Tag Archives: insurance

Uber and Lyft

March 26, 2017 by
Illustration by Matt Wieczorek

With the post-millennial rise of ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft, a generation weaned on digital technology could suddenly tap a smartphone app, summon a private car driven by the owner, and pay for the fare electronically. Easy peasy.

Uber and Lyft can thank their younger demographics for pushing revenue into the billions of dollars.

But guess what? Both transportation companies have figured out that profitable fruit doesn’t only come from young trees. The push to make ride-hailing easier for retired Americans looms on the horizon, and that horizon can’t come into focus soon enough.

“Transportation has always been one of our greatest challenges,” says Erin Endress, director of sales and marketing at Remington Heights, a retirement community in Omaha. “We have vans, but getting residents to and from medical appointments takes priority, which it should. That leaves little opportunity for trips just for fun. We could definitely use a transportation alternative, as long as it’s safe.”

And for those who still live at home but whose eyesight or reflexes may not be the best?

“Personally, I think Uber and Lyft are going to make a huge difference for folks as they stop driving or don’t drive as much, or as far, on their own,”  says Cynthia Brammeier, administrator of the Nebraska State Unit on Aging. “I’m looking forward to getting to that point. It’s awesome!” she exclaims, having personally experienced the buzz surrounding Uber while visiting another state.

Nebraska came late to the party, approving Uber and Lyft operations in July 2015, which may explain a lack of awareness among Omahans in general.

The necessity of a smartphone to summon a ride excludes many seniors from ride-hailing apps. According to the Pew Research Center, 70 percent of those 65 and older don’t own a smartphone, instead preferring cheaper, old-fashioned flip phones with limited data capabilities.

One segment of the senior population did benefit immediately from having the transportation alternatives in Omaha: drivers.

“I’ve been with Lyft for over a year. It’s my only job now, “ says Dave*, 68, who prefers to remain anonymous. Working about four hours a night, the Dundee resident brings home “between $400 and $500 a week working the entertainment district and trips to the airport. But that’s not counting my car payment, gas, and insurance.”

The insurance question explains why Dave doesn’t want to be identified. Both Uber and Lyft have up to $1 million in liability coverage. But if a driver gets into an accident on the way to pick up a passenger, how much his or her personal insurance carrier will pay out becomes murky, since the driver uses the car for profit.

The advantages of ride-hailing services, previously called ridesharing, seem pretty clear.

“We’re half the cost of a cab,” Dave says. “We pick up passengers within five to 10 minutes. The cars are newer, clean, and have to be four-door. No cash exchanges hands, unless the passenger tips me in cash.”

The advantages for Dave include setting his own work schedule, meeting “wonderful people,” and showing off his hometown to visitors. “I love Omaha and I consider myself an ambassador for this city,” he says. “Nearly all my passengers say how friendly we are here.”

But why would someone in their 80s summon a stranger to their home to pick them up?

“[The companies] check us out pretty good,” Dave assures. Both Uber and Lyft conduct extensive background, criminal, and DMV checks. Lyft sent an employee to inspect Dave’s Toyota. “Believe me, we’re safe.”

The opportunity for seniors without smartphones to utilize Uber or Lyft as passengers depends greatly on a “no app required” platform. One such service recently appeared on a list of transportation options compiled by the Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging.

“It’s called GoGoGrandparent,” says Taylor Armstrong of the ENOA. “We’re told you don’t have to use a smartphone. People just call a number.”

The brainchild of a California man whose grandmother couldn’t tool around San Diego anymore, GoGoGrandparent uses a toll-free hotline to connect seniors with an operator, who then summons an Uber car for them.

“We’re not recommending this service over all the other transportation options ENOA offers,” cautions Jeff Reinhardt of the public affairs division. “We haven’t gotten any feedback yet on GoGoGrandparent.”

Lyft’s contribution to creating easier access involves senior-friendly Jitterbug cell phones and smartphones. When paired with a 24/7 health care provider, a registered user simply dials “0” on the Jitterbug phone and books a ride through the operator. This pilot program has yet to find its way to Omaha.

“We’re going to be top-heavy in seniors in the next 10 to 20 years,” Endress says. “There’s a huge need for entrepreneurs who want to make a difference in someone’s life.”

As evidenced by the rapidly changing technology that grants the gift of mobility, the difference-makers have arrived.

