Senators Sound Alarm On Need To Stop Medicare Physician Pay Cuts

Forty-six US senators have signed a letter to Senate leaders Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Mitch McConnell, R- Ky., expressing serious concerns regarding the stability of Medicare payments for physicians and support for bipartisan, long-term payment reform. The “dear colleague” letter, led by Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso, also urges Congress to address the budget-neutrality cuts scheduled to take effect in next year’s Medicare physician payment schedule.

The letter comes on the heels of the release earlier this week of the 2023 Medicare physician payment schedule, which has put “Congress on notice that a nearly 4.5% across-the-board reduction in payment rates is an ominous reality unless lawmakers act before Jan. 1,” according to American Medical association (AMA) President Jack Resneck Jr., MD.

In a statement posted on the AMA website, it stated, although the senators’ letter does not address all of the immediate concerns that doctors nationwide have regarding Medicare physician payment, the AMA welcomed the letter as a sign that pressure is building in the Senate to take the actions needed to protect older adults’ access to physician care.

What the AMA is seeking:

Before the end of 2022, Congress should:

  • Provide relief from the scheduled 4.42% budget-neutrality cut in Medicare physician fee schedule payments.
  • End the statutory annual freeze and provide a Medicare Economic Index update for the coming year.
  • Extend the 5% Advanced Alternative Payment Model participation incentive and halt the impossible-to-meet revenue threshold increase for five years to encourage more physicians to transition from fee-for-service into alternative payment models.
  • Waive the 4% pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) sequester triggered by passage of the American Rescue Plan Act.

The AMA offered detailed comments on the proposed 2023 payment schedule.

Picture : TheUNN

“It was immediately apparent that the 2023 Medicare physician payment rates not only failed to account for inflation in practice costs and COVID-related challenges to practice sustainability but also included the damaging across-the-board reduction,” Dr. Resneck noted. “Unless Congress acts by the end of the year, physician Medicare payments are planned to be cut by nearly 8.5% in 2023—partly from the 4% PAYGO sequester—which would severely impede patient access to care due to the forced closure of physician practices and put further strain on those that remained open during the pandemic.”

In their letter, 46 senators agreed that “Congress must address these vital payment challenges before the end of 2022 to ensure seniors continue to have access to care through a wide network” of physicians and other health professionals.

Senate leaders should work with members of Congress “on a bipartisan basis to address” the physician payment cuts that are imminent. “Going forward,” the letter says, “we support bipartisan, long-term payment reforms to Medicare in a fiscally responsible manner.”

Keep doctors’ doors open

Doctors and other health professionals “across the country are facing significant financial hardship due to higher practice costs and the impacts of COVID-19,” the senators’ letter to Schumer and McConnell notes. “Financial uncertainty due to pending payment cuts will only compound these challenges.”

Action should be taken “in the coming weeks” to ensure that doctors and other health professionals “have the resources they need to keep their doors open for seniors and families,” the letter says.

The AMA strongly supports H.R. 8800, the “Supporting Medicare Providers Act of 2022.” The bipartisan legislation aims to stop the scheduled 4.42% cuts to the Medicare physician pay rate and was introduced by Reps. Ami Bera, MD, a Democrat from California, and Larry Bucshon, MD, an Indiana Republican.

“Failure to act in the coming weeks could result in reduced staffing levels and office closures, jeopardizing patient access to care,” the senators noted. “We are especially concerned about this impact in rural and underserved communities. Failure to act on longer-term reforms will undermine Medicare’s ability to deliver on its promises to future seniors and generations.”

The AMA—in collaboration with 120 other physician and health care organizations—has outlined the essential principles (PDF) that can put the nation’s health care system on sustainable financial ground.

Biden Administration Seeks Supreme Court Nod For Student Debt Plan

The Biden administration on Friday urged the Supreme Court to clear one of the legal obstacles blocking its student debt relief program, as part of the administration’s broader legal effort to have the policy reinstated.

The administration is currently fending off two separate rulings issued over the last two weeks that have effectively halted President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan, which would give federal borrowers making less than $125,000 a year up to $10,000 debt relief.

