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SYRIA OVERSHADOWS ECONOMY AS G20 LEADERS MEET

Thursday, 05 September 2013 11:35 Published in National News
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — They're supposed to be talking about growth and money, but the threat of war in Syria is creeping into nearly every conversation as the leaders of the world's 20 top economies huddle in Russia this week.

Men at the forefront of the geopolitical standoff over Syria's civil war sat around the same huge, ornate table Thursday in St. Petersburg, Russia: President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Francois Hollande, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Saudi Prince Saun Al Faisal al Saud, among others.

The world's unemployed and impoverished may get short shrift at this summit, though activist groups are pleading with leaders to join forces to tackle corruption and tax-avoiding corporations, in hopes that stabilizes and better distributes economic growth.

Here's a look at what's happening at the two-day summit of the G-20, nations that represent two-thirds of the world's population, 85 percent of its GDP and its leading armies:

SYRIA

Western bombs are unlikely to fall on Syrian government targets during this gathering. The U.S. and French presidents are readying possible military strikes over what they say was a chemical weapons attack by Syrian President Bashar Assad's army, but both are waiting for the U.S. Congress to weigh in first.

In the meantime, Obama and Hollande came under pressure and criticism Thursday from opponents of intervention, as China and EU leaders urged restraint. The U.N.'s Ban is pressing for diplomatic action.

Putin, on his own turf and looking strong in the face of Western hesitancy to tangle militarily with the Russia-backed Assad, told The Associated Press this week that any one-sided intervention would be rash. But he said he doesn't exclude supporting U.N. action — if it's proven that the Syrian government used poison gas on its own people. And China is among those warning at this summit that oil price volatility resulting from an international Syria war could threaten global economic recovery.

US-RUSSIA BODY LANGUAGE

Even without Syria, Obama and Putin had plenty to disagree about.

Obama snubbed the Russian leader, cancelling a one-on-one meeting over lack of progress on other issues too — including Russia's harboring of Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor who exposed U.S. surveillance of emails and phone calls of Americans and foreigners. The U.S. also strongly opposes arrests of political opponents and a new law against gay "propaganda."

Body language may be key to understanding where the U.S.-Russia relationship is going. The two leaders shook hands as the summit opened, but Obama's face was stern as he watched Putin open the G-20 talks. Will they relax and make small talk over over dinner at Peter the Great's resplendent Peterhof Palace? Will other leaders take sides?

TAXING MULTINATIONALS

The goal of some leaders at this G-20 is to get major cross-border companies such as Google and Starbucks paying more taxes instead of using loopholes and tax havens.

Laudable to the general public, it's complicated both practically and politically. It would require cracking down on well-connected companies registered in Delaware or the Virgin Islands, for example.

But if any forum can tackle this, it's the G-20, with all the major government decision-makers at the table. Some leaders also want to rein in so-called shadow banking and regulate hedge funds more.

FED UP WITH THE FED

The developing economies whose vigorous growth helped the world economy survive the financial market meltdown five years ago are now starting to falter. And they're placing part of the blame on the U.S. Federal Reserve's expected moves to wind down stimulus measures. China and Russia started off the summit by warning the U.S. to consider international fallout as they set monetary policy.

That expectation has pushed up long-term U.S. interest rates, which has in turn led investors to pull out of developing countries and invest in U.S. assets instead. The leaders of Russia and Brazil and others may appeal for the U.S. to coordinate with other governments when it changes financial policy.

OLYMPIC PRESSURE

With Russia set to host the Winter Olympics in Sochi in five months, this summit is THE place for other leaders to pressure Putin to open up his country and himself to criticism, opposition and public debate.

Activists want pressure against Russia's gay propaganda law, a law banning adoptions by Americans, and legal cases targeting Putin opponents. The Russian leader, for his part, wants global recognition, and revenue, from these games.

O'Fallon, Missouri woman indicted for embezzlement

Thursday, 05 September 2013 11:28 Published in Local News

An O'Fallon Missouri woman has been indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly embezzling from a north St. Louis county bank. Thirty three year old Janelle Earley is charged with embezzling more than $100,000 from St. Johns Bank. The court's decision was handed down yesterday.  Authorities say Earley embezzled the money between 2011 and this year.

 

STUDIES TAKE EARLY LOOK AT HEALTH LAW'S PREMIUMS

Thursday, 05 September 2013 11:33 Published in Health & Fitness
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Coverage under President Barack Obama's health care law won't be cheap, but cost-conscious consumers hunting for lower premiums will have plenty of options, according to two independent private studies.

