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Monday, October 24, 2016

TTIP: Signing EU-US TTIP Free Trade Deal Impossible Without EU-Canada CETA

The EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) free-trade deal can only be signed, if the European Union and Canada seal their Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), a source in the EU Parliament told RIA Novosti Monday.

The European Council failed to approve CETA due to Wallonia, a region in Belgium, not giving the country its approval to sign the agreement. The Walloon government voted against the trade deal for fear it would water down EU labor, consumer and environmental protections, and give too much power to multinationals.

Read moreL Signing EU-US TTIP Free Trade Deal Impossible Without EU-Canada CETA

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Banking Industry: Americans spent $11 billion in bank fees in 2015 — here’s how to avoid them

Some 10 million U.S. households don’t use any type of bank account for their money, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. While some people who don’t use a bank say it’s because they don’t have enough money, a third of them say it’s because they have a fear of high or unpredictable account fees. They may be right to have that concern.

Banks made about $11.2 billion in fees from consumers’ overdraft and non-sufficient fund penalties in 2015, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

And just 8% of account holders (typically those with low incomes, and who also may be young) carry overdrafts and pay about 75% of all overdraft fees, according to the CFPB.

More than two-thirds of people who consistently overdraft said they would prefer to just have their transaction declined instead, according to research from the Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit based in Philadelphia. But they don’t realize they could have it that way now. Since 2010, banks have been required by law to let consumers opt in to allow their accounts to be overdrafted (if they don’t, their transactions would be declined); still, according to Pew, 52% of overdrafters don’t remember opting in. Thaddeus King, an officer for Pew’s consumer banking project, said it’s also possible to revoke permission for overdrafting, which is an option some might want to consider.

Read more: Americans spent $11 billion in bank fees in 2015 — here’s how to avoid them - MarketWatc

Saturday, October 22, 2016

China’s wind power industry faces slowdown as tariff cuts loom

Mainland China’s wind farm developers and equipment suppliers face a substantial drop off in installation volume in 2018 when Beijing’s proposed cuts to wind power tariffs are expected to take effect, industry executives warned.

Profitability will also be hampered by further power grid bottlenecks and intensifying competition over price and sales volume amid wider capacity oversupply, they told the China Windpower conference.

“What worries us is [plant] utilisation, which has been falling much more than expected,” said Alvario Bilbao, the Asia Pacific chief executive of Gamesa, one of the world’s largest wind turbine makers.

The Spanish firm has stayed in the China market – the world’s largest - despite its market share dropping to 0.27 per cent in 2014 from 36 per cent a decade earlier due to stiff competition from domestic rivals.

Read more: China’s wind power industry faces slowdown as tariff cuts loom | South China Morning Pos

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Netherlands Judiciary: Poorly regulated debt collection agencies in the Netherlands terrorizing indebted citizens

Dutch collection cgencies  terrorizing practices
Many Dutch consumers who find themselves in a debt collection process are harassed  by the debt collectors, who are poorly regulated by the Dutch judicial system, and they usually end-up deeper in debt.

This shocking finding has become evident from a recent analysis made by the Dutch Consumer Association (Nederlandse Consumentenbond) based on complaints they received at their "Debt Complain Center hotline", opened in the spring of this year 

On this Hotline more than 200 personal, often deeply disturbing and emotional stories, have disclosed how inhumane and threatening people are treated by these collection agencies

The Consumers Association says the situation has gone totally out of control, and Bart Combée, Director of the Dutch consumer association says: “the human dimension in this process is completely lost", says Bart Combée.

If consumers want to contact the collection agency, they often get no answer, or the door slammed in their face, even if you dispute a claim "Once the collection train starts running, it can not be stopped, other than by paying their usually inflated bill ”, says Bart Combée.

The most common complaints about the Dutch debt collection processes are about their rapidly increasing and not clearly specified billing costs.

Threatening letters about wage garnishment, foreclosure sales, or lawsuits. Even if the debt collection agencies are not empowered to do so, or when it only concerns a debt of  less than 100 euro's.

The Consumer Association wants the Judiciary to establish clear and precise regulations concerning the procedures to be followed by Dutch collection agencies and they want the Judiciary to firmly intervene when collection agencies violate these rules.

They also recommend that companies, collection agencies and bailiffs should be more accessible and willing to offer more customization to the process.

The Consumer Association also wants to see that the intimidating behavior of the collection agencies be addressed immediately.

Some claims are even based on debts made by deceased  parents, which are transferred to their children, under one of the many archaic and outdated laws still on the books in the Netherlands, labelled under hereditary responsibilities
The Dutch Consumer Agency has also requested the Netherlands Parliament to intervene in this matter, but not much has been done so far.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Health care: Why hospital infections are a bigger threat than HIV, influenza and tuberculosis

If you're in hospital, take care - take very good care. A new study suggests the risk of hospital infections is higher than that of a number of global infectious diseases together, including HIV and flu.

