Day: June 28, 2019

Trump’s plan for health-care pricing could expand this lucrative workplace benefit

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President Donald Trump’s executive order to make hospital pricing more transparent could also have another unexpected benefit for consumers, experts say.

The order could make insurance plans linked with a tax-advantaged savings account a better deal for people with chronic health conditions such as heart disease and depression.

‘You would have more HSA dollars remaining in your account at the end of the year.’

—Bill Sweetnam, legislative and technical director at the Employers Council on Flexible Compensation

It expands the conditions eligible under the high-deductible health plan, said Bill Sweetnam, legislative and technical director at the Employers Council on Flexible Compensation, an organization focusing on worker benefit plans. “You would have more HSA dollars remaining in your account at the end of the year.”

Chatrane Birbal, director of policy engagement at SHRM, said the recent executive order was a welcome development because right now, “employees with chronic conditions who enroll in HSA-qualified plans, particularly those whose employers offer only one plan, face substantial barriers to care if they want to manage their chronic conditions.”

“More flexibility for HSAs would allow consumers greater opportunities to save for current and future medical expenses, and in some cases save for retirement,” she said.

How HSAs work

There’s no tax on HSA contributions, and the money’s not taxed when used for qualified medical expenses. That can make these interest-bearing investment vehicles attractive options for some people as they set aside money for future health care expenses. Saving is no small task; one estimate said a 2016 couple would need to save upwards of $350,000 for their health expenses in retirement.

But certain rules mean the accounts aren’t right for everyone.

‘More flexibility for HSAs would allow consumers greater opportunities to save for current and future medical expenses, and in some cases save for retirement.’

—Chatrane Birbal, director of policy engagement at the Society for Human Resource Management

HSA account holders must have high-deductible health plans. These plans have lower monthly premiums, but most of the insurance coverage doesn’t kick in until that high deductible is paid. Deductibles on these plans are at least $1,350 for self-only coverage and $2,700 for family coverage.The plans can cover certain types of “preventive care” — like a yearly check-up or routine vaccinations — before the deductible is paid.

But right now, people managing chronic conditions — such as diabetes, depression, kidney disease or heart disease — need to pay their high-priced deductibles before the insurance company starts paying for routine care to manage their condition.

Trump’s order would expand coverage for people with chronic conditions

Trump’s executive order could change that. The order tells the Treasury Department to come up with new rules letting insurers cover certain chronic conditions in the same way insurers already cover preventive care before the deductible. The Treasury Department did not respond to a request for comment.

There were an estimated 25 million health savings accounts in America with $53.8 billion in assets by December 2018, according to Devenir, a Minneapolis, Minn.-based investment provider for health savings accounts.

High-deductible health plans are increasingly prevalent in the workplace, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Fifty-nine percent of employers said in a recent benefits survey they offered the option of high-deductible health plans linked to an HSA. A year earlier, 56% of employers in the survey said they offered an HSA.

People with chronic conditions face ‘barriers to care’

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have previously tried making fixes that would address pre-deductible costs for those with chronic conditions, Birbal noted. The Bipartisan HSA Improvement Act, introduced last year in the House of Representatives but never going to a vote, would have allowed pre-deductible coverage for chronic conditions. Other bills have also tried to address the issue, like the Chronic Disease Management Act.

Caitlin Donovan, a spokeswoman for the National Patient Advocate Foundation, said HSAs did have advantages — so long as account holders could even afford the high deductible health plan to begin with. “A lot of people can’t afford to set aside any money” into the accounts, she said, later adding, “for Americans living paycheck to paycheck, they are not going to be the savior of the health care system.”

Donovan said potential changes on HSA rules or transparency on hospital prices didn’t address core problems in American health care, where prices were “too high, too unpredictable” and patients had too little power.

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Deep Dive: Here are the stock market’s winners and losers in the first half of 2019

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You could call this the year of the mood swing for the U.S. stock market.

Investors went from being “certain” that the Federal Reserve would continue raising interest rates, which helped cause a sharp decline in stock prices in the fourth quarter, to being surprised by a turnaround in Fed policy in March, when the Federal Open Market Committee decided to halt the rate increases and curb the central bank’s balance-sheet runoff. Last week the language of the Fed’s customary policy statement softened further, helping to push the S&P 500 Index SPX, +0.38%  to record levels.

The Fed’s about-face helped push the yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes TMUBMUSD10Y, +0.29%  down to 2.01% on June 27 from 2.69% at the end of 2018.

