TODAY

– February 1, 2015

Obama's health care overhaul turns into a sprint

The Obama administration could stumble carrying out the complex legislation, or trip up if budget talks lead to scaling back the plan.The Obama administration could stumble carrying out the complex legislation, or trip up if budget talks lead to scaling back the plan.(AP) — The long slog has turned into a sprint. President Barack Obama's health care law survived the Supreme Court and the election; now the uninsured can sign up for coverage in about 11 months.

"We are out of the political gamesmanship and into the reality," said Sandy Praeger, Kansas' Republican insurance commissioner. Next week, states have to say if they're committed to building the framework for delivering health insurance to millions.

Not all hurdles have been cleared.

Republican governors who derided "Obamacare" have to decide whether it's better for their states to now help carry it out. The administration could stumble carrying out the complex legislation, or get tripped up if budget talks with Congress lead to scaling back the plan.

"We are still going to be struggling through the politics, and there are important policy hurdles and logistical challenges," said Andrew Hyman of the nonpartisan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, helping states carry out the law. "But we are on a very positive trajectory."

Instead of being dismantled by a Republican president and Congress, Obama's law is now on track to take its place alongside Medicare and Medicaid. The action starts right away.

A week from Friday, states must notify Washington if they'll be setting up new health insurance markets, called exchanges, in which millions of households and small businesses will shop for private coverage. The Health and Human Services Department will run the exchanges in states that aren't ready or willing.

Open enrollment for exchange plans is scheduled to start Oct. 1, 2013, and coverage will be effective Jan. 1, 2014.

In all, more than 30 million uninsured people are expected to gain coverage under the law. About half will get private insurance through the exchanges, with most receiving government help to pay premiums.

The rest, mainly low-income adults without children at home, will be covered through an expansion of Medicaid. While the federal government will pay virtually all the additional Medicaid costs, the Supreme Court gave states the leeway to opt out of the expansion. That adds to the uncertainty over how the law will be carried out.

A steadying force within the administration is likely to be HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The former Kansas governor has said she wants to stay until the law is fully enacted.
Governors will be the main counterparts to Sebelius, and Republicans are leading more than half the states.

Some, like Rick Perry of Texas and Rick Scott of Florida, have drawn a line against helping carry out Obama's law. In other states, voters have endorsed a hard stance. Missouri voters passed a ballot measure Tuesday that would prohibit establishment of a health insurance exchange unless the Legislature approves. State-level challenges to the federal law will continue to percolate.

Other GOP governors have been on the fence, awaiting the outcome of the election. All eyes will be on pragmatists like Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bob McDonnell of Virginia, whose states have done considerable planning to set up exchanges.

"Republican governors are at the center of the health care universe right now," said Michael Ramlet, health policy director at the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank. "They do not have a uniform position."

Virginia's McDonnell, in a rebuff to the administration, said in an interview published Thursday his state would not set up its own exchange, defaulting to a federally run one. McDonnell left open the possibility Virginia might later change course.

Some governors whose states aren't ready to run exchanges are considering the administration's fallback offer to run the new markets through a partnership.

"The real question for Republican governors is: 'Are you going to let the feds come into your state?'" Ramlet said. "The question for the Obama administration is whether they are going to have more flexibility."

Major regulations are due shortly covering such issues as exchange operations, benefits and protections for people with pre-existing health problems. That could signal the administration's willingness to compromise.

A check by The Associated Press found 17 states and the District of Columbia on track to setting up their own exchanges, while 10 have decided not to do so. The federal government could end up running the show in half or more of the states.

The states on track include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.

Not setting up exchanges are Alaska, Florida, Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Missouri and others are likely to join the list.

A recent AP poll found that 63 percent of Americans want states to run the exchanges, with 32 percent favoring federal control.

GOP governors are also seeking flexibility on expanding Medicaid. They are pressing Sebelius on whether the administration will approve partial, less costly expansions, more attractive to cash-pressed states.

As far as Medicaid, 11 states and the District of Columbia have indicated they will expand their programs, while six have said they will not. That leaves more than 30 undecided.

The states definitely expanding Medicaid include California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington. Those declining include Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas.

On Capitol Hill, Republicans say if a budget deal is going to include tax increases, it must also come with cuts to the health care law, or money-saving delays in its implementation.

