Because spending trends do hold sway over how economies operate, it makes sense for fans of the subject to pay attention to what the consumers themselves have to say. Issues like recalls and rip-offs that change how businesses conduct themselves need to be taken into consideration before investing and predicting future outcomes.
The trinity of divisive Halloween candies is made up of candy corn, marshmallow peanuts, and of course black licorice — perhaps the treat most likely to elicit either only joy or rage when it’s put into one’s candy sack. But there’s one thing that even those who stand firmly on the “love” side of this unbridgeable, anise-flavored chasm should know: When it comes to black licorice, there is such a thing as too much.
The Food and Drug Administration is reminding everyone this Halloween that while safe in small amounts, black licorice does in fact have things in it that can make you sick or kill you.
The candy contains the compound glycyrrhizin, FDA experts say, which is the sweet flavoring that comes from the licorice root.
But glycyrrhizin (go on, say it five times fast) can alter the potassium levels in your body. If those drop too far, you might experience symptoms like increased blood pressure, swelling, lethargy, or even abnormal heart rhythms or congestive heart failure.
Obviously, those are bad. But the good news is, it takes a fair amount of candy to cause a problem. For consumers who are over 40, the FDA says that eating 2 ounces of black licorice a day for at least two weeks could land you in the hospital with heart trouble.
In general, the agency recommends, no matter what your age, you should keep servings of black licorice small, and don’t eat large amounts in one go. If you have been eating large amounts of the candy, and you start to feel like your heart is beating weirdly or your muscles are going week, stop immediately and call your doctor. That goes double if you take any drugs or dietary supplements that might be affected by the extra glycyrrhizin.
Additionally, if you really love that taste for some reason and want to binge, many modern “black licorice” candies do not in fact contain any actual licorice, instead using various anise-based flavorings, and won’t have the same negative effects.
Smoke in the cabin of a passenger airplane is a scary prospect. That’s why a plane heading from Munich, Germany to Washington Dulles International Airport made an emergency landing at Boston’s Logan Airport instead: There was smoke pouring from the plane’s galley… which may or may not have actually been caused by a fire.
The plane was diverted to land at Logan, where emergency crews arrived to look for the source of the smoke. What they didn’t do was deplane passengers, who waited until after airport firefighters had checked out the galley before departing the plane.
Boston’s fire department reported to the scene, but their services weren’t needed, and firefighters were “turned back.”
A spokesman for United Airlines told NBC4 Washington that no passengers were injured, but the airline wasn’t sure at that time whether the smoke was caused by an actual fire in the galley. An FAA spokeswoman told the Boston Globe that the problem was a “possible fire.”
Passengers on the ground made the best of the situation, taking pictures, since if you don’t tell your Facebook friends about something, it never happened.
In January, federal regulators announced they had put a stop to an apartment rental scam in which homes (that may not exist) are listed online with the sole purpose of tricking prospective renters into paying for “credit checks” that will never be done. Now, the operators of the scheme must pay $762,000 to put an end to the Federal Trade Commission’s allegations.
The FTC announced today that it received a court order [PDF] against Danny Pierce and Andrew Lloyd for their part in operating an alleged scheme run by Credit Bureau Center LLC that targeted consumers looking to rent property.
The Alleged Scheme
According to the Commission’s complaint [PDF], since Jan. 2014 Credit Bureau Center — previously known as MyScore LLC, and doing business as eFreeScore.com, CreditUpdates.com, and FreeCreditNation.com — deceptively advertised, marketed, promoted, and sold credit monitoring services to consumers.
When prospective customers responded to the ads, the companies would allegedly impersonate property owners and send emails offering tours if the consumers would first obtain their credit reports and scores.
To do so, the FTC claims, the companies sent the potential renters to websites operated by the defendants. The sites claimed to provide “free” credit reports and scores.
As an extra incentive, the email often stated that, if the consumer’s credit score exceeded a certain level, such as 650, the landlord would waive the security deposit.
However, the complaint alleged that the sites deceived consumers into signing up for a negative option seven-day trial of a credit monitoring service.
The FTC claimed that nowhere on the webpage was it disclosed that consumers were enrolling in an unrelated credit monitoring program. Once the free trial was over the consumers were charged $29.94 each month for the service.
In many cases, people did not realize they had been enrolled until they noticed unexpected charges on their bank or credit card statements, sometimes after several billing cycles.
The complaint also alleged that consumers who obtained their credit reports and scores never got the promised property tours, and that their emails to the purported property owner to arrange the tours went unanswered.
