National / International News
The troops would beef up the effort to train more Iraqi forces to fight the Islamic State. Some 3,000 American troops are already in Iraq to provide security or to train and advice Iraqi troops.
Interest rates in Germany rose to their highest since late last summer. Is the German economy gaining some steam? We explore. And a new study sheds light on how hospitals make their money. We look at why not all patients are created (or at least billed) equally. Plus, with Etsy's shares tanking, we take a look at what's behind this, especially considering the hype of their recent IPO.
A new Johns Hopkins University study published Monday in the journal Health Affairs says that a number of mostly for-profit hospitals are charging certain groups of patients ten times the rates paid out to Medicare for the same procedures.
The key thing to understand in the realm of hospital pricing is negotiation, or rather, the lack of negotiation.
At hospitals, there’s a price that Medicare pays for its patients, and then there’s the list price charged to everyone else, usually about three times higher.
Dr. Gerard Anderson, director of the Johns Hopkins Center of Hospital Finance and Management and coauthor of the study, says some hospitals mark up their prices about ten times, and some are stuck with that sticker price "because the auto insurers and the workers' compensation insurers are not able to negotiate prices."
And that means higher workers' compensation and automobile premiums for everyone else. The study says this also pushes up costs for everyone else because hospitals can say they’re regularly underpaid when negotiating prices.
Jarrod Bernstein is spokesperson for CarePoint Health, which owns CarePoint Health Bayonne Medical Center in Bayonne, N.J., which is the second most expensive hospital on the top 50 list published in the study. Bernstein says CarePoint's prices are a result of serving many low-income customers. "Being out of network is not a business strategy, it is a survival strategy," Bernstein says.
CarePoint is calling for an overhaul of the healthcare reimbursement system. In the meantime, its hospital’s list price for treating pneumonia is about $200,000, while Medicare pays out just under $10,000.
As early as this week, the Labor Department will consider updating overtime laws. Currently, salaried workers are eligible for overtime only if they are paid less than $23,660 a year, or $455 a week. The new rules would bump that threshold to as much as $52,000.
The new rules would affect workers with low salaries who now put in long hours with no overtime. Arindrajit Dube, associate professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, points to the example of a shift supervisor at McDonald’s.
“She is hardly someone we think of as an executive employee, but the law does not require McDonald’s to pay her overtime even if she works 50 hours a week,” he says.
Dube says what seems like a huge jump in the overtime threshold simply brings things up to 1975 standards, adjusting for inflation. The effect?
“We’re talking about as many as 10 million workers getting a raise,” Dube says.
A National Retail Federation report says the change could cost businesses $5 billion a year. But Stephen Trejo, economics professor at the University of Texas at Austin, says employers will make adjustments, like cutting straight-time pay.
“There’s not going to be pressure on firms to raise their wages,” he says.
He adds that workers might be better off in the short term, but it might just even out in the long term.
By the time Kina Grannis signed with a major record label, she already had a small but loyal online audience of about 10,000 people.
They had helped her win a major online music video contest. The prize was an appearance in a 2008 Super Bowl ad and a record contract.
Months later, when Grannis met with her label, she found out that what had seemed to be a dream come true was actually very different in reality.
"They had a plan to have me rewrite an entire album, have me co-write it with professional songwriters and be something that they approved of," Grannis says. "Which I get. But for me, music is so personal, so important to me, that the idea of sitting awkwardly in a room with strangers and having to create with them, in a way that was very unnatural to me, did not seem right."
Grannis says she also did not want to throw away a number of songs she had already written, which were proving popular on YouTube.
"My music is me, and the idea of having to sacrifice all of that to do it their way didn't make sense," Grannis says.
So, instead, she did something that she had never imagined just a couple of years earlier when she was struggling to establish herself and get noticed. She dropped the label.
"It became very clear to me that I would be able to find people, and I had found people in the world, that did want to hear my music," Grannis says.
Grannis' gamble paid off. Today, she has more than 1 million subscribers to her YouTube channel, where she regularly releases music videos.
Streaming music is transforming the music industry. Apple, which announced this week that it is also entering the streaming music universe, is the latest in a number of companies that are changing the business model from one of purchased content to one of, essentially, rented content.
But while the business model is changing, the path between musicians and audiences is expanding. Artists have a lot more avenues today, compared to even a few years ago.
"More new music will be discovered than used to be the case, when relatively few gatekeepers were controlling relatively tight playlists," says Larry Miller, a professor at NYU and host of the podcast Musonomics.
"It's now possible for almost any artist to access one of the broad distribution networks that feeds Apple, Spotify, Deezer, Rdio, Pandora and everybody else," Miller says.
So, getting heard is easier. But getting paid is harder. Musicians, in particular, have been complaining about streaming's business model, which pays less than a penny per stream. It's eating away sales of albums and mp3's.
"In prior eras, a small artist, or an independent label ... could probably get by with selling 10,000, 50,000 copies of a thing," says Casey Rae, CEO of the Future of Music Coalition. "Whereas if you translate that to fractions of pennies from streams, it's much, much harder to pay your rent."
Fractions of pennies add up, at least for big labels. Last month, Warner Music Group reported that, for the first time, its revenues from streaming surpassed downloads. But, individual artists aren't necessarily sharing in that bounty. Even Kina Grannis, whose videos have generated millions of views on YouTube, makes little money online.
"Ad revenue for me is pretty small," Grannis says. "Although YouTube is what fuels the entire thing."
What YouTube fuels is interest in her as an artist and in concert tours. Those tours generate the most income, Grannis says, including from merchandise sales and CD sales.