Should You Purchase a Hack Proof Wallet Before Your Trip?

In case your not aware, the newest way for thieves to get your money is to simply stand behind you and point a scanner at your wallet.  In fact, at the Defcon hacker conference in Las Vegas earlier this year, an Android software app called NFCProxy was introduced that can read data from contactless credit cards.

A number of popular models of Android phones now come enabled with technology intended to allow for mobile payments with platforms like Google Wallet.  But unfortunately, the savvy hacker can turn the technology intended to allow for mobile payments into a mobile card scanner.

In fact, they tested the app right on stage by using a Nexus S phone to read the hosts own contactless Visa card onstage, which was in his wallet, inside his pocket.  The presenter then used the phone to relay the data a moment later to a point-of-sale device, where it was accepted as a payment.   In a matter of minutes, he was able to steel his own credit card information and make a purchase.

More than 100 million contactless credit cards are currently in circulation.  Brands like PayPass, Zip, payWave, and ExpressPay by Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express, are susceptible.   So combining vulnerable credit cards with cell phone technology that can scan those credit cards, pick pocketing has never been easier.

The Good News

The good news is that a wallet with a piece of metal that blocks your credit cards stops the scanners from working.  There are several companies on the market today offering hack proof wallets such as Identity Stronghold or Magellan’s.   If your really handy, you can make your own hack proof wallet!

Global Federation of Insurance Associations Has Now Been Established

On October 9th, 2012, the Global Federation of Insurance Associations was formed.  This association is inclusive of 31 different insurance associations, from countries around the world, who will work on a broad range of issues pertinent to the international insurance industry.  GFIA will take positions on issues including the designation of firms that present risk to the world’s financial system and the development of a common framework, called ComFrame, for supervising insurers operating internationally.

U.S. insurers that are members of the GFIA include the American Insurance Association, the American Council of Life Insurers, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America and the Reinsurance Association of America.

The head of the association is Frank Swedlove, president of the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association.  Swedlove has worked for that group since 2007.  He is a past president of the Financial Action Task Force, based out of Paris, which fights money laundering and terrorist financing, and led the Committee on Trade in Financial Services of the World Trade Organization.

Countries included in the association are Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America.


States Slow To Establish Exchanges, Deadlines Approaching

The Affordable Care Act goes into full effect in 2014.  As of January 1, 2020, states will have been required to have their health care “Exchanges” established.  These Exchanges will consist of a group of competing insurance agencies that will allow citizens to shop for health insurance on-line, the same way you can shop for airline tickets on-line.  For those who can’t afford to pay for insurance through the Exchanges, they will receive subsidies from Medicare.

As of late July, 2012, only 18 states had begun establishing their Exchanges.  Twenty five other states are studying options and six Republican governors are simply refusing to go along with the law.  If a state doesn’t create an Exchange by January 1, 2020, the ACA empowers the federal government to create an Exchange for them.  Allowing the government to make sure each state establishes an Exchange empowers them to get tougher with insurers to reign in costs.

The Exchanges will provide a package of essential benefits and consumer protections like guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions and create an insurance option for people who lack affordable coverage through an employer.   Individuals and families with incomes between 133 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level will be eligible for federal tax subsidies to make insurance affordable.

It could be that states are not moving quickly on their Exchanges because they want to see who is elected in November.  However, this is a risky action because states must tell the Secretary of Health and Human Services by Nov. 16, 2012,  just 10 days after the election, whether or not they plan to set up their own exchanges.  The Secretary must then certify by Jan. 1, 2013, whether states are on track to start enrolling by Oct. 1, 2013, and open for business on Jan. 1, 2014.   The federal government is working with each states to ensure their success with the implementation.


Great News for Medicare Patients on Anti-Depressants

Medicare for the first time will cover screenings for depression and anxiety.  Plans now may cover benzodiazepines, a class of drugs that includes Valium and is used to treat anxiety and insomnia.  Also covered are certain barbiturates such as those used to treat chronic mental disorders.

This is important news since many seniors suffer from depression,  anxiety and sleep disorders.   In the past, these prescriptions have been out of pocket, so the expanded drug coverage, along with mental health testing,  are the type of services that have a big impact on the quality of a seniors retirement and length of life.

Causes of Depression in the Elderly

Chronic illness is a big cause of depression in seniors.  Not feeling well, day after day, can wear on any person’s desire to stay social and interact with others.  If an elderly person stops being social feelings of lonliness can creep in.   Seniors facing loneliness start to believe that they are insignificant, unloved, and not worth anyone’s time.

Senior citizens who depressed often lose interest in the world around them will start to isolate themselves eve more.  Isolation can deplete one’s sense of purpose, usefullness and feelings of belonging.  Fear of dying is another factor that can lead to depression or anxiety in the elderly.

