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WalletHub says New York is worst state to be a taxpayer

Stop us if you've heard this one already: New York residents have the highest tax burden in the country, according to a study conducted by the personal finance website WalletHub.

The state ranked 51st -- behind the other 49 states and the District of Columbia -- in WalletHub's analysis, which looked at average state and local taxes and compared each state's total to the national average.

New York taxpayers pay an average of $9,718 in sales, property and other taxes, about 40 percent more than the national average and more than four times as much as the $2,365 paid by residents of the lowest-taxed state, Wyoming.

New York ranks 51st in the list that is adjusted for cost of living, too.

Breaking down New York's rank further, the state is No. 2 for highest gas taxes, at 67.97 cents per gallon, No. 3 for highest local income tax, at 1.438 percent, seventh for highest state sales tax rates, at 8.48 percent, and 11th for highest alcohol tax, again at 8.48 percent.

--- Stephen T. Watson

Report: exchange brings competition to state's insurance market

The state insurance exchange established as part of the Affordable Care Act opened New York's insurance market for individuals to more competition, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported today.

The foundation found that the individual insurance market was divided up among more insurers in 2014, after the NY State of Health exchange was put in place, compared to 2012, before the exchange was introduced as part of federal health care reform efforts.

For example, in 2012, the top two insurers, Wellpoint (including Empire BlueCross BlueShield) and UnitedHealth owned 48 percent of New York's individual market. In 2014, preliminary exchange enrollment figures show that the top insurers, Wellpoint and a new company, Freelancers (including Health Republic Insurance), accounted for only 34 percent of the market.

Or, by another measure, in 2012, five insurers had 5 percent or more of the individual market, while in 2014 seven insurers had at least that much of the market.

The foundation points out that the individual insurance market historically hasn't been competitive. In 2010, when the Affordable Care Act was passed, a single insurer had more than half the individual insurance market in 30 states.

New York was one of seven states whose individual insurance markets were studied by the foundation, and New York's was found to be the most competitive under the exchange.

The findings in the Kaiser Family Foundation report mirror the insurer exchange enrollment data released in January by the State Health Department.

And the foundation report also confirms The Buffalo News' prediction, in a December article, that the exchange would open up the local insurance market to competition from new insurers.

Now, the foundation report looks at statewide numbers and does not break down the New York individual insurance market by region. The Health Department has yet to release regional numbers for exchange enrollment by insurer.

It's important to keep in mind that people who buy individual coverage make up a small percentage of the overall insurance market. The vast majority of people get their health insurance through an employer or through a government program such as Medicaid or Medicare.

--- Stephen T. Watson


Titanfall for Xbox One midnight release party at Galleria



A much-anticipated video game release will have fans lining up at Walden Galleria for a midnight release party Monday.
Titanfall, a first-person shooter game, will be available for the Xbox One gaming system at the Microsoft Store. The critically-acclaimed game has won several awards and has been awaited by fans since its introduction at the Electronic Entertainment Expo press conference in June.
“Don’t remember the last time I was looking forward to anything as much as I am this,” wrote one eager fan on a Web page devoted to counting down the days until the game is available. “Getting so close.”
Fans will be allowed to begin lining up at 10 p.m.

---Samantha Maziarz Christmann