Here’s how four broad stock indexes performed during the first half of 2019 (through June 27), in the fourth quarter and all of last year:

Index Ticker Total return – 2019 through June 27 Total return – fourth quarter, 2019 Total return – 2018
Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.04% 13.7% -11.8% -5.6%
S&P 500 SPX, +0.38% 16.7% -14.0% -6.2%
Nasdaq Composite Index COMP, +0.73% 20.7% -17.3% -2.8%
Nasdaq-100 Index NDX, +0.39% 21.6% -16.8% 0.0%
Source: FactSet

Here are total returns for the 11 sectors of the S&P 500 over the same periods:

S&P 500 sector 2019 through June 27 Fourth quarter, 2018 2018
Information Technology 26.9% 4.9% -0.3%
Consumer Discretionary 21.5% 1.6% 0.8%
Industrials 20.2% -0.6% -13.3%
Real Estate 20.0% 15.4% -2.2%
Communications Services 18.2% 2.6% -12.5%
Materials 16.2% 1.9% -14.7%
Consumer Staples 16.1% 10.0% -8.4%
Financials 15.6% 0.5% -13.0%
Utilities 14.1% 15.7% 4.1%
Energy 11.8% -14.8% -18.1%
Health Care 7.7% -1.7% 6.5%
Source: FactSet
Dow Jones Industrial Average

Here’s how 29 of the 30 components of the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.04%  performed (with dividends reinvested), leaving out Dow Inc. DOW, +0.91%  which began trading separately in April after it was spun-off from DowDuPont:

Company Ticker Total return – 2019 Total return – fourth quarter, 2018 Total return – 2018
Microsoft Corp. MSFT, +0.16% 33% -11% 21%
American Express Co. AXP, +0.28% 31% -10% -3%
Cisco Systems Inc. CSCO, -1.54% 30% -10% 17%
Visa Inc. Class A V, +0.10% 30% -12% 16%
Apple Inc. AAPL, -0.03% 28% -30% -5%
Walt Disney Co. DIS, -0.78% 27% -5% 4%
Travelers Companies Inc. TRV, +0.34% 26% -7% -10%
International Business Machines Corp. IBM, +0.00% 25% -24% -23%
United Technologies Corp. UTX, +0.95% 23% -23% -15%
Home Depot Inc. HD, +0.29% 22% -17% -7%
Procter & Gamble Co. PG, +0.05% 21% 11% 4%
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. GS, +1.17% 20% -25% -34%
Walmart Inc. WMT, -0.05% 19% 0% -3%
McDonald’s Corp. MCD, +0.84% 18% 7% 6%
Chevron Corp. CVX, -0.66% 15% -10% -10%
Boeing Co. BA, -2.91% 14% -13% 12%
Exxon Mobil Corp. XOM, -1.02% 14% -19% -15%
Nike Inc. Class B NKE, +1.34% 13% -12% 20%
J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. JPM, +0.33% 13% -13% -7%
Merck & Co. Inc. MRK, +0.35% 11% 8% 40%
Johnson & Johnson JNJ, -0.82% 10% -6% -5%
Coca-Cola Co. KO, -0.08% 10% 3% 7%
Caterpillar Inc. CAT, +0.26% 8% -16% -18%
Verizon Communications Inc. VZ, +0.46% 4% 6% 11%
Intel Corp. INTC, -1.51% 2% 0% 4%
Pfizer Inc. PFE, +1.02% 1% 0% 25%
UnitedHealth Group Inc. UNH, +1.18% 0% -6% 15%
3M Co. MMM, -0.22% -9% -9% -17%
Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. WBA, +4.09% -19% -6% -4%
Source: FactSet

You can click on the tickers for more about each company, including full news coverage, profiles, charts, estimates, financials and ratings.

S&P 500 — winners and losers

Here are the 10 S&P 500 stocks that performed the best in the same time periods:

Company Ticker Total return – 2019 Total return – fourth quarter, 2018 Total return – 2018
Coty Inc. Class A COTY, +0.23% 105% -47% -66%
Xerox Corp. XRX, +0.80% 81% -26% -29%
Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. CMG, -0.46% 68% -5% 49%
Advanced Micro Devices Inc. AMD, +2.74% 67% -40% 80%
Anadarko Petroleum Corp. APC, +0.06% 63% -35% -17%
Cadence Design Systems Inc. CDNS, +0.47% 61% -4% 4%
Hess Corp. HES, -1.67% 60% -43% -13%
MSCI Inc. Class A MSCI, +1.11% 60% -17% 18%
Total System Services Inc. TSS, +0.83% 58% -18% 3%
Dentsply Sirona Inc. XRAY, +0.19% 55% -1% -43%
Source: FactSet

Here are the worst-performing S&P 500 stocks:

Company Ticker Total return – 2019 Total return – fourth quarter, 2018 Total return – 2018
Nordstrom Inc. JWN, -2.33% -31% -22% 1%
Mylan N.V. MYL, +1.66% -31% -25% -35%
Gap Inc. GPS, +0.45% -30% -10% -22%
Kohl’s Corp. KSS, +0.77% -28% -10% 27%
Kraft Heinz Co. KHC, -0.23% -27% -21% -42%
Macy’s Inc M, -0.55% -25% -13% 24%
AbbVie Inc. ABBV, +2.94% -22% -1% -1%
Foot Locker Inc. FL, +0.15% -22% 5% 17%
ABiomed Inc. ABMD, +1.32% -22% -28% 73%
Kroger Co. KR, -0.19%   -21% -5% 2%
Source: FactSet
Nasdaq-100 — winners and losers

