Retirement Decisions: Federal Policies Offer Mixed Signals about When to Retire

Source: Government Accountability Office Report to Congressional Committees, GAO-07-753, July 11, 2007

While many factors influence workers’ decisions to retire, Social Security, Medicare, and pension laws also play a role, offering incentives to retire earlier and later. Identifying these incentives and how workers respond can help policy makers address the demographic challenges facing the nation. GAO assessed (1) the incentives federal policies provide about when to retire, (2) recent retirement patterns and whether there is evidence that changes in Social Security requirements have resulted in later retirements, and (3) whether tax-favored private retiree health insurance and pension benefits influence when people retire. GAO analyzed retirement age laws and SSA data and conducted statistical analysis of Health and Retirement Study data.

Hike in Federal Minimum Wage Has Minimal Impact in Most States

Source: CCH/Wolters Kluwer, July 19, 2007

Workers in most states will not be affected by the upcoming increase in the federal minimum wage to $5.85, according to CCH, a leading provider of human resources information and software and part of Wolters Kluwer Law & Business (hr.cch.com). CCH has been reporting on federal wage and hour law since the enactment of the first federal minimum wage in 1938. That’s because 32 states and the District of Columbia have minimum wages higher than the new federal level.

“Over the last ten years, while the federal minimum wage has been steady at $5.15 per hour, more and more states have set their minimum wages above that, and above the new minimum as well,” said Barbara O’Dell, JD, CCH workplace analyst.
+ Timeline of federal minimum wage rates 1938-2009

Kaiser Launches New Site on Health Policy Issues in 2008 Election

Source: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 2007

From the press release:
Menlo Park, CA – With health care emerging as the top domestic issue in the 2008 presidential election, the Kaiser Family Foundation today launched a new website – health08.org – that will provide analysis of health policy issues, regular public opinion surveys, and news and video coverage from the campaign trail….

…The new health08.org website (http://www.health08.org) – which will be free of charge and not include advertising – will serve as a hub of information about health and the election, including original content produced by Kaiser and easy access to health-related resources from the campaigns, other organizations, and news outlets.

Making the “Internet Tax Freedom Act” Permanent Could Lead to a Substantial Revenue Loss for States and Localities

Source: Michael Mazerov, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, July 11, 2007

Key Findings
+ Making the 1998 “Internet Tax Freedom Act” permanent — as proposed by S. 156/H.R. 743 — could adversely affect state and local government revenues, and therefore the availability of funds for important services like education, health care, and law enforcement, in three ways:
+ Potentially block states and localities from extending their normal sales taxes to music, movies, and television programming delivered over the Internet, which is rapidly becoming a major marketplace for such services.
+ Allow Internet access providers to try to escape a host of general taxes that other businesses must pay, such as sales taxes on equipment purchases;
+ Deprive nine states of $80m-$120m in annual revenues from non-discriminatory and heretofore grandfathered taxes on Internet access services;
+ The enactment of this legislation is unwarranted:
+ Studies by GAO and U. of Tennessee economists show that existing taxes on Internet access have not adversely affected household subscriptions to access or the availability of broadband access in particular locations.
+ All of the 14 developed nations that outrank the U.S. in broadband adoption do tax Internet access services. Taxation is not the issue.

Correctional Officers: Hiring Requirements and Wages

Source: Corrections Compendium, Vol. 32 no. 3, May/June 2007

In a similar survey Corrections Compendium conducted early in 2004, 43 percent of the respondents in U.S. correctional systems noted that they experienced problems in recruiting qualified candidates for correctional officer positions. The current survey indicated that little has changed. Forty-four U.S. correctional systems and four Canadian systems responded to the survey, with 44 percent of them experiencing problems in recruitment. … The systems were asked to state the wage range paid to their correctional officers at entry level, after the first year of service, and for captains or their equivalent. The minimum starting wage in New Jersey is $45,549. Wages at the top of the entry level category were reported by Wisconsin as $50,759, Colorado as $52,368 and Nevada as $53,390.

Vermont Rolls Out Prescription Drug Price Comparison Web Site

Source: Associated Press, July 11, 2007

MONTPELIER — Attorney General William Sorrell unveiled a new website yesterday where people can compare prices offered by Vermont pharmacies for prescription drugs.

The website allows consumers to click on their medication or medications, as well as their town or county, and pull down a list of prices offered for various drugs by pharmacies in their area.

Direct to VT Database
NOTE: We are adding new databases, keeping URL’s current, etc. to the following list on a regular basis. Check back often.
See Also:
Medicare State-by-State Formulary Finder for Prescription Drug Plans
Connecticut Prescription Drug Price Finder
Florida RX Price Database
Illinois RX Price Database
Maryland Prescription Drug Price Finder
Michigan RX Price Database
Missouri RX Price Database
New Hampshire Drug Listing & Price Lookup
Top 25 Drug Listing
New York Prescription Drug Price Database
Washington State Preferred Drug List
See Also: Fast Facts and Statistics: Prescription Drug Trends in the United States
See Also: Specialty Databases: Several Searchable Databases with Prescription Drug Data

Why Aren’t U.S. Cities Burning?

