Health insurance: The real cost of living!

Before you decide to just accept the 1 April price hike on health insurance, or even cancel that all-important health insurance, shop around, says Corinne Gaffney.

FOR THOSE of us with private health insurance, 1 April is when we have to deal with the annual premium increase. This year’s increase is at an industry average of 5.59%. Even though this average is at a four-year low it seems to be receiving more attention than in previous years (2015: 6.18%, 2014:6.20).

Currently, every second advert and news show is about the soaring cost of health insurance and how to beat the price hike by “comparing the market”.

Another driving force would be that the Department of Health is soon to release a report into private health insurance and a possible proposal on reform in this sector. So, it’s getting it’s fair share of publicity, and let’s face it, everyone is looking for a solution to issues affecting our hip pockets.

So what’s the solution? Does shopping around really help? Should we be reducing our level of cover? Will another insurer with a cheaper premium give us the same level of cover? How do I make an informed decision?

The Health Insurance Ombudsman, who protects the interest of private health insurance consumers, does indeed encourage shopping around for a better premium.

So how do you go about shopping around? Well, it’s not just companies like Compare the Market and iSelect that provide comparisons but, you can also use a link on the Ombudsman website, PrivateHealth.gov.au, to use the Compare Policies tool.

One of the benefits of using PrivateHealth.gov.au (besides not having to deal with that annoying meerkat) is that you don’t have to provide your contact information and end up being bombarded by constant emails or calls like when using other consumer sites.

The website also provides info on each fund’s gap scheme as well as helpful hints on reviewing you cover annually to match your needs and lifestyle. Also, you are encouraged to make sure that your waiting periods are protected, and to check ancillary benefits and the hospitals covered … Importantly, confirm what you pay and what the insurance pays.

You may even find that your current insurer could be offering a better premium, so you could challenge them to provide the quoted insurance rate without the effort of changing insurers — as I discovered while helping my Mom with her health insurance.

Or, if you consider that you can’t afford the increased premium, they provide information on options to maintain private health insurance to preserve your Lifetime Health Cover status and avoid the Medicare levy surcharge.

So … before you decide to just accept the price hike, or even cancel that all-important health insurance, shop around … and yes, you can do it without having to deal with any African wildlife …

Wishing you good health — until we have to do it all again next year!

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Presidential hopefuls Cruz, Sanders look to New York

Decisive wins in Wisconsin boosted U.S. presidential hopefuls Republican Ted Cruz and Democrat Bernie Sanders as they chase the front-runners, building momentum as they gear up for the crucial New York primary in two weeks.

Seeking to fend them off, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton will now look to recalibrate their campaigns and secure victories in a state that both call home and where they could effectively wind up the primary process if they win with large margins.

Trump will be called on to demonstrate that he can absorb the shock of a loss and bounce back against Cruz. The U.S. senator from Texas showed he is increasingly viewed as the main Trump alternative by those Republicans who cannot bring themselves to support the billionaire to be their presidential nominee for the Nov. 8 election.

Cruz’s emphatic victory in Wisconsin on Tuesday slowed Trump’s progress in amassing the needed convention delegates and increased the chances that Republicans will be faced with a rare contested convention in Cleveland in July.

The Republican race now turns to New York, which votes on April 19. Republican New York Chairman Ed Cox said he believes the state could decide the nomination. “Given the wide diversity in New York, I think it will be a definitive moment,” Cox said.

On the Democratic side, Sanders, a Brooklyn-born U.S. senator representing Vermont, is trying to stage a come-from-behind upset of Clinton, but will struggle to overcome a large deficit in delegates.

Sanders’ win in Wisconsin, which brought his victory tally to six out of the last seven contests, added to Clinton’s frustration over her inability to swiftly knock out a rival who has attacked her from the left. That frustration was on full display on Wednesday when the former secretary of state gave two live televised interviews in which she criticized Sanders.

In contrast to a Republican primary season that has been rife with personal insults, the Democrats have largely avoided personal attacks and stuck to policy arguments. But Clinton attacked Sanders for his position on guns and said he lacked a depth of policy understanding.

“You can’t really help people if you don’t know how to do what you say you want to do,” Clinton said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “I think he hadn’t done his homework and he’s been talking for more than a year about doing things that he hasn’t really studied or understood.”