Here are the 10 best performers among components of the Nasdaq-100 Index NDX, +0.39%

Company Ticker Total return – 2019 Total return – fourth quarter, 2018 Total Return – 2018
MercadoLibre Inc. MELI, +0.24% 109% -14% -7%
Advanced Micro Devices Inc. AMD, +2.74% 67% -40% 80%
Cadence Design Systems Inc. CDNS, +0.47% 61% -4% 4%
Synopsys Inc. SNPS, +1.32% 49% -15% -1%
Lululemon Athletica Inc LULU, +1.58% 48% -25% 55%
Idexx Laboratories Inc. IDXX, +0.80% 46% -25% 19%
JD.com Inc. ADR Class A JD, +0.50% 45% -20% -49%
Facebook Inc. Class A FB, +0.98% 45% -20% -26%
Celgene Corp. CELG, -0.06% 44% -28% -39%
eBay Inc. EBAY, +0.23% 41% -15% -26%
Source: Factet

And here are the worst 10 performers in the Nasdaq-100:

Company Ticker Total return – 2019 Total return – fourth quarter, 2018 Total return – 2018
Tesla Inc TSLA, +1.63% -33% 26% 7%
Mylan N.V. MYL, +1.66% -31% -25% -35%
Baidu Inc. ADR Class A BIDU, +0.23% -27% -31% -32%
Kraft Heinz Co. KHC, -0.23% -27% -21% -42%
Biogen Inc. BIIB, +0.71% -20% -15% -6%
Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. WBA, +4.09% -19% -6% -4%
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. REGN, +1.83% -17% -8% -1%
Citrix Systems Inc. CTXS, +0.33% -4% -8% 17%
Amgen Inc. AMGN, +0.46% -4% -5% 15%
J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. JBHT, +1.52% -3% -22% -18%
Sirius XM Holdings Inc. SIRI, +0.72% -2% -9% 7%
Source: FactSet

Don’t miss: These European companies benefit from high health-care prices in the U.S.

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Upgrade: He makes $150,000 a year, she makes $75,000: Is it ‘unreasonable’ to split costs 50/50?

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Love and money don’t always mix.

That’s something a recent Reddit thread entitled “How do you split expenses with your significant other when you make more money than them?” clearly showed. The guy posting the question says he makes $150,000 a year, while his girlfriend of four years makes $75,000, but they’re having disagreements about how to split the bills after she moved into his co-op apartment with him.

After some back and forth, they decided that he pays $1,000 a month towards the mortgage, maintenance, insurance and utilities, while she pays $685. But they are now in an argument about AC, laundry, and toiletries expenses — he pays for them all now but is asking her to split them. “She feels that she should not have to pay for this because I make more money than her and because she still has student loans to pay and because she has to commute into the city while I stay home and work from home,” he writes.

Then he asks fellow Redditors whether he is “being unreasonable asking her to contribute to toiletries, laundry, and AC?” and whether it is “my duty as her boyfriend to do more to help subsidize her monthly expenses while she pays down her student loans? Or is a 60/40 split like we are doing now a good compromise?”

No doubt, others have faced a similar situation, so we asked experts: How do you split the bills when the members of the couple make very different amounts of money?

Certified financial planner John Bodnar, founder of Bodnar Financial Advisors in Florham Park, N.J., says that “there is no right or wrong way” to do this, “only the way that works for you both.” He adds: Some couples are more comfortable splitting it 50-50, and others decide paying bills based on a percentage of income is fair. You figure this all out, he says, by having “ a respectful, two-sided discussion” about how to handle your expenses.

But for certified financial planner Mitchell C. Hockenbury of 1440 Financial Partners in Kansas City, Mo., the answer depends on whether you’re married or not. In a married couple, “it doesn’t matter what percentage is made by either spouse, as a couple you should pool the income, then dissect where the money will be spent,” he says. “If you are committed, put all your cards on the table and share the information freely. You are sharing your bodies, you are sharing kids….share your money!”

But if it’s a more casual relationship, Hockenbury says it should “be a 50/50 split on common expenses” like rent and utilities. He adds: “Do not to pay for the debt of the other person.” The reason: “They aren’t committed to each other (if they were, I’d defer to Beyonce, “…put a ring on it”).”

A number of commenters on Reddit said they’d practiced the 50-50 rule, with one writing: “Before my husband and I got married we lived together for 4 years. He made 2x my salary. He’s an accountant I’m a High School teacher. We split everything 50/50. Rent, utilities, groceries, toilet paper, etc.” Another noted that “we follow the same practice, 50/50 across the board … we buy gifts for each other occasionally and fund our own hobbies, but otherwise it’s not even a question.”