In all, the FTC alleged that the defendants violated the FTC Act, the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and the Free Reports Rule, which requires that consumers be informed of their right to obtain free credit reports.
Under the order, the duo was ordered to pay a $6.8 million judgment. However, that all but $762,000 of that amount will be suspended. Instead, Pierce will pay $117,000, while Lloyd will pay $645,000.
In addition to the monetary judgment, Pierce and Lloyd are prohibited from misrepresenting material facts about any product or service, and must monitor their affiliate marketers in the future.
Additionally, they are prohibited from profiting from consumers’ personal information obtained as part of the scheme and failing to dispose of it properly.
Sure, saving $1,000 on a car that may cost you far in excess of $70,000 might seem like a minor victory, but it’s still better than nothing. But now that Tesla is becoming more of a household name and hoping to reach a more mass-market car-buying audience, it’s getting rid of even this relatively small savings program.
Tesla recently announced it will end its referral credit program that provided prospective buyers with a $1,000 toward their purchase Tuesday evening.
Through the program, current Tesla owners could provide five friends with a $1,000 credit to be used on any new Model S or Model X vehicle. These new customers would also receive free unlimited supercharging for their vehicles.
Individuals who don’t make their purchase by end-of-the-day Tuesday won’t exactly be left empty-handed. Instead, the carmaker notes that purchases made after Oct. 31 will still receive free, unlimited supercharging.
If you’ve got a friend with a Tesla, they might just be hounding you over the next two days to finally buy one of the electric cars. That’s because they’re also getting a prize for referring you to the company.
Current owners receive an array of “thank you” awards, including a free Black Wall Connector, a miniature Model S for kids, a new set of (literal) wheels, and Powerwall 2 home batteries.
Tesla first unveiled its incentive program in July 2015, offering both the current Tesla owner and the new customer $1,000 off the list price of a new vehicle, accessories, or service.
It should be noted that Tesla does not appear to offer any kind of referral program for customers who already own or are looking to buy the new, more modestly priced Model 3.
The Model 3, which officially launched this summer, is intended to be Tesla’s first mass-produced electric vehicle with a price tag starting around $36,000.
However, the car’s debut has been marred with complications, as Tesla deals with “manufacturing bottlenecks.”
Earlier this month, the company said it had fallen short of its goal of producing 1,500 vehicles between late July and the end of September, only producing 260 Model 3 cars and delivering 220 of them.
Instead of shrinking in fear from the rising green tide of legal marijuana, the parent company behind booze brands like Corona, Svedka, and Robert Mondavi is jumping right in with a big investment in the legal marijuana business.
Constellation Brands Inc. is shelling out $191 million for a 9.9% stake in Canopy Growth Corp, a Canadian company — known as WEED on the Toronto Stock Exchange — that sells medicinal cannabis products in that country and other markets where it’s legal.
Constellation doesn’t have plans to start selling weed products in the U.S. — or anywhere else, for that matter — until it’s legal “at all government levels.”
In the mean time, Constellation can get a jumpstart on figuring out what will the next big thing in legal marijuana, which is “predicted to become a significant consumer category in the future.”
“Our company’s success is the result of our focus on identifying early stage consumer trends, and this is another step in that direction,” Constellation CEO Rob Sands said in a statement.
While you won’t be able to crack open a cold can of weed-infused Corona any time soon, there could be some kind of cannabis beverage down the road — again, wherever it’s federally legal — as the two companies will be exchanging “knowledge and expertise.”
Recalls can endanger the lives of drivers and passengers, like the notable recent recalls of shrapnel-spewing Takata airbags, or the General Motors ignition lock defect. Yet only around 70% of recalled vehicles get repaired, a figure that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants to improve.
Instead, funding for a pilot program for up to six states was part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, a transportation infrastructure bill signed into law by President Obama in late 2015. Only one state applied, the Baltimore Sun notes, and that was Maryland, which recieved a $222,300 grant to test whether such a notification program will work.
“Recalls are serious. Recall repairs are completely free to the consumer. This first-in-the-nation grant will serve as an example to the rest of the country as we continue to work across government to reach consumers in new and creative ways with potentially life-saving information about their vehicles,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a statement.
Recall notices sent with registrations will not be a substitute for notifications from manufacturers, which are still obligated to contact customers. They’re just a supplement, since customers tend to mistake the letters for junk mail.
