US: Administration offers plan to cover COVID care for uninsured

By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON _ The Trump administration announced a plan Wednesday to start paying hospitals and doctors who care for uninsured patients with COVID-19, but Democratic lawmakers and health industry groups are likely to press for more.

Under the approach detailed by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, hospitals and doctors would submit their bills directly to the government and they would get paid at Medicare rates.

Uninsured people would not be liable for costs, and health care providers would not have to ask any questions about a patient’s immigration status, an issue that’s been cited as a barrier to care in communities with many foreign-born residents.

“This says if you don’t have insurance, go get taken care of  we have you covered,” Azar said in an interview.

The money will come from a pot of $100 billion that Congress has approved to provide relief for the health care system, which is trying to cope with the high cost of coronavirus care while facing a cash crunch because elective surgeries and procedures have been put on hold. For COVID-19 patients who are covered by health insurance, hospitals and doctors accepting money from the relief fund would have to agree to not to send “surprise” bills for out-of-network services.

COVID-19 treatment for the uninsured could cost from $14 billion to $48 billion, according to a recent estimate from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

Azar said the administration is not providing an estimate on what its plan will cost, but he is confident it will fit within the $100 billion allocated by Congress. Lawmakers are finalizing another coronavirus relief bill, expected to add $75 billion more for the health care system.

Democrats and some health industry groups say the relief money approved by Congress should go directly to health care facilities, and the administration should cover the uninsured by expanding programs such as Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. An HHS press release describing the plan for the uninsured says payments for their care would be made “subject to available funding.”

About 28 million people were uninsured before the pandemic hit, and that number is expected to rise sharply. Consultants at Health Management Associates estimate that 12 million to 35 million people could lose workplace coverage in the economic shutdown aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus.

The plan for the uninsured was part of a broader announcement by the government detailing a second round of economic relief payments to hospitals, doctors and other health care service providers.

Before Wednesday’s announcement, $30 billion had been distributed. Additional funds now being released include:

_ $20 billion in payments across a range of health care facilities.

_ $10 billion targeted to coronavirus hot spots; New York will receive $4.4 billion.

_$10 billion for rural health clinics and hospitals

_$400 million for Indian Health Service facilities.

Azar said additional allocations will be announced for nursing homes, for hospitals and doctors that rely on Medicaid, and for dentists.

Liz Weston: Is your financial adviser really helping you?

Liz Weston: Is your financial adviser really helping you?

By Liz Weston Of Nerdwallet

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Stock market crashes don’t just test investors’ mettle. Abrupt downturns also can reveal what kind of financial adviser you have.

Some people will discover, to their horror, that they’ve been dealing with outright crooks. Ponzi schemes are among the cons that fall apart when markets do, as investors try to pull their money out and discover it’s gone.

More commonly, people learn that their advisers didn’t put the clients’ best interests first. The adviser may have recommended investments that were unsuitably risky or hard to sell, or failed to adequately diversify clients’ portfolios.

Even if you dodge the worst, your adviser may not deliver the value you expected. It’s reasonable to assume you’ll get some degree of hand-holding, reassurance and personal service when you choose a human adviser over less expensive options, such as a robo-adviser or investing on your own. The answers to the following questions could help you decide whether it’s time to look for an adviser willing to live up to those expectations.

HAVE YOU EVEN HEARD FROM YOUR ADVISER?

Demanding instant responses isn’t realistic at a time when advisers, like the rest of us, are grappling with pandemic-wrought changes. They may be working from home, struggling with unfamiliar technologies, trying to keep their pantry filled and home-schooling their kids. Family members may be ill or at risk. Plus, they may be busy responding to clients who are a lot more freaked out than you are, or at least more vocal about it.

Still, by now your adviser should have checked in with you _ and mass communications such as email newsletters don’t count. If you’ve called or emailed, you should be getting responses.

“We return emails and calls within 24 hours,” says Catherine S. Gearig, a certified financial planner with LifePlan Financial Advisory Group in Rochester Hills, Michigan. “We’re reaching out to every client on our roster via telephone to see how they are doing and talking through their concerns.”