While major changes can't be ruled out, they don't seem very likely to former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., who is close to the administration.

"I think Democrats are increasingly emboldened about the health care act," Daschle said. "The president won re-election partly by defending it. There is a new dynamic around the health care effort."

Republican attempts to amend the law will continue, he said, but outright repeal is no longer a possibility.

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Written on 01/30/2015, 4:01 pm by George Lurie
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Written on 01/30/2015, 1:58 pm by Business Journal Staff
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Written on 01/30/2015, 12:05 pm by Hannah Esqueda
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Written on 01/30/2015, 11:49 am by Leah
PartnerQuiqLabs What we do:Quiq Labs provides comprehensive mobile Web and app answers for businesses and organizations that have a marketing goal to reach mobile users via Web, email marketing and social media. We help you do it and we help you do it right. Education:I attended Ohio State University mastering in economics and entrepreneurship. Age:45 Family: I’m very single yet super busy. I’m a father of two children and two grandchildren. I have a married brother in Ohio and a sister who lives in Stockton. I really, really love them all and they inspire me to do big things.  Why did you decide to start Quiq Labs?Quiq Labs was an effort to provide a way for companies to reach the increasingly growing mobile phone user base and to be able to track that growth and activity in real-time. Logo branded QR Codes and mobile websites were our flagship products during our launch. Who else is involved in the company’s ownership and day-to-day management?Curlen Phipps is the Chief Technologist and Software Guy. I’m the User Interface and User Experience Architect. Only being two of us, we hold more positions than that. We’re looking to expand this year. What are the biggest challenges to surviving and thriving as a tech start up in the Central Valley?There are many challenges. Most of those challenges involve simply having an opportunity to get in the door to give a dynamic and interactive fifteen-minute presentation. Sometimes the local market does not understand the value in Internet and an online presence so we expand our market while keeping our offices local. Other times small and large companies are working with Web teams from other states, not knowing local web technology businesses are here to help them. We’d love to have the phones ringing from local companies who know we exist and know we are here to help. What is your company focusing on most in 2015?QuiqCourses.com currently; QikAcademy.com starting February 9th! We’re so excited to announce so many things this year, including QikAcademy.com, our new hands-on social media training classes. We are going to teach individuals and businesses how to increase their social media exposure, turn “Likes” and “Followers” into customers and the most effective strategies and best practices for using social media, email marketing and so much more. We’ll also be announcing two new office locations and plan on having our first ribbon cutting at the end of February. Here is a Business Journal exclusive! Our current office location is inside Bitwise Industries at 2210 San Joaquin St. Fresno, Ca 93721. Mark your calendars for February 25th! What awards have you or your company received?Our team has won two 59 Days of Code awards for best software ideas in the entire Central Valley. 2013 was our second and biggest 59DOC win and that year we introduced our QikLead.com logo branded QR code solution. 2014 we won the prestigious Rising Star Company Award at the Fresno Advertising Federation’s 2014 honors luncheon in front of our marketing and media peers. How important is it for local businesses to understand and utilize social media?Incredibly important for one super big reason: their customers are there. Every business and organization needs to have a presence where mobile customers are visiting several times a day, every single day. If you’re not there, your competition could be getting your social media presence. Does your company have any type of tie up or relationship with big tech players like Google?Yes! Thanks to our 59DOC win and our strong relationship with the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce, California Black Chamber and the U.S. Black Chamber we were invited to Google, featured in a Google video and have connects with two amazing people there. Keep an eye out on some announcements we’ll make this year. What was the best advice you ever received?Never give up. If you stop, you’ll never make it. What are your roots in the Central Valley?My business partner Curlen and I are both from Cincinnati, Ohio so we don’t have roots here per se. However, Curlen’s wife Michele’s family has roots here. Her roots brought them here and I followed to start a technology and graphic design company. What was your very first job and what did you learn from it?McDonald’s. Customer service, hands down. What do you like to do in your spare time?Travel, weight lifting, rock climbing, biking, spending time with friends and family including my nieces and nephews in Stockton, reading, bowling, dinner with a lovely woman, dancing and gettin’ in some controller time on my PlayStation to name a few. I’m working on break dancing again in 2015.
