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For health insurance that kicks in Jan. 1, exchange deadline looms

New Yorkers who don't have health insurance, or who have coverage that expires at the end of the month, have one more week to sign up for insurance on the NY State of Health exchange that kicks in Jan. 1.

The deadline to sign up on the state exchange for insurance that takes effect at the start of 2014 originally was set for Friday but was moved to Dec. 23 to give people more time to get through the enrollment process.

State officials have praised the performance of website for the exchange, which has enrolled 134,622 New Yorkers as of 9 a.m. today. Of those, 95,196 have enrolled in a private insurance plan and 39,426 qualified for Medicaid. Another 228,636 people have finished the application process but still must select a plan in which to enroll, according to the state.

State Department of Health officials have yet to release a breakdown of the enrollment data by region, by insurer or by demographic details, so it's hard to know what to make of the enrollment number. Nor have they given any indication when they will be able to release this additional information.

---Stephen T. Watson

Do traffic tickets really drive up your insurance?

"Don't get a speeding ticket or your insurance premiums will soar."

That's the common theme everybody always hears, but it's Local scull court money 3not always the case, according to a new study by

The website, part of Bankrate Inc. of Florida, found that 23 percent of Americans had gotten a ticket in the last five years for speeding, running a red light or passing illegally. Of those, only 31 percent  are actually paying more because of it. And the most common increase is less than $100 per year -- a far cry from many drivers' fears.

Younger drivers are the most likely to face the higher charges, as 41 percent of those aged 18-29 reported higher premiums after a ticket, compared to 32 percent of those aged 30 to 49, and just 15 percent of those 50 and over.

But that's also because younger drivers are already perceived as being riskier, so insurance carriers are more likely to scrutinize them more closely, even checking younger drivers' credit reports every six months. By contrast, insurers aren't necessarily checking motor vehicle reports and driving records that regularly for older drivers. So their tickets go undetected.

However, the findings don't apply to more serious offenses, such as driving under the influence, reckless driving or leaving the scene of an accident. Those almost always lead to higher premiums or even termination of a policy, InsuranceQuotes said. Multiple offenses also are more serious than one-off tickets.

Meanwhile, if you do get a ticket, take a defensive driving class to wipe off the points; consult an attorney if you have accumulated several points already; avoid getting more tickets, since many carriers permit one violation every three to five years; and keep your registration, license plates and state inspection up to date so you don't draw unwanted police attention.

-- Jonathan D. Epstein

Scams and consumer help.

From Business Today:


Attorney General Eric T.Schneiderman has warned consumers of two scams that are making the rounds and victimizing people via the Internet and telephone. One scam has criminals impersonating bank or government officials claiming to offer mortgage settlement assistance as a way to gain access to personal or financial information. The other scam involves consumers lured into making deposits on fake rental properties advertised on Craigslist.


Want to see the reasons your property and casualty insurer gave for increasing your premium? You'll be able to find out online, thanks to the actions of the state Department of Financial Services.  The state insurance regulators are posting documents online submitted by insurance companies to support rate increases, introduce new products or change existing offerings. You can find them here. The Department of Financial Services did the same thing last fall with health insurance.


In observation of Financial Literacy Month, Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo is hosting four free financial seminars at its office in West Seneca, 40 Gardenville Parkway, suite 300. They are: "Money in Motion," at 5:30 p.m. today; "Dollars and Sense," at 10 a.m. Saturday; "Credit Counts," at 6 p.m. April 19 and "Credit Reports Review Express," at 9 a.m. April 28. For more information, call 712-2060.


A career fair will be held today from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Walter J. Mahoney State Office Building, 65 Court Street. Job listings are posted here. For more information, call (888) 4-NYSDOL or visit the Department of Labor's Web site.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

Here's more on that common Craigslist scam:


Buffalo needs more venture capital

From Business Today:


Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Amherst, organized an economic action forum with several local leaders that was held at the University at Buffalo Tuesday. Elected officials, community organizers and business leaders and owners gave their thoughts on what it will take to rebuild Western New York. The region needs more venture capital, better ties among companies and colleges and locally-driven solutions, rather than plans from Albany, said Howard Zemsky, a Buffalo developer and the regional co-chairman of the Western New York Economic Development Council. 


Unemployment in the Buffalo Niagara region rose to its second-highest rate in 22 years for January. The local unemployment rate rose to 9.1 percent during the first month of the year. During January 2010, the unemployment rate jumped as high as 9.6 percent here. By comparison, the rate was 5.6 percent in January 2007, before the recession hit. 


One day after cancelling all its flights without notice and stranding travelers at the Niagara Falls International Airport, Direct Air has announced it will suspend all service until May 15. The company said it had to ground Monday's flights because it couldn't afford the bill to fuel up its planes. Direct Air said the two month hiatus will allow it to address "operational matters." The company is telling travelers who have booked flights before May 15 to arrange for a refund with their credit card company.