Visit uber.com, lyft.com, and

gogograndparent.com for more information.

* Dave is not the driver’s real name.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of 60 Plus.

Efficient Urban Transportation in a Zip

February 24, 2017 by

Living in a technologically advanced world has its advantages, like convenience and fiscal recompenses we never could have envisioned.

As a Los Angeles native who paid car insurance the price of a mortgage in some places, one new convenience I can appreciate is Zipcar.

The program has graced Omaha with its presence for seven years. Zipcar was founded in 2000 by Antje Danielson, current director of education at MIT Energy Initiative, and  Robin Chase, co-founder of French chartering service Buzzcar. The pair created Zipcar to provide a more efficient, affordable method of driving in the city.

Zipcar P.R. manager Lindsay Wester, who is based in Boston, explains that Zipcar is as simple as join, reserve, and drive.

Business customers begin by signing up online, where they pay a one-time setup fee of $75 and annual membership dues of $35 for each driver. This membership covers fuel, insurance, mileage, parking, and maintenance. Individuals can pay a $25 one-time setup fee annual dues of $70, or a monthly fee of $7 plus the one-time setup fee.

The Omaha fleet includes two Honda Civics and a Ford Escape. The Hondas and the Ford cost $8.50 per hour Monday through Thursday, or $69 per day. The Friday through Sunday rate is $9.50 per hour, or $77 per day for the Hondas and $83 per day for the Escape.  The other car available in Omaha is a Volkswagen Jetta, which costs $9 per hour or $69 daily at all times. The cars are parked on Creighton and UNMC’s campuses, downtown at 17th Street and Capitol Avenue, and at Mammel Hall near Aksarben Village.

Upon becoming a member, the company sends the user a Zipcard, which functions as an entry key. The ignition key stays inside the vehicle. Each user gets one card with their membership, which gives them access to Zipcar’s nationwide fleet. Upon reserving a car, the company digitally connects the Zipcard to the specific car reserved. The user gains access to the vehicle by holding the card to the card reader placed in the windshield. After scanning in with the Zipcard, a user’s smartphone can be a backup to the Zipcard for locking or unlocking the car doors throughout a reservation.

The company first brought their concept to Omaha in 2010, launching at Creighton University, followed by University of Nebraska in 2012, then the Medical Center in October 2015. In Omaha, the target market has been students, but Zipcars also are useful for travelers.

Melanie Stewart, sustainability manager at UNMC and Nebraska Medicine, is in charge of UNMC’s program.

“Last year we had a visiting professor come in, and they had a friend in Lincoln, so they used a Zipcar to visit their friend while in Omaha,” Stewart says.

The Zipcars are also used by visitors of patients who may need to purchase supplies or just take a break from being at the hospital.

Patrick Lin, a 21-year-old Omaha resident, says, “I used Zipcar roughly four to six hours every week during my sophomore year. I first heard about it from some friends in California because they couldn’t have cars during their first year at college.”

Lin enjoys the ability to use a car when needed without the expense of owning it. “Personally, it allows a lot more to get done compared to other services. The only restraint I have is that since there is a time limit, you must plan your activities accordingly. But the per-mile usage you can get when a trip is planned right is entirely worth the time constraints,” he says.

Wester says that Zipcar has remained successful and growing for more than a decade and a half. And as city dwellers become more disenchanted with the idea of owning cars, their success should continue to accelerate.

Visit zipcar.com for more information.

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

Beauty & the Cyborg Beast

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Less than three years ago, it dawned on scientist Jorge Zuniga why a childhood friend wanted nothing more than to play baseball.

It was odd. Growing up in Santiago, Chile, there were not many baseball fans. Just the one, as far as Zuniga knew (after all, soccer reigns supreme in Chile). Even more curious, Zuniga’s friend had just one hand.

Why baseball?

“There’s not one baseball field in the whole country,” Zuniga says, laughing at the exaggeration, “but this one kid without a hand wants to be a baseball player.”

Then, 20-odd years later, Zuniga and his 7-year-old son are playing catch in the long shadows of the front yard. Zuniga remembers his one-armed friend and his inexplicable love of baseball. Then it hits him.

“Oh,” Zuniga says, “I bet this kid that didn’t have a hand just wanted to do what every kid wants to do.” He yearned to play catch.

Biomedical2Earlier that same day, he had listened to a radio news report about “Robohand,” a project in South Africa that creates 3D-printed prosthetics for children. Zuniga—with a doctorate in exercise physiology and a lab at Creighton University—wanted to know more about the Robohand. But he had difficulty connecting with the researchers involved.

After several attempts to reach the people in South Africa, he relied on his own knowledge, resources, and expertise to make a prosthetic on his own. It took several months to perfect his prototype, but Zuniga’s journey highlights how the health care industry is utilizing new breakthroughs in 3D printing technology.

Nothing is more personal than health care. And few things are more customizable than the 3D-printed object. The field of prosthetics represents just one obvious medical application for the technology, one with many advantages: to provide a custom-fitted solution for an amputee; to shave thousands off the cost of traditional prosthetic limbs; to negate the financial burden if insurance doesn’t cover the device; and especially for children, to provide a fast solution to wear, tear, and outgrowing the artificial body part. 

But prosthetics only scratch the surface of possibilities awaiting biomedical 3D printing. The FDA, for example, recently approved the first 3D printed drug—an incredibly fast-acting seizure medication that dissolves in seconds thanks to a structure only possible through 3D printing.

Improvements to medical devices that were once too expensive to contemplate can be prototyped on the cheap. Zuniga, who now (as of August 15) works out of the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Biomechanics Research Building, says he has printed the model of a fetus for a blind mother who wanted to “see” her unborn baby. He has also worked with physicians at Omaha Children’s Hospital to print three-dimensional models of patient hearts so surgeons can study the organ long before they pick up a scalpel.

Zuniga’s use of 3D printing carries immediate significance and practicality. A glance at the more fantastic applications, however, can be found at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. There, biomedical engineer Bin Duan is heading up a new bioprinting unit that is printing and growing bone and cartilage for regenerative purposes. Later this year, Duan and his team will implant small plugs of printed bone into animals that should eventually integrate with the animal’s existing tissue.

Bioprinting works by printing with at least two different materials. First, a biocompatible polymer creates a scaffold or lattice in the desired shape of the tissue, such as an ear or a piece of bone. The second material, living cells, are printed onto the scaffold. The cells cling to the structure, and over the course of several weeks they live and multiply as the scaffold slowly degrades and disappears. Eventually, the scaffold material is gone, but the tissue remains.

One potential application of UNMC’s bone tests could be used to help future children born with certain defects. A printed bone implant made from the child’s stem cells would then grow with the child, eliminating the need for multiple surgeries.

In a more distant future, an organ transplant might not be from a random donor, but from the patient’s own stem cells: a new, perfect organ printed when it is needed, and far less prone to rejection. Skin grafts and bone regeneration, all of it made with a patient’s personal cells.

UNMC’s bioprinting program is still in its infancy, so a breakthrough with more complex systems will likely come from a place like Wake Forest University in North Carolina. Widely regarded as the national leader for 3D bioprinting, researchers there have already printed skin, blood vessels, bladders, and muscle—some of them implanted in humans. But complex organs like the heart, kidneys, and liver remain unsolved puzzles…for now.

In the here and now, researchers like Zuniga can make accessible what was once out of reach for many.

When he finished his first 3D-printed prosthetic arm, he showed it to his young son. The elder Zuniga expected to impress his son with the level of realism it held. The boy was not impressed.

“He said, ‘If that’s for children, that’s not gonna work,’” Zuniga says. “’Daddy, that hand is too real. You need something cooler than that.’”

Inspired by his son’s insight, Zuniga created “Cyborg Beast,” a brightly colored, prosthetic, cybernetic hand that more closely resembles something out of a science fiction movie than a human limb. The plans and instructions on how to use them are open and free to anyone with access to a 3D printer.

“You’d be surprised at how many people around the world have access to (3D printing) machines,” Zuniga says. “…It’s like the start of a revolution.”

An artificial limb that once cost $4,000, can now be had for about $50—about the cost of a trip to the ballpark.

Visit cyborgbeast.org to learn more. B2B

The Calm After the Storm

May 4, 2015 by

Article originally appeared in Omaha Home May/June 2015

The spring storm season has the potential to introduce the most unpredictable of problems for homeowners. We checked in with Lisa and Regi Powell of Powell Insurance, a Farmers Insurance agency, for their best advice on how to navigate the process if your home sustains storm damage.

The Most Common Mistake?

