National News

What would you ask about Obamacare?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-08 02:54

President Barack Obama's pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Services appears before the U.S. Senate on Thursday. Sylvia Burwell's nomination will be considered by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

There will be plenty of political questions about the future of Obamacare. But what questions would healthcare executives and policy wonks want to ask? We got in touch with a few to find out.

Sonya Schwartz, Georgetown Center for Children and Families Research Fellow:

Q. You are known to be a management superstar, do you have ideas about how to improve HHS's work with contractors so that healthcare.gov does not inspire the film "Frozen II?"

Q. Verifying identity online continues to be a major roadblock for people applying for coverage on healthcare.gov – particularly for people with low incomes and limited credit history. How would you tackle this problem?

Q. HHS has been working on greater transparency and data sharing. Can you discuss points in your career where you made information more transparent even though you risked alienating some important stakeholders?

Q. Last year’s coverage goal was 7 million and HHS exceeded that mark, do you have a number in mind for 2014-2015?

Dr. Robert Wachter, University of California, San Francisco:

Q. Hospitals and physicians are reeling from the profusion of quality, safety, and efficiency measures they’re being asked to submit – and some experts have begun to call for a moratorium on new measures. Do you feel like we need to slow down the process of promulgating new measures until we have sorted this out?

Q. Now that HITECH has succeeded in wiring the American healthcare system — what do you see as the things that HHS can do that it couldn't before. And where do you see new potential hazards that we need to be mindful of?

Health economist Amitabh Chandra, Harvard: 

"I want to know a lot more about how she will get the exchanges to work better. The exchanges are central to reform. Right now, when we think of an exchange working, we often think of it working in the narrow IT sense. But what we really need to be thinking about, however, is whether price competition on the exchanges is able to reduce health insurance premiums. If it's not able to do this, the fact that they work in the IT sense is no good."

Q. Central to getting price competition to work in the exchanges is taking out a bunch of lard that is in the current exchange plans; a lot of what we call 'essential health benefits' aren't essential at all. As long as junk like this is being covered, the exchange plans will be expensive. What are [your] proposals to increase price competition on the exchanges and second, make the exchange plans leaner?

Robert Restuccia, Executive Director Community Catalyst:

Q. The first open enrollment period surpassed expectations in terms of the number of people enrolled. These numbers are due in large part to in-person assisters who helped consumers navigate healthcare.gov and make the best health care enrollment choice for their needs.  Funding from HHS was critical in providing this type of assistance.  What are your plans for supporting in-person assistance?

Q. With so many new enrollees, many of whom have never had insurance or haven’t had it for a long time, consumer assistance will be very important, but federal support for Consumer Assistance Programs (CAPs) has lapsed.  What are your plans to support people so that they can make effective use of their new coverage?

Q. The ACA has moved us forward by expanding coverage, but consumers are still grappling with costs- higher copays and deductibles. There are also still many cracks in the system. Consumers aren’t sure about the quality of the care they are getting. How would you push hospitals, doctors and insurers to provide better care at lower costs?

Finally, what about you? Tell us what questions you have on Twitter, on our Facebook page or in the comments below.

Rich and looking to invest? Don't buy a mansion

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-08 02:52

The highest end of the high end real estate market is buzzing. Already this year three homes in the U.S. have sold for more than $100 million. 

Just last week, a property in the Hamptons (outside New York) sold for $147 million -- the most ever paid for a single-family house in the U.S. Still, UCLA's Eric Sussman says real estate that gets this kind of attention is full of risk.

"I don't think any economist, any real estate expert ... would say that buying a $100 million home is a safe place to put your money. Because let's face it you're talking about a very scarce asset with very few potential buyers," says Sussman.

Below is a list of the top real estates sales in the U.S.: 

Address City State Price paid Date of sale 60 Further Lane East Hampton N.Y. $147,000,000 May 2014 Blossom Estate Palm Beach Fla. $140,000,000 Dec 2012 Broken O Ranch Augusta Mont. $132,500,000 2012 Copper Beech Farm Greenwich Conn. $120,000,000 April 2014 360 Mountain Home Road San Francisco Calif. $117,500,000 January 2013 Further Lane Hamptons N.Y. $103,000,000 2007 The Fleur de Lys Los Angles Calif. $102,000,000 2014

Credit/Compiled by: Miller Samuel Real Estate Appraisers

Ukraine's Separatists To Proceed With Vote, Despite Putin

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-08 02:42

A day after Russian President Vladimir Putin told separatists in Ukraine they should postpone a referendum on secession, leaders of a militant group say they'll hold the vote this Sunday as planned.

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Jonny Greenwood's radio moves

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-08 01:36

Yeah, I'll admit it. I'm a Radiohead fan

We're a devoted lot, and because of that, we're pigeon-holed, stereotyped, etc. But everybody should have that one band they love, right? And because "The Bends" came out when I was in high school, Radiohead was that band for me.

I actually liked the later stuff better -- "Hail to the Thief" is my favorite album, the peak before the band's lesser works of recent years. But even better than the recordings were the live shows. Somehow, here was a group of musicians that was doing stadium rock without the Aquanet and tights.

A Radiohead live performance was truly odd and yet still had mass appeal. But I saw guitarist Jonny Greenwood do something in the early 2000s that really blew my mind. It gave me a new understanding of both improvisation and the art of making every performance unique. 