In its Friday filing, the Department of Justice (DOJ), on behalf of the administration, urged the justices to lift a ruling issued Monday by the St. Louis-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit that halted the loan relief program, saying its current legal status has left “vulnerable borrowers in untenable limbo.”

“The [8th Circuit’s] injunction thus frustrates the government’s ability to respond to the harmful economic consequences of a devastating pandemic with the policies it has determined are necessary,” U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar told the justices.

Biden’s policy, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will cost about $400 billion over 30 years, has drawn numerous legal challenges. Its aim is to forgive up to $10,000 in federal student loan debt for those making under $125,000 annually and up to $20,000 for recipients of Pell Grants, which assist students from lower-income families.

The administration’s move on Friday comes after a unanimous three-judge panel on the 8th Circuit halted Biden’s massive debt relief plan, which had already been blocked nationwide by a separate court ruling.

The panel, which comprised two Trump-appointed judges and one appointee of former President George W. Bush, said its order would remain in effect until further notice by the 8th Circuit or the Supreme Court.

The ruling was a win for six conservative-led states — Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas and South Carolina — that challenged the program on the grounds that they were harmed by a freeze on the collection of student loan payments and interest. The court’s six-page ruling singled out the impact on a large, Missouri-based holder of student loans called the Higher Education Loan Authority of the State of Missouri.

“The equities strongly favor an injunction considering the irreversible impact the Secretary’s debt forgiveness action would have as compared to the lack of harm an injunction would presently impose,” the panel wrote. “Among the considerations is the fact that collection of student loan payments as well as accrual of interest on student loans have both been suspended.”

The White House, for its part, maintains that its policy is authorized by a 2003 federal law known as the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act, which both the Trump and Biden administrations have drawn upon to alleviate student borrowers’ financial strain during the global pandemic.

In a related legal development last week, a Trump-appointed federal judge in Texas invalidated the program, saying the presidential action unlawfully encroached on Congress’s power. The Biden administration has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to halt that ruling while it mounts a formal appeal.

Several other similar challenges to Biden’s plan have so far proved unsuccessful. Among them were two cases that eventually sought emergency relief in the Supreme Court but were unilaterally rejected by Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

The Supreme Court may be more inclined to intervene now that the U.S. government is the party seeking relief and as courts across the country reach different conclusions about the program’s lawfulness.

The DOJ, in its Friday filing, told the justices they could choose to construe the government’s request as a formal petition for appeal and place it on a procedural fast-track.

The DOJ filing comes as student loan borrowers are anxiously awaiting for payments to restart at the beginning of 2023.

Advocates have been pressuring the Biden administration to extend the pause on payments, which began at the beginning of the pandemic, while the debt relief program is going through the courts.

Before the legal challenges, millions of borrowers applied for the debt relief through an application on the Department of Education’s website. Borrowers were told to apply before Tuesday in order to have a chance at their debt being forgiven before the payments began.

Since then, the applications have been taken down, and borrowers could have to wait months to get a final decision on the legality of the program from the courts.

The Washington Post previously reported talks were happening in the White House to extend the payment pause again due to the court challenges, despite Biden telling borrowers there would be no more extensions.

However, there has been no official word from the White House on the issue with only a month and a half left before payments resume. (Courtesy: The Hill)

FCC Recommendations To Stop Phone Scammers Who Have Tricked Americans Of $40 Billion In 2022

Despite the rise of sophisticated crypto frauds and ransomware plots, phone scams continue to trick Americans out of tens of billions of dollars each year. Phone scams are on the rise. Truecaller, which makes an app that blocks spam calls, estimates that nearly 70 million Americans have lost money to phone scams in 2022, and that those scammers made off with nearly $40 billion in total. Phone scams include frauds that begin with calls and text messages.

“It’s very cheap to set up an automatic dialer and to plug a bunch of phone numbers into it, whether they’re random or they are very intentional by geography or by demographic, and place millions of phone calls in a very short period of time,” said Clayton LiaBraaten, senior executive advisor at Truecaller. “It’s a numbers game.”