Some experts note that the 50/50 rule doesn’t always work though: “If one spouse makes significantly more than the other, but their expenses are fairly comparable, the split should be closer to 50/50. If the spouse who makes more, is also spending much more than the other, a 50/50 split doesn’t make sense,” says Joe Anderson, an investment advisor representative with SHP Financial in Plymouth, MA. “It’s important to find a balance between how much each spouse spends and how much they contribute to the household. If their income levels are very different, it is typically not realistic to expect a 50/50 split when it comes to bills.”

No matter what you decide, Anderson says it all starts with a review of current bills. “ Couples should start the process of splitting bills by reviewing monthly household expenses. Weekly or monthly budgeting is the best way to get an accurate portrayal of what a couple actually spends,” he says.

Americans’ financial worries are messing with their summer vacation plans

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It’s been years since the prospect of summer fun seemed so shaky.

Just 42% of Americans are sure they’ll be taking a summer vacation this year, the lowest confidence level since 2013, when 40% planned on a summertime trip, according to new findings from the travel insurance provider Allianz Global Assistance.

Over half of the people who weren’t confident they’d be taking a summer vacation (52%) cited financial reasons — another reminder that many still feel unsteady about their money situation even in a decade-long bull market with very low unemployment.

The financial concerns and crimped summer plans didn’t come as a surprise to Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Pfeffer, the author of “Dying for a Paycheck: How Modern Management Harms Employee Health and Company Performance — And What We Can Do About It,” said financial worries about vacation come in two forms.

“People are nervous,” he said. “Part of this is, ‘Do I have the money to go out on vacation?’”

But even those who can afford a trip have worries too, Pfeffer added. Sometimes they’re concerned about being perceived as slackers if they take too much time off. They could also fear bosses will see them as expendable if they’re away from the office too often.

“People feel there is no tolerance for anything less than 100%, 100% of the time,” Pfeffer said. That can spiral into larger worries like, “Will I have a job in five, eight months? What does my career look like? What does my future look like?” Pfeffer said.

Financial nervousness is seeping into other aspects of American life.

More than half of 27,000 survey participants said just thinking about their finance could induce anxiety, according to a recently released study from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation. The study noted a “widening gap in financial capability” across the nation.

On the whole, Americans have been vacationing more in recent years, but average days off haven’t returned to levels seen in past decades. Americans took 17.2 days off in 2017, up from 16 days in 2014, according to the U.S. Travel Association. The 17.2-mark is three days below the 20.3- day average from 1978 to 2000, the travel industry trade association said.

American workers left 705 million vacation days unused in 2017, the organization noted.

At the same time, the people who are vacationing in the coming months are doing it in a big way.

Summer vacation spending could be a record-breaking $101.7 billion, the Allianz survey said. That would be an approximately 5% jump from the $100.4 billion projected for summer vacations spending last year.

Average summer vacation expenses could be $2,037 — the first time estimated spending surpassed $2,000 since the survey started tracking expenses in 2010.

Sometimes the lack of vacation isn’t about money woes. Some people are old-fashoined workaholics or believe they need to work 24/7 to build their business.

For example, Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft MSF, +0.75% recently said it took him until his 30s to start enjoying vacations and weekends. “It really is true that I didn’t believe in weekends; I didn’t believe in vacations,” he said.

The Allianz survey said 38% of the people who weren’t sure they would take a summer vacation cited an inability or a refusal to take time off work.

Pfeffer said the financial insecurity that keeps people from vacationing was closely linked with a complete devotion to work.

There was once a time when a suntan was a status symbol of those who could afford to bask in the sun, Pfeffer said. “Now the status symbol is, ‘I work all the time, I am so busy, I can’t take off a second.”

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Student-loan borrowers may be far poorer than most economists believe

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Is cancelling some or all student-loan debt fair?

The answer to that question depends on a lot of things, including your philosophical and political point of view. It also depends on your understanding of who will benefit from wiping out the $1.5 trillion in outstanding student loans.

A new analysis suggests we may have a skewed view of who that might be.

The Survey of Consumer Finances — a data set that’s used widely by think tanks and journalists to illustrate the income breakdown of student-loan borrowers is glossing over a key borrower demographic: Those who move back in with their parents.

And that makes the student-loan borrower population look richer than it actually is, Matt Bruenig, the founder of the People Policy Project, a progressive think tank, wrote in a blog post Thursday.

That’s a problem, Bruenig said in an interview, because it means that the debate raging over whether recent proposals from Senators and Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren unfairly benefit the well-off are on shaky ground.

“If we’re going to basically talk about how fair the student-debt forgiveness plans are and your notion of fairness has to do with whether it is distributively equal,” Bruenig said. “You have know what the distribution is and this data source does not allow you to know this distribution very well.”

