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More increases likely if wholesale costs remain high
Gas prices are drifting up again. Today's national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline is $3.61 -- five cents more than a week ago. National average prices have been rising steadily over the last few weeks.
Gas prices at this time last year were falling consistently and would eventually decline 82 out of 87 days for a total of 61 cents from April 6 to July 2, AAA notes. By comparison, the national average this year has increased for 12 straight days to the highest price in more than a month.
The recent trend of higher prices at the pump has been nearly universal with only motorists in West Virginia and Ohio paying less at the pump than a week ago, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report. Six states (Ore., Minn., Wash., Okla., Neb. and Iowa) have seen prices surge by more than 20 cents and 13 states have seen prices jump by at least a dime.
While higher crude oil prices have put upward pressure on retail gasoline prices across the country, it has been tight supplies and refinery maintenance - both planned and unplanned - in the Midwest and West Coast that have pushed prices substantially higher for drivers in those regions.
Consumers forked over nearly a million dollars to 'fix' nonexistent problems
Few things strike more fear into the heart than being told that your computer is riddled with viruses, spyware and other malware. Your first impulse is to get the problem fixed and that's where the scammers come in.
Mikael Marczak, doing business as Virtual PC Solutions, and Sanjay Agarwalla were accused of posing as major computer security and manufacturing companies to deceive consumers that their computers had the problems mentioned above.
Complaints filed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) contend the two were not actually affiliated with major computer security or manufacturing companies and they had not detected viruses, spyware or other security or performance issues on the consumers’ computers.
As part of the scheme, the defendants charged consumers hundreds of dollars to remotely access and “fix” their computers.
As part of the agreement to settle the FTC charges, Agarwalla and Marczak are prohibited from advertising, marketing, promoting, offering for sale or selling any computer security or computer related technical support service and from assisting others in doing so. The final order against Agarwalla requires him to pay $3,000 -- the total amount of funds he received for his role in the alleged scam operation.
While the stipulated final orders announced today resolve the FTC’s claims against Agarwalla, Marczak and Conquest Audit, litigation continues against the remaining defendants in each of these actions.
A separate scheme
Additionally, as part of its investigation into one of the schemes operated by Marczak, FTC staff discovered he was also telemarketing a debt relief program that the agency claimed violated the Telemarketing Sales Rule. These alleged violations were added, along with an additional defendant, Marczak’s corporation Conquest Audit, to the complaint against him in April.
In that settlement, Marczak and Conquest Audit are prohibited from marketing or selling debt relief services and were assessed a $984,721 judgment, which is the total amount of money lost by consumers in the scams.
Although the judgment will be stayed due to their inability to pay the full amount, Marczak and Conquest Audit will surrender almost all of their existing assets.
One study says it didn't happen in a state that implemented its own version
It's been more than three years since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, was signed into law, and nearly a year since it was upheld by the Supreme Court and still the debate rages: “Will it increase costs or won't it?”
In 2006, Massachusetts reformed its healthcare system and, according to data presented at the American Heart Association's Quality of Care and Outcomes Research Scientific Sessions 2013, there was no substantial increase in hospital use or costs. The reforms increased the number of people insured by 300,000.
And, the findings were true even among safety-net hospitals, which often have an open-door policy to accept patients regardless of the ability to pay. These hospitals are most likely to care for people who need free services, use Medicaid or must pay their own hospital bills.
"In light of the Affordable Healthcare Act, we wanted to validate concerns that insurance reform would lead to dramatic increases in healthcare use and costs," said Amresh D. Hanchate, Ph.D., the study's lead author, an economist at the V.A. Boston Healthcare System and assistant professor at Boston University School of Medicine. "We were surprised to find little impact on healthcare use. Changes we saw in Massachusetts are very similar to those we saw in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania — states without reform."
The study analyzed information on more than 2.6 million patients ages 18-64 discharged from 66 short-term acute care hospitals in Massachusetts in 2004-2010.
Prior to reform, in 2004-2006, the number of average quarterly admissions for each hospital was 1,502. After reform, in 2008 -2010, the average was 1,557 -- a 3.6% increase versus a 3.3% increase in the comparison states.
The researchers also found:
- The total days of inpatient care increased by 0.94% in Massachusetts, compared with 0.80% in the comparison states.
- Hospital charges per quarter rose 1.1% more in Massachusetts than in the comparison states.
- Hospital use increased among previously high uninsured groups; the number of hospitalizations increased by 2.8% among blacks and by 4.5% among Hispanics.
- The results were similar to those of safety-net hospitals and Medicare patients.
"These results are more applicable for states similar to Massachusetts in terms of the current healthcare system and government policy," Hanchate said. "Because states vary a lot, it's hard to say how this would compare for the rest of the country."
Further study is needed to determine if the delivery of services changed, including whether inpatient services being moved to an outpatient setting, he said.
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