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Health Bill Would Cost $829b, Help Cover 94 Pct

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Democrats are heaving a sigh of relief after a positive cost report on health care overhaul gave them a chance to rally around a Senate plan that significantly expands coverage while trimming the federal deficit.

The Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday that the latest version of the Senate Finance Committee proposal would expand coverage to 94 percent of all eligible Americans at a 10-year cost of $829 billion.

The budget umpires added that the legislation would reduce federal deficits by $81 billion over a decade and could lead to continued reductions in federal red ink in the years beyond.

But the middle-of-the-road plan still leaves about 25 million people uninsured when fully phased in, in 2019. Of those, nearly 17 million would be U.S. citizens or legal residents. Nearly 50 million U.S. residents now lack coverage.

The White House hailed the report as proof of what President Barack Obama has insisted all along. “The analysis confirms that we can provide stability and security for Americans with insurance and affordable options for uninsured Americans without adding a dime to the deficit — and saving money over the long term,” said spokesman Reid Cherlin.

Conservative Democrats were upbeat. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, a spokesman for the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, said he was encouraged that the Finance bill would cut the deficit and indicated that he’d like to see the House bill move in the same direction.

Republicans — with the exception of Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe — panned the Finance effort.

“A celebration of the deficit effects masks who pays the bills,” said Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee. “This package includes hundreds of billions of dollars in new taxes and fees. Most Americans with health insurance will see their premiums increase.”

Snowe, a member of the Finance Committee, told reporters she needs time to review the latest estimates. That the overall cost of the plan is lower than an earlier version is positive, she said.

The report clears the way for Finance to vote as early as next week on the legislation. Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., the principal architect of the measure, took to the Senate floor to announce the estimates within moments of receiving them.

“This legislation, I believe, is a smart investment on our federal balance sheet. It’s an even smarter investment for American families, businesses and our economy,” he said.

Finance is the fifth and last of the congressional panels to debate health care. The Baucus plan has a decided centrist flavor, shunning any provision for the government to sell insurance in competition with private industry. That provision, strongly favored by many Democrats and just as strongly opposed by Republicans, is still alive in proposed House versions of the legislation.

The Finance bill does not require businesses to offer coverage to their workers, either, although large firms that do not would be required to offset the cost of any government subsidies going to those employees.

While generally positive about the legislation’s effects, the budget office report contained important caveats.

One noted that the estimate does not include the costs of proposed payment increases for doctors serving Medicare patients, roughly $200 billion through 2019. Additionally, a so-called fail-safe mechanism to hold spending in line could result in cuts as large as 15 percent in federal subsidies designed to help the poor afford insurance, CBO said.

Beginning in 2013, Americans would be required to get health insurance, through an employer or a government program or by buying it themselves. Failure to obey the requirement would result in penalties of up to $750 per family.

The plan would set up a new insurance marketplace for consumers to compare and shop for a plan. Federal subsidies would be provided to millions of individuals and families to help defray the cost of coverage that would otherwise be out of their reach. The alternative to government-sold health care, a proposal for nonprofit co-ops that would compete with private companies, was judged largely ineffective by budget officials. Such arrangements “seem unlikely to establish a significant medical presence in many areas of the country,” they wrote.

The legislation also would ban current insurance industry practices that deny coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions and restrict companies’ ability to charge vastly higher premiums on the basis of age, gender or other factors.

The measure would be paid for through a variety of tax increases and spending cuts, including savings of hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicare, the federal health care program for seniors.

Democratic leaders are hoping to hold votes on health care on the floor of the House and Senate within a few weeks.