The United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has stated that “Unwanted calls – including illegal and spoofed robocalls – are the FCC’s top consumer complaint and our top consumer protection priority. These include complaints from consumers whose numbers are being spoofed or whose calls are being mistakenly blocked or labeled as a possible scam call by a robocall blocking app or service.

“The FCC is committed to doing what we can to protect you from these unwelcome situations and is cracking down on illegal calls in a variety of ways:

  • Issuing hundreds of millions of dollars in enforcement actions against illegal robocallers.
  • Empowering phone companies to block by default illegal or unwanted calls based on reasonable call analytics before the calls reach consumers.
  • Allowing consumer options on tools to block calls from any number that doesn’t appear on a customer’s contact list or other “white list.”
  • Requiring phone companies to implement caller ID authentication to help reduce illegal spoofing.
  • Making consumer complaint data available to enable better call blocking and labeling solutions.

Check out the consumer guide on Call Blocking Tools and Resources, which includes information on many of the call blocking and labeling tools currently available to consumers.

Picture: YouTube

Learn more about FCC Initiatives to Combat Robocalls and Spoofing and download the FCC Report on Robocalls.

File a complaint with the FCC if you believe you have received an illegal call or text, or if you think you’re the victim of a spoofing scam.

Consumer Tips to Stop Unwanted Robocalls and Avoid Phone Scams

  • Don’t answer calls from unknown numbers. If you answer such a call, hang up immediately.
  • You may not be able to tell right away if an incoming call is spoofed. Be aware: Caller ID showing a “local” number does not necessarily mean it is a local caller.
  • If you answer the phone and the caller – or a recording – asks you to hit a button to stop getting the calls, you should just hang up. Scammers often use this trick to identify potential targets.
  • Do not respond to any questions, especially those that can be answered with “Yes.”
  • Never give out personal information such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, mother’s maiden names, passwords or other identifying information in response to unexpected calls or if you are at all suspicious.
  • If you get an inquiry from someone who says they represent a company or a government agency, hang up and call the phone number on your account statement, in the phone book, or on the company’s or government agency’s website to verify the authenticity of the request. You will usually get a written statement in the mail before you get a phone call from a legitimate source, particularly if the caller is asking for a payment.
  • Use caution if you are being pressured for information immediately.
  • If you have a voice mail account with your phone service, be sure to set a password for it. Some voicemail services are preset to allow access if you call in from your own phone number. A hacker could spoof your home phone number and gain access to your voice mail if you do not set a password.
  • Talk to your phone company about call blocking tools they may have and check into apps that you can download to your mobile device to block unwanted calls.
  • If you use robocall-blocking technology already, it often helps to let that company know which numbers are producing unwanted calls so they can help block those calls for you and others.
  • To block telemarketing calls, register your number on the Do Not Call List. Legitimate telemarketers consult the list to avoid calling both landline and wireless phone numbers on the list.

Mortgage Rates Rise Above 6% Since 2008

Mortgage rates jumped again, surpassing the 6% mark and reaching the highest level since the fall of 2008.  The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 6.02% in the week ending September 15, up from 5.89% the week before, according to Freddie Mac. That is significantly higher than this time last year, when it was 2.86%.

Stubbornly high inflation is pushing rates up, said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s chief economist.

“Mortgage rates continued to rise alongside hotter-than-expected inflation numbers this week, exceeding 6% for the first time since late 2008,” he said.

After starting the year at 3.22%, mortgage rates rose sharply during the first half of the year, climbing to nearly 6% in mid-June. But since then, concerns about the economy and the Federal Reserve’s mission to combat inflation have made them more volatile.

Rates had fallen in July and early August as recession fears took hold. But comments from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and recent economic data have pulled investors’ attention back to the central bank’s fight against inflation, pushing rates higher.

The 10-year Treasury yield moved higher last week as markets prepared for further monetary tightening by the Fed, said George Ratiu, manager of economic research at Realtor.com.