Lisa: “Automatically turning in a claim. Every claim stays on your record for three years, even if you end up later saying, ‘Never, mind, it’s not worth collecting on it after my deductible.’ Many people may not understand that it is still counted as a claim. We recommend getting an estimate outside of the insurance process in order to make the best decision about whether or not to proceed with an actual claim.”

Regi: “This is also important because claims frequency can effect your premiums, even your eligibility. When in doubt, talk to your agent first. That’s what we’re here for.”

How to Best Protect Your Rights and Your Property?

Regi: “Each state has a different statute of limitations on claims. Get a good estimate from a reputable contractor. That cost is reimbursed in the process if a claim is, indeed, later filed. You wouldn’t want to find much later on that, for example, you have water problems from a damaged roof. Now you’re faced with bigger, costlier issues.”

Lisa: “Water is one of the things you should be most concerned about as a homeowner. It is stubborn, persistent. If you don’t fix a roof after a storm, over time water leaks or damage may occur. This water damage may not be covered if you didn’t take the proper steps to repair the original storm damage.”

Okay, So Now it’s Time to Make Repairs

Lisa: “We have what we call a Preferred Provider program…a list of trusted contractors. A lot of companies have similar programs. The financial relationship is still between the homeowner and the contractor, but those that make it onto our list have gone through a thorough vetting process. They’ve jumped through a lot of hoops to make the cut and be on that list.”

Regi: “And don’t forget some of the simplest tips when making repair decisions. Talk to your friends and neighbors. What great experiences have they had with contractors? Who do they trust? If some guy shows up in your driveway offering to do work, check his truck’s license plate. If it’s from Florida or Alabama…well, there are a lot of storm-chasers out there and they, like any business, can be all over the map in terms of ability, reliability, even honesty.”

What Does My Insurance Company Need to Know?

Regi: “Keep them updated throughout the process. Your contractor may point out, for example, that you need to replace a skylight after, say, some hail damage. But if that sky light wasn’t identified in the original adjusting process, it causes problems later. If additional damage is found, let’s be sure to get that into the claim so you will be paid accordingly.”

Lisa: “Which is a good reminder to take a comprehensive approach to any claim. Our adjustors are trained to inspect the entire property. Do you have a pool? A tool shed? Ask your claims adjuster to inspect your entire property, not just the roof or siding. An adjuster may often find damage you didn’t
know existed.”

And Before the Storm?

Lisa: “Perhaps our most important role is to make sure you have the appropriate type and amount of coverage along with deductibles that work for you before a storm hits, before an auto accident, before a fire.”

Regi: “It’s just human nature to believe that bad things will never happen to you, but there’s a reason we send update offers and call people to review policies. That’s one of the tougher parts of this job—a homeowner learning too late that their policy didn’t meet their needs.”

Final Thoughts?

Lisa: “There are so many factors that go into recovering from storm damage. We recognize that it’s a stressful time. This is your home. It is important to you…and it’s
important to us.”

Regi: “It is really gratifying to help people through these things. Just like being in an auto accident, storms can be traumatic and you may have more important things to worry about than the roof over your head. This is what your insurance agent lives for. When in doubt—and especially if you’re in any way confused about the process—call your agent. That’s what we’re here for.”

CalmAfterStorm

The Affordable Care Act

August 26, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), better known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA), is a federal statute signed into law in 2010. The objective of the Act is to increase affordability and rate of coverage for health insurance and reduce the overall costs of health care, which will be executed through mandates, subsidies, tax credits, and other means. The ACA is divided into 10 titles with some provisions that became effective immediately, while others are phasing in over a 10-year period.

But what does this mean for most seniors?

“If you don’t have insurance between age 60 and 65, that’s a concern.” – Andrea Skolkin, OneWorld Community Health Centers, Inc.

Individuals over 65 will likely find that not much will change as far as Medicare is concerned, says Andrea Skolkin, chief executive officer for OneWorld Community Health Centers, Inc. More preventive care is covered and prescription drug coverage will improve, she says, but most facets of Medicare will carry on as before.

“People who have Medicare, other than the little bit of expansion in the ‘donut hole’ [Medicare Part D coverage gap between the initial coverage limit and the catastrophic-coverage threshold for prescription drugs], should be secure in their coverage,” she explains. “The new marketplace isn’t for people who have Medicare.”