IS YOUR ADVISER LISTENING?

Let’s say you have heard from your adviser. Was it a pep talk, a lecture or a conversation? Good advisers remind clients of their goals, encourage them to stick with their strategy and reassure them that markets always bounce back eventually. But good advisers also ask plenty of questions and pay attention to the answers.

“This is the time for collaboration and listening to how you feel, how you see yourself being impacted by a recession, or even personal or medical health concerns you have,” says Pam Krueger, CEO of Wealthramp, an online service that connects consumers with vetted, independent fiduciary advisers. “It’s not about portfolios and investments and mutual funds all the time.”

IS YOUR ADVISER LEANING IN?

If you’ve lost your job, you may need to find health insurance, file for unemployment, evaluate a severance package and figure out how to make ends meet _ all tasks that a good adviser should help you with, Krueger says. If you’re in or near retirement, you need to know how bear markets might affect your future spending and whether to tap other assets, such as home equity. Even if you’re decades away from retirement, you may want reassurance that your plan is still on track.

The stimulus package that Congress approved in late March, meanwhile, has a wide range of provisions to help individuals and businesses. Your adviser should be evaluating whether any could help you.

Even if you don’t have a pressing financial need, it might be a good time to do a Roth conversion, sell losing stocks to offset gains from winners, rebalance your investments or even speed up your retirement contributions. CFP Malcolm Ethridge, executive vice-president of CIC Wealth in Rockville, Maryland, is encouraging his younger clients whose job prospects are good to boost their 401(k) and IRA contributions now.

“That way, you get those dollars in there while the market is selling at a discount and take full advantage of the buying opportunity,” Ethridge says.

Bad markets and trying economic times are an opportunity to see how seriously advisers take their responsibilities to their clients, says CFP Brett A. Koeppel, president of Eudaimonia Wealth in Buffalo, New York.

“Our character is often determined by how we show up at times of adversity,” Koeppel says. “Now is the time to lean into it, and step up for the families that count on us to do so.”

___________________________

This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and author of  “Your Credit Score.”

Fairfax Financial warns of US$1.4 billion net loss in the first quarter

TORONTO _ Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. is warning that it expects to lose US$1.4 billion in the first quarter because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Toronto-based holding company says its preliminary result will also mean about a 12 per cent decrease in book value adjusted for the $10 per common share dividend paid in quarter.

Chief executive Prem Watsa says that despite the unprecedented turbulence its insurance companies continued to have strong underwriting performance in the quarter.

Net losses on investments currently estimated at about US$1.5 billion primarily reflect unrealized losses in the fair value of our common stock and bond portfolio from the sudden shock of COVID-19, he said. That reverses a significant portion of the US$1.7 billion net gains on investments reported in 2019.

Watsa says in a statement that the company has drawn on its credit facility solely to ensure that it maintains high levels of cash. It had about US$2.5 billion in cash and marketable securities in its holding company at March 31.

Fairfax will also absorb its share of US$200 million in losses related to its investments in Quess, Resolute Forest Products and Astarta.

US Primary Insurer Travelers accelerates commission payments for agents & brokers

US primary insurer Travelers has announced plans to accelerate more than $100 million in commission payments to eligible distribution partners, building on the company’s COVID-19 relief efforts.

TravelersTravelers explained that the distribution support plan will speed up payments for agents and brokers to help them address the liquidity impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.

“As so many are facing a significant financial burden due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we want to show our agent and broker partners, many of whom are small business owners, our support at this challenging time,” said Alan Schnitzer, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Travelers.

“Independent agents and brokers not only provide invaluable counsel and care to our customers but also play a critical role in the U.S. economy, and we are committed to standing by them,” he added.

Bob Rusbuldt, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, also commented: “Travelers has always been the premier supporter of independent agents and brokers, and the Travelers Distribution Support Plan takes that support to a whole new level. We want to thank Travelers for their continued industry leadership.”

The commissions being accelerated were accrued in the ordinary course of business during the quarter ended March 31, 2020, and are not expected to have a significant impact on the Travelers’ results.

