Opportunities For Entrepreneurs In Health Care – Todd Hixon 7/25/2014 @ 7:58AM

As we head to the beach to recharge the batteries, it’s a good time to reflect on what has changed in U.S. healthcare since last summer, and what opportunities lie ahead for entrepreneurs and investors. [Disclosure: New Atlantic Ventures, in which I am a partner, has an investment in Qliance, one of many companies mentioned in this post.]

Our $3 trillion health care economy is morphing as we watch, driven by intolerable cost levels, consumer activism, digital technology, and health care reform. The past year brought some of the biggest milestones:

• The public exchanges launched. It was a classic government FUBAR, but the federal exchange eventually worked, and some state exchanges actually worked well. Eight million people signed up, exceeding the goal (1).

• More quietly, private exchanges have become significant: online benefits purchasing sites sponsored by employers or health insurers.

• Medicaid expansion happened, in about half the country anyway. The number of people without health insurance in the U.S. declined by 20%-25% (2), due largely to Medicaid expansion plus the exchanges. I doubt this expansion will be rolled back, and I expect that over time the “red” states will come to the table in one way or another. Managed Medicaid is expanding rapidly, and while the impact of this is not yet clear from national studies, insiders tell me that the opportunity to both save cost and improve health status is large.

• Providers have come to realize they are risk-bearers. At conferences this year I repeatedly heard leaders from the provider side say that bearing risk is the future and it is here now. This takes many forms: ACOs, penalties for readmission of Medicare patients, risk-sharing agreements with insurers, bundled payments direct from self-insured employers, etc. This has profound consequences for health insurance markets: why channel everything through insurers, when the providers bear much of the risk, and many employers bear risk too?

• Quantified self is now a major meme: FitBit and Pebble are doing well. AppleAAPL -0.16% and Google GOOGL -0.38% announced enhancements to their mobile OS products that support gathering and processing of health information.

Article continues:


The Crisis in Black Homeownership – By Jamelle Bouie JULY 24 2014 6:43 PM

An all-too-rare scene.
Photo courtesy of Jupiterimages/Thinkstock

In 2005, three years before the Great Recession, the median black household had a net worth of $12,124. Yes, this was far behind the median white household—which had a net worth of $134,992—but it was a huge improvement from previous decades, in which housing discrimination made wealth accumulation difficult (if not impossible) for the large majority of African-American families.

By the official end of the recession in 2009, median household net worth for blacks had fallen to $5,677—a generation’s worth of hard work and progress wiped out. (The number for whites, by comparison, was $113,149.) Overall, from 2007 to 2010, wealth for blacks declined by an average of 31 percent, home equity by an average of 28 percent, and retirement savings by an average of 35 percent. By contrast, whites lost 11 percent in wealth, lost 24 percent in home equity, and gained 9 percent in retirement savings. According to a 2013 report by researchers at Brandeis University, “half the collective wealth of African-American families was stripped away during the Great Recession.”

It was a startling retrenchment, creating the largest wealth, income, and employment gaps since the 1990s. And, if a new study from researchers at Cornell University and Rice University is any indication, these gaps are deep, persistent, and difficult to eradicate.

In the study, called “Emerging Forms of Racial Inequality in Homeownership Exit, 1968–2009,” sociologist Gregory Sharp and demographer Matthew Hall examine the relationship between race and risk in homeownership. Simply put, African-Americans are much more likely than whites to switch from owning homes to renting them.

“The 1968 passage of the Fair Housing Act outlawed housing market discrimination based on race,” explained Sharp in a press release. “African-American homeowners who purchased their homes in the late 1960s or 1970s were no more or less likely to become renters than were white owners. However, emerging racial disparities over the next three decades resulted in black owners who bought their homes in the 2000s being 50 percent more likely to lose their homeowner status than similar white owners.”

This wasn’t a matter of personal irresponsibility. Even after adjusting for socio-economic characteristics, debt loads, education, and life-cycle traits like divorce or job loss, blacks were more likely to lose their homes than whites.