Sixty-plus individuals who will definitely be affected by ACA are those seniors who haven’t reached the Medicare eligibility age of 65 and are without medical insurance. In January 2014, uninsured individuals will be required to buy health insurance, available through an exchange, or pay a penalty tax. Some people will certainly struggle to finance the premiums, but currently, seniors who don’t yet qualify for Medicare and can’t get covered through an employer are likely to take their chances and go without health insurance altogether, Skolkin says.

EJ Militti, financial advisor with The Militti Group at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management

EJ Militti, financial advisor with The Militti Group at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management

“If you don’t have insurance between age 60 and 65, that’s a concern,” she says. “We see a lot of it—people 55 and up—who are being ‘right-sized,’ if you will, out of their jobs and are left without anything until they are eligible for Medicare. Especially at our new clinic in West Omaha, we see a lot of uninsured adults.”

From a financial standpoint, it’s fair to say that ACA will not spell good news for everyone’s pocketbook, says EJ Militti, a financial advisor with The Militti Group at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.

“[For] the wealthy and those who have properly saved for health care and other retirement costs, there is less to like and greater confusion about government-mandated health care. Moreover, those considered wealthy will be helping foot the bill of this epic legislation,” he says, explaining that a Medicare tax increase and additional taxes on taxable investment income have been instated, and other proposals are pending. “In my opinion, there is little doubt higher-income earners are going to be paying more in taxes. Higher-income earners need to be aware of future tax proposals on the table.”

On the other hand, Militti points out, some Americans will clearly benefit financially from the legislation.

“[For] the wealthy and those who have properly saved for health care and other retirement costs, there is less to like and greater confusion about government-mandated health care.” – EJ Militti, The Militti Group at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management

“The poor, the lower middle class, the long-term unemployed, and those with pre-existing conditions will benefit the most, and that’s by design,” Militti says. “The entire premise for government-mandated health care is to provide taxpayer-financed subsidies for those who, otherwise, cannot provide for themselves.”

**

EJ Militti is a Financial Advisor with The Militti Group at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management. The information contained in this article is not a solicitation to purchase or sell investments. Any information presented is general in nature and not intended to provide individually tailored investment advice. The strategies and/or investments referenced may not be suitable for all investors as the appropriateness of a particular investment or strategy will depend on an investor’s individual circumstances and objectives. Investing involves risks and there is always the potential of losing money when you invest. The views expressed herein are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect the views of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC, Member SIPC, or its affiliates. 

Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC (“Morgan Stanley”), its affiliates, and Morgan Stanley Financial Advisors or Private Wealth Advisors do not provide tax or legal advice. This material was not intended or written to be used, and it cannot be used, for the purpose of avoiding tax penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer. Clients should consult their tax advisor for matters involving taxation and tax planning and their attorney for matters involving trust and estate planning and other legal matters.

In Case of An Accident…

January 25, 2013 by

Skidding, sliding, and slipping are all common this time of year. Unfortunately, that can be followed by a bump or even a crash! Auto accidents are a pain for everyone, but knowing what to do in an accident can ease some of the stress.

The first thing to do is report the accident to the police. If there are no injuries, go ahead and begin to exchange information with the other driver. Make sure to get their personal information, along with the type of vehicle, and all insurance information. The next thing to do is to determine if your vehicle is drivable. If not, the police can call a tow truck, and you should have your vehicle towed to the shop of your choice.

After the police have finished at the accident scene, if the vehicle is drivable, you will want to call the insurance company of the driver at fault. Depending upon the insurance company, they may want you to go to their “drive thru” claim place, or they may make arrangements to come to your vehicle to do an estimate. Another option is that they may want you to take it to a body shop for an estimate. The most important thing to know now is that you are the vehicle owner and no one can tell you where to have your vehicle repaired. There is no law that requires you to have your vehicle repaired where your insurance company recommends. It is always your choice.

When determining where you have your repairs done, there are some things that you may want to take into consideration. What type of warranty does the shop offer? (Whether or not your insurance has a warranty, it is the shop that is ultimately responsible for the repairs.) Also, do the technicians at the shop receive ongoing training? Is the shop involved nationally, keeping up with all the newest procedures and technologies? The best thing to do before you are involved in an accident is to do your research and know where you will take your vehicle if the unexpected happens. Making a snap decision doesn’t always lead to the best decision.