What is of greater significance is the slipshod way the onion trade is left in an uncontrolled fashion by the government! The party that can assure and deliver the supply of commodities at fair prices will succeed in the ensuing election
Assembly elections are due in five states, including Delhi. But, the high cost of food and the resultant inflation is likely to play a decisive role, particularly in Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. It looks like Kejriwal will have a field day when he takes on Sheila Dikshit to debate on various issues affecting the aam aadmi!
There has been a public outcry as to why export is allowed of the onions where there is so much shortage in the country itself? Export of onions, controlled via NAFED, has been going on for decades and mostly to the Gulf countries, where millions of Indians toil and remit their hard earned foreign exchange back to India. Cutting off the supplies would not only affect them, but will give the opportunity for our competitors to break into the market.
Already, new comers like Australia, USA and China have made supplies to the Gulf market. In a recent survey that Moneylife carried out, it was found that as against the regular Dh3 to Dh4 per kilo price (Dh1 = Rs17.30 now), the brown onions from Australia and USA were being sold at Dh4.95 and Dh6.95 per kilo. Of course, there are variations in the prices, depending upon the location of the super market or the chain that sells them.
The export price was $650 per tonne in August; after the situation began to worsen in the country, the price was revised to $900 and now, finally, the minimum export price has been raised and revised upward to $1,150 per tonne.
Increasing our export price has serious repercussions in the Gulf market. Pakistan has been one of the fiercest competitors for the Indian suppliers, and when the shortage in the country became unbearable, the government even planned to get some quick supplies from Pakistan and China. How much came from these two sources has not been made public so far, but their quality does not match our taste buds in the country!
In any case, as against one million tonnes in the first half of last year, this year, due to lower production, India has not been able to ship more than 700,000 tonnes. With the high jumps in the minimum export price, our final export figures is likely to fall and it would be a difficult task to regain these markets. We cannot open and close the supply taps at will, just because we are unable to domestic market.
The vagaries of rainfall have affected our supplies once again; this time, it has been excess rainfall in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. What is of greater significance is the slipshod way the market is left in an uncontrolled fashion by the government! The growers do not get adequate price for their produce and the maximum benefit is usurped by the middlemen and wholesalers. There is a nexus between the two and it is generally believed that politicians play a vital role in these transactions.
Retail price of onion ranges between Rs60 and Rs100 a kilo. Sadly, the grower does not even get one third of the price.
The party that can assure and deliver the supply of commodities at fair prices will succeed in the ensuing election.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)
Moneylife’s consistent campaign since March 2013, has led to a series of customer-friendly initiatives by MEA and TCS; the latest is with mobile technology. The mPassport Seva app provides a wide variety of services such as status tracking, locating a passport office and other general information
No more the arduous trips to your passport office and exasperating interaction with the officials who often make you run round and round. Now, to track your passport application; to find out which is your passport office if you are residing in a small town or overseas; to get the required contact numbers; to find out exactly what are going to be your application fees and; any other general information, all you need is to search it on your smartphone!
Termed as the `mPassport Seva’, this new mobile application enables Indian citizens to access passport related information on their smartphones. This service has been executed in public-private-partnership (PPP) mode by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).
It may be recalled that since March 2013 Moneylife succeeded in breaking the TCS’s corporate secrecy, when it took up the passport issue at Pune, which was in utter mess. For more than a fortnight, the TCS officials refused to take note of the constant emails being sent to them regarding the breakdown in services. The writer agitated in front of the Pune’s TCS’s Passport Seva Kendra in Mundhwa, after which TCS officials came out in the open, to discuss the problems. Passport applicants were also encouraged to use Right to Information (RTI) to track status of their passport application.