You would think it was the other way around. But six healthcare-associated infections are a bigger burden on hospitals than influenza, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis together.

The big six are pneumonia, urinary tract and surgical site infections, Clostridium difficile (CDI, which results in antibiotic-associated diarrhea), neonatal sepsis and primary bloodstream infections. And they are all things you can contract while being treated for other things in hospital.

That's the conclusion of a study on Tuesday in Plos Medicine, a peer-reviewed open-access journal published by the San Francisco-based Public Library of Science.

Hospital acquired infections (HAIs) are the "most frequent adverse event in healthcare delivery worldwide," according to the World Health Organization (WHO) - with hundreds of millions of patients affected every year across the globe.

The EU and the European Economic Area face more than 2.5 million cases of hospital infections every year, the study suggests - and they are estimated to result in a burden of about as many so-called disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) - the years of a healthy life lost. The term is used to measure the impact of diseases on the health of a population.

The study is, according to its authors, "a solid first attempt" at estimating the burden of hospital infections, including the role of comorbidities, that is coexisiting multiple diseases. They stress "the need for intensified efforts to prevent and control these infections, ultimately making European hospitals safer places."

Read more: Why hospital infections are a bigger threat than HIV, influenza and tuberculosis | Sci-Tech | DW.COM | 18.10.2016

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

US Economic Freedom Is in Decline, Libertarians Warn

The United States is the 16th freest economy in the world, according to the Libertarian Cato Institute’s annual Economic Freedom of the World report. Produced in conjunction with the Fraser Institute, the report looks at various factors, including the size of government, government regulations, rule of law, and trade and monetary policies to develop a composite score for 159 countries around the world.

On a scale of 0 to 10, the world average rose slightly to 6.85, while the US scored 7.75.  Despite the fact that it puts the US in the top 10 percent of countries for freedom, as defined by CATO, the score was treated as reason for alarm in a commentary accompanying the report.

“The United States still ranks relatively low on economic freedom and is below Chile (13), the United Kingdom (10) and Canada (5),” writes Cato’s Ian Vasquez, noting that the top 4 countries remain Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand and Switzerland.

“The long-term U.S. decline beginning in 2000 is the most pronounced among major advanced economies,” Vasquez continues. “It mirrors a pattern among OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) nations of steady increases in economic freedom in the decades leading into the 2000s, a fall in freedom especially in response to the global economic crisis, and a subsequent slight increase from the low. Neither the United States nor the average OECD country has recovered the high levels of economic freedom that they reached last decade.”

US Economic Freedom Is in Decline, Libertarians Warn | The Fiscal Times

Monday, October 17, 2016

Health Care: Solving surprise medical bills

Imagine you walk into a hospital for a planned procedure, for example a knee operation to be performed by an orthopedic surgeon. Before you scheduled the surgery, you did your due diligence and confirmed that the surgeon performing the procedure participated in your insurance plan, and that the hospital where you were having the surgery was also in-network.

You know that you will still owe hundreds or perhaps thousands of dollars (depending on the details of your insurance coverage or any deductible you need to meet), but you’re certain the costs are manageable and you’re prepared to pay the final amount.

The surgery goes well, and you begin your recovery. Then, several weeks later, you get a bill for the surgery that’s much, much more than you expected to pay—maybe even ten or twenty times what you expected to pay. How did this happen?

A new paper, Solving Surprise Medical Bills from the Schaeffer Initiative at the Brookings Center on Health Policy, takes a closer look at surprise medical bills in America—and how policymakers can protect patients from them.

You might be shocked to receive the bill, but you wouldn’t be alone. Over the past several years, an increasing number of Americans have been hit with surprise bills for medical care. Surprise medical bills result from providers (physicians, hospitals, out-patient facilities, laboratories, etc.) that patients reasonably assumed would be in-network, but actually are out-of-network, or when patients have no real choice over the network status of their provider.

These bills are sometimes the result of emergency situations. None of us, in an emergency, place a call our insurance company to make sure the ambulance we need or the hospital we’re brought to is in-network. Yet you can still be liable for the astronomical bills that result.

Other times, patients are billed by out-of-network providers, such as an anesthesiologist, even though patients did everything they reasonably could to remain in-network for a planned medical procedure. As a result, patients incur much higher charges, which often exceed what insurance reimburses, sometimes are exorbitant, and can lead to financial distress.

There is bipartisan agreement that this problem exists, is increasing, and needs to be addressed. Important differences exist, however, on how the problem should be solved. Over a dozen states have enacted important protections and federal and state officials have proposed additional remedies, but these efforts are incomplete, and they pursue a variety of different strategies.

Read more: Solving surprise medical bills | Brookings Institution