If you’re familiar with American history and housing policy, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. The explicit housing discrimination of the mid-20thcentury has left a mark—arguably a scar—on the landscape of American homeownership. The combination of redlining, block-busting, racial covenants, and other discriminatory measures means that, even now, a majority of blacks live in neighborhoods with relatively poor access to capital and mortgage loans. What’s more, this systematic discrimination has left many black households unable to afford down payments or other housing costs, even if loans are available.

And in the event that black households are able to save and afford a home, they aren’t as financially secure as their white counterparts. To wit, middle-class African-Americans are more likely to belong to the lower middle class of civil servants and government workers—professions that, in the last five years, have been slashed as a consequence of mass public-sector downsizing. All else being equal, a black schoolteacher who loses her job to budget cuts is less likely to have savings—and thus a safety net—than her white counterpart.

Article continues:


Tech Giants Begin Recruiting for the Next Big Platform Wars – BY KLINT FINLEY 07.25.14 | 6:30 AM


 Giordano Poloni/Getty

The Internet of Things is still young, but it’s real. There are already dozens of internet-connected devices available, ranging from home-automation tools to wearable fitness trackers. And it’s about to start growing at an even faster pace.

According a new survey by market research firm Evans Data, 17 percent of the world’s software developers are already working on Internet of Things projects. Another 23 percent are planning to start an IoT project within the next six months. The most popular devices? Security and surveillance products, connected cars, environmental sensors and smart lights and other office automation tools.

The world’s largest tech companies are already in fierce competition to attract developers to their respective connected device platforms. After all, the winners of these new platform wars will define the future of computing. The losers will go to electronics recycling center. The stakes for developers are almost as high as they are for vendors. No product can support every conceivable standard and no app can run on every platform, so developers have to be strategic and write their code for the winners, while dodging the losers.

For example, Google is hoping to expand its strength in smart phones and tablets to other connected devices. Last month it launched a Android Wear, a version of its mobile operating system which is already in use by LG, Motorola and Samsung. But other options are emerging as well, such as the Pebble smart watch, and just this week Lenovo and Vuzix announced their own “smart glass” product to rival Google Glass. And though Samsung is using Android for its Gear smart watches, the company is also promoting its open source Tizen operating system for wearables and other devices. And of course Apple is slowly starting to get into the market, through products like iBeacon and HealthKit, and has long been rumored to have a smart watch in production.

Although competition is generally good for customers, competing platforms can be a headache.

And it’s not just app developers who are being faced with these sorts of decisions. Companies building Internet of Things devices have many platform considerations to make as well. Hardware hackers already have multiple circuit boards to choose from, ranging from Arduino to Tessel to Spark, each with different advantages and use cases, as well as different wireless standards, including Bluetooth and Zigbee, and various messaging protocols such as those promoted by AllSeen, the Open Interconnect Consortium, and MQTT.

Although competition is generally good for customers, competing platforms can be a headache. You have to worry about which which products will be compatible with the devices you already have, and which ones will have the staying power to have forward-compatible with tomorrow’s technologies. You don’t want to be stuck with the BetaMax of smart watches.

That means that for the next few years, the Internet of Things will be as exciting and vibrant as it is frustrating and tricky. At least, as far as developers are concerned.


Obama takes aim at ‘corporate deserters’ – By Ben Wolfgang- Thursday, July 24, 201

With other pieces of his economic agenda such as a minimum wage increase stalled, President Obama turned his attention to corporate taxes Thursday and said U.S. businesses should be concerned not just with profits but also with being “good corporate citizens.”

During a speech in Los Angeles and an interview with CNBC, the president said it was unpatriotic, comparable to renouncing one’s citizenship, and harmful to the U.S. economy for businesses to set up headquarters overseas in order to avoid America’s high corporate tax rate. At 35 percent, the U.S. rate is the highest among the world’s major developed nations.

