It's spring and the housing market has finally sprung. Homes are selling and prices are rising. But just when homebuyers think it's safe to go back in the murky mortgage water comes ominous news: A federal agency fined four mortgage insurers for paying "kickbacks" to lenders. When you seek a mortgage, banks may require you to purchase mortgage insurance if you can't make a large downpayment. This protects the lender if the buyer should die, become disabled or lose their job and can't pay the mortgage. Since a bank is among the first stops on a homebuyer's shopping list, the lender can -- and often will -- steer the potential homebuyer to a favorite mortgage insurer. But "steering" comes with a price, and both the insurer and -- the homebuyer -- pay for it. One hand washes the other Banks set up reinsurance units, which in turn provide insurance to the mortgage insurers. Mortgage insurers don't really require reinsurance because they already make money with very little risk. But they are more than happy to pay the banks for "steering" business to them. Simply put: Mortgage insurers gave kickbacks to banks' reinsurance units, according to the settlement. This practice, which… (continue reading......)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is one of the most popular men in the state and one of the most popular governors in the country. He was also a "heavyweight" in American politics, weighing in at around 350 pounds. But now, after enlightening us about his previously undisclosed lap band surgery in mid-February, he has shed some 40 pounds. Nice work if you can have it -- and for the price he paid. During this surgery a lap band is placed around the upper neck of the stomach, making it more difficult to let food in. The end result: You feel full but eat less. By now we probably all know someone who has undergone this operation, or the similar but more complicated bariatric surgery, which involves having the stomach resized. I know three such people -- one successful, one not and one too soon to tell. Follow the leader Medical issues aside, having a high profile media star like Gov. Christie as your poster child is a victory "lap" for doctors, hospitals and outpatient facilities that perform this procedure. It is also likely to raise the cost of health insurance. Simply put: Follow the leader or in this case,… (continue reading......)
Call it the luck of the draw. When a series of viral infections destroyed my wife's thyroid gland she needed to take a hormone replacement drug. Her health insurer mailed a 90-day supply of Levothyroxine, the generic version of Synthroid, which had no effect. When she refilled the prescription the insurer mailed another 90-day supply, but this time the pill was etched with the brand name Synthroid. Within days she felt better. This seemed strange, since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that brand name and generic drugs, which can be produced when the brand name comes off patent, are "bioequivalent." But what does bioequivalent really mean? Indifferent insurers I switched jobs and, in turn, health insurers, and soon discovered that our new insurance company wasn't interested in the difference in efficacy between Synthroid and its generic Levothyroxine. Our insurer told her it would only pay most of the cost of the generic and that she would have to pay out of pocket for the brand name - even though the generic didn't provide any results. Talking with drug company representatives, pharmacists and doctors, it became clear that this is a common problem, especially since 80 percent of all… (continue reading......)
New York City's multi-billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the ultimate social engineer. Not content to run our country's biggest city, Mayor Mike is out to reshape human behavior. He's gone after tobacco, sugared drinks, super-sized sodas and guns. Now, like certain dogs, he's chasing cars. And the result could cost New York, New Jersey and Connecticut motorists more in car insurance -- or even make it more difficult for them to get. Some of Bloomberg's cockeyed crusades have merit, but he has also butted heads with more rational thinkers. The New York State Supreme Court blocked his plan to stop the sale of 32-ounce sodas in local stores. The International Olympic Committee nixed his bid to bring the games to New York. And his grandiose vision of a pro football stadium on the city's already overcrowded west side never scored a touchdown. But let's give Mayor Mike his due. For a man often described as a "nanny stater," he definitely knows how to play hardball. Car counting One of his less-publicized endeavors, keeping passenger cars out of his city, shifted into high gear when traffic "counters" with clickers were stationed at each corner on the way into the city to… (continue reading......)
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