Indeed, one of the major criticisms surrounding student-debt cancellation plans is that they would be a giveaway to wealthier borrowers.

White households with a bachelor’s degree have about $400,000 in net worth, compared to $68,000 for black households with a college degree, according to recent research by Demos, a left-leaning think tank.

Higher student-loan balances tend to be concentrated among borrowers with higher incomes because they typically hold advanced degrees. Attending graduate school is associated with both higher debt loads and higher earnings, and because of that these borrowers hold a large share of outstanding student debt.

That means they would theoretically benefit the most — at least measured in the amount of dollars forgiven — from the type of debt cancellation plans proposed by Warren and Sanders.

Bruenig’s post raises questions about how well-off the student-loan borrower population actually skews. The Survey of Consumer Finances assesses a household’s balance sheet by zeroing in on the breadwinner or bread-winning couple and asking them about the household’s finances, including their debt load. That method could easily miss a 25-year-old struggling with their debt who moves back in with their parents to help mitigate that burden, Bruenig said.

Even if the parents in the household choose to report their boomerang child’s debt, it would be reported as part of the household’s. That means the debt would be correlated with the parents’ income, which is likely higher than the child’s.

As a result, the income and age of student-loan borrowers reported by this widely-cited survey, likely skew higher than the reality, Bruenig said.

Bruenig isn’t the first to make this observation. Matthew Chingos, the vice president, education data and policy at the Urban Institute, a think tank, said he heard similar pushback in 2014 to his own research based on data from the Survey of Consumer Finances.

Chingos said his response at the time went along the lines of “well that’s all fine and good, but there’s no better data, that’s what we have,” he said.

In the years since, other data has backed up, more or less, the data picture painted by the Survey of Consumer Finances, Chingos said.

Research by Adam Looney, a former deputy assistant secretary for tax analysis at the Treasury Department, and Constantine Yannelis, a finance professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, found that borrowers in the highest-income quintile hold a larger share of student debt than those in the bottom-income quintile.

That analysis was based on a match of tax and student-loan data and so it doesn’t have the same challenges as the Survey of Consumer Finances, Chingos noted.

Still, 12 years after entering college, white men have paid off 44% of their student-loan balance on average, according to Demos. For white women, that share drops to 28%. Black women actually see their loan balances actually grow 13% on average, 12 years after leaving school, while black men see their balances grow 11%.

So how poor are those saddled with student debt? “We need better data, for sure,” Chingos added.

Livability: Six places in the U.S. that have epic starry skies

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Look up at the sky in most big cities and you can spot 500 or so stars — and that’s on a good night. But what happens when you tilt your head back in a designated dark sky park? It’s twinkle, twinkle lots of stars. In fact, in a dark sky park, you can see as many as 15,000 stars, according to the National Park Service.

Why are dark skies important? Flashy billboards, streetlights and other forms of artificial light common in big cities not only obscures our views of starry skies, all that light can also disrupt ecosystems. That’s because wildlife depends on Earth’s light-dark cycle to cue everything from reproductive patterns to protecting themselves from predators.

Here’s some great news for your bucket list: you don’t need to travel all the way to Iceland to see the Northern Lights.

Some cities have chosen to limit excessive artificial lighting outdoors. Consider it conservation efforts for the night sky, with the International Dark-Sky Association and communities across the U.S. working together to prevent light pollution and earning an official Dark Sky Designation in the process.

Here are six star-studded communities across the U.S. that are going to infinity and beyond to protect their night skies, and, because of that, are truly remarkable places to stargaze.

1. Flagstaff, Ariz.

In all, there are 16 “dark sky communities” in the U.S., though several more parks and reserves qualify. Flagstaff, however, was the first city to ever receive the dark sky designation, doing so in 2001. The Arizona city, which is home to Lowell Observatory and the U.S. Naval Observatory Flagstaff Station, has a long history of defending its darkness. It enacted the world’s first outdoor lighting ordinance in 1958, according to the International Dark-Sky Association. Retired astronomer Christian Luginbuhl — a founding member of the Flagstaff Dark Skies Coalition, a chapter of the International Dark-Sky Association — says even in the city, Flagstaff residents can see the Milky Way overhead as long as they’re away from bright lights like streetlights. Luginbuhl says Flagstaff, as a community, has always valued its environment, including its surrounding forests, canyons, deserts and mountains. All of that contributes to the “Flagstaff quality of life,” he says, and it’s a natural addition to include the visibility of stars in such a concept. “The designation has helped open people’s eyes at night,” Luginbuhl says.

