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Obamacare for small businesses: online enrollment delayed a year

ObamaCare experienced another setback this week, delaying the sign up for small businesses, and reactions from supporters and critics couldn’t be more different.

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Obamacare to be delayed for small businesses

Late on Thanksgiving Eve, the Obama administration announced a one year delay of online enrollment for small businesses seeking to use the federal Obamacare exchanges to insure employees. The timing has been equated by some to a Friday night news dump (traditionally done by politicians in hopes that the weekend will sweep the issue under the rug), while others praise the administration for not waiting until after the holidays.

While most of the focus remains on the individual market, officials are prompting small business owners to sign up directly through an insurer, agent, or broker, which a spokesperson said “allows small employers to sign up for coverage through offline enrollment while [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] works on creating a smoothly functioning online experience in the SHOP Marketplace.”

The timing is what is making headlines tonight, especially given that just before the Fourth of July this year, the administration announced a delay in the requirement for big businesses to offer insurance to their staff.

Some call this timing part of a broader strategy, others say it is coincidence, but our focus is more on what those in favor of Obamacare and those opposed are saying about this delay:

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Marketplace is still the best price and quality

Small Business Majority CEO John Arensmeyer said in a statement, “It’s disappointing that the online portion of the federal small business marketplace through Healthcare.gov will be delayed and it’s important it get up and running as soon as possible. However, it doesn’t change the fact that the marketplace can offer the most competitive combination of price and quality for small businesses purchasing health insurance.”

Opponents’ celebration is not credible

“Today’s news is discouraging and fits into the larger mosaic of rollout difficulties,” MSNBC’s Steve Benen said, adding “but some of the anti-healthcare players dancing in the end zone this afternoon are lacking in credibility.”

Benen asserts that today’s news ia setback, but opposition celebration is premature. “First, the program for small businesses isn’t being delayed until 2014; the website is,” he said, noting that business owners can still get the plans and the tax breaks, but through brokers. For now.

Additionally, Benen notes that “this delay doesn’t affect states that already created their own exchanges, so for small businesses in a lot of ‘blue’ states, the announcement is irrelevant.”

He concludes, “for all the Republicans hoping for bad news, and crowing about the administration’s setbacks, the fact remains that under their approach, there would be no program to help small businesses, no coverage options, no tax breaks, and no website.”

Setting priorities

“What’s important in our work is to continue to prioritize the best consumer experience for those who are coming to us online,” Medicare spokeswoman Julie Bataille said, adding that “These decisions all reflect [that] reality.”

Improving the overall problems

Sy Mukherjee at ThinkProgress.org writes, “the delay is mostly a consequence of ongoing — but improving — problems with the Healthcare.gov website that made it difficult to devote appropriate resources to fix similar issues with the SHOP marketplace.”

Avoiding a nightmare

Daily Kos’ Joan McCarter said, “So yet another delay is frustrating, but at least we’ll be spared all the stories about what a nightmare the website is for small business owners signing up. And you know we would have been inundated with those horror stories.”

Survey says:

CNN reports, “Despite the website woes, a new CNN/ORC International poll released Wednesday showed a majority of Americans believe the current Obamacare problems can be solved, and the figures for overall support and opposition remain little changed from a month ago.”

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Obama bit off more than he can chew

“The president bit off more than he can chew with this health care law, and small businesses are now forced to bear the consequences,” said Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH) in a statement Wednesday evening.

“Business owners across the country are already having health care plans for their employees canceled by this law, and now they’re told they won’t have access to the system the president promised them to find different coverage. Instead, they’ll have to resort to a system you’d expect to see in the 1950s.”

It was obvious it wasn’t ready

House Small Business Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-MO) asserted the he has suspected the small business enrollment site (separate from the individual market) was nowhere near ready to launch.

In a statement, he said, “Based on the June GAO report on SHOPs readiness that I requested, we knew the administration was not prepared for the implementation, but this pattern of continued delay and disarray is especially disappointing. This mismanagement and inadequacy is causing the American people and small business owners to lose trust in their government’s ability to do just about anything.”