She criticized him for an interview to New York’s Daily News in which he failed to offer specifics on how he would break up large banks – a key part of his campaign message – when he was asked how he would put to use the existing financial regulation Dodd-Frank law.

“It’s not clear that he knows how Dodd-Frank works,” Clinton told CNN in an interview on Wednesday afternoon.

The Democratic Party nominating race moves to Wyoming on April 9 before New York.

A CONTESTED CONVENTION

Cruz’s win on Tuesday injected fresh energy into what had been a flagging anti-Trump movement and showed the real estate magnate has work to do to repair damage from remarks about abortion that hurt him with Republican women voters.

Trump needs some decisive victories in coming primary votes to show he is still on the way to assembling the 1,237 delegates needed for the Republican presidential nomination. He has 743 delegates so far, and Cruz 517, with Ohio Governor John Kasich trailing well back with 143 delegates, according to an Associated Press count.

Trump needs to win 55 percent of the remaining delegates to reach the threshold.

Those who oppose Trump are becoming increasingly resigned to the unlikelihood of Cruz obtaining 1,237 delegates – doing so would require winning more than 80 percent of the remaining delegates.

But the anti-Trump camp hopes that if no candidate reaches the needed number of delegates, Republicans would be able to block Trump in a contested convention and select someone else to be the party’s choice.

Cruz’s win in Wisconsin kept that hope alive, diminishing the chances that he would give up before the convention in Cleveland in July.

“Everybody involved in the campaigns have invested countless time, sweat, tears, money and hopes. It is virtually impossible to just walk away from that,” said Craig Shirley, who wrote a biography of Ronald Reagan, one of two candidates who competed in the last contested Republican convention in 1976.

“To fall just a couple delegates short and just take your marbles and go home, it doesn’t work like that.”

Trump is heading to favorable turf in the Northeast and is already predicting victory in New York. A Monmouth University poll of New York Republicans released on Monday showed Trump with 52 percent of the state’s support, a huge lead over Kasich at 25 percent, and Cruz at 17 percent.

“If this result holds in every single congressional district, Trump will walk away with nearly all of New York State’s delegates,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

“It’s very important for Trump to bounce back strong. The sense of his inevitability is one of his strengths,” said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Center at Southern Illinois University.

Trump was uncharacteristically silent on Twitter the day after his Wisconsin loss, and his only statement on Tuesday night was written rather than spoken, was issued by the campaign and referred to him in the third person.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Tuesday showed Cruz about even with Trump among Republicans nationally. His recent gains mark the first time since November that a rival has threatened Trump’s standing at the head of the Republican pack.

(Reporting by Steve Holland.; Writing by Ginger Gibson; Editing by Frances Kerry and Howard Goller)

Claims after-school care being used as ‘cash cow’

The anti-corruption watchdog may be asked to investigate a number of public schools where lucrative contracts to run after-school care centres at public schools have been awarded to private companies.

Key points:

  • Some principals treating afterschool care as ‘cash cows’
  • Haberfield not-for-profit care price raised to $40k
  • Several schools being referred to the ICAC

The national organisation for out-of-school-hours (OOSH) care claims some school principals are treating after-care as a “cash cow” and are putting contracts out to tender to raise revenue for the school.

Robyn Monro Miller, the chief executive officer of Network of Community Activities, said the situation was “out of control” and that not-for-profit services run by parents were being overlooked in breach of NSW Department of Education guidelines.

“There are people out there who think they can make a profit from out of school hours care,” she told the ABC.

“I’m concerned that decisions are being made on who win tenders by how much money a school could get from an out of hours provider and that’s not a good basis for making these decisions.”

Last month, parents at Haberfield Public School in Sydney’s inner west received a letter advising them that out of school hours care was being put out to tender.

“Why would we need it to go private, so we could raise prices?” said Melissa Kemp, a member of the parent-run Haberfield OOSH (HOOSH) Committee.

The issue is that where you have got existing services functioning really well, there is no reason to put them out to tender.

Robyn Monro Miller, Network of Community Activities CEO

The Department of Education said the decision was made after attempts to negotiate a licence agreement with HOOSH had failed.