2. Borrego Springs, Calif.

California’s only International Dark-Sky Community is located in Borrego Springs, a desert oasis town in San Diego County. “Borrego Springs earned the Dark Sky distinction by restricting and modifying lights on public streets, outside of businesses and even on residents’ front porches,” says Robert Arends, public relations manager with San Diego Tourism Authority. Lending an assist is a high mountain range that shields the big, bright cities and towns of Southern California, as well as the 600,000-acre undeveloped wilderness of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park that surrounds the town on all sides, he explains.

Also see: 12 best American road trips

An unexpected spot to stargaze? The Springs at Borrego RV Resort, which features a small observatory that houses an 11-inch diameter telescope and holds public viewings and lectures several times a year. Visitors can also take a personalized tour of the cosmos with a telescope and renowned celestial tour guide Dennis Mammana, an astronomer.

3. Torrey, Utah

Honestly, you could go on an extremely impressive celestial circuit in Utah. The state is home to a whopping nine dark sky parks, plus the town of Torrey, a dark sky community. Torrey (population 300), which is in southwest Utah, is the gateway to one of the state’s dark sky parks, Capitol Reef. Torrey resident Mary Bedingfield-Smith created a fundraiser to fund lighting upgrades in town, as well as provide money for residents wanting to upgrade their lighting. The retrofitted lights direct light away from the sky.

Also on MarketWatch: Six reasons a college town is the perfect place to retire

We asked Bettymaya Foott, coordinator of Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative, for some tips on how visitors can best enjoy Utah’s dark skies. “Make sure to get out under a new moon if you want to catch a glimpse of the Milky Way,” she says. “If you are a little scared of the dark like me, crescent moon nights are great because there is slight ground illumination from the moon, but not enough to wash out delicate celestial phenomenon.” Also, wear warm clothes. Warm desert days can be followed by cold nights. And to really get this right, bring a star chart or download a stargazing app, ideally one with night mode (she uses “Star Chart”). And, finally, make sure to use a red flashlight to preserve your night vision.

4. Headlands International Dark Sky Park in Emmet County, Michigan

Here’s some great news for your bucket list: you don’t need to travel all the way to Iceland to see the Northern Lights. Time it right, and Headlands in Michigan will give you a show. Headlands boasts 550 acres of woodlands and more than 2 miles of undeveloped Lake Michigan shoreline, and is located at the northern tip of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. A countywide light ordinance helps curtail artificial light. As for the park, it has a Waterfront Event Center and Observatory, as well as the Guest House, which is available for overnight rentals. The park celebrates its night sky with all kinds of events such as nighttime storytelling, starry cruises, star parties, astrophotography nights and more.

Check out: How to save money on an RV road trip

To best enjoy the area, Diane Dakins, Assistant Director of the Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau, suggests bringing a blanket and red-filtered flashlight. (Leave the regular flashlights at home!) “Find a comfortable place to sit and be dazzled by the stars and sometimes even the Northern Lights,” she says. A good spot? Along the lakeshore in the Designated Dark Sky Viewing Area.

5. Staunton River State Park in Virginia

Located in Halifax County, the Staunton River State Park achieved its star status in 2015 after nabbing a dark sky park designation. Many exterior light fixtures were replaced with approved dark sky fixtures, including lights in rental cabins, residences and parking lots. The park in southern Virginia also developed plans that made sure any future park expansion doesn’t obscure the night sky. Even before the designation, though, the Chapel Hill Astronomical Observational Society had been promoting astronomy and dark sky events in the park. The park’s “Dark Sky Observation Area” is a 9-acre field adjacent to the Visitor Center that shows off views of the night sky. The park draws astronomers and star enthusiasts each spring and fall for multiday star parties.

6. Chaco Culture National Historical Park near Albuquerque, New Mexico

By day, visitors here can explore the ruins in Chaco Canyon, which, from AD 850 to 1250, was the site where ancestral Pueblo people gathered for ceremonies and trading. Marvel at painted images on canyon walls, see scattered pieces of pottery and visit Pueblo Bonito, which was once 5 stories tall with 800 rooms. At night, turn your attention to the sky. Chaco received its dark sky designation in 2013 by adhering to strict lighting guidelines. Plus, the national historic park holds several educational events and has a public observatory. Hotel Chaco in Albuquerque was inspired by Chaco Canyon, and several of the property’s architects and designers spent a few nights at Chaco Canyon to draw inspiration. The hotel offers guided day trips and overnight equinox glamping trips to Chaco Canyon through Heritage Inspirations.

Read the original article on Livability. This story has been updated.

Next Avenue: How to screen caregivers or caregiving agencies

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This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org.

Recently, The Wall Street Journal published the results of its investigation into the practices of Care.com, the country’s largest matching site for caregivers, babysitters and nannies. What it found raises serious questions for anyone who needs to hire help to care for a loved one.

Care.com claims to have overhauled many questionable procedures and policies since The Wall Street Journal article in March, but the findings should make all of us think carefully about how we evaluate the qualifications of people we employ to do the vital, difficult and sometimes emotionally fraught tasks associated with caregiving.

