National News

Greece Approves Reforms, Clearing Hurdle For Bailout Deal

NPR News - Thu, 2015-07-23 05:12

The measures involve an overhaul to the banking and judicial systems — demands made by Greece creditors in exchange for the 86 billion euro rescue package.

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An Artificial Limb Can Bring Hope — But Who's Going To Make It?

NPR News - Thu, 2015-07-23 04:50

That's the question in Bangladesh, where there aren't enough clinicians to make prosthetic devices for accident victims and others in need. Now there's a school to fill the gap.

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Medical Residents Are Indebted But Reasonably Happy

NPR News - Thu, 2015-07-23 04:42

Talking to medical residents is one way to get a bead on where medicine is headed. A recent survey of more than 1,700 residents asked a slew of questions about their hopes, daily work and finances.

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Wildfires In Montana, California Scorch Thousands Of Acres, Trigger Evacuations

NPR News - Thu, 2015-07-23 03:07

The fire at Glacier National Park forced the evacuation of a park inn and campground. In California, a fire in Napa was threatening 150 structures.

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What The College Kids Are Reading

NPR News - Thu, 2015-07-23 03:03

A look at the books schools around the country have assigned to incoming freshmen.

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$48 billion Anthem-Cigna deal could be close

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-07-23 03:00

Multiple news sources report that Indianapolis-based health insurer Anthem is in final negotiations to acquire competitor Cigna of Bloomfield, Connecticut. The deal would value Cigna at approximately $48 billion, or $188-per-share, according to unnamed sources.

Aetna announced earlier in July that it would buy rival Humana for $34.1 billion in cash. Both deals would face extensive scrutiny by federal antitrust regulators at the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission. Many analysts consider it unlikely that both deals would be approved, since they would reduce competition for health insurance customers and concentrate more pricing power in insurers' hands. 

The wave of proposed mega-mergers comes as insurance companies face financial pressures under the Affordable Care Act, which has been reaffirmed in recent Supreme Court decisions that turned back major legal challenges to the law.

If the mergers succeed, the number of major national health insurers would be reduced from five to three: Anthem, Aetna and UnitedHealth Group.

Management professor J.B. Silvers at Case Western Reserve University says there are compelling benefits to the bottom line for insurance companies to consolidate under Obamacare. He says the financial risk of healthcare is being shifted away from insurers, onto healthcare providers and the government. That leaves insurers needing to make more of their profits from paying claims. “Paying claims is a volume business, so this gives them some economies of scale, and it will lower their costs,” says Silvers. “Plus, the fact there are a lot more people buying health insurance because of Obamacare makes it a more lucrative market than it's ever been.”

Healthcare economist Vivian Ho at Rice University says insurers are being driven to merge by another key constituency in the rapidly-changing healthcare industry: healthcare providers. She says Obamacare has driven hospitals to merge, doctor’s groups to get bigger, and hospitals to acquire doctor’s groups. That’s increased the providers’ power to negotiate favorable deals with insurers. She says insurers are trying to consolidate to even the playing field.

Ho points out that even if the biggest insurers succeed in merging and cutting costs, they can claim some of the financial benefit won’t go to their bottom line, because of complicated rules on profit-taking under Obamacare. “I think the insurance companies are going to say, ‘We have to pay 85 percent of our premiums on health care expenditures, so that means cost savings will be passed on to the consumer,’” says Ho.

Ho says insurers have figured out ways to get around these Obamacare limits, for instance, by categorizing more client services as ‘health care expenditures.’

Antitrust regulators, meanwhile, will closely scrutinizing these proposed deals, to determine whether the merged insurers are likely to end up with too little competition — nationwide, or in specific geographic and medical markets, such as Medicare — or whether the merged insurers will gain too much power to set terms and prices for consumers, hospitals, doctors, and employers.

PODCAST: Improving infrastructure with bikes

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-07-23 03:00

On today's show, we'll talk about news that the number of people signing up for unemployment benefits fell to a low not seen in four decades. Plus, we'll talk about the merger between two health care giants: Anthem and Cigna. And Portland Oregon’s two defining cultures – tech and bikes – have come together to improve transportation infrastructure using a new app that will anonymously track behaviors, and preferred routes of cyclists, with or without the app. The data from these combined technologies will act as a guide for decision-making when planning bike lanes, routes, and signals.

New app aims to improve cycling in Portland

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-07-23 02:00

The city of Portland, Oregon, is known for its enthusiast support of cycling. With 345 miles of bikeways snaking around and through its urban core, Portland has more cyclists per capita than any other town.