Up until now, the not-for-profit centre had been paying the school a token rent of $1 a year.

The HOOSH committee was informed that under the new licence agreement that would be increased to $40,000 a year.

The Department of Education said the fee would be even higher for a private operator.

Parents were assured there would be no change in the number of after-school care places and the current provider HOOSH would have the opportunity to submit a tender.

Worry over affordability of care if HOOSH loses contract

But many parents were worried about what would happen if HOOSH lost the contract.

With 150 children on the waiting list for after-school care, Peter Erken considered himself lucky to have a spot for his seven-year-old daughter Sophia.

“Median house prices are up in the millions and rents are like $1,000 around here for a house for a week, so you can imagine both parents have to work,” he said.

“If you can’t fall back on the public school system to support you, who are you going to fall back on?”

Bryony Mica works part-time and has a daughter in Year 3 who goes to after-school care two afternoons a week.

Her younger daughter is due to start school next year.

“I’m not quite sure what I’ll do if I can’t get her an after care place,” she said.

“The options could be that we have to enrol her at a different school.”

‘Flys in the face of government policy’

Ms Monro Miller said what was happening at Haberfield was not an isolated case.

“We don’t object to OOSH services going out to private tender,” she said.

“The issue is that where you have got existing services functioning really well, there is no reason to put them out to tender.

“It really flys in the face of NSW government policy.”

Ms Monro Miller said shifting after-school care from the not-for-profit sector to private operators penalised working parents.

“Not only are families paying more, they are actually being charged twice,” she said.

“They’ve already paid their tax, they’ve already funded public education so why should the working parent have to fund it again?”

She said the vast majority of public school principals were acting in the interests of the school community.

‘”We have got incredible principals in the New South Wales education system,” Ms Monro Miller said.

“You get random principals who have got different agendas and are not looking at the needs of their communities and when that happens — it’s disastrous for that community.”

The Network of Community Services said it was considering referring several cases to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Sanders Wins Sixth Straight State With Wisconsin Victory While Trump Shows He Can’t Close the Deal

Sanders’ and Cruz’s victories set up a big New York showdown.

Photo Credit: www.facebook.com

Wisconsin voters said no way to the Democratic and Republican parties’ presidential frontrunners Tuesday, giving big wins to Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz and injecting frustration and uncertainty into the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  

For Sanders, it was his sixth straight victory since March 22’s problem-plagued Arizona primary, where Clinton was deemed the winner but voters faced so many impediments that the Justice Department is investigating. His victory in Wisconsin, beating Clinton 56.4 percent to 43.4 percent with 97 percent of precincts reporting, comes after winning Washington, Hawaii, Alaska, Utah and Idaho.

“Moments ago the news networks called another state for our political revolution, and it’s a big one: Wisconsin,” Sanders wrote in an e-mail to supporters, with less than one-quarter of the votes tallied. “The corporate media and political establishment keep counting us out, but we keep winning states and doing so by large margins. If we can keep this up, we’re going to shock them all and win this nomination.”

A little later, he told supporters in Wyoming, which will caucus on Saturday, “We will win in November if there is a large voter turnout. This campaign is giving energy and enthusiasm to millions of Ameicans… I think the people of this country are ready for a political revolution, and if you ignore what you hear in the corporate media, the facts are pretty clear: we have a path to victory and to the White House.”   

Earlier Tuesday, Hillary Clinton’s campaign was telling supporters that Sanders was expected to win and started attacking him on several fronts, with a spokeswoman saying his visit with the New York Daily News editorial board this week showed he had no idea how to accomplish his lofty goals. Campaign manager Robby Mook said the Sanders campaign knew it was losing where it counted—accumulating delegates—and was starting to sound like Trump, posturing the delegate math doesn’t matter.

“It seems the Sanders campaign is finally seeing the writing on the wall: Hillary has won more votes AND more pledged delegates in this election—her lead in both is nearly insurmountable,” Mook said in an e-mail blast. “So this morning, Bernie’s campaign manager claimed the convention could be an ‘open convention,’ and declared they’re going to try and flip delegates’ votes, overturning the will of the voters.”