Insurers warn on forced payouts for uncovered coronavirus losses

The excerpted article was written by Simon JessopAbhinav Ramnarayan

LONDON (Reuters) – World insurers told governments on Monday that making them pay out on losses suffered due to the coronavirus that were not covered by policies risked destabilising the insurance industry.

With the global economy hammered by measures to halt the spread of the virus, companies are struggling to survive on tumbling revenues, prompting many to examine insurance policies for potential claims on disruption to their businesses.

In Britain, lawmakers have pushed insurers to show flexibility and Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority has told insurance companies that the behaviour of customers will change due to lockdown restrictions.

The Global Federation of Insurance Associations (GFIA) said insurers were committed to paying out on policies but said they should not be asked to cover areas where no contract existed.

“Where coverage for pandemics and other causes of loss were not included in existing policies or reflected in premium payments, requiring insurers to cover those losses retroactively could seriously threaten the stability of the global insurance industry,” the GFIA said in a statement.

“Events such as fires, motor vehicle accidents and natural catastrophes covered by insurance do not stop, even during a pandemic.”

Some regulators and supervisors had asked for additional data and information as they seek to manage the fallout from the coronavirus, but the GFIA said more coordination was needed.

“Coordination between governmental authorities – and the allowance of some flexibility to account for existing administrative burdens – will be very important in allowing the industry to concentrate time and resources on serving policyholders and confronting the pandemic,” it said.

Reporting by Simon Jessop, Editing by Edmund Blair

Vegas: Thomas Keller files suit over coronavirus insurance coverage

The excerpted article was written by  

Chef Thomas Keller, who operates Bouchon Bistro and Bouchon Bakery in The Venetian and is planning a new restaurant in Wynn Las Vegas, has filed what could be a groundbreaking lawsuit in a California court, asking for a legally binding decision on whether his business interruption insurance policy allows him to recover business losses suffered in connection with the COVID-19 crisis.

The suit, filed in the Superior Court of California County of Napa, addresses Keller’s policy with Hartford Fire Insurance Company. But the chef’s attorney, John Houghtaling, says there’s an industry-wide issue at stake.

“To avoid payments for a civil authority shutdown, the insurance industry is pushing out deceptive propaganda that the virus does not cause a dangerous condition to property,” Houghtaling said in a statement issued by the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group. “This is a lie, it’s untrue factually and legally. The insurance industry is pushing this out to governments and to their agents to deceive policyholders about the coverage they owe.”

Locally, Carson Kitchen’s owner and President Cory Harwell says he hopes Keller’s actions will set a precedent that will aid smaller businesses like his own.

“Without the Thomas Kellers of the world, without somebody blazing that trail for us, the little guy like me can’t really do anything. We’re stuck with whatever the insurance company says. Because we can’t expend our very precious resources that we do have on fighting a fight like this, when those funds are earmarked to try to stay alive, to keep our employees employed, and to keep our businesses afloat.”

Harwell has filed a claim with his insurance company on behalf of his restaurants in Las Vegas and Atlanta, under the terms of his business interruption coverage. He’s fearful, however, of how it will be received.

“Almost all (policies) have an exclusion in them for viruses and bacteria. So their stance on this is that this is an excluded event. And I know that that’s probably what’s coming back to us.”

He doesn’t believe that such a response would be appropriate in the current situation.

“A virus didn’t close my restaurant, the government did,” he explains. “And the government closing my restaurant is a protected event.”

At JRS Hospitality, which has temporarily stopped its operations at Alexxa’s, Beer Park, Cabo Wabo Cantina, Chayo Mexican Kitchen, Hexx Kitchen and Bar and Chateau Nightclub on the Strip, managing partners Corey Jenkins and Matt Silverman are having their attorneys prepare the business interruption insurance claims.

“We have not had a claim rejected,” Silverman explains. “But based on what we’re seeing in the news, we’re preparing for that possibility. That’s why we’re having legal do this for us the correct way, so that we have the best shot.”

“It seems obvious to us,” Jenkins says. “We were prevented from entering the premises and operating our business. That is a business disturbance. And that is exactly what business interruption insurance is for.”

 

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from ILSTV

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest