Healthcare costs are shooting through the roof for a few reasons

Physician assistant patientJohn Moore / Getty Images

Last week I wrote about my recent IRS audit (which went well).

What I did not dwell on was one of the topics they wanted to cover – my health insurance premiums.

The tax year in question was 2013. I dutifully obtained copies of my insurance premium payments and presented them to the agent. For half the year I paid $654 per month, then my premium increased to $748.

That’s a 14.5% jump in one year. It annoyed me at the time, but nothing like the anger I felt when I saw those numbers during my audit.

In the scant two years since 2013, my premium has increased from $748 to $1456, a 95% increase in two years.

To be sure, I don’t have the same coverage.

Today, I have less. In two weeks, it will get worse.

My health insurance provider wrote to me with the “good news” that I could continue my coverage for only $2,008 per month, a mere 38% increase in one year.

This would put my premium change from 2013 to 2016 at 207%.

That seemed a bit much to me, so I spent some time on the website, doing my personal duty of “shopping” for healthcare.

I found a plan that provides even less coverage (which means more expensive to use), but costs “only” $1,393 per month. While less than last year, it’s still more than double the cost from three years ago.

The kicker is, I’ve never had claims that rose above my premiums, so every year the insurance company is making a profit on me.

I understand how insurance works. I’m not angling to get into a car accident or contract a disease just so that I can make claims. I’m happy paying for this and not using it to the extent of my premiums. But I would be happier if the rates weren’t shooting to the moon each year even though my claims aren’t.

Which brings me to the Affordable Care Act, a piece of legislation with an Orwellian name (it’s not affordable and it provides less care).

obama obamacare doctorsJohn Moore / Getty Images

As written the law calls for everyone to get insurance, and those unable to afford it will get a subsidy. At first glance, it might seem logical that the subsidy would go to those below the middle in terms of income and cost of insurance. But that’s not the case.

It’s the bottom 90% that get financial assistance, which comes from the other 10%. Since about 30% of us get health insurance through the individual markets, that means 3% of Americans are propping up the system.

We need a union.


Right now this small group of people, which I presume to be mostly self-employed, are fuming over their premium increases for 2016, and yet we have no outlet.

It’s because we’re not organized. If we had proper representation, we could get some relief. The example of how this would work is the famed “Cadillac Tax,” which was supposed to ding high benefit plans with a 40% tax, but is quickly on the way to the trash heap.

Starting in 2018, the Cadillac Tax was designed to tax health insurance plans that cost more than $10,200 for individuals and $27,500 for families.

But a funny thing happened as we closed in on the start date. Legislators started getting calls from groups about how the tax would hurt them. In particular, the United Auto Workers and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees were appalled to find that their health plans would be snared by this tax burden.

Surely there was something that Congress could do? Of course there was.

In the latest spending bill, Congress threw financial restraint to the wind. They simply granted every request for increased spending and tax cuts, with zero regard for the overall budget.

Sure, there was teeth-gnashing and tearing of cloth, but the end result speaks for itself.

Among the taxes left on the operating room floor was the Cadillac Tax. It will be “delayed” from 2018 to 2020, which pretty much makes it dead on arrival.

The tax was meant to do two things – prod groups to curb their health spending, and raise money to help subsidize the 90% purchasing plans in the individual market. Now, neither of those things will happen, leaving the general taxpayer and the 3% to pick up the tab.

At the current rate of growth, all of us will need a subsidy in a few short years. What do we do then? We could start our own union. We could call it “American Citizens United,” and demand that our legislators take our demands seriously – curbing spending and cutting out favoritism in the tax code.

Of course, this has already been tried. The United States was created “to form a more perfect union,” and we use voting to make our voices heard. We get another shot at it next year.

For some reason I’m not getting my hopes up as to the outcome. I think this time next year I’ll be writing about the same thing, just with higher numbers.

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One of the world’s most iconic toy stores is shutting down today

Toys R UsReuters

Toys R Us is closing its iconic flagship store in New York City’s Times Square on Wednesday.

The retailer is not renewing its lease on the 110,000-square-foot store, which features a giant indoor Ferris wheel, a life-size Barbie dollhouse, and a 20-foot Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur, Toys R Us spokeswoman Alyssa Peera told Business Insider.

“It is certainly bittersweet,” Toys R Us CEO Dave Brandon told CNN Money, referring to the rush of shoppers in the store for the final Black Friday at the Times Square location.

Toys R UsReutersToys R Us also recently closed the iconic FAO Schwarz flagship store, citing rising rent costs.

The FAO Schwarz store, known for its giant toy piano, was a major tourist destination made famous by the 1988 movie “Big,” starring Tom Hanks.Toys R UsReutersThe closure left the 153-year-old brand without a physical store, though FAO Schwarz-branded products are still sold at Toys R us.

The Toys R Us flagship in Times Square opened in 2001.

Toys R UsReutersA company spokeswoman told Business Insider that Toys R Us is searching for another space for a flagship store in Manhattan.

“We continue to explore alternative locations in the area,” Peera said. “This process is ongoing.”

Toys R UsReuters

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Stop Sharing This Bogus Facebook Post. It Won’t Make You Rich

There are always rumors and hoaxes spreading on Facebook


The latest myth comes in the form of a chain letter. It claims that CEO Mark Zuckerberg will distribute $4.5 billion worth of his Facebook shares among 1,000 people who copy and post the letter. Of course, this is completely bogus — and Facebook has stated as much — but that hasn’t stopped the hoax from spreading. 


As reported by Tech Insider, it began circulating in early December, right after Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla announced that they would give away 99 percent of their Facebook shares to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a philanthropic LLC that will funnel its earnings into nonprofits “to advance human potential and promote equality.”


Hours after their announcement, the hoax started gaining popularity.


Here’s a version of the status that people are sharing:


Mark Zuckerberg has announced that he is giving away $45 billion of Facebook stock. What you may not have heard is that he plans to give 10% of it away to people like YOU and ME! All you have to do is copy and paste this message into a post IMMEDIATELY. At midnight PST, Facebook will search through the day’s posts and award 1000 people with $4.5 million EACH as a way of saying thank you for making Facebook such a powerful vehicle for connection and philanthropy.


Facebook immediately debunked this in an official statement, reminding users that “not everything you read on the Internet is real.”


Nonetheless, the message resurfaced this week. 


Certainly, Facebook and other social networks provide fertile ground for hoaxes and scams to quickly gain momentum. Every so often, rumors circulate claiming that Facebook is going to start charging users or that people can now tell when you’ve looked at their profile. Of course, these rumors are all false


The lesson here is simple. Don’t believe everything your friends share on social media. And, when in doubt, check Facebook’s official page or the site’s Terms of Service — they’ll protect you from being duped. 


Also on HuffPost:


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18 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do In San Diego

There’s way more to the city than sun, beaches, and brews.

1. Treat yo’ self to a flight of ice cream.

1. Treat yo' self to a flight of ice cream.

We’ve all heard of a flight of beer, but have you had a flight of ice cream? Hammond’s Gourmet Ice Cream in North Park gives you the option to get mini cones. This is perfect for anyone who can’t decide which flavor they want. A flight of six is perfect for two people, or, if you’re up to the challenge, they have a 32-flavor flight!

Local Adventurer / Via

2. Visit a yeast factory — for the beer.

2. Visit a yeast factory — for the beer.

It’s no secret that San Diego is a beer town, but it’s also home to White Labs Tasting Room, a company that produces the yeast most craft breweries use. You can tour their facilities, and then do a flight of beers using the same base beer — but different yeast. It’s amazing to compare how much it changes the beer! More info on the brewery tour here.

Local Adventurer / Via

3. Invest in artwork by Dr. Seuss.

3. Invest in artwork by Dr. Seuss.

If you love Dr. Seuss, you need to check out Legends Gallery. Although they carry art from different artists, the highlight is seeing the illustration art of Dr. Seuss. Fun fact: Dr. Seuss is a San Diegan, and resided in La Jolla until his death!

Local Adventurer / Via

4. Enjoy a ~legit~ California burrito.

4. Enjoy a ~legit~ California burrito.

A California Burrito is not just a burrito from California. It’s a beautiful food creation native to SoCal, and especially San Diego. The guts consist of carne asada, cheese, sour cream, and fries. YUP: fries INSIDE the burrito. Not sure where to get yours? Try one of these places.

Local Adventurer / Via

View Entire List ›

The Valuation of Early Stage Companies has Risen Sharply

early stage venture capital

The valuation of early stage venture capital-backed startups jumped dramatically in 2013 and 2014, after modest increases over the previous nine years, data from law firm Cooley LLP reveals.

Cooley reports the typical valuation of companies in transactions in which the firm served as issuing counsel either to the investors or to the company raising money. These figures are for the Series A financing round, which is the first round of financing after the seed stage. Companies at this point in development have started to generate revenues but are generally still losing money.

To account for the effect of inflation on the valuation, I used the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) inflation calculator to convert all of the figures to 2015 dollars. I also took the five-quarter moving average of the median valuations reported by Cooley to smooth out the quarterly variation and report that average as of September of each year (except for 2015 when I report the June figure).

As the figure below shows, the valuation of Series A companies did increase in inflation-adjusted terms between 2004 and 2014, from $6 million to $8.5 million. However, this rate of increase was very slight compared to the change between 2013 and 2015. Over that two-year period the five quarter moving average in Series A valuations came close to doubling in inflation-adjusted terms. That’s a huge increase in valuation and it doesn’t bode well for the profits of investors or their limited partners.

The higher the valuation of a company, the more that the business will need to sell for when it is acquired or goes public, all other things being equal. Of course, these companies could very well suffer from down rounds, where their valuation falls, before they exit over the next five to seven years. But if they companies don’t experience down rounds, the early investors aren’t likely to do as well as they had on investments in companies that had their Series A round before 2014, unless the valuation of companies that go public and get acquired jump in the next five years.

Early stage investors have to hope that the IPO and acquisition markets in the early 2020s will be partying like it’s 1999.

Tall Buildings Photo via Shutterstock



This article, “The Valuation of Early Stage Companies has Risen Sharply” was first published on Small Business Trends

Samsung will reportedly make 5M Galaxy S7 phones ahead of February launch


(Reuters) – Samsung, the world’s top smartphone maker, plans an initial production run of about 5 million of its upcoming Galaxy S7 smartphones, South Korea’s Electronic Times reported on Monday, citing unnamed sources.

The paper said Samsung is planning to launch two different versions of its new flagship smartphone: a 5.2-inch flat-screen version, and a 5.5-inch, curved-screen version that will be called the ‘Galaxy S7 edge’.

Samsung plans to initially make 3.3 million of the flat-screen devices and around 1.6 million of the curved-screen version, the report said, with plans to launch the handset in February.

A Samsung Electronics spokeswoman declined to comment on the report.

(Reporting by Se Young Lee; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

The DeanBeat: 10 predictions for the game industry in 2016

2016 predictions

Check out all of our GamesBeat Rewind 2015 end of the year coverage here.

The video game business is unpredictable. But if you can predict the trends with a reasonable degree of accuracy, your company can gain a big advantage. And sometimes, the process of making predictions can sharpen your thinking.

That’s why I am trying once again to predict what will happen in games in the next year. Some of these predictions will be wildly inaccurate. But I’m trying to be methodical about the process in hopes of getting better at it. I’ll revisit the predictions in a year to look at my scorecard. Since I write so much about the business, and I hear so many predictions, I think that it’s fair to go through the exercise myself. It’s also a good way to look to the past and see how far we’ve come.

Last year, I predicted that the $2 billion mobile game would arrive and the bubble would not burst in games. I expected that Sony would pull further ahead in consoles and new virtual reality systems would finally debut. I thought that smaller game companies would prosper, particularly in mobile. I also predicted that a major game would suffer bugs and hackers would take down online game services. I also figured that China would continue its expansion and esports companies would dominate games. And I thought that gamers and game designers would come to terms with stereotypes, with more appreciation of diversity and more creativity as the result.

My scorecard for last year

I don’t think I was right about one mobile game generating $2 billion in revenue in 2015. Most of the leaders of the game business don’t report their revenues. But King, which had the No. 3-ranked mobile game for most of the year in terms of top-grossing titles, is likely to make about $1 billion in revenues this year from Candy Crush Saga. Only Machine Zone’s Game of War: Fire Age and Supercell’s Clash of Clans are bigger, and I don’t think they were on a run rate to beat $2 billion. And nothing new came along to knock them out.

The market for game investments slowed down, as did merger activity. But plenty of game companies received funding, and Activision’s $5.9 billion purchase of King showed that gaming was still full of lucrative opportunities. The Chinese game companies slowed their momentum due to stock market turmoil, but they continued their westward expansion.

PlayStation VR demo at the PSX keynote.

Above: PlayStation VR demo at the PSX keynote.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

And I was right that Sony, which has sold more than 30 million PlayStation 4 consoles to date, would widen its lead in consoles. VR arrived on mobile first with the launch of the $99 Samsung Gear VR, but other major systems were postponed to 2016. Batman: Arkham Knight on the PC suffered major bugs and had to be pulled off the market and then relaunched. And hackers claimed credit for bringing down Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network multiple times during the year.

I’d like to think that gaming made progress on the diversity front. We now see women as standard available options for characters in major games such as Call of Duty: Black Ops III and Fallout 4. We also saw more games with women in major roles, such as Rise of the Tomb Raider, Halo 5: Guardians, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, and others. This makes sense as 44 percent of gamers in the U.S. are female. I expect the trend toward embracing diversity to continue among game developers and that gamer attitudes will follow. This is all part of the industry maturing.

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Esports also grew bigger and more important during the year. Riot Games, now fully owned by Tencent, still dominated esports with League of Legends, but Blizzard formally launched its Heroes of the Storm game, and Dota 2 saw a tournament with $18 million in prizes. Big companies such as Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts started their own esports divisions. Some small companies came up with hits, and more appeared in places you wouldn’t expect (like Siberia). But there were many new predictions in 2015 about an “indiepocalypse” as discovery and distribution challenges make it tough for small companies to survive.

The trends below were conceived with the help of game industry observers, but the arguments are my own. I thought about making predictions about Steam Machines and Apple TV as alternative platforms, but the future of those products seems foggy.

For fun and embarrassment, here are my predictions for 2015, 2014, 2013 and 2012. Please vote for your favorite prediction in the poll at the bottom. I’ve credited people who came up with the ideas in the text.


1. Virtual reality will take off, but not as fast as the hype would suggest

Bullet Time demo

Above: Bullet Time demo

Image Credit: Epic Games

PC and console virtual reality systems will debut in the first half of 2016. HTC is set to launch the PC-based Vive system using Valve’s SteamVR platform. Sony plans to launch the PlayStation VR for the PlayStation 4 game console. And Facebook’s Oculus VR division plans to launch the Oculus Rift for the PC in early 2016. Samsung has already debuted its mobile VR system. But that doesn’t mean that the total addressable market for 2016 is a billion PCs and a billion mobile devices.

Nvidia estimates that good VR takes seven times more processing power than ordinary PC gaming. It estimates that in 2016, there will be only 13 million gamer PCs in the U.S. that are capable of running VR, and perhaps 25 million if they used Nvidia’s VR platform. Sony has sold 30 million PS4 units. And Samsung’s Gear VR works only with a limited number of Samsung smartphones. That means there’s a far more limited base of potential customers for VR.

Then there’s the price. You may need a $1,000-plus PC to go with the VR systems, which will cost a few hundred dollars. Sony’s PlayStation VR or Microsoft’s HoloLens (which doesn’t have a launch date yet) might very well cost as much as a console. We could still see millions of units sell, and VR may represent a wide path for innovation in gaming that stirs a lot of excitement.

But it’s going to be a niche market in 2016.

Peter Warman, the chief executive of market researcher Newzoo, said, “A niche can be very profitable, especially from a hardware standpoint. From a game content perspective, the revenues generated will directly cannibalize revenues that are now generated by high-end gaming on TV and PC.”

If VR is a hit, it will become much more evident in 2017 or 2018. Startups that are burning cash today should keep this mind.

2. VR and AR will command much of the new investments in gaming

The Rift headset with the Touch controllers.

Above: The Rift headset with the Touch controllers.

Image Credit: Oculus VR

Even if the market is relatively small in 2016, startups are going to flock to VR and augmented reality. Tracking the number of VR startups is a good research project. In October, VB Profiles counted 234 VR companies that had raised $3.8 billion in funding. Nvidia told me that it knew of more than 600 companies working on VR. But as long as no single company dominates VR and the market hasn’t had a blockbuster, we’ll continue to see more VR startups.