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FOI Act Implementation Bothers BPST Boss

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The Director-General, Bureau of Public Service Reforms, Dr Dasuki Arabi, has expressed regrets that the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has remained very low since the law was enacted.
The BPSR boss made the observation during a workshop held on Wednesday in Abuja on the appraisal of Freedom of Information Act.
Arabi said the Act was meant to entrench transparency and openness in governance through improved compliance to annual reporting obligations of public institutions.
“It is also expected to guide and improve compliance of public institutions in proactive disclosure of mandatory publication requirements, as well as empower citizens, the right to access information held by the state.
“Regrettably, since the introduction of the FOI Act, it is evident that the level of compliance among public institutions still remains low.
“While the level of engagement by citizens still remains insignificant and in some cases fraught with misunderstanding between the State and Non-State actors,” he added.
Arabi, therefore, said that the workshop was to resolve some of the grey areas around FOI, as well as foster a harmonious relationship between the State and Non-State actors towards the implementation of the Act.
He said good governance and transparency would only thrive in the country when citizens access to Information is assured.
The DG emphasised that the FOIA provided platform for inclusiveness that sought to hold leaders to account and feed into the decision making process.
Arabi said that the Bureau had worked assiduously towards the implementation of the Act and was making efforts to ensure that it was institutionalized across the public sector.
He said that the interventions were in the areas of training public service workers and development of feedback mechanism through which a portal for application and responses for FOI request were deployed.
Others, he said, are score-card for ranking the performances of websites of public institutions using specific benchmarks, including FOI portal.
“Creating platforms for citizens engagement with Civil Societies Organizations on topical issues of government through the BPSR flagship programmes such as the monthly Lunchtime Seminar series,” he added.
Arabi said that the Bureau had also deployed information technology to provide innovative means to improve record keeping and management using intranet and Electronic Data Management Systems.
He continued that they were working in conjunction with the Nigeria Economic Summit Group to gauge the perception of citizens on public policies.
In her remarks, the National Coordinator, Open Government Partnership (OGP), Nigeria, Dr Gloria Ahmed, said making information open was a hallmark of democracy and a basic human right.
She said that the FOIA has given citizens the opportunity to access information as regards government policies and reforms.

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FCTA Harmonises Mobile Adverts, Haulage System Against Double Taxation

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The Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), Department of Outdoor Advertisement and Signage (DOAS), has launched the FCT/State Mobile Advertisement and Haulage permits for 2023 financial year.
Permanent Secretary, FCTA, Mr Olusade Adesola, while launching the system sought the cooperation of the business owners in the FCT, in order to achieve the objective of the initiative.
Adesola said the move was part of efforts to facilitate the ease of doing business drive in the nation’s capital.
He commended DOAS for the initiative. aimed at improving institutional cooperation and partnerships with the critical stakeholders.
Adesola warned: “FCTA would no longer tolerate acts of thuggery in the collection of taxes, as there are better ways of doing such, which will ensure the attainment of ease of doing business.”
He commended the leadership of Area Councils for resolving to synergise with DOAS to streamline the system.
The Permanent Secretary said the proliferation of collection authorities for mobile advertisements had led to serious loss of Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) in the FCT.
Earlier, the Executive Chairman, Kwali Area Council, Danladi Chiya, said although Area Councils have the constitutional right to collect such advertisements, they have no issue with FCTA over the establishment and mandate of DOAS.

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LASG Begins Vehicle Parking Lanes Demacation

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The Lagos State Parking Authority (LASPA) has revealed it will today commence creating additional Vehicle Parking Lanes in some selected locations across the State.
The Authority stated that all efforts have been geared towards improving the parking system of the State.
Speaking on the planned initiative on Friday in Ikeja, the General Manager of LASPA, Mrs. Adebisi Adelabu, stated that the vehicle parking lane mark exercise, which will begin with designated streets within Surulere, Ikoyi, Lekki, Obalende, Ikeja and Victoria Island axis of the State, is a step towards improving street parking from 2023.
Adelabu noted that the Parking Lane Markings will further guide motorists and pedestrians on appropriate parking regulations and spaces, minimise indiscriminate parking, confusion and uncertainty, while conveying a range of information to residents on parking procedures within each specified environment.
According to her, the lane markings will also include special consideration for people living with disabilities and signposts for parking directives, among other features.
The General Manager, however, solicited the understanding of residents within the locations who might be affected by any inconvenience the process might cause, assuring that the government is working rigorously in regulating and improving the parking culture as part of its Traffic Management and Transportation Agenda to ensure parking is convenient, safe and secure across the state.
Recall that the Authority had recently unveiled plans to begin full implementation of parking policy in the second quarter of 2023 and has continued to sensitise the public on the need to embrace the parking culture.

By; Nkpemenyie Mcdominic, Lagos

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