The FT fronts a story reporting that central banks are discussing “radical strategies” to deal with the financial crisis. It says those include suspending capital requirements, taxpayer purchases of untouchable mortgage-backed securities, and even a “taxpayer-funded recapitalization of banks.”
It’s a sign of the desperation governments are facing that would consider such “extreme measures.”
Greedy insurance companies
The NYT leads its front page with a report saying insurance companies are forcing those who file disability claims to apply for Social Security disability pay in a bid to lower the insurance firms’ payouts. The Times says the “system is choking on paperwork and spending millions of dollars a year screening dubious applications” pushed by the insurance industry.
The flood of referrals, however, is making it hard for Social Security to respond to people who are truly disabled, said Kenneth D. Nibali, the former top administrator of the Social Security disability program.
“Anybody who is forced to come into this system, and who doesn’t need to be there, is affecting someone else,” said Mr. Nibali, who retired in 2002 and is serving as an expert witness for the plaintiffs. “They’re holding up cases for the people who have been waiting for months and years, who in many cases are much worse off.”
Already, the disability program is in much worse shape financially than the old-age portion of Social Security. It is projected to run out of money in 2026, 16 years ahead of the old-age trust fund.
The disability caseload is also expected to grow as the work force ages, since recovery time increases with age. The number of people waiting for hearings on their claims by an administrative law judge has more than doubled since 2000, and the average wait has grown to 512 days in that time, from 258 days.
The Times tells the story of a woman who got a monthly $50 check from insurer Unum Group after a car accident. Unum pestered her at least ten times to file for Social Security even though the woman didn’t want government aid and her doctors told her she would get better.
Forcing people who are injured to apply for Social Security before paying their claims appears to bolster insurers’ profits in several ways. If claimants refuse to apply, the insurers can simply stop paying their benefits, said Dawn Barrett, an employee of the Cigna Corporation, who grew frustrated sending people to Social Security and who is now a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits. More typically, she said, people apply for Social Security when an insurer tells them to. That allows the insurer to reduce its claim reserves, money that is kept in conservative investments for benefit payments. And in the insurance industry, smaller reserves mean bigger profits.
The flack for Cigna says, “Our goal is to ensure that each member receives all of the benefits to which he or she is entitled.”
Just as long as Cigna doesn’t have to pay for it.
Retire? I should be so lucky
The WSJ fronts a story saying more Americans are delaying retirement because of the bum housing market and overall economic uncertainty.
Millions of retirement-age Americans, stung by the recent economic pall, suddenly are having to reassess their plans—with many forced to quickly change course. In February, the proportion of people ages 55 to 64 in the work force rose to 64.8%, up 1.5 percentage points from last April. That translates to more than an additional million people in the job pool, according to the U.S. Labor Department. The ranks of those 65 and over in the work force rose to 16.2% from 16% in the same time span—meaning 212,000 more hands on deck. So far, the numbers for March continue to show a “sharp” increase, says Steve Hipple, a department economist…
The double dip, affecting asset owners of every age bracket, is unprecedented in recent decades. In 1987, property and market values dropped in tandem—but nowhere near the extent to what’s happening now. To document similar conditions, “you’d have to go back to the era of the [Great] Depression,” says financial historian Richard Sylla of New York University’s Stern School of Business.
Dull but deadly
The Journal’s C1 Ahead of the Tape column is particularly good today, focusing on a topic that makes most of us glaze over—credit-default swaps. But hang with them, this is a huge, huge area of concern, and the paper notes that the Bush regulatory plan says little or nothing about it.
These financial instruments, which don’t trade on exchanges, are like disaster insurance on debt defaults. Investors who buy these swaps get a big payment if a bond or loan defaults. In return for the protection, the investor has to make regular payments to the seller of the swap.