July 30, 2015

China’s economic meltdown could hurt Nebraska

Economy2China saw explosive economic growth over the past few years and now that is cooling off dramatically.

The Chinese economy is struggling after big drops in stocks and some investors believe that trend will continue.

Creighton University Economist Ernie Goss says China is Nebraska’s fourth largest international customer so their economic problems will be felt here.

“What it means for Nebraska is food sales abroad and that is going to have a negative impact there as well,” Goss says.

There is also the possibility of increased interest rates here. Goss says, “About $1-trillion of our debt. The Chinese own China own that. If they sell off that debt or buy less of it, that means the prices of our debt will come down. That would be treasuries and yields would go up. In other words our mortgage rates would increase.”

Goss says China’s goal is a growth rate of 7%. He doubts if that goal will be met but adds that we may never know.

Final weeks of death penalty petition effort

Petition circulators for Nebraskans for the Death Penalty continue to collect signatures from voters in their effort to get the issue on the November 2016 ballot. Supporter Teri Roberts was in Waterloo collecting signatures Tuesday evening. Roberts is the mother of Omaha murder victim Andrea Kruger.

Roberts says, “I had always been for the death penalty but once we lost her this issue came to the forefront for us.”

Roberts is optimistic the required signatures will be gathered before the August 27th deadline. Nebraskans for the Death Penalty are required to turn in 57,000 valid signatures from at least 40% of the state’s 93 counties in order for it to appear on the ballot. Part two of the process requires 114,000 signatures. If those are collected the death penalty repeal would be suspended until the outcome of the election.

Insurance mergers could mean higher rates

Blue Cross – Blue Shield insurer Anthem has agreed to acquire Cigna in a $54-billion deal. Earlier this month Aetna and Humana struck a merger deal for $37-billion. University of Nebraska – Omaha’s Finance, Banking and Real Estate Development Chairman Dr. David Volkman says there is one thing that has spurred these mergers.

Dr. Volkman says, “The reason for the mergers is the Affordable Care Act. The rulings restrict the pricings and margins that insurance companies can charge. They are looking at any way they can to keep profits up and one way they do that is merging with another company and decreasing their operating costs – and hopefully profits up.”

Now the question is if this will increase premiums? Dr. Volkman says insurance companies say they will be able to offer more competitive services because they have a larger power. They will be able to negotiate better with hospitals and doctors. However, every time you have less competition you have more pricing power and what you can offer consumers.

Dr. Volkman adds, “The theory shows when you have a decrease in competition you have an increase in rates. There is also the possibility there could be a decrease in service provided because they may try to consolidate other services. If they have the marketing clout to do it because they are so big they will do that.”

The two recent mergers leave only three big names left in the game with the third being United Healthcare.

Hyperbaric therapy use for brain injuries

After years of playing professional football, Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath likely took a number of hard hits to his head. Namath is now 72 and noticed he was becoming more forgetful. He sought treatment using hyperbaric medicine, a device that controls the atmospheric pressure. Namath claims after 120 sessions his memory has improved.

Dr. Jeff Cooper is the director of Hyperbaric Medicine at Nebraska Medicine in Omaha and says, “It originally came from the diving community for treating “the bends” or Caisson Disease that divers get when the decompress. It was found to have some other affects so research has been going on for decades for what it can and can’t do. For our day-to-day routine things we are doing a lot of problem wounds and radiation injuries. That accounts for about 80% of what we do at Nebraska Medicine and I think probably similar numbers for most wound care centers.”

Dr. Cooper says Namath has a great story that he had these problems and they got better after 120 treatments. He says their treatment schedule is about 40 but sometimes will go up to 60.

Dr. Cooper understands that Namath is putting several million dollars into a research project. He says unfortunately the U-S Department of Defense has conducted studies using hyperbaric treatment on soldiers with traumatic brain injuries and all of these controlled studies have come back negative.

Superheroes to scale Children’s Hospital in Omaha today

Some very special guests will visit Children’s Hospital & Medical Center Monday morning. Spokesperson Sarah Weller says superheroes will descend from their building at 83rd and Dodge Street around 10 am. The superheroes are really window washers on a super secret mission to brighten the day for their young patients.

Weller says, “They all love it. There are a lot of gasps and wide eyes and big smiles. We do not let them know they are coming so it is truly a surprise when they look outside their window and Superman, Spiderman and Batman are outside.” She says even the window washers look forward to the day.

The superheroes will arrive in style on an Omaha Fire Department engine, complete with lights and sirens at 9 am. They will then greet young patients and their families in the atrium before heading to the roof. They will then scale down the building exterior to “fight grime” and to surprise young patients looking out their windows.