Look Into Which Medicare Policy is Best

The fact that Medicare will now covers these costs signals a shift in understanding the issues seniors face and may encourage some seniors to get diagnosed.   If you need help determining which policy will be the best for you or the senior in your life, contact Broker’s Assistance.  Broker’s Assistance has qualified professionals ready to sit down and listen to the issues you are currently facing.

New Part D Coverage in 2013 For Medicare Recipients

October 15 - December 7th is open enrollment for anyone needing to sign up for or  change their Medicare benefits.  Brokers Assisance, Inc. in Westminster, Colorado, has been busy preparing for the annual event.  One of the most recent changes is the Part D prescription drug coverage and new Medicare Advantage plans.

In 2013, drug plan basic premiums will be $30, compared with $29.67 in 2012.  Premiums for Advantage plans  are projected to go up 5% to $32.59 a month.  However, if beneficiaries choose lower cost plans at the same rate as they did this year, the average would go up only 57 cents.

Among the 10 most popular drug plans, seven will have premiums rise by as much as 23%.   On the bright side, United Healthcare is offering a low cost option averaging around $15 a month.  The less expensive drug plans usually involve limited pharmacy networks that don’t let beneficiaries go to any drugstore they choose.

When choosing a new drug plan, seniors need to focus on premiums,  copays and deductibles, as well as plan formularies, which tell them which drugs are covered.  Beneficiaries should also watch out for restrictions such as prior approval, which requires that the insurer sign off on a medication before it’s covered.  Another limit to pay attention to is only allowing beneficiaries to get a month’s supply of a drug at a time, so they get hit by the copayment each time.

Choosing the right Part D, prescription drug coverage is important for seniors because it can make a big difference in the amount they spend annually on drugs.   The professionals at Brokers Assistance, Inc. have years of experience researching the best private companies with the benefits that are best suited to a seniors individual needs.

Obamacare and International Health Insurance

Obama’s Affordable Care Act grants almost all US citizens health insurance by 2014 and international health care providers are wondering how this will affect medical tourism.  Today, many US citizens travel abroad for their health care needs because it is so much less expensive.  However, more affordable health care in the US has them unsure of their future.

Common international health care treatments include dental implants, hip and knee replacements, heart operations, cancer treatments or alternative therapies such as stem cell treatment unavailable in the US.

Although Obamacare supporters believe the bill brings Americans closer than ever to universal health care, nay sayers believe a doctor shortage and longer hospital waits in the United States could be in the future.

To give an idea of the size of the medical tourism field, in December 2010, consulting firm Frost & Sullivan put the industry’s global worth at $78.5 billion.  According to Promed, in 2010, Costa Rica attracted nearly 36,000 medical tourists — primarily US and Canadian citizens — who spent almost $295 million in the country.  In 2011, Patients Beyond Borders, a consultancy firm, put it at $15 billion, counting 5 million patients worldwide.  Estimates for how many of the patients were American range from 550,000 to 1.6 million.

Americans have confidence in international physicians and surgeons because many train at top US medical schools, return to their homeland — whether in Mexico, Central or South America, or Asia — and provide competitive treatment to anyone who can afford it.  The idea of receiving quality medical care in conjunction with a tropical vacation while recuperating, for often less than they would pay in the US, is currently very appealing to many North Americans.

IMG Underwriter, Sirius International, Rated A in 2012

IMG’s underwriter, Sirius International, has been Rated A by A.M. Best Europe – Rating Services Limited.    Sirius’ claims paying ability continues to be strong by a safety reserve, which can only be released to cover insurance losses and is funded from the company’s cumulative retained pre-tax earnings.   Sirius’ safety reserve at year-end 2011 amounted to SEK 9.6 billion.

In 1990, IMG was founded in Indianapolis, Indiana, as an independent company that served as managing underwriter, marketing and administrative support.  IMG immediately began offering health, life, travel and indemnity insurance to the international community.  From the beginning, IMG has been dedicated to providing quality insurance products that are producer friendly, meet administrative standards and are simply underwritten.   By 2001, IMG was recognized by the Indiana Business Journal as one of the fastest-growing companies in Indiana.

Technology has always been at the forefront of IMG’s expertise for international access.  IMG has developed several sophisticated administrative and claims tools over the years, such as MyIMGan online service that allows clients 24-hour secure access to their accounts to manage administrative functions and ImageNow, a system that scans paper documents and transmits them electronically.  These and other advanced technical services allows IMG to provide an amazing degree of flexibility that is unmatched by the competition.

In over 20 years, IMG has grown to become a major administrator of international insurance products, providing services to more than a million people in countries worldwide.  It has developed an extensive product portfolio that can be tailored to meet every need - from short term travel insurance, to expatriots retiring internationally to missionaries living and working in distant corners of the globe.

