Thursday, September 30, 2010

New Website Shows Prices For Individual Health Coverage

Millions of consumers who shop for health insurance policies in the individual market will get a tool today that will help them compare prices and see inside information on how often insurers deny applications for coverage.

The Department of Health and Human Services is now posting pricing information for 4,400 individual and family health plans offered by more than 225 insurance carriers at
Plan information will be updated monthly, said Todd Park, HHS chief technology officer.

"The whole point is to put consumers in charge," Park said Thursday as he demonstrated the site's new pricing features to USA TODAY.

The insurance shopping tool returns personalized results of available plans based on such factors as where the individual lives, age and gender.

Among the details insurance shoppers will get on each plan:

•Monthly premium estimate.
•Maximum out-of-pocket cost.
•Major types of covered services.
•Percent of plan applications denied in the past three months.
•Percent of plan applicants charged more than the base price.

Consumers have never had access to information about how often insurers deny individual applications or add surcharges to base plan prices, said Karen Pollitz, deputy director of HHS' Office of Consumer Support. Too often, she said, they think buying insurance on their own is similar to getting it from an employer.

"This serves as an important warning to people that's not how insurance works in the individual market," she said. The data, which come from insurance companies, are required under the nation's new health law.

Some of the plans viewed during the website preview for a hypothetical woman living in Los Angeles had denied nearly 40% of their recent applications. The health law, as of last month, prohibits insurers from denying coverage to children with medical problems. But that protection isn't extended to adults until 2014. And until 2014, insurers also can use a person's health status to charge more for coverage.

Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, said that the industry group supports greater transparency but that insurers are concerned the application denial percentage is misleading. That number, he said, includes incomplete applications and consumers who were directed to a different policy.

Pollitz said she's comfortable that the denial percentage will be helpful to consumers.

About 16.7 million people younger than 65 have individual insurance policies, according to federal estimates.

For the data to be posted on the HHS site, a company officer must certify its accuracy, Park said. Some companies' plans are not yet included because of missing information, he said.

In addition to details about private health insurance options, the site helps consumers identify government programs they may be eligible for, such as Medicaid or new high-risk insurance pools for adults with medical problems who are unable to get insurance in the private market.  Source: USA Today

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Asia Begins Embracing Solar Power

Developing nations in Asia, it seems, are finally seeing the light.

In May, the Asian Development Bank started a major drive to promote solar power across the region. Last year, the Indian government approved an ambitious National Solar Mission, which seeks a huge increase in the country’s solar-energy capabilities. Bangladesh, with the support of the World Bank, is aiming to have one million remote rural homes supplied with solar panels by the end of 2012.

And in India, where nearly 40 percent of households have no access to electricity, companies like Selco Solar and Orb Energy have helped tens of thousands of families and small entrepreneurs purchase solar panels.

All worthy causes. So worthy and sensible, in fact, that you may well ask why on earth they did not take off much earlier.

The answer, as is so often the case, is political support — or, until relatively recently, the lack of it — and, inevitably, cost.

“The upfront costs of installing solar-electricity-generating farms, plus high borrowing costs and the fact that developing nations struggle to access long-term capital, have inhibited the growth of solar energy until recently,” said Seethapathy Chander, chairman of the committee on energy issues at the Asian Development Bank in Manila.

“It takes a long time before investment costs are recouped, and you need long-term financing until that stage is reached.”

That also applies to small, single-household roof panels that provide enough electricity for a few extra hours of lighting, which can make a huge difference — adding study time for children and extra hours for making and selling goods.

Rooftop solar energy can replace kerosene, which generates smoke and poor-quality light and eats heavily into the scarce resources of the poor.

“A street vendor in India might make 800 rupees a month — that’s about $16,” said Harish Hande, founder of Selco Solar in Bangalore. “But he might have to spend as much as 210 rupees of that on kerosene or candles.”

By contrast, the modest electricity produced by rooftop panels is effectively free, recouping the initial investment after a few years. But even a 15 percent down payment on a loan for a small solar home lighting system — which typically costs 8,500 to 11,000 rupees — is beyond the reach of many families, Mr. Hande said.

In developing nations like Sri Lanka or India, said Damian Miller, an American-British citizen who set up Orb Energy in 2006, the cost of a panel can be 20 percent of the annual income of a poor off-grid household.

In terms of the scale of the investment, he said, “it’s similar to a Western household buying a car.”

Banks were long reluctant to lend to the poor. Increasingly, however, companies like Selco and Orb Energy have been able to convince some local banks that low-income earners are creditworthy and that solar-related credits bring in solid business in much the same way that car financing does.

“The trick to making it work commercially is to make it affordable: To allow for bite-size financing that the poor can pay for, on a monthly basis, rather than in large chunks,” said Mr. Miller.