However, vehicles with open recalls won’t be prevented from registering with the state. The MVA, which is what Maryland calls its motor vehicle agency, would obtain recall information from a database that includes whether a particular vehicle has been repaired or not, so it wouldn’t pester car owners who have already had the repairs performed.
The pilot program will run for two years, after which it could expand to more states. Or not.
Despite repeated Congressional and Executive branch efforts, the full Affordable Care Act is still in place. That means insurance-shopping season is nearly upon us: Open Enrollment begins Nov. 1 (and ends Dec. 15). But there’s less money being spent on advertising and outreach this year, which means even the basics can be hard to get solid information about. So here’s our when-and-where of getting yourself covered for 2018.
When does Open Enrollment start?
You can begin enrolling in plans for 2018 on November 1, 2017.
When does Open Enrollment end?
If you’re using the federal exchange at healthcare.gov, the deadline to get enrolled in a plan is December 15, 2017.
This is several weeks earlier than in previous years, when the open enrollment period ran to the end of January, so anyone planning to shop for coverage should plan to move quickly. You have 45 days, tops.
Deadlines in the dozen or so states that have their own state exchanges vary, however, and some carry through into 2018 — scroll down and keep reading for details on those.
Do I use healthcare.gov, or what?
That depends on where you live.
Residents of 39 states looking for individual coverage use the federal exchange to buy marketplace health plans. However, 11 states and D.C. have their own exchanges and their own open enrollment deadlines. Those are:
A heads-up about the states’ open enrollment deadlines: Some states have different (earlier, December) deadlines to obtain coverage starting Jan. 1, but have open enrollment periods that extend through the middle or end of that month, with coverage then beginning in February or March. If you live in one of the states that maintains its own exchange, and it has an open enrollment deadline in 2018, you’ll want to check the terms carefully.
This federally operated insurance exchange will be shut down from midnight until noon on most Sundays during the enrollment period.
The only Sunday where Healthcare.gov will be operating for the full 24 hours is Dec. 10. You will not be able to access the federal exchange for several hours on any of these Sundays: Nov. 5, Nov. 12, Nov. 19, Nov. 26, or Dec. 5.
State exchanges keep their own hours and maintenance schedules, so if you’re in one of the 12 jurisdictions that has its own site you’ll need to check it for more information.
If I miss open enrollment, am I stuck for the whole year?
There are certain qualifying life events that can allow you to buy a policy outside of the regular enrollment cycle.
Changes that affect your income, your current coverage, or your household composition are those that are most likely to qualify you to change your coverage outside of the open enrollment window. Those include things like gaining or losing a job that provides insurance, having a child, getting married, divorcing the partner under whose policy you were covered, a death in the family that affects your coverage status, or other significant life events.
On the federal exchange, these changes can qualify you for what’s called a Special Enrollment Period. The full list of events is available on healthcare.gov, along with a questionnaire to help you determine if you qualify.
If you live in one of the states that maintains its own site, you’ll need to check your state’s site for more information about special enrollment periods.
What information will I need handy to apply?
First, the basics: Name; Date of Birth; Gender; Street Address; Social Security Number. You’ll need this information for each member of your household.
After that, it starts to get more complicated. You’ll need to provide employment and income information for anyone seeking coverage — so yourself, plus potentially also a spouse or children.
Healthcare.gov has a full checklist [PDF] available to help you make sure you’re gathering all the information you need to; it’s a good idea to check that over before you sit down to apply. State exchanges will require pretty much the same information, so you’ll need to gather it regardless of where you live.
What are all these plans?
Available plans are loosely grouped into four tiers: Bronze, silver, gold, and platinum.
All plans must cover the essential health benefits, and none may discriminate against buyers based on medical history (pre-existing conditions).
Beyond that, however, they do provide different levels of coverage at different price points. A bronze plan will be cheaper than a platinum one, but have significantly higher deductibles, co-insurance payments, and out-of-pocket costs. Some plans may also include other benefits, like vision or dental care.
As a general rule of thumb, the fancier the “metal,” the better the plan — but that coverage comes with a financial cost.
What’s the deal with subsidies? Credits? Financial help? These are expensive!
The majority of Americans who purchase coverage through the marketplace are eligible for some kind of subsidy or credit to offset the costs.
There are two kinds of financial help available: the premium tax credit, and subsidies.
The amount of the tax credit varies widely and depends on your household income level and what kind of plan you want to buy. The Kaiser Family Foundation has a full breakdown of the credit, using 2017 numbers, but it can still be overwhelming; to better understand if or how the credit specifically applies to your situation, you may want to consult expert help.