 Synacor Inc. made a good showing during its first quarter as a publicly traded company. The Buffalo-based Internet content provider earned $7.7 million, or 34 cents per share, during the fourth quarter, compared with a loss of $369,000, or 2 cents per share, a year ago. $6.1 million of its profits came from an income tax benefit stemming from a reduction in the company‚Äôs deferred tax assets.


Independent Health has been ranked number one by J.D. Power & Associatesfor the third year. The Williamsville-based insurance company ranked highest in customer satisfaction out of 13 companies in New York and New Jersey.



The company that owns the Great Wolf Lodge water park in Niagara Falls, Ontario has a new owner. Wall Street private equity firm Apollo Global Management LLC said Tuesday it bought Great Wolf Resorts for $703 million. 


County ExecutiveMark Poloncarz has criticized the tax breaks doled out by local economic development agencies, and Lancaster Supervisor Dino J. Fudoli is not happy about it. At Tuesday's Lancaster IDA meeting, he accused Poloncarz of making changes to agency policies in order to reward political allies and suck up to union groups.  


Noco has bought three lubricant distribution warehouses in Pennsylvania from Windward Petroleum. The purchase widens Noco's lubricant distribution territory, which will now stretch from Buffalo to Vermont, and Ottawa, Ont., to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

It's Wednesday. That's halfway to Friday:


Watching medical bills

From Business Today:


The Department of Financial Services released a report Wednesday saying consumers are at risk for receiving unexpected medical bills they can't afford. The state's insurance regulators are looking into unexpected, out-of-network medical costs and whether some insurance companies bill too much or reimburse at too-low rates.


An investors' group is recommending National Fuel Gas shareholders to vote against a proposed executive pay package. The Amherst-based energy company's CEO David F. Smith made $7 million last year, and would get $38,000 less this year, according to the proposal. But Institutional Shareholder Services advised that Smith's paycheck is out of whack when compared to National Fuel's stock performance and the pay received by other natural gas utility executives. 


As both houses prepare to pass 2012 budget proposals, Senate Republicans are passing a proposed budget of their own. Their plan includes a 20 percent tax cut for 200,000 small businesses in New York. The tax breaks would cost $65 million and bring the state's tax rate from 6.85 percent to 5.5 percent.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

 What were you doing when you were 13?


Biz Links: Bankruptcy filings keep falling

From Business Today:


Bankruptcy filings dropped again last month. New filings in Western New York were down 17.5 percent in November. That's the 18th straight month filings have fallen. There were just 531 filings in Buffalo and Rochester's bankruptcy courts in November, which makes it the lowest level for that month in at least a decade. Experts speculate people either can't afford to file or have fewer reasons to file for court protection.


An Amherst dental firm has expanded. Dr. Todd E. Shatkin's Shatkin FIRST has expanded from Aesthetic Associates Centre for Plastic Surgery and Dentistry at 2500 Kensington Avenue into renovated space across the street at 2495 Kensington Avenue. The 40-employee business has grown thanks to the popularity of Shatkin's patented technique for replacing teeth in a quick, cost-effective way.



First Niagara Financial Group plans to raise $1.1 billion in new capital by selling common stock, preferred shares and debt, while cutting its dividend in half. It will use the money to help pay for its purchase of HSBC Bank USA's branch network. First Niagara announced in July it was buying 195 branches across upstate New York and southeastern Connecticut.

BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York has been honored by its national umbrella group for its branding campaign. The company's Healthy Changes Everything marketing campaign won the "Best of Blue" award, beating out 27 other plans across the country. Entries are judged by a panel of senior marketing and communications professionals from Fortune 500 companies and other outlets.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

Check out this cool flash mob BCBS of WNY staged at the Erie County Fair:


The public debates hydrofracking, insurance rate hike documents go live and more

From Business Today:


The state's Department of Environmental Conservation held the first of eight public comment sessions on its rules for hydrofracking in New York. Much controversy surrounds the method of drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale region using hydraulic fracturing. More than 850 people appeared in Dansville for the chance to voice there opinion for or against hydrofracking.

Supporters believe hydrofracking would bring money and jobs into the region, while critics fear the method could pollute the finger lakes and spoil the water for future generations to come.


If you're curious about the details behind insurance companies' rate hike requests, you can now pore over the supporting documentation submitted by insurers. State regulators have posted the documents online.

It's part of an effort toward increased transparency. Past and projected financial information, assumptions and other data submitted by insurers when requesting rate hikes can now be found on the state Department of Financial Services Web site.


 The Public Policy Institute of New York State has put out a report saying New York State should rank much higher in the competition to encourage the growth of life sciences companies because of the state's size and financial strength.

Despite the state's unique abilities and potential in the field, the state still struggles to compete against other states and is losing out on opportunities to create jobs. To remedy that, the report says the state should push for more investment in life sciences firms.