On the large-scale level — big solar farms that feed the overall electricity grid — activity also is picking up.

“Many parts of Asia have three or four times the amount of sun that Germany gets,” said Mr. Chander of the Asian Development Bank. “It makes a lot of sense to deploy solar-based electricity generation facilities here.”

At the same time, governments have become more willing to promote alternative energies and, because of falling costs, more able to do so.  Courtesy of NY Times  Read full article

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

GE, Better Place Team Up to Boost Electric Vehicle Infrastructure

Better Place, an electric vehicle infrastructure startup that envisions a network of charging and EV battery swap stations, got a big boost this week: a financing and technology partnership with GE that will see the two companies work together on technology development, battery financing, joint fleet electrification programs, and customer awareness.

The partnership makes sense--Better Place has perfected its two-minute EV battery swap system, and GE recently unveiled its WattStation EV charger for city streets. As part of the technology agreement between the companies, GE's WattStation will become compatible with the Better Place service network, which also includes access to battery swap stations (for those times when customers can't sit around waiting for their vehicles to charge).

GE and Better Place will also work together to boost EV adoption in Israel and Denmark--Better Place's first markets--with a pilot project that aims to finance 10,000 EV batteries in the country. The pair also plans launch a number of fleet electrification pilot projects, potentially in the San Francisco Bay Area, Honolulu, Hawaii, and Ontario, Canada, among other locations.

So for GE, the Better Place partnership is a piece of a larger plan to dominate the EV market. And for Better Place, the collaboration is an opportunity to further spread the gospel of the EV battery swap system--something that many vehicle makers don't subscribe to (in most cases, batteries are included with the price of the EV and swapping isn't possible). With partners like GE and Renault on its side, Better Place might just have the strength it needs to make a serious dent in markets around the world.
 source: FastCompany

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Pleasure in Pain of Chilies

Late summer is chili harvest time, when the entire state of New Mexico savors the perfume of roasting chilies, and across the country the delightful, painful fruit of plants of the genus Capsicum are being turned into salsa, hot sauce and grizzly bear repellent.

Festivals abound, often featuring chili pepper-eating contests. “It’s fun,” as one chili pepper expert wrote, “sorta like a night out to watch someone being burned at the stake.”

Some experts argue that we like chilies because they are good for us. They can help lower blood pressure, may have some antimicrobial effects, and they increase salivation, which is good if you eat a boring diet based on one bland staple crop like corn or rice. The pain of chilies can even kill other pain, a concept supported by recent research.

Others, notably Dr. Paul Rozin at the University of Pennsylvania, argue that the beneficial effects are too small to explain the great human love of chili-spiced food. “I don’t think they have anything to do with why people eat and like it,” he said in an interview. Dr. Rozin, who studies other human emotions and likes and dislikes (“I am the father of disgust in psychology,” he says) thinks that we’re in it for the pain. “This is a theory,” he emphasizes. “I don’t know that this is true.”

But he has evidence for what he calls benign masochism. For example, he tested chili eaters by gradually increasing the pain, or, as the pros call it, the pungency, of the food, right up to the point at which the subjects said they just could not go further. When asked after the test what level of heat they liked the best, they chose the highest level they could stand, “just below the level of unbearable pain.” As Delbert McClinton sings (about a different line of research), “It felt so good to hurt so bad.”

Habaneros are very hot, although there’s a lot of variation. On the standard Scoville heat scale (Bell peppers 0, the hottest Indian jolokia peppers 1,000,000) orange habaneros run 100,000 to 350,000. By comparison, jalapenos can go anywhere from 5,000 to 50,000. Two percent capsaicin bear spray is advertised at 3.3 million units, and pure capsaicin — the chemical that causes the pain — hits 16 million.  read full story

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

General Motors tests electric Chevrolet Cruzes in South Korea

General Motors says it will launch a test fleet of electric cars in South Korea as it continues to develop battery-powered models of its Chevrolet Cruze.

The automaker will begin the project at the end of October. It is working with LG Electronics on the project.

The Cruze EV demo fleet will be GM's first compact sedan electric vehicles to hit the road and will be powered by batteries from LG Chemical and propulsion systems from LG Electronics.

The demo fleet in South Korea will consist of Chevrolet Cruzes and GM Daewoo Lacetti Premieres. GM currently markets the vehicle under the local brand in South Korea. The project is aimed at providing data on customer acceptance and battery range.

GM says there's no plan to sell an electric Cruze in the U.S.

By testing an all-electric Cruze that has no gas engine, it's clear that GM is developing a fully electric compact.