As with everything else, hiring a caregiver comes with its own set of caveats. But you can find reliable care if you do your homework, proceed as you would with any other major decision, ask the right questions and learn how to evaluate the answers.

To vet caregivers, start with your state government

Amy Goyer, a family and caregiving expert for AARP and the author of “Juggling Life, Work, and Caregiving,” has plenty of professional and personal experience in this area.

When looking for a reliable home care agency, she advises, check with your state’s monitoring and licensing departments first. The government groups that monitor and license home care agencies vary from state to state, but a call to your state’s department of aging or department of health should point you in the right direction.

In addition, says Goyer, Medicare’s Home Health Compare lists Medicare-certified agencies, which may be useful even if you’re not using Medicare to pay.

Also see: The heartbreaking stories of some of America’s 43.5 million unpaid adult caregivers

Unfortunately, the quality of Medicare’s patient care ratings are of limited use, since they only indicate that a particular agency performed better, the same or not as well as other agencies in “selected measures.” This is borne out by the low patient survey marks given even to the agencies with Medicare’s highest ratings. But it’s a place to start.

Questions for a caregiver agency

Geriatric care-manager Forest Gong, a licensed clinical social worker with a private practice in Los Angeles, has been working with older adults and their families since 1993. He recommends asking a prospective caregiver agency about its hiring practices and vetting process.

“An agency should be doing criminal background checks through the various law enforcement databases as well as checking references,” Gong says. If an agency is reluctant to share that information, he adds, “it’s a red flag.”

Gong suggests asking to see a copy of an agency’s license and proof and date of bonding. Once you have that information, you can verify it through your state’s monitoring agency and check to see if the agency had any renewal problems.

One advantage of going through an agency, says Gong, is that it handles things like benefits, withholding taxes and unemployment insurance for the caregiver.

Hiring a caregiver on your own

You can skip an agency and hire a home caregiver on your own. If you do, Goyer suggests reaching out to friends, houses of worship and neighborhood groups for recommendations. Social workers at a local senior center may also prove to be a good resource.

Read: My uncle’s caregiver raided his Social Security to pay for her car payments and cellphone

But going it alone means you’ll have to approach things as if you were your own caregiving agency. That means paying for thorough criminal background checks, getting and checking references, interviewing applicants and spending time with them to make sure you find someone who is a good fit for your loved one.

Don’t know how to do a background check or what kind you need? “Ask local law enforcement to point you in the right direction,” Goyer says.

Whether you’re hiring on your own or through an agency, “you have to be clear about what you expect from the caregiver in terms of services, hours, time off and accountability,” Goyer adds.

And, Goyer emphasizes, your job is far from over even once the caregiver is in place. Popping in unannounced every now and then is very important. Is food being made? Is the living space clean? “There is no substitute for a hands-on family member,” Goyer says. And if your loved one is capable of evaluating the situation themselves, ask for that person’s input.

Questions for a prospective caregiver

Regardless of how you hire a caregiver, you’ll want to take note of the person’s professional demeanor and whether you can be given a résumé. Ask about on-the-job experience, why the person became a caregiver and credentials.

Also see: Doctors and families are handling dementia all wrong, says this expert

A caregiver doesn’t require any certification or special training, but a certified nursing assistant must complete specific courses that include classroom and clinical work. Then, the person must pass a state licensing exam.

Goyer notes a number of things to observe when introducing a caregiver to your loved one: Does the caregiver treat your loved one with respect or condescension? Does the person seem impatient, disorganized or insensitive?

If you think you have a loved one who may need home care, “don’t wait until it becomes an emergency,” says Dr. Megan Rau, an instructor in the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Palliative Care at New York University’s Langone Health. She says you’ll have a much better experience with an inherently difficult situation if you give yourself and your loved one time to plan ahead.

Toni L. Kamins is a freelance writer in New York City. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Daily News, the Los Angeles Times, Medscape, City Limits, Tablet and other publications. She is the editor of The Medicare Reporter (themedicarereporter.com), which will launch in summer 2019.

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org, © 2019 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Airlines are still cancelling thousands of flights because of the Boeing 737 Max grounding

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Multiple airlines continue to cancel thousands of flights that were scheduled to be flown using Boeing 737 Max aircraft as more problems with the planes were discovered.

Southwest Airlines LUV, +0.08% United Airlines UAL, +1.29%  and American Airlines AAL, +2.19%  have all cancelled flights that continued to be booked on Boeing 737 Max aircraft BA, -2.91% despite the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision earlier this year to ground the planes in the wake of two fatal crashes.

Issues with the computer system onboard the 737 Max aircraft were identified as a cause of the crashes of a Lion Air flight and an Ethiopian Airlines flight. More than 300 people died in the two crashes, and the incidents prompted airline regulators around the world to ground the aircraft.