Presence Capital recently announced a $10 million fund to invest in VR startups. I know of at least one other seed fund being formed for VR, and I expect there will be others. That will fuel a lot of new VR startups, and it will also suck some of the air out of the ecosystem for game companies that want to raise money for non-VR projects. Amitt Mahajan of Presence Capital told me that many of best social and mobile-game startups were funded after the launch of major new gaming platforms such as Facebook and the iPhone. Based on the same logic, there’s still plenty of time for new VR startups to be conceptualized and funded before the launch of VR systems in 2016.

I’m not necessarily saying this is going to be the wisest use of money. The investors in this segment will likely find they’re putting too much money into the category, given the size of the niche market in its early days, as noted in our first prediction. But I don’t think that’s going to bother the investors as they are all hoping that their investment will be the right one. We haven’t seen the highest point of inflation yet in what you could call the VR gaming investment bubble. I haven’t mentioned augmented reality that much yet, but we’ll get to that.

3. Esports viewership will be on a path to rival the Super Bowl

A scene from Heroes of the Storm at BlizzCon.

Above: A scene from Heroes of the Storm at BlizzCon.

Image Credit: Blizzard Entertainment

Andrew Paradise, the CEO of mobile-esports startup Skillz, predicts that the largest esports event in 2016 will be bigger in viewership than Super Bowl 50.

I don’t think esports are going to hit that goal this year, but we are definitely heading down that road. Esports are still pretty hard to follow as it’s very difficult to figure out what’s happening in a fast-action video game compared to NFL football. But the crowds for esports are growing ever bigger as more people fill stadiums to view tournament finales. Even more people can watch livestreamed events in real time on the Internet, and after the event is long over, the video can live on channels like YouTube. Once you add up all of those views, you get to some very impressive stats.

As esports gain ground, you can expect that sponsorships and advertising dollars will become bigger contributors to the game industry’s bottom line. And you’ll see more deals like the one where a group of angel investors poured money into the Immortals esports professional gaming team. We’re at the dawn of a new kind of sports franchise, and this is one where the players and the spectators matter, not just the game creators and publishers.

4. Sony will widen its lead again in consoles

The Uncharted 4 booth at PSX was always crowded.

Above: The Uncharted 4 booth at PSX was always crowded.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

This prediction is based on momentum and the idea of the big getting bigger.

With 30 million units sold, Sony has won the current generation console war. Nintendo, which had a one-year headstart on Sony, has sold only 11 million Wii U consoles. And Microsoft’s Xbox One is at about 17 million. Even with a stronger lineup for Xbox One, Microsoft isn’t gaining much ground on Sony during this holiday season.

Next year, Sony is expected to launch a series of big titles such as Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Street Fighter V, The Last Guardian, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Hellblade, Ratchet & Clank, and more. Those exclusives, as well as the launch of the PlayStation VR platform, should satisfy the appetites of PlayStation fans and help ward off competitive threats from rivals.

Microsoft and Nintendo will likely provide stiff competition and survive as alternative, profitable game companies. But I can’t see them catching up with Sony in this generation.

5. Game companies will explore the possibilities of augmented reality but won’t cash in on it yet

Pokémon Go

Above: Pokémon Go

Image Credit: Niantic/Nintendo

You can bet that Pokémon Go, where you can catch Pokémon in the real world with your mobile phone, will be a hit whenever it launches. But imagine how much more fun it could be if you play it while wearing augmented reality glasses.

Magic Leap, which raised $524 million from Google in 2014 and is raising a new round now, has helped fire our imaginations when it comes to AR games. But it will take a while to figure out the platforms and to bring the costs down. Costs have been a hurdle as AR takes a lot of processing power but has to be very power efficient. That’s why we’ve seen delays in products such as the CastAR (now coming in 2017), Google Glass, and the Osterhaut Design Group’s consumer AR goggles.

In the meantime, I expect we’ll see a lot of cool AR demos as game companies figure out how to make use of the promise of AR. But we’ll have to wait for more improvements in hardware due to Moore’s Law (the number of transistors on a chip doubles every couple of years) before AR becomes practical and cost effective. And if we’ve learned anything from decades of observation, it’s that you can’t rush Moore’s Law.


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