Thereafter, it was after Moneylife’s managing editor Sucheta Dalal’s intervention through a meeting she organized at the Moneylife Foundation office in Mumbai. This meeting held sometime in April 2013, broke the ice of corporate secrecy. Tanmoy Chakroborty, head of Global operations at TCS, took the lead in making the Pune passport office citizen-friendly through various facilities including online payment along with the online application form. It is heartening to note that this has now resulted in an extra facility that was not envisioned before – that is, the `mPassport Seva.’ Moneylife heartily thanks the TCS and the passport division of the MEA.
See these links for other Moneylife impact stories on passport:
A press release issued by the Ministry of External Affairs on 5th November, states, “In order to keep pace with the current technology, the Ministry of External Affairs had launched the mPassport Seva mobile app on Android platform, as a pilot, in March 2013. Encouraged by positive public response, the Ministry has now launched this app on Windows and Apple iOS platforms as well.’’
To avail the facilities available on your Smartphone, you would have to download it their respective stores:
Android-based handsets: www.play.google.com/store/apps/
Windows-based mobiles: www.windowsphone.com/en-in/store
Apple iPhones: www.apple.com/itunes
Following are the facilities offered on your smartphone:
In the meanwhile, citizens share their happiness on getting their passports with the guidance of Moneylife. An example:
(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)
A former federal health official says consumers in the individual health-care market deserved more of a heads-up about what was coming under Obamacare
There seems to be no letup of bad news on the Affordable Care Act. Yesterday, Healthcare.gov, the problem-plagued federal health insurance marketplace, crashed again. And a pile of news reports focused on citizen anger over policy cancellations prompted by the law.
Last night, President Obama addressed the situation. Passing the act 2010 “was the easy part,” he said. Though he’s done campaigning for office, Obama said, "I’ve got one more campaign in me – the campaign to make sure that this law works for every single person in this country."
To get behind the headlines, we reached out to a leading expert on the law: Kip Piper, who advises large health care organizations on Medicare, Medicaid, and health reform policy, finance and business strategy.
Among other roles, Piper has worked as senior adviser to the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Wisconsin state health administrator, director of the Wisconsin Medicaid program, a senior Medicare budget officer at the White House Office of Management and Budget.
"The fact that ACA would effectively nuke most of the existing commercial individual health insurance market was never in question," Piper told us.
In the interview below, which was edited for length and clarity, Piper discusses cancellations, the apparent surge in Medicaid enrollments under Obamacare and whether more transparency would have helped the rollout.
Q. What’s your take on the coverage cancellations arriving in mailboxes around the country?
A. It was always known that the ACA would outlaw millions of existing individual or non-group health insurance policies. From a policy wonk perspective, that was a no-brainer. It was self-evident in the law in March 2010 and confirmed in subsequent rules and analyses. Also obvious all along was that consumers would face a very different marketplace under the ACA, with some seeing lower premiums (including me), some seeing larger premiums, and most everyone seeing higher deductibles, higher co-pays, and a narrower choice of providers.
Quantifying the impact of ACA on the individual — estimating the number of people affected — was always tough. Whether it would cause 60 percent or 80 percent of individual plans to be cancelled was hard to estimate because data on individual coverage is hard to come by, rules and products varied by state, the ACA grandfathering rules came out slowly and in pieces, and even things like the essential health benefit package varies a bit by state. Also, not all these policies expire on December 31.
What’s frustrating is how it took three and a half years, the failed launch of the federal exchange, and the news media starting the question the administration’s core talking points for anyone to focus on this. Whether you like or dislike the ACA policies, the 19.4 million Americans in the various parts of individual market deserved a heads up.
Q. Could this have been prevented?
A. From a regulatory perspective, health insurers in the individual market have no choice but to discontinue non-compliant policies and, if they wish to keep business, offer new, compliant policies. Health insurance is a binding contract. Insurers can’t merely transfer people. They have to cancel policies that no longer meet federal and state law, give notice, and then try to sell people into the new one policies. Having said this, the new policies will generally be more expensive. The ACA requires people to buy a richer benefit package – it only permits sale of the richer benefit packages. You can argue that this is better for society but there is no free lunch and it does eliminate choices many consumers were fine with.
The higher cost sharing – deductibles and co-payments – that many are seeing (including me) is an inevitable byproduct of the ACA insurance market rules, the brave new actuarial risks of the post-ACA marketplace, and competition based on premiums and brand.
Q. Is Medicaid a success story here?
A. Medicaid enrollment data from the states with their own exchanges certainly suggests a surge in Medicaid. It’s still early but it appears that the surge is a combination of ACA Medicaid expansion and the woodwork effect – bringing in individuals already eligible but not enrolled. Medicaid rolls will also increase somewhat as individual commercial polices are cancelled, high-risk pools end, and some small and mid-size employers drop coverage.
Today, Medicaid covers about 74 million Americans. Given all the unknowns, including economic conditions, projected Medicaid enrollment by 2020 ranges from 85 million to 102 million. Regardless, the role of Medicaid in the marketplace and impact of Medicaid on federal and state budgets will only grow.
Q. Should the contractors behind healthcare.gov be penalized?
A. Determining accountability for the healthcare.gov mess is very tricky. Both the CMS and the multitude of contractors were responsible for the project, with a maze of interdependencies. Parsing out responsibility for the many failed parts of the federal systems for Obamacare will be difficult, will take months, and an independent party such as GAO or the Inspector General. Overall, it appears that there will be considerable finger pointing in all directions, with plenty of blame to go around.
CMS made several significant strategic blunders, most notably the decision to manage the project in-house rather than hiring a systems integrator. Hiring a systems integrator to honcho the project, serve as a super general contractor, make the disparate pieces work together, and oversee testing and problem solving was essential. CMS simply does not have the experience or capabilities to do this in-house. Retaining an integrator would have been expensive, probably at least $75 million on a project this size. Perhaps they didn’t have the budget, but otherwise the decision to handle system integration in-house is inexplicable and proved disastrous.
The Obama administration decided to avoid making decisions during the 2012 election year. Given the nature of elections and the array of winners and losers under the ACA – most of whom still are unaware they are winners or losers – this is perhaps understandable. However, CMS had no choice but to follow orders and avoid making decisions or revealing information about the controversial law during the election. That meant countless critical decisions that should have been made in 2011 and 2012 were not made until well into 2013, leaving little time for problem solving, system integration, and testing. To this day, nearly 44 months since the law was signed, not all ACA-related decisions have been made, with many less critical rules deferred.
In the end, whether in the form of reasons or excuses, the contractors have plenty to point in minimizing their share of responsibility. It appears they have covered themselves with a paper trail of warnings to CMS.
Q. You’ve been particularly critical of the administration’s transparency and follow-through on its own rules.
A. Presidential executive orders have long required cost estimates and impact analyses for every major proposed or final rule. In Executive Order 13563, President Obama reiterated the longstanding requirement and further directed each federal agency “… to use the best available techniques to quantify anticipated present and future benefits and costs as accurately as possible.” A Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) must be prepared for rules with economically significant effects — anything with an impact of $100 million or more in any one year. Obviously, every ACA rule had an impact of over $100 million.
However, early on CMS stopped providing cost estimates for rules implementing the Affordable Care Act. Most were omitted entirely, others watered down to be meaningless statements the analytical equivalent of saying, “The hell if we know what will happen.” They even started explicitly saying in ACA rules — including the massive Medicaid expansion rule — that the rule didn’t have an impact of over $100 million because, in effect, everybody expected it.
My understanding is that CMS was directed by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to stop publishing the cost estimates and impact analyses with the ACA rules. They were concerned the information, coming from the CMS Office of the Actuary, would be used as ammunition by the House and other critics of Obamacare. That is certainly true but no excuse for ignoring 30 years of executive orders and the President’s own stated commitment to open government.
Read more of Kip Piper’s exchange with ProPublica’s Charles Ornstein here.