As international travel needs continue to expand, so do IMG’s products and services.  In 2008, IMG launched groundbreaking products both in the U.A.E. with Al Wathba National Insurance Company, and in China with Ping An P&C Insurance Company of China. In 2009, IMG and AAA Assurance Corporation of Vietnam signed a historic agreement where AAA provided IMG products to citizens of Vietnam. Year by year, expanding globally, IMG is building on its solid reputation and delivering on its promise to provide Coverage Without Boundaries®.

Growing year by year and expanding globally,  remaining stable but never standing still, these characteristics make IMG and Sirius International the winning combination for your international health insurance needs.


Expatriots and Obamacare

Obamacare is being rolled out in two phases.  The first phase of the plan started in 2010.  Some of the changes that are already in place are allowing children to stay on their parents health insurance until the age of 26, closing of the Medicare prescription donut hole, preventing insurance companies from denying coverage for children with pre-existing conditions, removing lifetime payment limits on insurance coverage and banning insurance companies from the practice of denying or removing coverage after someone falls sick.   In 2013, the Medicare payroll tax is also set to be raised from 1.45% to 2.35% for individuals who earn $200,000 or more and joint filers earning more than US$250,000.

The second phase, which goes into effect by January 1st, 2014, is when the national health care plan goes into full force.   Some of the changes set to occur are prohibiting insurers from denying coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions, getting rid of annual spending limits and expanding Medicaid to allow anyone earning 133% of the poverty line to qualify.  State health insurance exchanges for small companies and individuals that offer a pool of insurance companies to choose from should be in affect.  The exchanges will give any individual who gets their insurance through their employer an option to purchase a state-run health insurance option if their premiums are more than 9.5% of their income or if their plan does not cover 60% of the cost of their benefits.

These changes in health care all sound optimistic for individuals who are currently struggling to afford the insurance offered by their employer, the unemployed and the self employed.  However, with the economic conditions over the last 5 years, many adults are looking to move to other countries to start building a life where costs are lower, which begs the question:  Where does this leave the expatriot in regards to Obamacare?

In the new IRS tax code, expatriates are treated as if they have health insurance regardless of whether they do or not.  Although in order to be exempt from the insurance mandate, American expatriates must already be eligible for the IRS “Foreign Earned Income Exclusion”.  To qualify for the exclusion which allows expats to avoid paying U.S. taxes on their first $91,500.00, the expatriate must have a tax home in a foreign country, as well as be either a legitimate resident in that country, or spend at least 330 days a year outside the United States.

Expats will not be penalized for not having American health insurance under Obamacare and the new IRS tax code regarding expatriates.


Obamacare and the Self Employed

Obamacare will not require companies with 50 or less employees to offer health insurance starting in 2014.   Small companies will not have to pay fines like companies with 51 employees or more.

Starting in 2014, individuals and small businesses will have insurance choices called “Affordable Insurance Exchanges”.  Exchanges will make it easier for individuals and small businesses to compare health plans, get answers to questions, and enroll in or offer to employees, a health insurance plan that meets their needs.

What is an Affordable Insurance Exchange?

An AIE is a state based, competitive health insurance arena where people and small businesses can choose and buy affordable private health insurance.  By 2014, every state will have an Exchange tailored to the state’s specific needs. Tax credits will be available for many businesses to help them purchase coverage in the Exchanges.

Exchanges are not themselves insurers, so they do not bear risk themselves, but determine the insurance companies that are allowed to participate in them.  An exchange will promote insurance transparency and accountability, facilitate increased enrollment and the delivery of subsidies, and play roles in spreading risk to ensure that the costs associated with those with high medical needs are shared more broadly across large groups rather than spread across just a few beneficiaries.

Exchanges offer Americans more choice because insurance companies will compete for business on a level playing field, driving down costs. Exchanges will have the same purchasing clout as big businesses and will give consumers a choice of plans to fit their needs.

In 2014, if you work for yourself, you will be able to take advantage of government health care subsidies if you are self-employed and earn less than four times the poverty level.  The government’s definition of poverty is based on total income received and 1n 2012, the poverty level was set at $23,050 (total yearly income) for a family of four.

The problem is that many people are just above the income threshold for such assistance yet cannot afford insurance and will be penalized with a tax.  Starting in 2003, the self-employed could write off 100 percent of their premiums at tax time on Form 1040, Line 29.   This has allowed self-employed people to reduce their adjusted gross income by the amount they pay in health insurance premiums during a given year.  Moving forward, it is unclear if this tax deduction will still be available if you earn over the poverty level, but feel the bite of having to purchase health insurance through an Exchange.

The question many Americans are wondering now is where self employed expats fit in to Obamacare.  Do they still have to purchase the national health care, even if they do not live, work, or receive health care in the U.S. ?