A study released Thursday by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation found that government tax credits would lower the sticker price on a benchmark "silver" policy to a little over $190 a month for single people making about $29,000, regardless of their age.

By pairing their tax credit with a stripped-down "bronze" policy, some younger consumers can bring their premiums down to the range of $100 to $140 a month, while older people can drive their monthly cost even lower - well below $100 - if they are willing to take a chance with higher deductibles and copays.

A separate study released Wednesday from Avalere Health, a private data analysis firm, took a wide-angle view, averaging the sticker prices of policies at different coverage levels.

Before tax credits that act like a discount, premiums for a 21-year-old buying a mid-range "silver" policy would be about $270 a month, the Avalere study found. List-price premiums for a 40-year-old buying a mid-range plan will average close to $330. For a 60-year-old, they were nearly double that at $615 a month.

Starting Oct. 1, those who don't have health care coverage on the job can go to new online insurance markets in their states to shop for a private plan and find out if they qualify for a tax credit. An estimated 4 out 5 consumers in the new markets will be eligible for some level of tax credit.

Come Jan. 1, virtually all Americans will be required to have coverage, or face fines. At the same time, insurance companies will no longer be able to turn away people in poor health.

The Obama administration, which is running the markets or taking the lead in 35 states, is not expected to release final premiums until close to the Oct. 1 launch date. But the two private studies provide an early look at the emerging market.

Caroline Pearson, lead author of the Avalere study, said it will be competitive, but there will be big price differences among age groups, states and even within states.

The bottom line is mixed: Many consumers will like their new options, particularly if they qualify for a tax credit. But others may have to stretch to afford coverage.

"We are seeing competitive offerings in every market if you buy toward the low end of what's available," said Pearson, a vice president of Avalere.

However, for uninsured people who are paying nothing today, "this is still a big cost that they're expected to fit into their budgets," Pearson added.

The Obama administration said consumers will have options that are cheaper than the averages presented in the Avalere study. "We're consistently seeing that premiums will be lower than expected," she said. "For the many people that qualify for a tax credit, the cost will be even lower."

The Kaiser study found that while premiums will vary significantly across the country, they are generally coming in lower than forecast by the government's own experts. It cautioned against comparing premiums under Obama's law to what individually insured people currently pay, because the new coverage is more robust.

Avalere crunched the numbers on premiums filed by insurers in 11 states and Washington, D.C. Kaiser analyzed 17 states and the District of Columbia. Both studies included a mix of states running their own insurance markets and ones in which the federal government will take charge.

The states analyzed by Avalere were California, Connecticut, Indiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

In addition to those, Kaiser included Colorado, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico and Oregon.

No data on premiums were publicly available for Texas and Florida - together they are home to more than 10 million of the nation's nearly 50 million uninsured people - and key to the law's success.

However, Pearson said she's confident the premiums in the Avalere study will be "quite representative" of other states, because clear pricing patterns emerged.

Four levels of plans will be available under Obama's law: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Bronze plans will cover 60 percent of expected medical costs; silver plans will cover 70 percent; gold will cover 80 percent and platinum 90 percent.

All plans cover the same benefits, but bronze features the lowest premiums, paired with higher deductibles and copays. Platinum plans would have the lowest out-of-pocket costs and the highest premiums.

Mid-range silver plans are considered the benchmark, because the tax credits will be keyed to the cost of the second-lowest-cost silver plan in a local area.

And there's another important detail for consumers to be aware of: People with modest incomes may come out ahead by sticking with a silver plan instead of going for the lower premiums with bronze. Additional help with out-of-pocket costs like copays will only be available to people enrolling in a silver plan.

Although the sticker price for premiums rises dramatically above age 40, the tax credits are shaping up as a powerful equalizer for older consumers. That's because they work by limiting what you pay for premiums to a given percentage of your income.

For example, someone making $23,000 would pay no more than 6.3 percent of his or her annual income - $1,450 - for a benchmark silver plan. The amount you pay stays the same whether the total premium is $3,000 or $9,000.

However, those tax credits taper off rapidly for people with solid middle-class incomes, above $30,000 for an individual and $60,000 for a family of four.

The Avalere study also found some striking price differences within certain states, generally larger ones. In New York, with 16 insurers participating, the difference between the cheapest and priciest silver premium was $418.

© 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

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