In the Town of Tonawanda, members of the business community met with high school students to shed light on entrepreneurship and what it takes to be successful.

About 25 students from the Charter School for Applied Technologies met in small groups with local small business owners to chat about the perks and pitfalls of owning a business, and what is needed to do it right.The event was coordinated by the school and UB's Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership in honor of Global Entrepreneurship Week.


There's more trouble for Amherst law firm Stephen J. Baum PC. First, Freddie Mac put a ban on sending any more business its way. Now, Fannie Mae is barring them, too.

Fannie Mae's newest retained attorney list notes the local firm is "not eligible for new referrals."


A bankrupt Jamestown furniture maker has filed notice with the state that it will close its manufacturing plant in February. The filing comes just two months after Crawford Furniture said it would close its retail stores to focus on manufacturing. Company representatives said it hopes the plant's closing will be temporary while the company ramps up its network of independent retailers to sell through nationally. But if its attempts at securing more national retail channels fails, the plant will close for good and 101 workers will lose their jobs.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

Here's one take on health care insurance companies, courtesy of some very famous comedians:


Unemployment rises slightly, insurance rate hikes OK'ed and more

From Business Today:


Your health insurance rates are probably about to go up. The state Department of Financial Services approved almost all the requests it received from insurers to increase rates.

Rates at Western New York's three major health insurance companies will soar as much as 15 percent or more.


Buffalo Niagara's unemployment rate was up slightly in September from the previous month, but still the lowest unemployment rate for any September since 2008.

The region's 7.3 percent rate is much better than the previous year's 7.9 percent rate for the same month.


Profits are up at Northwest Bancshares. The Pennsylvania company reported profits of $16.7 million, or 17 cents per share, up from $15.5 million, or 14 cents per share, a year ago.

The parent of Northwest Savings Bank said net income rose 7.7 percent.



The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has hit Wegmans with more than $195,000 worth of fines. The grocer's corporate bakery and distribution center is accused of repeatedly violating safety rules concerning cutting off all electricity to machines before workers maintain them. The repeat nature of four of those violations makes up $140,000 of the penalties. Workers were observed doing things like reaching into live machinery to fix jams--putting themselves at risk for serious injury, OSHA said.


Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

Need a quick vacation?


Home heating prices could fall, Insurers may have to reveal how they price premiums, Olin may add 11 jobs, Locals sue against "corporate welfare," Groups call for economic development subsidy reform and two NT projects seek PILOTS from Niagara IDA

From Business Today:


National Fuel says local home heating bills could fall in price this winter.  The average heating bill is expected to be about $10 cheaper this year than last, and about $400 cheaper than it was from 2005 to 2006.

Natural gas commodity prices are at about the same level they were a year ago, when costs were the lowest in nine years and about $200 less than the previous 11 winters.


 Health insurers may soon be required to release all documents concerning rate price hikes, showing how insurers price premiums. The State Department of Financial Services, much to the dismay of insurers, plans to make the data public by late November.


A Niagara Falls manufacturer is planning a $20 million investment it said could lead to 11 new jobs. Olin Corp. plans to build four new buildings and add 11 skilled jobs with salaries from $75,000 to $80,000 per year. The Niagara County Industrial Development Agency will hold a hearing Oct. 24 on a related 15-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes program.

The Virginia-based company said it will doubly ramp up bleach production, which it already tripled in 2008 with a $6.5 million investment. It makes chlorine, caustic soda, hydrochloric acid and bleach.


A lawsuit filed to stop the state from giving taxpayer money to private companies for use in economic development was heard in the state's highest court Wednesday.

Filed by Niagara Falls financial planner Lee Bordeleau and 49 other anti-tax activists, the suit said so-called "corporate welfare" violates the state's constitution.


Also Wednesday, activist groups gathered in Niagara Falls to call for reforms in economic development spending. The Partnership for the Public Good, along with the Coalition for Economic Justice, the WNY Area Labor Federation and the Niagara-Orleans labor Council outlined a litany of what it called flaws in the way IDAs and the New York Power Authority dole out taxpayer funds "in the name of economic development. The groups released a report analyzing the main problems and offering solutions.


The Niagara County Industrial Development Agency heard plans for two projects in North Tonawanda Wednesday. Taylor Devices, which makes industrial-strength shock absorbers, is planning to purchase and renovate three buildings on Ironton Street next to the former Roblin Steel site on Oliver Street. The company is seeking a 15-year PILOT arrangement for the $2.7 million project, which it says will create 20 jobs next year, along with another 10 in 2013.

A Wheatfield couple planning to turn a three-story brick building on Webster Street into a boutique hotel and restaurant is seeking a 10-year PILOT agreement. The $4.5 million project will result in the Gateway Harbor Inn, in the former Teddy Bear Carpets building across from the Riviera Theatre. A public hearing is set for Oct. 21 in the NT Public Library on Meadow Drive starting at 3 p.m.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

So, is it going to rain or not?