As the 2016 nominating season lurches from state to state, you can expect hyperbole from all sides. Sanders obviously has been gaining momentum. But number-crunchers like Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.com who are postulating pathways to the nomination are saying Sanders will not beat Clinton unless he wins at least 57 percent of the delegates in the remaining contests.

It appears Sanders hovered a sliver under that threshold Tuesday, winning 56.4 percent of the vote based on 97 percent of precincts  reporting, and showing deeper and wider appeal than many Clinton backers care to acknowledge, such as almost tying her in Milwaukee, a city with a large non-white population, and continuing to win among young voters in university towns like Madison.

The next Democratic state to vote is Wyoming, which will caucus this Saturday, April 9, a format where Sanders more often than not has beaten Clinton. But then the race jumps to a major new orbit, with New York holding its delegate-rich primary on April 19. Two-hundred and ninety-one delegates are at stake, compared to 72 in Wisconsin and 18 in Wyoming. A week later, more mid-Atlantic states vote, including Pennsylvania with 210 delegates, Maryland with 118 and Connecticut with 70.

But all eyes will be on New York, which has become a must-win state for Clinton. If she loses the state where she was a U.S. senator and now calls home, it will be a devastating symbolic blow to her campaign by underscoring her weakness as a national candidate.

After Tuesday’s vote, the New York Times estimated that Clinton had 1,271 pledged delegates, compared to 1,024 for Sanders, a difference of 247 delegates. That does not include the party’s so-called superdelegates, which accounts for one-sixth of all the delegates and are its top officeholders and state party officials across the country.

Republican Results

On the GOP side, Ted Cruz won a decisive victory, gathering 50 percent of the vote compared to 33 percent for Donald Trump and 15 percent for John Kasich. Trump was not favored to win Wisconsin, where he was viciously attacked by the state’s right-wing establishment, from Gov. Scott Walker who dropped out of the presidential race months ago and backed Cruz, to many AM talk radio hosts, to various super PACs fueled by top mainstream donors.

Trump did not speak Tuesday, but in a written statement he attacked Republican Party bosses and the anti-Trump super PACs, and called Cruz “worse than a puppet” for being used to steal the nomination from him. While Trump is leading on the GOP side with delegates, the presence of Cruz and Kasich is increasingly raising the prospect that he won’t cross the nominating threshold of 1,237 delegates and the party will have a contested national nominating convention—the first since 1948.

Trump may be blaming the GOP establishment and his competition for an increasingly frustrating campaign, but according to Wisconsin exit poll results broadcast on CNN, an astounding 38 percent of Republicans said they were worried about a Trump presidency. They also noted how exit polls said the Clinton campaign has still not managed to excite growing numbers of Democratic voters. But if these presumed frontrunners win their party’s nomination, or Sanders manages to take it, fear of Trump may provoke many Americans to vote Democratic.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).

Sanders foresaw #PanamaPapers fraud while Clinton backed 2011 trade deal

“Panama is a world leader when it comes to allowing wealthy Americans and large corporations to evade US taxes,” Bernie Sanders told Congress in 2011. Lauren McCauley from Common Dreams reports.

WHO COULD have predicted that the global tax evasion by the world’s ultra-rich, made public this week with the release of the Panama Papers, was ushered in with the help of a free trade agreement?

Turns out, Sen. Bernie Sanders – who in the Wisconsin primary today (Australian time) continued his momentum building run of victories against Democrat presidential opponent Hillary Clinton – did.

In fiery speech before the U.S. Senate in 2011, Bernie Sanders declared his “strong opposition” to the “unfettered free trade agreements” with Korea, Columbia, and Panama — agreements that were being pushed for by both President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sanders’ current rival for the Democratic nomination.

Sanders stated:

Panama is a world leader when it comes to allowing wealthy Americans and large corporations to evade U.S. taxes by stashing their cash in off-shore tax havens. And, the Panama Free Trade Agreement would make this bad situation much worse.

Watch Sanders’ entire speech below:

Sanders continued:

Each and every year, the wealthy and large corporations evade $100 billion in U.S. taxes through abusive and illegal offshore tax havens in Panama and other countries.

According to Citizens for Tax Justice, a “tax haven . . . has one of three characteristics: It has no income tax or a very low-rate income tax; it has bank secrecy laws; and it has a history of non-cooperation with other countries on exchanging information about tax matters. Panama has all three of those. … They’re probably the worst.”