Making employers’ jobs tougher

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) affairs manager Kevin Kuhlman said in a statement, “This new delay announcement is a disappointment but not a surprise. Small businesses continue to be low on the priority list during the Obamacare implementation process.”

Kuhlman added, “It probably matters little to people in Washington that the failure to get the small business exchanges online adds yet another onerous paperwork requirement for job creators.”

“The continued delays add to uncertainty and contribute to the decision of many owners to take early renewals of their small-group plans,” Kuhlman concludes.

E. Neil Trautwein, NFIB’s VP said, “If the law is so burdensome for the administration to implement, just think how hard it is for small businesses.”

ObamaCare failure is more than a failed website

Republican National Committee chair Reince Preibus said, “While Americans prepare for the holidays and one day after President Obama gave another speech trying to blame the ObamaCare trainwreck on Republicans, his administration is delaying yet another portion of his signature healthcare law.”

Preibus also stated, “With each passing day, it’s clear how much worse ObamaCare is than a website full of glitches.”

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Business News

Too connected: FTC eyes Facebook antitrust lawsuit

(BUSINESS NEWS) Following other antitrust hearings, we’re expecting to hear more about the FTC’s antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, soon.

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Facebook being crossed out by a stylus on a mobile device.

Facebook might be wishing it had kept the “dislike” button.

On September 15, the Wall Street Journal announced that the Federal Trade Commission was preparing a possible antitrust lawsuit against the social media titan. Although the FTC has not made an official decision on whether to pursue the case, sources familiar with the situation expect a determination will be made on the matter sometime before the end of 2020. Facebook and the FTC both declined to comment when asked about the story.

The news comes following a year-long investigation by the FTC that has looked into anti-competitive practices by the Menlo Park-based company. This past July, the United States House of Representatives held hearings in which they grilled the CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook regarding their business practices. In August, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also testified in front of the FTC as part of the department’s antitrust probe into the organization.

The FTC seems to be especially interested in Facebook’s past acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram, which they believe may have been done to stifle competition. In internal emails sent between Zuckerberg and Facebook’s former CFO David Ebersman back in 2012, the 36-year-old seemed worried that the apps could eventually pose a threat to the social media conglomerate.

“These businesses are nascent but the networks established, the brands are already meaningful, and if they grow to a large scale the could be very disruptive to us,” Zuckerberg wrote to Ebersman, “Given that we think our own valuation is fairly aggressive and that we’re vulnerable in mobile, I’m curious if we should consider going after one or two of them.”

When Ebersman asked him to clarify the benefits of the acquisitions, Zuckerberg stated the purchases would neutralize a competitor while improving Facebook.

“One way of looking at this is that what we’re really buying is time. Even if some new competitors springs up, buying Instagram, Path, Foursquare, etc. now will give us a year or more to integrate their dynamics before anyone can get close to their scale again.” Zuckerberg said.

This isn’t the first time the FTC has investigated Facebook either. Last year the agency fined the company $5 billion for the mishandling of user’s personal information, the biggest penalty imposed by the federal government against a technology company. As a part of the settlement with the FTC in that case, Facebook also promised more comprehensive oversight of user data.

If the FTC does pursue an antitrust suit against Facebook, it could end up forcing the social media giant to spin off some of the companies it has acquired or place restrictions on how it does business. Considering how long it will take to file the litigation and prove the case in a courtroom, however, it seems that Zuckerberg will once again be “buying time.”

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What you need to know about the historic TikTok deal (for now)

(BUSINESS NEWS) No one really knows what’s happening, but the TikTok deal’s impact on business, US-China relations, and the open internet could be huge.

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Male black hands holding app opening TikTok app.

So, maybe you’ve heard that Oracle and Walmart are buying TikTok for national security!

Um, not exactly.

Also, Trump banned TikTok!

Sort of? Maybe?

But then he said he approved the Oracle-Walmart-TikTok deal!

We guess?

The terms of the proposal seem to shift daily, if not hourly. The sheer number of contradictory statements from every player suggests no one really knows what’s going on.

Just one example: Trump said the deal included a $5 billion donation to a fund for education for American youth. TikTok parent ByteDance, said, “Say what now?”

