts for specific ACA questions, such as Consumer Assistance Programs, state agencies, and local organizations that can answer constituents’ questions directly. For example, the federal HealthCare.gov website offers an ACA consumer telephone hotline and online chat assistance. The report also lists sources for congressional staff to contact federal agencies with ACA questions.

The report provides basic consumer sources, including a glossary of health coverage terms. The next sections focus on health coverage: the individual mandate, private health insurance, and exchanges, as well as public health care programs, such as Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicare, Indian health care, and veterans’ and military health care. It then lists sources on employer-sponsored coverage, including sources on employer penalties, small businesses, federal workers’ health plans, and union health plans. It also provides sources on ACA’s provisions on mental health, public health, workforce, quality, and taxes. Finally, the report lists sources on ACA costs and appropriations, legal issues, the treatment of noncitizens under ACA, and sources for obtaining the law’s full-text.

This list is not a comprehensive directory of all resources on the ACA, but rather is intended to address a few questions that may arise frequently.

See also:
Another Court Rejects Premium Tax Credits in Federal Exchanges under ACA, CRS Legal Sidebar (October 6, 2014) (PDF)
Appropriations and Fund Transfers in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) (October 10, 2014) (PDF)

Annual report of the CFPB student loan ombudsman 2014

October 20, 2014 Comments off

Annual report of the CFPB student loan ombudsman 2014
Source: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act established a student loan ombudsman within the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Pursuant to the Act, this annual report analyzes complaints submitted by consumers with student loans from October 1, 2013, through September 30, 2014. The largest subset of private student loan complaints we handled relate to the lack of repayment options and flexibility in times of distress.

Airbnb in the City

October 17, 2014 Comments off

Airbnb in the City (PDF)
Source: New York State Office of the Attorney General

The rapid rise of short-term rental platforms like Airbnb have dramatically expanded the use of traditional apartments as transient hotel rooms — sparking a public debate in New York and in communities worldwide about the real-world consequences of this online marketplace.

Where supporters of Airbnb and other rental sites see a catalyst for entrepreneurship, critics see a threat to the safety, affordability, and residential character of local communities . Are the new platforms fueling a black market for unsafe hotels? By bidding up the price of apartments in popular areas, do short-term rentals mak e metropolitan areas like New York City less affordable? Is the influx of out-of-town visitors upsetting the quiet of longstanding residential neighborhoods?

Until now, t he discourse has centered more on opinions and anecdotes than facts . This report seeks to bridge the gulf between rhetoric and reality. It offers the first exploration of the data on how users in New York City, one of Airbnb’s most important markets, utilize the most successful online lodging rental platform . More broadly, the report endeavors to use quantitative data to inform an ongoing debate about how we embrace emerging, disruptive technologies, while protecting the safety and well-being of our citizens .

By a nalyzing Airbnb bookings for “private” stays, this report presents a snapshot of short-term rentals in New York City from January 1, 2010 through June 2, 2014 (the “Review Period” .

Changes in U.S. Family Finances from 2010 to 2013: Evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances

October 17, 2014 Comments off

Changes in U.S. Family Finances from 2010 to 2013: Evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances (PDF)
Source: Federal Reserve Board

The Federal Reserve Board’s triennial Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) collects information about family incomes, net worth, balance sheet components, credit use, and other financial outcomes. The 2013 SCF reveals substantial disparities in the evolution of income and net worth since the previous time the survey was conducted, in 2010.

During the three years between the beginning of the 2010 and 2013 surveys, real gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 2.1 percent, the civilian unemployment rate fell from 9.9 percent to 7.5 percent, and the annual rate of change in the consumer price index (CPI) averaged 2.3 percent. Although aggregate economic performance improved substantially relative to the period between the 2007 and 2010 surveys, the effect on incomes for different types of families was far from uniform.

NerdWallet Health Study: Medical Debt Crisis Worsening Despite Policy Advances

October 16, 2014 Comments off

NerdWallet Health Study: Medical Debt Crisis Worsening Despite Policy Advances
Source: NerdWallet

Despite recent advances in health care policy, American households continue to struggle with medical debt, and it’s only getting worse. Americans are putting more of their take-home pay toward medical costs than ever before.

  • NerdWallet Health has found that Americans pay three times more in third-party collections of medical debt each year than they pay for bank and credit card debt combined. In 2014, roughly one in five American adults will be contacted by a debt collection agency about medical bills, but they may be overpaying – NerdWallet found rampant hospital billing errors resulting in overcharges of up to 26%.
  • NerdWallet found 63% of American adults indicate they have received medical bills that cost more than they expected. At the same time, 73% of consumers agree they could make better health decisions if they knew the cost of medical care before receiving it.
  • Between 2010 and 2013, American households lost $2,300 in median income, but their health care expenses increased by $1,814.[1] Out-of-pocket spending is expected to accelerate to a 5.5% annual growth rate by 2023 – double the growth of real GDP.

In a follow-up to last year’s study that found medical debt is the largest cause of personal bankruptcy, NerdWallet Health investigated the mounting financial obstacles facing the American patient.

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