Greenwood pulled out a radio at the beginning of the song "National Anthem" and just started madly switching channels. Static spat, voices barked, music played over his brother Colin Greenwood's driving bassline -- it was awesome. And the beauty of it was that every time he pulled the move it was different.

In Germany, it was German radio. In Japan, the voices chirped in Japanese. Here's an example. 

 

Jonny Greenwood's move was part of the inspiration for this week's Marketplace Tech series Playing With Machines. Musicians are great ambassadors and early adopters of technology. Unless you're a staunch classicalist or a virtuoso on an acoustic instrument, you're always trying to figure out ways to make new sounds or bring forth new ideas.

That can mean picking up an instrument you don't understand, or trying to push an instrument you know to the limit for a surprising result. It can mean something as simple as playing to a metrinome, or something as complex as composing music for a robot guitarist with 78 fingers.

Like most artists, good musicians are a wonderful mix of technical ability and whimsy. So the way they think about and interact with technology is a treat to witness. 

Women On Capitol Hill Reach Across Party Lines To Get Things Done

NPR News - Thu, 2014-05-08 01:15

There's an assumption that women are more likely than men to collaborate. But as the number of women in Congress has increased, so has the partisanship and gridlock. Does a woman's touch help?

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Computers are jerks: a conversation with Dan Deacon

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2014-05-08 01:00

If you're going to see a Dan Deacon show, chances are the composer and electronic musician won't ask you to put your cell phone away. In fact, he'll probably encourage you to keep it handy. That's because having a smartphone loaded with Deacon's app turns the audience into a makeshift light show.

It looks something like this (skip to :55 to see the start of the show):

The app, made in conjunction with Wham City Lights, reacts to a tone which then syncs your phone to the next song in the set. It blurs the line between audience and performer in a way that Deacon enjoys -- rather than just going to see a show, attendees contribute to the performance. The app also invites smartphones into a concert setting, an area in which it is usually strictly banned. It's part of Deacon's M.O.: to use technology in a way that enhances his vision of what a Dan Deacon show should look and sound like.

This in spite of the fact that he also refers to the computer as "the biggest jerk I've ever worked with."

It overheats, it is unreliable, and it quits unexpectedly. Deacon points out, though, that it also has a right to be as fickle as it is, seeing as its advanced capability allows him to do so much with his compositions.

He also feels that technology is putting the music world on the precipice of its next big change:

"The last 100 years saw such an insane change in music, it's almost impossible to think about the next 100 years having any less. There was a time before music, there was a time before opera, and there was a time before what we're about to enter into."

The Executioner's Lament

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 23:22

When things go wrong during an execution, the people responsible for carrying it out experience stressful, chaotic scenes. But even when the process goes right, it can take a lasting toll.

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The Art Of A Lost American Couturier, On Display At The Met

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 23:07

After a two-year renovation, the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute is reopening with an exhibit on the work of Charles James, who is now obscure, but considered America's first couturier.

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At Times All A President Can Say After Disaster Is, 'We're Here'

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 23:04

President Obama visited Arkansas on Wednesday, where he surveyed the damage of last month's tornado and met with residents. It's a task he and many presidents before him have had to do far too often.

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Less Nutritious Grains May Be In Our Future

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 23:04

When crops are surrounded by high levels of carbon dioxide, they're more productive. But they may have lower concentrations of some crucial nutrients, which could increase malnutrition in the future.

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Civil War Invades An Elephant Sanctuary: One Researcher's Escape

NPR News - Wed, 2014-05-07 23:02

Andrea Turkalo spent 22 years in central Africa, studying rare forest elephants. Then civil war forced her to flee — and poachers killed many of the elephants she'd shared a life with.

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More Americans going online to find cremation urns

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2014-05-07 22:00

Google. Amazon. Walmart.com—These aren’t the first places that people think of when planning a funeral service. But more people are shopping online for cremation urns. 

David Thompson lives in Carson City, Nevada, and he buys a lot of stuff on Amazon. Recently, he bought an urn a few days before his wife passed away. He was looking for a wider selection than what the funeral home offered.

“To be honest, I was really glad to be home, near my wife, while I was going through this process of finding her cremation urn,” he says. “The one that I chose just jumped off the computer screen and told me essentially that, ‘This is the right thing. This matches your wife’s personality'."

Cremation has become commonplace. Two years ago, 43 percent of Americans were cremated. By 2017, it’s expected, there will be more cremations than burials. 

In Traverse City, Michigan, Stardust Memorials has built its entire business around selling cremation urns online. Owner Jordan Lindberg started the company four years ago, after his father got sticker shock while looking for an urn for his grandmother. 

“I wasn’t interested in selling any kind of normal product, anything that you’re likely to find when you go into Target,” he says. 

Potter Phil Wilson is molding clay into an urn on the wheel. He and Gretchen Palmer of Spinner Ceramics are creating a line of ceramic urns for Stardust Memorials. 

Palmer says the handmade aspect offers a personal touch. “These are not made by a machine. They're all made by hand by Phil, with glazes that he mixed and he designed,” she says. Neither potter said they would purchase a cremation urn online. But the new work has made family members think about their final wishes. 

“When I told my mom and her husband what I was doing, they were like, ‘Oh, I wonder what color urn I would like.’ I was like, ‘Mom, seriously?'," she says.

Stardust Memorials did $1 million in sales last year, and expects to double that this year.

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