Here’s what we think we know (as of this writing):

Oracle and Walmart would get a combined 20 percent stake in a new U.S.-based company called TikTok Global. Combine that with current US investors in China’s ByteDance, TikTok’s parent, that would give American interests 53 percent. European and other investors would have 11 percent. China would retain 36 percent. (On Saturday Trump said China would have no interests at all. But that does not jibe with the reporting on the deal.)

Oracle would host all user data on its cloud, where it is promising “security will be 100 percent” to keep data safe from China’s prying eyes. But reporting has differed on whether Oracle will get full access to TikTok’s code and AI algorithms. Without full control, skeptics say, Oracle could be little more than a hosting service, and potential security issues would remain unaddressed.

Walmart says they’re excited about their “potential investment and commercial agreements,” suggesting they may be exploring e-commerce opportunities in the app.

The US Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which is overseen by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, still has to approve any deal.

As for the TikTok “ban” – which isn’t really a ban because current users can keep it – the Commerce Department postponed the deadline for kicking TikTok off U.S. app stores to September 27, to give time for the deal to be hammered out. Never mind that it’s still not clear whether the U.S. government has authority to do that. Unsurprisingly, ByteDance says it doesn’t in a lawsuit filed September 18.

Whatever happens with the whiplash of the deal’s particulars, there are bigger issues in play.

According to business news site Quartz, moving data storage to Oracle mirrors what companies like Apple have done in China: Appease the Chinese government by allowing all data hosting to be inside China. A similar move could “mark the US, too, shifting from a more laissez-faire approach to user data, to a more sovereign one,” says China tech reporter Jane Li.

More obvious: Corporate sales and mergers are now part of the parrying between the U.S. and China, which adds a whole new playing field for negotiations among businesses.

In the meantime, TikTokkers keep TikTokking. White suburban moms continue to lip sync to rap songs in their kitchens. Gen Z continues to make fun of the president – and pretty much everything else.

And downloads of the app have skyrocketed.

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Business News

Hobby Lobby increases minimum wage, but how much is just to save face?

(BUSINESS NEWS) Are their efforts to raise their minimum wage to $17/hour sincere, or more about saving face after bungling pandemic concerns?

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Hobby Lobby storefront

The arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby announced this week that they will be raising their minimum full-time wage to $17/hour starting October 1st. This decision makes them the latest big retailer to raise wages during the pandemic (Target raised their minimum wage to $15/hour about three months ago, and Walmart and Amazon have temporarily raised wages). The current minimum wage for Hobby Lobby employees is $15/hour, which was implemented in 2014.

While a $17 minimum wage is a big statement for the company (even a $15 minimum wage cannot be agreed upon on the federal level) – and it is no doubt a coveted wage for the majority of the working class – it’s difficult to not see this move as an attempt to regain public support of the company.

When the pandemic first began, Hobby Lobby – with more than 900 stores and 43,000 employees nationwide – refused to close their stores despite being deemed a nonessential business (subsequently, a Dallas judge accused the company of endangering public health).

In April, Hobby Lobby furloughed almost all store employees and the majority of corporate and distribution employees without notice. They also ended emergency leave pay and suspended the use of company-provided paid time off benefits for employees during the furloughs – a decision that was widely criticized by the public, although the company claims the reason for this was so that employees would be able to take full advantage of government handouts during their furlough.

However, the furloughs are not Hobby Lobby’s first moment under fire. The Oklahoma-based Christian company won a 2014 Supreme Court case – the same year they initially raised their minimum wage – that granted them the right to deny their female employees insurance coverage for contraceptives.

Also, Hobby Lobby settled a federal complaint in 2017 that accused them of purchasing upwards of 5,000 looted ancient Iraqi artifacts, smuggled through the United Arab Emirates and Israel – which is simultaneously strange, exploitative, and highly controversial.

Why does this all matter? While raising their minimum wage to $17 should be regarded as a step in the right direction regarding the overall treatment of employees (and, hopefully, $17 becomes the new standard), Hobby Lobby is not without reason to seek favorable public opinion, especially during a pandemic. Yes, we should be quick to condone the action of increasing minimum wage, but perhaps be a little skeptical when deeming a company “good” or “bad”.

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