"There's no plan to put an electric Cruze in the U.S. market," spokesman Rob Peterson said. "As battery technology matures and that (charging) infrastructure increases as well, battery-electric vehicles could hold a great deal of potential."

GM executives have said repeatedly that the power system from the rechargeable electric Chevrolet Volt will be used in more models.

The Volt can go about 40 miles on battery power, and after that, a small gas engine kicks in to generate power for the car.  Source : Associated Press

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Solar Flashing Beacons Improve School Zone Safety

The city of Bethany, Oklahoma is investing in 52 solar light emitting diode (LED) flashing beacons to improve the safety of the its district school zones.

The R829 dual-flashing amber LED solar traffic beacons, provided by Carmanah Technologies Corporation and sold by local Carmanah distributor Gades Sales Inc., represent a significant safety improvement for Bethany students. The R829 solar LED flashing beacons will be used to reduce vehicle speeds that are approaching the school zones from nearby residential areas. Carmanah’s R829 solar LED flashing beacon is designed specifically for school-zone applications and features wireless communication between beacons, a calendar program for activation and maintenance-free operation for up to five years.

Bethany identified those safety issues surrounding its schools that were identical, which were that the residential roadways that extended from the school to the urban areas did so without obvious distinction. Vehicle speeds dangerously exceeded safe levels as traffic entered or exited the residential areas. The city’s treatment of the school zones included erecting designated school zone speed signs with accompanying dual-head solar LED flashing beacons.

Studies have shown that flashing beacons increase visibility of marked signage and reduce vehicle speeds by up to 5 to 7 miles per hour. Solar flashing beacons eliminate the need to wire or trench at the site, reducing traffic disruption and work crew time and costs. The time-to-install factor was an important one, as the city wanted to have installation completed before students and traffic returned to school in September. The need for a fast, effective solution was met by the Carmanah solar LED flashing solution.

The City of Bethany is funding the new solar LED flashing beacons with money provided by the US DOE Energy Efficient and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which invests in clean energy technologies that protect the environment and reduce dependence on foreign oil. Carmanah, which manufactures its products in Houston, Texas, complied with those Buy American provisions of the Recovery Act that Bethany required if the stipulations of the EECBG funding agreement were to be met.  Read Full Story

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Here's a Happy Stat about Cybercriminals

 Here's a happy stat: Hackers create at least 57,000 fake websites a week, reports SecurityWeek.

Most are set up to be clones of banks or other commerce sites, with eBay and Western Union by far the most common.

Others in the top 10 include Visa, HSBC, Bank of America, Amazon, and PayPal. Search engines constantly update to weed them out, but the hackers are relentless.

And because the 57,000 figure comes from the research of just one security company, the real number is probably higher, notes SecurityWeek.

The 10 most Targeted brands among all fake websites tracked by PandaLabs:
1. eBay – 23.21 percent
2. Western Union – 21.15 percent
3. Visa – 9.51 percent
4. United Services Automobile Association – 6.85 percent
5. HSBC – 5.98 percent
6. Amazon – 2.42 percent
7. Bank of America – 2.29 percent
8. PayPal – 1.77 percent
9. Internal Revenue Service – 1.69 percent
10. Bendigo Bank – 1.38 percent

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

9/11 We Will Never Forget

We're coming up to the ninth anniversary of 9/11 and the sorrow's never gone, but we must always remember those lost.

Like other crucial historical dates, most people remember exactly where they were and what they were doing on that date.

 Maybe you have some thoughts about the anniversary of 9/11. These are mine.

I am so very sad that this had to happen to all of those innocent people. 

This day marked the beginning of a new era in America, the era of terrorism.

I will never forget it, ever, or the many innocent people that lost their lives.  We didn't know what was happening or what would be hit next. 

It all happened so fast. It was unbelievable to actually watch this happen and to see the skyline in New York without the World Trade Center after that. 

So I am asking everyone out there please , regardless if you lost someone or not, please take a moment today to say a prayer for all those whose lives were taken that day.

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

New York sky-scrapers dim lights to help migratory birds

A growing number of New York sky-scrapers are switching their lights off to help reduce the number of birds hitting the high-rise buildings.

The "lights out" project - organized by NYC Audubon (US wild bird protection group) runs until  November 1st, when migratory birds are expected to have completed their autumn migrations.

The Empire State and Chrysler buildings, two of the tallest city buildings, are among those dimming their lights.

An estimated 90,000 birds are killed in New York each year as a result of striking glass-fronted buildings.

Organizers of the annual initiative, now in its fifth year, say the bright lights disorientate the migrating birds and override their natural navigational cues and are asking owners and tenants of high-rise buildings to turn off their lights on unoccupied floors or unused space between midnight and dawn

 Read Full Story

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