Mr. Obama didn’t single out any specific companies, but said the whole of corporate America cannot focus only on the capitalist pursuit of higher profits. He conceded, however, that the practice of headquartering abroad to pay less in taxes is, for now, “technically legal.”

“It is true that there are a lot of things that might be legal that probably aren’t the right thing to do by the country,” Mr. Obama said during his CNBC interview, which focused mainly on economic matters.

“People are paid to maximize profits but people are also paid to be good corporate citizens. They’re also paid to make sure they’re thinking about, in addition to shareholder value, how do you grow a company over the long term?” he said.

The president called on Congress to pursue a broad corporate tax reform measure, one that closes loopholes allowing companies to escape U.S. taxes and lowers overall rates while broadening the base.

Companies taking advantage of current loopholes, the president said, want the advantages of doing business in America without paying their fair share.

“They don’t want to give up the best universities and the best military and all the advantages of operating in the United States. They just don’t want to pay for it. So they’re technically renouncing their U.S. citizenship,” he said.

But House Republicans argue the president is missing the mark and say that their comprehensive tax plan — which would reduce the number of deductions and lower rates — would benefit average Americans and businesses.

GOP leaders are calling on the Senate to pass their plan, and calling on the president to sign it into law, though that appears extremely unlikely.

“Under President Obama, the United States has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world. It doesn’t have to be that way,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “Until the White House endorses our tax reform plan or convinces Senate Democrats to act, every pink slip from companies moving overseas may as well be signed, ‘President Barack H. Obama.’”

Other Republicans say the White House has an opportunity with corporate tax reform, as it’s an issue both parties agree must be addressed.

But getting something accomplished will require a personal initiative by the president, said Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.

“If he will start working with the Congress, legitimately engage, bring people over to the White House or go over to Capitol Hill and talk to people, I think you’ve got a real shot at tax reform,” he said on CNBC, immediately following the interview with the president.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.


GOT BIOFUELS? – By Laura Barron-Lopez – 07/24/14 07:04 PM EDT

 If so, White House adviser John Podesta’s meeting with Senate Democrats on Thursday may have brought good news.

Podesta met with a group of Senate Dems to discuss the Environmental Protection Agency’s renewable fuel mandate for the amount of biofuels that must be blended into the nation’s fuel supply.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who helped organize the meeting, said Podesta left the senators feeling confident that the administration planned to increase the blending volumes in its final rule. The EPA cut the amount of biofuels that refiners would need to mix into their fuels, marking the first time the agency lowered the target.

“I believe the numbers will be bigger and that’s based not only on conversations with [Podesta] but my conversations with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy,” Franken said. “He certainly led us to believe there will be higher numbers in each piece of it than was in the preliminary [Renewable Fuel Standard].”

Franken also said his one-on-one conversations with President Obama about the fuel mandate have helped ease his mind as well.

Franken said he requested the meeting with Podesta because it was clear the adviser is “definitely a part of the decision making process on the [fuel mandate.]“

That may mean Podesta’s signal — that the levels of ethanol, biodiesel and other biofuels will be increased in the EPA’s final rule — is as good as gold. If so, the EPA will have an infuriated oil industry on its hands.

Read more: http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/overnights/213305-overnight-energy-white-house-indicates-ethanol-mandate#ixzz38TF6L1Ur

House Republicans fear backlash from punting border bill to the fall – By Peter Schroeder and Cristina Marcos – 07/24/14 06:32 PM EDT

House Republicans are growing anxious about leaving town for the August recess without passing a border bill.

Ahead of a pivotal conference meeting Friday morning, rank-and-file lawmakers are openly fretting about the questions they would face from constituents if they break from legislative work without taking action to address the surge of child migrants into the United States.

Many argue that if they fail to pass a bill, even one that is a total non-starter with Democrats, they’ll give President Obama five weeks of open airtime to pound them as do-nothing obstructionists.