Mr President, the trade agreement with Panama would effectively bar the U.S. from cracking down on illegal and abusive offshore tax havens in Panama. In fact, combating tax haven abuse in Panama would be a violation of this free trade agreement, exposing the U.S. to fines from international authorities.

In 2008, the Government Accountability Office said that 17 of the 100 largest American companies were operating a total of 42 subsidiaries in Panama. This free trade agreement would make it easier for the wealthy and large corporations to avoid paying U.S. taxes and it must be defeated. At a time when we have a record-breaking $14.7 trillion national debt and an unsustainable federal deficit, the last thing that we should be doing is making it easier for the wealthiest people and most profitable corporations in this country to avoid paying their fair share in taxes by setting-up offshore tax havens in Panama.

Sanders was in the minority with that view and shortly thereafter the Panama-U.S. Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA) was passed and signed into law, a move that was lauded by Secretary Clinton as an example of the Obama Administration’s commitment to

“… deepen our economic engagement throughout the world.”

What’s more, as International Business Times senior editor David Sirota and others have pointed out, the Obama administration even included a loophole in the deal ‘that allows Panama to sidestep new tax transparency provisions’ included in the trade pact.

Though the world was stunned by the leak of 11.5 million documents from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, which detailed how government and corporate officials around the world erected shell companies to stash billions of dollars in to avoid tax liability, much of those activities were not necessarily illegal — thanks to agreements such as the Panama TPA.

As Vox’s Matthew Yglesias wrote Sunday: 

Tax avoidance is an inevitable feature of any tax system, but the reason this particular form of avoidance grows and grows without bounds is that powerful politicians in powerful countries have chosen to let it happen. As the global economy has become more and more deeply integrated, powerful countries have created economic ‘rules of the road’ that foreign countries and multinational corporations must follow in order to gain lucrative market access.

Indeed, reclaiming an economy that has been “rigged” for the one per cent is the hallmark of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, and it is a theme that has galvanized voters and fueled primary upsets across the United States.

On Monday, 22,000 people demonstrated outside the Parliament building in Reykjavik, Iceland calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, who is just one of the world leaders implicated in the leak. Observers speculate that is just the beginning of the popular backlash to the revelations.

Though there has been little reporting on what Americans have been exposed in the Mossack Fonseca data dump, there are already murmurs that the Panama Papers can provide the necessary boost for Sanders to overtake Clinton.

Columnist Matthew Turner wrote at the Independent on Tuesday:

All of the presidential candidates will be questioned about the scandal. And nobody is going to be under more pressure than Hillary Clinton. For some Americans, she is the embodiment of a ‘global elite,’ while Bernie Sanders is its antithesis.

Turner continues:

But this more than a battle of candidates, it is a battle of ideas. Globalization, heralded by the likes of Hillary Clinton, has enabled the richest in society to exploit the system while ordinary working people pick up the tab. This has been going on for decades; as a political family, the Clintons have done nothing about it. Hillary continues to describe her opponent’s policy platform as ‘pie in the sky’, yet corporations paying their fair share of taxes could easily fund many of Sanders’ proposals.  The longer this scandal this kept alive the more beneficial will be for Sanders. And if any more skeletons in the Clinton closet see the light, it will parachute Bernie Sanders into the White House.

Sanders has not yet released a statement on the Panama Papers, but in an interview on Monday he sharpened his attack on “greed, recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street,” telling the New York Daily News:

A rigged economy is when you have corporations making billions of dollars a year in taxes, billions of dollars a year in profit, and not paying a nickel in taxes. A rigged economy is where you have companies able to shut down as a result of trade agreements that they have written, and move abroad and pay people pennies an hour. That is a rigged economy. A rigged economy is when, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, the top one-tenth of 1% now owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%.

Sanders added:

“If that’s not a rigged economy. I don’t know what a rigged economy is.”

This story was originally published by Common Dreams on 4 April 2016 under the heading ‘While Clinton Backed 2011 Trade Deal, Sanders Foresaw Panama Papers Fiasco’ and has been republished under a Creative Commons licence.

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