 

Now a new project between the tech industry and city officials aims to make biking in Portland even easier.

 

Tech entrepreneur and cyclist William Henderson has created an app called Ride, which asks cyclists to collect data as they cruise around Portland. That data will then help the city to plan better cycling infrastructure, like signals, lanes, safer routes and where to avoid traffic.

 

Currently, 6 percent of Portland’s population cycles to work. But that number leaps to 25 percent in the inner city, which is well above the national average of less than 1 percent.

 

“Right now, we have some great infrastructure for biking and walking and transit in Portland,” Henderson says. “But we’re really not going to get any more space for our roads as the city grows, so we have to make more efficient use of it.”

 

Software developer Chris Jones is using the app during this pilot phase. Jones says he likes it because it automatically starts tracking his route as soon as he starts pedaling.

 

“It’s nice to not have to open the app and say, ‘OK, here we go, I’m starting my commute now.’ I want to just get on my bike and go where I’m going,” says Jones.

 

The goal is to have between 5,000 to 10,000 cyclists using Ride by the end of the summer.

 

In addition to the app, Henderson is installing wireless bike-counting sensors around the city to count cyclists. The idea is to replace Portland’s old methods, which includes volunteers on street corners making pen-and-paper tallies.

 

For Margi Bradway, active transportation manager at the Portland Bureau of Transportation, this new technology offers exciting possibilities.

 

“One of the reasons I’m really interested in this data is to understand cyclist types and cyclist behaviors. So when is someone willing to go on a busier street for a more direct route, versus a local street that’s further away?” Bradway says. “When we get this data, we’ll start to see patterns to help us shape the future for cycling.”

New app to improve cycling in Portland

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-07-23 02:00

The city of Portland, Oregon is known for its enthusiast support of cycling. With 345 miles of bikeways snaking around and through its urban core, Portland has more cyclists per capita than any other town.

Now, a new project between the tech industry and city officials is hoping to make biking in Portland even easier.

Tech entrepreneur and cyclist William Henderson has created an app called Ride, which asks cyclists to collect data as they ride around Portland. That data will then help the city to plan better cycling infrastructure, like signals, lanes, safer routes and where to avoid traffic.

Currently, 6 percent of Portland’s population cycles to work. But that number leaps to 25 percent in the inner city, which is well above the national average of less than 1 percent.

“Right now, we have some great infrastructure for biking and walking and transit in Portland,” says Henderson. “But we’re really not going to get any more space for our roads as the city grows, so we have to make more efficient use of it.”

Software developer Chris Jones is using the app during this pilot phase. Jones says he likes it because it automatically starts tracking his route as soon as he starts pedaling.

“It’s nice to not have to open the app and say, ‘Okay, here we go, I’m starting my commute now.’ I want to just get on my bike and go where I’m going,” says Jones.

The goal is to have between five to ten thousand cyclists using Ride by the end of the summer.

In addition to the app, Henderson is installing wireless bike-counting sensors around the city to count cyclists. The idea is to replace Portland’s old methods, which includes volunteers on street corners making pen-and-paper tallies.

For Margi Bradway, active transportation manager at the Portland Bureau of Transportation, this new technology offers exciting possibilities.

“One of the reasons I’m really interested in this data is to understand cyclist types and cyclist behaviors — so when is someone willing to go on a busier street for a more direct route, versus a local street that’s further away,” says Bradway. “When we get this data we’ll start to see patterns to help us shape the future for cycling.”

Pearson nears deal to sell the Financial Times

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-07-23 02:00

The London-based Financial Times newspaper is reportedly close to being sold to a rival media company — Among potential buyers are German media company Axel Springer, as well as Bloomberg. The seller is Pearson, which in addition to publishing is big in the education field.

Jonathan Zimmerman is a professor of education and history at New York University. He joins us to talk about why Pearson might be interested in selling the FT, and what the rise of standardized testing may have to do with the decision.

Click the media player to hear more.

UPDATE: The Financial Times newspaper reports that Axel Springer is in advanced talks to purchase the paper from Pearson.

Brash new competitor challenges Amazon

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-07-23 02:00

Amazon is set to release earnings on Thursday. And now they’ve got more competition in the retail game. This week, Jet.com launched, boasting plans to lure you away from Amazon with the lowest prices on the internet. Founder Marc Lore seems to relish competing with Amazon. In 2010 Amazon bought his startup Quidsi for half a billion dollars.