On Wednesday, the FAA found more problems with the 737 Max’s software, which will further delay the process of bringing the aircraft back into service.

Don’t miss: The U.S. grounds the Boeing 737 Max aircraft — what that means for air travelers

Southwest Airlines, which has 34 of the aircraft in its fleet, has cancelled flights that were scheduled to be flown on those planes through Oct. 1, the airline announced on Thursday. Previously, Southwest had cancelled planned 737 Max flights through Sept. 2.

“By proactively removing the Max from scheduled service, we can reduce last-minute flight cancellations and unexpected disruptions,” the company said.

Roughly 150 daily flights will be affected, the company said. Affected consumers will be notified directly and will be able to change their itineraries at no additional charge.

‘Anytime you have less availability and increased demand, higher fares tend to follow.’

—Tracy Stewart, content editor at Airfarewatchdog.com

United Airlines, which has 14 Max aircraft in its fleet, announced Wednesday that it is cancelling flights that were set to take place with these planes through Sept. 3. That equates to around 1,290 flights in July (between 40 and 45 flights a day) and 1,900 flights in August (roughly 60 flights a day).

The company said it has worked to minimize the impact on consumers who have already booked flights by swapping the Max aircraft out for other planes in its fleet. “It’s harder to make those changes at the peak of the busy summer travel season,” the company said.

Consumers will be automatically booked on alternate flights whenever possible — and when unable, United said it will reach out to these travelers and offer other options.

Also see: Airlines offer fee waivers for Dominican Republic flights in wake of tourist deaths

Earlier in June, American Airlines announced that it would cancel flights through Sept. 3 that were meant to use Max aircraft, which amounts to roughly 115 flights per day. However, not all 737 Max flights will be cancelled, since the airline also plans to substitute other aircraft.

Affected customers will either be contacted by American or a travel agent (if they booked their trip with an agency). Consumers will have the option not to rebook and to receive a full refund.

Boeing told MarketWatch in a statement that the company is “supporting all of [its] customers around the world in every way possible to ensure complete confidence in the 737 Max and a safe return to commercial flight.”

Consumers have resources if they want to avoid the 737 Max

Given the potential for future cancellations — and concerns travelers may have with the Boeing aircraft even when it returns to service — consumers can proactively find out whether a given itinerary is set to be flown on one of these planes.

Online travel agency Kayak BKNG, +0.82%  added the option to filter itineraries by aircraft type in order to allow consumers to opt out of flying on the 737 Max. Other websites, such as Flightview.com and Flightaware.com, now also show what type of plane is planned to be used for a given flight.

However, airlines reserve the right to change which type of aircraft will be used for a given itinerary. Alternately, concerned consumers can book flights with a number of airlines that do not include the 737 Max in their fleet, including Delta Air Lines DAL, +0.78% Sun Country Airlines APO, +2.18% Hawaiian Airlines HA, +3.17% Spirit Airlines SAVE, +2.18%  and Alaska Airlines ALK, +1.94%

The 737 Max ordeal could lead to higher travel costs for consumers

The reduction in flights this summer, when demand for air travel is typically at its highest, could create headache for consumers. “Anytime you have less availability and increased demand, higher fares tend to follow,” said Tracy Stewart, content editor at travel site Airfarewatchdog.com TRIP, +5.74%

Consumer advocate and travel writer Christopher Elliott disagreed, arguing that the higher prices could prompt consumers to rethink their summer travel prices. Because airlines use dynamic pricing that adjusts with demand, fares could eventually drop in price — but that doesn’t mean airlines won’t attempt to claw back their losses.

“The airline business model is to hit us with ‘gotcha’ fees for luggage or changes after we’ve bought the cheap ticket,” Elliott said. “We may pay a Max ‘surcharge’ at some point, but if we do, it will be in the form of higher luggage fees or change fees.”

In the long run, the fallout from the Boeing 737 Max situation could have major ramifications for low-cost carriers, Stewart said. It could jeopardize new routes, including Southwest’s service to Hawaii.

Additionally, Norwegian Airlines NWARF, -3.89% which has 18 Max aircraft in its fleet, is likely in a similar bind. (Norwegian did not return a request for comment.)

Many low-cost carriers like Norwegian have resorted to renting chartered aircraft to fulfill flights meant to occur on Max planes. That comes at a cost.

“Norwegian was already in a precarious spot after an engine issue forced them to ground several 787 Dreamliners the previous year,” Stewart said. “With so many other low cost carriers, like Wow Air and Primera, dropping out of the picture recently, losing a big player like Norwegian would be a huge blow to competition, and fares to Europe would certainly go up.”

The Dow Jones U.S. Airlines Index DJUSAR, +1.02%  is up 7.64% over the last three months. Comparatively, the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.04%  and the S&P 500 SPX, +0.38%  are only up 3.15% and 3.89%, respectively, over the same period.

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