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Martin Luther King Jr. Day will be celebrated on Monday, January 20th this year. Also commonly called Martin Luther King Day, or MLK Day for short, this federal and state holiday celebrates the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of America’s most influential civil rights leaders.  During the turbulent 1960’s that witnessed great civil and social unrest, Dr. King adopted Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent methods to win civil rights for African Americans. Dr. King is perhaps most famous for his “I Have a Dream” speech, given in the front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. in 1963. That speech is regarded, along with Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Franklin Roosevelt’s Infamy Speech, as one of the best examples in the history of American oratory.

Despite Dr. King’s focus on non-violence in all his pursuits, tragically on the evening of April 4, 1968, while standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a protest march in sympathy with striking garbage workers of that city, he was assassinated.

Though Dr. King was born on January 15th, MLK Day is held on the third Monday in January each year.  It was President Ronald Regan who signed the law in 1983 that made Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday. However it wasn’t first observed as a holiday until 1986.

Many states were reluctant to accept MLK Day and even those who voted in the designation of the holiday didn’t like the fact that it was a national holiday for a private citizen.  Many states observed the holiday only under different designations, such as Civil Rights Day, and sometimes in connection with other holidays. However, by 2000, all 50 U.S. states recognized MLK Day as a holiday.

Although today both a federal and state holiday in all 50 states, MLK Day is not observed as a paid holiday by a majority of private employers. Benefit surveys report that between 27-38% of U.S. private employers observe the day as a paid holiday. However, most companies not observing this holiday typically allow employees to use either vacation, PTO or an unpaid personal leave day if they are requesting this date as time off.

No matter what you’re doing on January 21st this year, and no matter what race, color or creed you are, please take a few moments to consider the achievements of a man who tirelessly protested to end racial discrimination in  federal and state law and helped improve our society.

Ten states have filed applications with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to set up state-based health insurance exchange markets under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), according to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

The exchanges are online supermarkets where people can shop for private health insurance and obtain federal subsidies to
help defray the cost. The concept of an exchange is simple: Competition will drive down prices. But operating an exchange is an immense technical challenge requiring sophisticated information technology to digest and display huge amounts of data on the costs and benefits of various insurance plans.

It has been estimated by the Congressional Budget Office that 25 million people will eventually receive coverage through
the exchanges.

States can choose to enter into partnership exchanges with the federal government, in which states conduct plan management and/or consumer assistance functions. The deadline for states to apply to be in partnership exchanges is Feb. 15, 2013.

The deadline for filing “blueprint” applications to operate state-based exchanges (SBEs) was Dec. 14. Blueprint applications for SBEs were filed by California, Hawaii, Idaho, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Utah, Sebelius said. HHS is to act on the applications by Jan. 1, 2013.

In addition to the applications for SBEs, HHS gave conditional approval the week of Dec. 10 to Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, Oregon, and Washington to create state-based exchange. Conditional approval means HHS has found that the eight states and the District of Columbia have made enough progress in setting up their own exchanges for individuals and small group plans that they are likely to be ready to take applications when
open enrollment begins Oct. 1, 2013. Plans sold in the online markets will take effect in 2014.

Under the ACA, HHS will operate federally facilitated exchanges (FFEs) in states that do not set up their own SBEs or enter into state partnership exchanges (SPEs). On Nov. 20, the administration released proposed rules regarding essential health benefits and health insurance markets. On Nov. 30, it released a proposed rule on payment parameters for risk adjustment programs.

Many states, especially those led by Republicans, have balked at creating exchanges to implement the controversial health care reform law. There are 32 states that have chosen to not establish state-based health insurance exchange markets.

The number of states likely to operate SPEs or have FFEs is not yet clear. On its exchange progress map, as of Dec. 17, health care consulting firm Avalere Health LLC estimated that 12 states would be likely to form SPEs: New Hampshire, New Jersey, Delaware, North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Tennessee, Illinois, Iowa, Arkansas, and South Dakota.

Twenty states are likely to have FFEs, according to Avalere: Maine, Pennsylvania, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Indiana, Wisconsin, Missouri, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Arizona, and Alaska.

Avalere estimated that 18 states and the District of Columbia would be likely to have SBEs. Avalere included Utah, which already has an exchange, as likely to operate a SBE. Utah has asked HHS to approve its exchange as an SBE.

On its map “where states stand so far” on exchanges, dated Dec. 17, the National Academy for State Health Policy’s “State Refor(u)m” health reform project lists 18 states and the district having declared their intent to establish an SBE, seven states that are considering or have declared partnerships, and 25 states that have rejected state-run exchanges.

NASHP lists Delaware, North Carolina, West Virginia, Michigan, Illinois, Arkansas, and Iowa as likely partnership states. States rejecting state-operated exchanges are Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia,
Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Missouri, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Arizona, and Alaska, it said.  01.04.2013

Ten U.S. states began 2013 with a minimum wage increase. The increases went into effect on Tuesday, January 1, 2013 in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oregon Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

Individual U.S. states can establish their own minimum wage rates that are either equal to or higher than the federal minimum wage.  The federal minimum wage has not increased since it was raised to $7.25 an hour in July 2009.

The minimum wages increases were not uniform across all states providing them.  Missouri’s minimum wage rose from the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour by just 10 cents to $7.35 an hour.  In most states, the increase was 14 or 15 cents.  Rhode Island’s minimum wage rose by 35 cents, more than double any other increase.

In a number of states, such as Washington, minimum wage increases are tied to the Consumer Price Index for urban wage earners and clerical workers. Washington’s minimum wage, already the highest among states, jumped from $9.04 to $9.19 an hour.   01.04.2013

The Christmas tree is down, credit card bills are coming in and it’s cold and gray outside. Welcome to winter with shorter daylight, cold, snow, ice, rain and everything that goes with it including delayed flights due to snow, late arrivals to work, trying to get home during a storm, car not starting, etc.

Take care this winter and prepare some extra time in getting safely to your destination.

Although the tax package was passed by Congress on New Year’s Day to protect most Americans from income tax increases, a majority of Americans will still end up paying more federal taxes in 2013. In general, the package passed this past Tuesday extends most of the Bush-era tax cuts for individuals making less than $400,000 and married couples making less than $450,000. What it didn’t do was to extend a 2 percent social security tax reduction that was in place for 2011 and 2012. In 2012, the 2
percent cut in the payroll tax was worth $1,000 to a worker making $50,000 a year.

With the expiration of the temporary 2 percent payroll tax cut on December 31, the employee share of the Social Security tax will increase from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent. Social Security is financed by a 12.4 percent tax on wages up to $113,700, with employers paying half and workers paying the other half.  01.03.2013