The cost-sharing subsidies, meanwhile, apply to a narrower range of cases. In order to be eligible for one, your household income must be between 100% and 250% of the federal poverty level, and you must be buying a “silver” plan.
If you are eligible for a subsidy, you will still get one. It’s automatically applied at the time you enroll, and so your initial costs already account for it.
This is super confusing. Help!
It can indeed be really, really confusing — luckily, help is available.
The federal exchange, healthcare.gov, has a call center you can call for help 24/7, with the exception of Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.
You can also use the search for local help page on healthcare.gov to find in-person assistance near you. That page will ask for your city or ZIP code, and then return a list of assisters and agents/brokers nearby.
Assisters are specifically trained, certified individuals and organizations that help you work your way through your needs and select a plan. Agents and brokers may be required in your area to serve your best interest first, but they are fundamentally there to sell you something — so choose your help accordingly.
When you run a search, the returns will indicate whether someone is an assister or a broker up in the top left-hand corner, like this:
If you live in one of the states that maintains its own marketplace, entering your ZIP code into the local help search field at healthcare.gov will return a link to your state’s marketplace page, or you can just go there directly and head for pages that say, “get help” or “find help.”
Several non-profit organizations also provide open enrollment guidance, sometimes broadly and sometimes to specific populations:
The Get Covered Connector tool, originally launched by Enroll America and now maintained by Young Invincibles, can also help you find resources near you. It also lets you sort and filter results by more languages than the federal tool does, which can be very helpful if you’re looking for assistance in a language other than English.
You may also be able to find other help in your local community: Public libraries are a great resource. Many have landing pages with local tips, and there may be classes, drop-in sessions, or experts available at yours. A search for [your city, state] library open enrollment can get you started, or you call your library, or go to it, and ask if they have any educational resources available.
I already have a plan for 2017. Do I need to do anything for 2018?
If you’re already enrolled in a marketplace plan this year, you should receive communication from your current insurer and from healthcare.gov before Nov. 1.
Those letters should include details about what will happen in 2018 if you take no action. You may be automatically enrolled in some plan, or you may not; circumstances will vary from person to person.
Basically, if you already have a plan, you need to carefully read communication your insurer and the marketplace send to you, personally, to learn what will happen to you, personally, if you don’t do anything.
However, both healthcare.gov and experts strongly recommend that even if you already have a plan, you should hit the exchange during open enrollment in order to update your personal and household information and to comparison shop: Just because something was the best plan available for you a year ago doesn’t mean that’s still true now.
But the fact remains that Americans still need access to medical care, and for those who don’t have insurance through their employer or the government, the 2018 Open Enrollment period for individual insurance plans officially begins on Nov. 1. So what are the things everyone should know, but which may have been overlooked amid the maelstrom?
The TL;DR Version
Everyone we talked to agreed on five key points:
1. The ACA has not been repealed; the law still exists and you can buy plans.
2. Enrollment ends on December 15; don’t wait!
3. Don’t panic if prices look high; financial help is still available for 80% of enrollees.
4. Don’t assume you’re not eligible for coverage or help; shop around.
5. There are still experts ready and waiting to help you; navigators and nonprofits haven’t been stopped.
We chatted with a half-dozen advocates, policy experts, industry professionals, and navigators about this year’s open enrollment period. Some spoke with us on the condition of anonymity, and some were happy to talk on the record, but all of them agreed overwhelmingly on a huge point: There’s massive confusion in the marketplace this year that they desperately want cleared up.
With budgets for advertising, outreach, and navigators dramatically slashed this year, getting vital messages to reach folks who need to know has been incredibly challenging, all said.
So we asked them: What do you wish you could just get a giant megaphone and shout from every mountaintop about open enrollment this year?
Across the board, answers were surprisingly consistent; here’s what they said.
1. The law still exists!
This was the number one point that every single person we spoke to hit: Despite efforts from the White House and Congress, the ACA has not been repealed, nor has it been amended, and what was the law in 2016 is still the law today.
“OBAMACARE IS STILL ALIVE,” one medical biller told us, enthusiastically. “All of it! If you qualify for a subsidy or Medicaid, you can still get it! You still don’t have to answer medical questions on your application!”
That was echoed by Claire McAndrew, the director of campaign strategy at Families USA.
“Despite all of the efforts going on by the Administration to challenge the Affordable Care Act, despite all the news about changes to the law, number one: The law still does exist,” McAndrew told Consumerist.