Written on 01/30/2015, 11:43 am by Gabriel Dillard
It appeared to be a profitable year for some of the Central Valley’s larger community banks, though not all enjoyed the year-over-year growth that shareholders like to see.Here’s an overview for local banks that have released fourth quarter financial information. They are placed in order of year-over-year growth in net income. Fresno First Bank2014 income: $2.12 million2013 income: $26,000Year-over growth: 8,053 percentLast year was a big year for Fresno First Bank. It completed the formation of its parent company, Communities First Financial Corp., and once again was a top performer in terms of Small Business Administration lending. The bank’s annual income growth rate was astounding, though it probably illustrates that 2013 was more an anomaly for the young bank when it reported $26,000 in earnings.In fact, net income for 2012 was $1.1 million.Notable quote: “We accomplished a lot during 2014. Breaking through $2 million in net income for the first time, once again posting double digit growth in loans, deposits and assets, and the formation of our holding company are all things we are proud of as we continue our work to enhance shareholder value,” stated Rick Whitsell, president and CEO of Communities First Financial Corp.Security First Bank2014 income: $2 million2013 income: $393,000Year-over growth 408 percentSecurity First Bank was among a number of local banks celebrating record net income in 2014. The bank saw noteworthy growth in the year in categories including total assets, loans and deposits.Notable quote: “The focus of the board and management in improving our bottom line has provided Security First Bank with the funding and strong capital position used to support our significant loan growth. We’re very pleased with our bank’s progress and continue to be optimistic about the bank, its performance, and future prospects,” stated Steve Jones, president and CFO of Security First Bank. Bank of the Sierra2014 income: $15.2 million2013 income: $13.4 millionYear-over growth: 14 percentLast year was a pivotal one for Sierra Bancorp, parent company of Bank of the Sierra. It launched a new succession plan, a conversion in its core banking system, a rebranding and a bank acquisition (Santa Clara Valley Bank on the Central Coast). Bank officials cited the bank acquisition as one factor that tempered earnings for 2014, but Bank of the Sierra continues its unbroken run of positive annual income. Notable quote: “Acquisition costs negatively impacted our financial performance, but those costs were lower than originally projected and were largely offset by other favorable variances. We’re very pleased with the robust financial results achieved in 2014, including a dramatic reduction in nonperforming assets, strong loan and deposit growth, and increased net income,” stated James C. Holly, CEO of Sierra Bancorp. Valley Business Bank2014 income: $4.3 million2013 income: $4.1 millionYear-over growth: 5 percentValley Commerce Bancorp, parent of Visalia’s Valley Business Bank, reported a fourth-straight year of record annual earnings. The bank saw favorable growth in net loans and total deposits last year of 13 percent.Notable quote: “It is my privilege to report a fourth straight year of record earnings. Our 2014 earnings reflect growth in our loan and investment portfolios, increased non-interest income, and prudent control of non-interest expenses,” Allan W. Stone, president and CEO, Valley Commerce Bancorp. Premier Valley Bank2014 income: $7.2 million2013 income: $6.5 millionYear-over growth: 10 percentPremier Valley Bank is another institution making moves last year, including the commencement of a $3 million stock repurchase plan. Record earnings followed. Bank officials are confident promising times lay ahead.Notable quote: “We are pleased to report that 2014 was the most profitable year in the history of the bank, the fourth consecutive year we have been able to make this statement. These results have allowed us to increase our quarterly cash dividend from $.07 per share to $.08 per share and actively maintain our Share Repurchase Plan, under which the Bank is authorized to repurchase PVLY shares from shareholders who may wish to sell,” stated J. Mike McGowan, president and CEO, in a statement. United Security Bank2014 income: $6.2 million2013 income: $7.2 millionYear-over growth: -14 percentAs a bank that reported losses in the height of the financial downturn, shareholders must be happy to see positive earnings again, even though year-over totals showed negative growth. Last year was also important for the bank because it marked the end of regulatory agreements with the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Dating back to 2010, the agreement was intended to improve the overall condition of the bank through measures including increased board oversight, monitoring of asset quality and prohibition of capital-reducing measures, including cash dividends.Notable quote: “2014 was an exceptional year for us with the termination of all formal regulatory agreements. We grew our loan portfolio over $60 million and continued to see positive momentum with reductions in non-performing assets and a year-over-year increase of 20 percent in core earnings. We are well positioned going into 2015 for continued success,” Dennis R. Woods, president and CEO, United Security Bancshares.

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