Thursday, April 22, 2010

Nearly 4M To Pay Health Insurance Fine By 2016

Nearly 4 million Americans - the vast majority of them middle class - will have to pay a penalty if they don't get insurance when President Obama's health care overhaul law kicks in, according to congressional estimates released today.

The penalties will average a little more than $1,000 apiece in 2016, the Congressional Budget Office said in a report.

Most of the people paying the fine will be middle class as Obama's comprehensive law is phased in over the next few years. In his 2008 campaign for the White House, Obama pledged not to raise taxes on individuals making less than $200,000 a year and couples making less than $250,000.

Republicans have criticized the requirement that Americans get coverage, even though the idea was originally proposed by the GOP in the 1990s and is part of the Massachusetts health care plan signed into law in 2006 by then Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican. Attorneys general in more than a dozen states are working to challenge it in federal court as unconstitutional.

Democrats argue that the requirement and the penalties are a necessary part of a massive overhaul designed to expand coverage to millions who now lack it. They point out that getting more Americans, especially young and healthy people, in the insurance pool will reduce costs for others and could lower premiums.

Comedy Central Censors 'South Park' Episode

Comedy Central's "South Park" included a representation of the Prophet Muhammad as a character this week despite a radical Muslim group's warning that its producers could be killed.

Muhammad appeared on Wednesday night's episode of the cartoon with his body obscured by a black box, since Muslims consider a physical representation of their prophet to be blasphemous. Last week, the character was believed to be disguised in a bear costume. When that same costume was removed this week, Santa Claus appeared.

The bear costume had angered the New York-based group Revolution Muslim, which posted a message on its website saying that producers Trey Parker and Matt Stone had insulted their prophet.

The message included a gruesome picture of Theo Van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker murdered by a Muslim extremist in 2004 after making a movie about a woman who rejected Muhammad's teachings. The message said the "South Park" producers would "probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh" for airing the show.

The posting included Comedy Central's New York address, as well as the address for Parker and Stone's California production studio.

Motorcycle Deaths Drop, Sour Economy Cited

After a decade of steady increases, motorcyclist deaths nose-dived last year, possibly due to bikers watching their budgets in a sour economy.

The study, set for release Thursday, indicates a 16 percent drop in U.S. motorcycle fatalities through the first nine months of 2009 compared to the same period in the previous year. It projects at least a 10 percent decline in fatalities over the entire year, or about 530 fewer deaths.

The 5,290 motorcyclist deaths in 2008 was the highest ever.

The study - authored by safety consultant James Hedlund, a former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration official -- is drawn from preliminary fatality data from all 50 states, although data from some states was incomplete. The study was sponsored by the Governors Highway Safety Association, which represents state traffic safety agencies,

There is nothing in the data to indicate the cause of the sudden decline, but it is most likely due in part to a cutback in recreational driving by motorcyclists. According to the report, several state safety officials said they have seen a decline in motorcycle use and sales in their states.

States have issued about 7.5 million special motorcycle operator licenses, which require motorcycle safety training; There are about 3 million other bikers on the road who do not have special licenses, according to the Motorcycle Riders Foundation.

Other reasons cited in the study for the decline: Fewer beginning motorcyclists, an increase in priority given to state motorcycle safety programs, an increased awareness of motorcycles by other drivers and colder, wetter weather in some states during the riding season.

It doesn't appear helmet laws played a significant role in the decline. Hennie said there were 20 states last year with laws requiring all motorcyclists to wear helmets, about the same as the previous year. Motorcyclists also tend to be older now than in past decades. In 1980, the average age was 24. Today, motorcyclists are nearly as likely to be in their 40s as in their 20s, Hennie said.

The popularity of motorcycles has surged in the past decade, particularly among middle-aged men. More women are also riding motorcycles.

Tanning Industry May Get Fried By Tax

It's prime season for tanning beds, when proms and spring beach vacations prompt young women to pack indoor salons in search of bronze skin to go with their new bikinis.

But business is slow this spring. Health warnings about the skin cancer risks of tanning beds, combined with consumers forgoing nonessentials in this recession, have the nation's estimated 18,000 tanning salons on hard times. Now they're bracing for another hit: A 10 percent tax on tanning bed use starts nationwide this July, part of the federal health care overhaul.

Congressional tax writers project the tax will raise about $2.7 billion to help expand health coverage to uninsured Americans over the next decade, and they're betting that indoor tanners won't be turned off by a few extra dollars. After all, government tax people say, customers already are paying sales tax on tanning lotions and oils, so why not the tanning service itself?

Bowl Of Chili Saves Woman From Crash

A bowl of chili was the difference between life and death for a Kent woman who stepped out of her living room just before a car slammed through the wall of her home early today, Seattle TV station KIRO reported.

The 63-year-old woman was sitting directly in the car's path in her living room, but got up to put cheese on her chili in the kitchen seconds before the impact, police said. The move likely saved the woman's life, officers said.

The crash, which killed the driver of the vehicle, happened just after midnight. The car drove through a fence and took out multiple trees before slamming into the wall of the home's living room. When rescuers arrived, they found a 24-year-old man from Auburn dead behind the wheel.

The car was pulled from the building at about 6:30 a.m. Police said it was too early to know whether drugs or alcohol were factors in the crash.

Congressional Budget Office; Wall Street Journal; Comedy Central; AP; Reuters; Bloomberg; National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; Governors Highway Safety Association; KIRO-TV, Seattle.

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