Charla Mathwick, a marketing professor at Portland State, says it may seem crazy for Jet.com to boast that they'll take over the online retail market from Amazon. "But it all depends on what their goal is," she says. "Acquiring customers is going to be a big challenge for a company like this if the goal is to try to really take on Amazon. But I don't know if that's what they're doing. If the goal is to demonstrate a superior pricing algorithm, you may not need huge numbers of customers, you just need enough to demonstrate that the algorithm works."

Mathwick says Jet.com is looking for the impulse buying that has fallen off as customers stop going to malls and grocery stores.

Jet's business model is something akin to a combination of Amazon Prime and Costco. A $50 membership fee will get you free shipping and those low prices. Mike Maughan is with Qualtrics, an online data company. He says in the end it will boil down to customer experience. Jet has to make you feel like you’re getting more than just a good deal.

“I think it's incumbent upon Jet.com to demonstrate and provide an incredible customer experience," Maughan says. "Price isn’t everything. If it’s all that someone’s got, it won’t last and I don’t think it’s sustainable."

Maughan says the question is, "Is there an appetite for a competitor to Amazon? Amazon is very popular and a lot of people use it but it is not used ubiquitously. Still only about 10 percent of retail shopping happens online."

Jet.com is only two days old, so it might take a few more hours to determine if this business model is going to eventually work. But analysts say the first measure of its success might be how many customers it’s actually taking from Amazon. 

The nuts and bolts of robot soccer

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-07-23 01:53
255,000

That's how many jobless claims came in last week, the lowest number in four decades. As Bloomberg reports, economists are saying part of the reason is that employers are holding on workers to keep up with an uptick in demand. 

345

That's how many miles of bike ways snake their way through the streets of Portland, Oregon. Now a new app called Ride is hoping to make biking in the city even easier. It asks users to share cycling data collected through the app, which can then be used to improve biking infrastructure in and around Portland.

$50

That's the cost of a membership to Jet.com, a company that aims to compete with Amazon for the lowest prices on the internet. Think of it as a cross between Amazon Prime and Costco, with a flat fee for free shipping and  low prices. Analysts say that if the site has any hope of competing with some of the giants already in the market, they'll have to offer more than just low prices. Customer experience, in this case, may be the key.

1-0

That was the final score of the RoboCup World Championships, in which Japan bested China in the "child-sized humanoid football final." As the BBC reports, this year's games added new challenges, including replacing the easier-to-spot red ball with a white one, and installing a kind of artificial turf that gave some of the robots stability issues.

U.S. Defense Secretary Makes Unannounced Visit To Iraq

NPR News - Thu, 2015-07-23 01:49

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter makes a surprise visit to Iraq, where U.S. and Iraqi forces have been preparing to launch an offensive against Islamic State forces.

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House Bill Would Cut Off Federal Funds For Sanctuary Cities

NPR News - Thu, 2015-07-23 01:11

The U.S. House is poised to pass legislation that would cut off federal funds to so-called "sanctuary cities" that have protected undocumented residents from immigration proceedings.

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At Low Pay, Government Hires Immigrants Held At Detention Centers

NPR News - Thu, 2015-07-23 01:11

It's illegal to hire immigrants without legal status. Yet the federal government employs thousands of undocumented workers. They prepare food and clean detention facilities where they are held.

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The Associated Press Puts Its Vast Archive On YouTube

NPR News - Thu, 2015-07-23 01:11

The Associated Press is making thousands of hours of archival news footage available on YouTube. The clips date back to 1895 and include historic moments from around the world.

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After Cold, Icy Winters, Lake Michigan Is Rising Rapidly

NPR News - Thu, 2015-07-23 01:11

Just two years after dropping to a record low, Lake Michigan's water level is rebounding at a near record rate. It's good news for restoring the habitat, but not so good for some who live on the lake.

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Investigators Seek The Gunman's Motivation In The Chattanooga Shooting

NPR News - Thu, 2015-07-23 01:11

Federal authorities in Chattanooga, Tenn., say they still don't know why a man shot up two military installations last week, killing five people. But they are releasing new details on the shooting.

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Kenyan Novelist Explains What President Obama's Visit Signifies

NPR News - Thu, 2015-07-23 01:04

Kenyan novelist Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor provides a tour of her homeland and discusses what President Obama's visit means to the African nation.

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Is Hillary Clinton 'Likable Enough'?

NPR News - Thu, 2015-07-23 01:03

A new round of polls in key swing states showed Hillary Clinton's favorability ratings suffering badly. It's a warning sign for Clinton's campaign, but also for politicians, generally.

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