Source: Michael B. Katz, Dissent, Vol. 54 no. 3, Summer 2007

The summer of 2007 marks the fortieth anniversary of America’s worst season of urban disorder. The most famous riots happened in Newark and Detroit. But “nearly 150 cities reported disorders in Negro—and in some instances Puerto Rican—neighborhoods,” reported the 1968 National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. Today, the most intriguing question is not why the riots occurred but why they have not recurred. With the exception of Liberty City, Miami, in 1980, and South-central Los Angeles in 1992, American cities have not burned since the early 1980s. Even the botched response to Hurricane Katrina did not provoke civil violence.

Over Stated: Why the “Laboratories of Democracy” Can’t Achieve Universal Health Care

Source: Ezra Klein, Washington Monthly, July/August 2007

It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system,” Justice Louis Brandeis once mused, “that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” Well, quite. These days we practically expect the states to try their hand at fixing tricky national problems before the federal government steps in. So to many observers, when several states recently turned their attention to providing health care for the uninsured—one of the thorniest domestic problems of all—it looked like cause for considerable optimism.

Universal Health Insurance 2007: Can We Learn from the Past?

Source: Theodore Marmor, Dissent, Vol. 54 no. 3, Summer 2007

Americans are not well served by their current medical care arrangements. Compared to our major trading partners and competitors, we are less likely to be insured for the cost of care, and the care that we receive is almost certain to be more costly. Although U.S. medicine has produced many “miracles,” we are not the undisputed leader in medical innovation, only in the costliness and ubiquity of high-technology medicine. Most Americans “covered” by some form of health insurance still worry about its continuation should we or a close family member become seriously ill. Some of us are locked into employment we would gladly leave but for the potential catastrophic loss of existing insurance coverage.

While most commentators decry our peculiar ability to combine insecurity with high cost, the substantial reform of American medicine at the national level has been enormously difficult to achieve, and comprehensive reform has been impossible. This is not simply a description of the Clinton Health Plan debacle of 1993–1994. On many occasions before and after the Second World War, comprehensive national reform was attempted (and in 1973–1974, appeared imminent). In all those instances, reform fell short of the necessary political majorities. Each of these failures has its own history, and in each there are many contributing causes. One fact remains: Americans have long been dissatisfied with the nation’s medical arrangements, but our political system has been unable to come up with a solution that satisfies enough of the public to overwhelm the institutional and interest group barriers to reform.

There is now once again a remarkable consensus that American medical care, particularly its financing and insurance coverage, needs a major overhaul. The critical unanimity on this point—what Paul Starr once rightly termed a “negative consensus”—bridges almost all the usual cleavages in American politics: between old and young, Democrats and Republicans, management and labor, the well paid and the low paid. The overwhelming majority of Americans (including Fortune 500 executives) tell pollsters that our medical system requires substantial change. …The bad news for reformers then and now is this: for a variety of ideological and institutional reasons, American politics makes it very difficult to coalesce around a solution that reasonably satisfies the requirements for a stable and workable system of financing and delivering modern medical care. Agreement on the seriousness of the nation’s medical ills will not necessarily generate the legislative support required for a substantively adequate and administratively workable program. That is as true in 2007 as it was in 1948, 1971, 1993, and 2000.

Squeezing Public Education: History and Ideology Gang Up on New Orleans

Source: Ralph Adamo, Dissent, Vol. 54 no. 3, Summer 2007

When hurricane Katrina (or, more accurately, the failure of the levees) washed away the New Orleans Public Schools (NOPS) at the end of August 2005, there was relief in many quarters. Within days of the storm, the acting public school superintendent, Ora Watson, declared that the “fiscal crisis of the New Orleans Public Schools” was now over. In hastily assembled meetings, members of the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), state and local politicians, and leaders of the state’s education bureaucracy convened to examine the situation. Representatives of the charter school movement, as well as providers of ancillary education services and materials, also convened. The chance to recreate public education in New Orleans from the ground up was an irresistible consequence of Katrina, as well as a dream come true. Before the first waves of refugees began returning to the drowned city, these newly energized social engineers had decided that no public school would reopen (though public schools did open relatively quickly in the neighboring parishes of Jefferson and St. Bernard); that all 7,500 employees of the system (the majority of them teachers) would be terminated; and that whatever schools did open would be charter schools, operating under the aegis of either BESE or NOPS, depending on the type or timing of the charter application.