“We really don’t want people to be confused by news that’s out there,” McAndrew added, “Because none of that changes the fact that Open Enrollment starts November 1st and that plans are available for consumers.”
Erin Hemlin, director of training and consumer education for Young Invincibles, said the same.
“The marketplaces are stable, and the marketplaces are open,” Hemlin said. “The law is still the law, and the comprehensive plans are still available.”
Hemlin added, “All plans are comprehensive, all plans must cover a certain set of medical services, so you know you’re getting comprehensive coverage that’s actually going to be there when you need it — and they cannot discriminate against you because of a preexisting condition. That’s still against the law.”
“It is a shorter open enrollment period this year, so I’d really urge people not to wait to enroll,” McAndrew said. “Maybe get online right at the beginning of open enrollment, Nov. 1.”
“Young people, especially, are really busy during this time of year,” Hemlin said. “That Dec. 15 deadline can be a hectic time,” at the end of school terms, with everyone’s holiday plans ramping up and schedules getting crowded, “and this might not be the first thing that they’re thinking about.”
Usually, Hemlin added, there’s a spike of enrollees in late January, just before the deadline, once New Year’s has passed and everything’s calmed down a bit. But this year, if you wait that long, you’ll be out of luck.
Experts’ advice: Don’t procrastinate! “Even if you live in a state that has more time to enroll, it’s not going to hurt you to get enrolled before [Dec.] 15th,” Hemlin said.
3. You can still get financial help, and plans may be more affordable than you think.
Yes, the White House is blocking billions of dollars of reimbursement to insurers to cover the subsidies they have to give lower-income consumers. That has made some premiums go up — some, but not all. And the tax credits that millions of other marketplace shoppers receive are still in place, too.
“If you look at a typical marketplace shopper, 8 in 10 have incomes that qualify for premium subsidies,” Hemlin said. “So if you are one of these 8 in 10 people, you are essentially insulated from any premium increases, because your tax credits go up as premiums do.”
“Although there have been policy changes to the cost-sharing subsidies,” McAndrew added, “The fact remains true that if you are eligible for premium subsidies, or lower-cost deductibles or out-of-pocket costs, that is still the law.”
“Don’t give up if you have problems getting approved for a subsidy,” one navigator stressed. “Get help. Document all your phone calls.”
All the experts we talked to also suggested making sure you don’t just blindly stick with your old plan or re-enroll without making sure you look carefully and shop around.
“You might even be able to get a plan that’s a little bit cheaper this year, which is why we are really encouraging people to actively renew, or to go on and update their information and shop around,” Hemlin said.
4. You may be eligible for coverage even if you think you’re not.
There are a lot of reasons you might be hesitant to shop for a plan: income level, immigration status, cost of coverage, or even the fact that you have a job that offers coverage. However, it still may be worth popping over to the website and at least window-shopping for a plan.
“You can buy an ACA plan even if you work full-time or even if you have employer insurance,” the medical biller reminded us. “It’s not just for low-income people! You probably won’t qualify for a subsidy, but any human being can buy an insurance plan on the exchange,” and depending on your situation, it may suit your needs better than you thought.
A navigator added, “If you’re working and have employer insurance, but have a low income, you might still be eligible to have Medicaid as a secondary insurance. If you don’t qualify, your kids or your pregnant spouse might.”
“If you have high income,” they continued, “you might still want to put your kids on CHiP because it’s great coverage — and you might like shopping for a plan on the marketplace, because there are tools there that make it easy to compare plans between the different insurers in your area.”
“You don’t necessarily have to be a citizen to get an ACA plan, but options for various categories of immigrants vary by state,” the navigator told Consumerist.
That sentiment was echoed by McAndrew: “It’s just really important to shop around, because until you go to that marketplace and actually shop around, you don’t know what you’ll qualify for.”
5. You can still get help.
The marketing budget may have been trashed, but navigators and non-profits are still right there, ready to help you sort this out.
“The resources that were available before still are available,” McAndrew stressed. “In terms of going to healthcare.gov, or taking advantage of the call centers — we still have plan options and there is still a call center to get help.”
“There are a number of different groups that are providing information. In your local community there will be navigators and assisters you can get information on. Look into your local community: Look into health centers, and look into the resources that were there last year for in-person assistance,” she added. “Resources that were there last year for in-person assistance will be right there this year; resources that folks relied on for in-person assistance should not be forgotten this year.”
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