Econintersect: Here are some of the headlines we found to help you start your day. For more headlines see our afternoon feature for GEI members, What We Read Today, which has many more headlines and a number of article discussions to keep you abreast of what we have found interesting.
Affordable Care Act Takes Hits in Spending and Tax Bills (Medscape Multispecialty) The new law suspends an ACA tax on medical devices for 2 years. ACA opponents argued that the tax, originally scheduled to take effect in 2016, would stifle medical innovation, increase the cost of care, and eliminate jobs. The legislation also stiff-arms the ACA provision that imposes a 40% excise tax on employer-sponsored health plans deemed ultraexpensive. The start date has been postponed from 2018 to 2020.
Another casualty is an ACA tax on health insurers, which is suspended for 2017. ACA critics say the tax causes insurers to pass on the cost to consumers in the form of higher premiums. The ACA took other hits on the spending side. Most notably, the legislation prevents the Obama administration from using discretionary funds in the US Department of Health and Human Services to offset any initial losses incurred by health insurers participating in ACA exchanges in the so-called Risk Corridor program. The Democratic drafters of the ACA created the program anticipating that some insurers wouldn't collect enough premium dollars to cover an influx of new and sicker-than-average enrollees. Congress included the discretionary-funding restriction in last year's spending bill, depriving insurers of an estimated $2.5 billion and undermining their commitment to participate in the exchanges.
The latest spending bill also prohibits the administration from using discretionary funds to bail out state-based insurance exchanges that are running out of money. And the infamous Independent Payment Advisory Board, created to curb Medicare spending, but not yet appointed, gets nary a dime in 2016.
Drug overdose deaths in the US reach record levels (BBC News) More than 47,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2014 - the most ever recorded in one year. Overdose deaths jumped 7% from just one year earlier. The spike in deaths has coincided with a rapid rise in the abuse of opioid-based prescription painkillers such as oxycontin and hydrocodone.
Volkswagen Loans Investigated by E.U. Anti-Fraud Office (The New York Times) European anti-fraud investigators said on Wednesday that they were looking into whether Volkswagen misused billions of dollars in low-interest loans - threatening a significant source of funding for the crisis-struck automaker. Volkswagen's admission this year that it rigged 11 million diesel engines to fool emissions tests has raised questions about whether it misused loans made by the publicly financed European Investment Bank and intended primarily for projects meant to reduce the carmaker's environmental impact. The loans have totaled €9.5 billion($10.4 billion) since 2000.
What I learned about Greece's year from hell (Politico) The first episode of a four-part series telling the story of the European Union's confrontation with the Greek Syriza party in 2015. With unprecedented access to key Greek politicians.
Syria war: US welcomes 'milestone' as UN endorses peace plan (BBC News) According to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, a United Nations plan for Syria is a "milestone" in the efforts to end the conflict there. He said the plan gave Syrians a "real choice... between war and peace". However, disagreements remain over President Assad and the unanimously agreed Security Council resolution makes no mention of his future role. Western countries have called for his departure, but Russia and China say he should not be required to leave power as a precondition for peace talks.
Ukraine Defaults on $3 Billion Bond to Russia (Bloomberg) Ukraine said it won't repay $3 billion in bonds due to Russia, moving a step closer to a court battle amid a new wave of economic tension between the two ex-Soviet neighbors. Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Kiev is imposing a moratorium on the note due Dec. 20, which Russian President Vladimir Putin bought two years ago as part of an abortive bail-out for Ukraine's former leader just months before he was toppled. Russia said on Friday it will wait until a 10-day grace period on the bond expires on Dec. 30 before starting legal action.
Vladimir Putin Says Russia's Economic Crisis Has Peaked (The Wall Street Journal) President Vladimir Putin delivered a blunt defense of his foreign policy in an annual question-and-answer session Thursday in which he also tried to reassure Russians that the worst of the country's economic crisis was over. He sees return to economic growth next year.
"Farming is in crisis, the farmers that were trying to cultivate crops have had a huge set back due to low rainfall, as they couldn't grow anything. This has led to a 35% drop in my income from the shop. I myself have started cutting down on my fuel expenses on bike and car by opting to travel by government-run bus. I am also limiting using my mobile phone for calls to avoid spending on its credit."
US-Cuba aviation deal allows 110 scheduled flights a day (Associated Press) The United States and Cuba have struck a deal to allow as many as 110 regular airline flights a day, allowing a surge of American travel to Cuba that could eventually flood the island with hundreds of thousands more U.S. visitors a year.
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