“It needs to be passed before we go to the August constituent work period. I don’t think we ought to go home until we’ve dealt with it,” said Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas). “The president has done a proposal, and if we don’t act on that, or reject that and don’t come up with a solution of our own, public opinion will swing against us. And we’ve already got such great approval ratings.

“I was talking to one member who said, ‘Yea, if we don’t do anything, I’m canceling all my town halls,’ ” he added.

While a working group presented recommendations for changes to border policy at a Wednesday meeting, House Republicans have yet to produce legislation that could be paired with a $1.5 billion spending bill crafted by appropriators.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said Thursday he did not expect a border bill would be released until the beginning of next week, at the earliest.

The Republicans pressing for action on a border bill are at odds with the conservative wing of the House. Those members argue that the right move is to do nothing at all, and force the president to address a problem he created with his lax immigration policies.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) met with a group of over 20 House conservatives Wednesday, where he pushed them to not pass a spending package for the border. He warned that Senate Democrats would take their bill, replace it with their own priorities, and send it back.

Cruz said the GOP should vote to defund Obama’s deferred deportation program for children who illegally immigrated to the United States before 2007, arguing it incentivized the flow of child migrants across the border.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) ruled out that approach Thursday, however.

Republicans close to leadership say that inaction could leave the party dangerously exposed for the month of August, as administration officials have warned that some immigration agencies will run out of funds in a few weeks without an emergency infusion.

“There’s a growing concern that we need to do something,” said Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.). “The concern is that nothing will happen, and we’ll go into the August recess and something bad happens. And Congress hasn’t done anything.”

If the lawmakers who met with Cruz refuse to support the border bill, GOP leaders will need votes from at least some Democrats to reach a majority.

But outside of a small handful of centrists, most House Democrats have been vocally critical of the GOP approach, particularly their push to make changes to a 2008 human trafficking law to make it easier to quickly process Central American children.

Boehner has sought to highlight that the White House originally expressed an interest in changing the trafficking law before going quiet on the matter. He accused the president of “flip-flopping” Thursday and said he needed him to reiterate his stance in order to push a bill through.

“I’ve been pretty clear that taking some action to solve this problem is in order,” Boehner said.

Some GOP lawmakers are hopeful that if emergency legislation is placed on the House floor, several Democrats in border regions and tight reelection races will feel they can’t vote against it.

Article continues:


Maine residents to work for food stamps, governor says – by Massoud Hayoun July 23, 2014 9:09PM ET

Maine’s Republican governor on Wednesday launched a push to make more “able-bodied” people work for their food stamps.

Screen Shot 2014-07-24 at Jul 24, 2014 4.34

“People who are in need deserve a hand up, but we should not be giving able-bodied individuals a handout,’’ said Gov. Paul R. LePage.

LePage will reportedly stop seeking a federal waiver — issued at the height of the Great Recession — allowing some food stamp recipients to bypass requirements that they work or volunteer, according to local news channel WCSH.

About 12,000 of the state’s residents receiving $15 million annually in food stamps are considered to be able-bodied by Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which administers the aid. That means that they are between the ages of 18 and 49, have no dependents and are not pregnant or disabled.

In the next three months, those who are deemed able-bodied must work or volunteer with a community organization for 20 hours a week or lose their aid.

One in seven Americans receive food stamps. Some have called movements to make people work for food stamps – and a recent congressional bid to cut the program by $800 million – a war on America’s poor. But for LePage, it’s about uplifting a developing post-recession underclass.

“We must continue to do all that we can to eliminate generational poverty and get people back to work,” LePage said. “We must protect our limited resources for those who are truly in need and who are doing all they can to be self-sufficient.”

Over the past six months, Maine’s DHHS has worked with the state’s Labor Department to help families receiving food stamps and other assistance get on a “pathway to employment,” the DHHS said in a news release. The effort connects people with employment centers and performs vocational assessments.

“We are committed to helping people use these resources, as well as providing training, to get people back to work as quickly as possible,” said DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew.

Maine’s unemployment rate was 5.5 percent in June, down from 6.7 a year before, according to the state’s Labor Department.