The Federal Reserve does not set the interest rates borrowers pay on mortgages directly, but its actions influence them. Mortgage rates tend to track yields on 10-year US Treasury bonds. As investors see or anticipate rate hikes, they often sell government bonds, which sends yields higher and with it, mortgage rates.

Investors reacted to August’s inflation numbers, which showed that consumer prices continued to rise at 1980s levels, said Ratiu.

“Core inflation remains stubbornly elevated, putting pressure on the Federal Reserve to maintain an aggressive stance on monetary tightening,” he said. “Markets are keeping a close eye on the central bank’s meeting next week, expecting another 75-basis-point increase in the policy rate, if not a 100-basis-point jump.”

Sales are slowing, but affordability is still a challenge

As mortgage rates rise and home prices remain high, home sales are slowing.  With rates essentially double where they were a year ago, applications for home loans have dropped and applications to refinance into a lower payment have fallen off a cliff, down 83% from a year ago, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

“Higher mortgage rates … have contributed to more homebuyers staying on the sidelines,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting.

A year ago, a buyer who put 20% down on a $390,000 home and financed the rest with a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage at an average interest rate of 2.86% had a monthly mortgage payment of $1,292, according to calculations from Freddie Mac.

Today, a homeowner buying the same-priced house with an average rate of 6.02% would pay $1,875 a month in principal and interest. That’s $583 more each month.

“With real median household incomes remaining relatively unchanged, many first-time homebuyers are finding the door to homeownership is closed for this season,” said Ratiu.

He said that with borrowing costs expected to continue rising in the next few months, it is becoming increasingly clear that home prices need to decline to bring balance back to housing markets.

“Many sellers are recognizing the shift in market conditions and are responding by cutting their asking prices,” he said. “These changes are coinciding with the time of the year when buyers have historically found the best market conditions to find a bargain.”

Bezos Loses Title of World’s Second Richest Man to Indian Billionaire

Gautam Adani, the Indian tycoon who has climbed the wealth rankings at breakneck speed this year, surpassed Jeff Bezos to become the world’s second-richest person. Jeff Bezos has lost the title of second richest man in the world behind Elon Musk, electric-vehicle leader Tesla’s  (TSLA)  chief executive.

The founder and executive chairman of tech and online-retail giant Amazon  (AMZN)   dropped to No. 3, on Sept. 16 at around 10:38 a.m in New York, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

At that time, Bezos had a fortune estimated at $145.8 billion compared with $146.9 billion for the Indian tycoon Gautam Adani who ended the day with a fortune of $147 billion, thus consolidating his second place won in the morning. Bezos has risen a bit and is also worth roughly $147 billion. The day started with Adani at No. 3 and Bezos at No. 2.

According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, just $1 billion had separated Bezos from Gautam Adani, the Indian billionaire and chairman of Adani Group, an industrial conglomerate.

Bezos’ fortune was then valued at $150 billion in this ranking, while Adani’s was estimated at $149 billion.

Since the immense fortune of the two men rests mainly in the shares each holds in his respective company, the safe bet was that Adani would overtake Bezos by the end of the day.

The current volatility in the markets — due to fears about the health of the economy in the face of an aggressive rate hike by the Federal Reserve to fight inflation — is particularly weighing on technology groups like Amazon.

Amazon stock is down around 26% since January. This translates into a drop in Bezos’s fortune, which has shrunk by $45.5 billion this year.

Adani’s Meteoric Rise

Conversely, Adani is experiencing a meteoric rise. His fortune has increased by $70.3 billion since January.

His countryman, Mukesh Ambani, ranked tenth richest person in the world with an estimated fortune of $88.7 billion, was the other top 10 billionaire to have seen his fortune increase (+$1.02 billion) this year until Sept.15. But the following day, Ambani, who is chairman and managing director of the Reliance Industries conglomerate, lost of his gains. He’s now down by $1.3 billion.

At the beginning of the year, Adani became the richest person in Asia, ahead of Ambani. Adani first overtook India’s Mukesh Ambani as the richest Asian person in February, became a centibillionaire in April and surpassed Bill Gates and France’s Bernard Arnault in the past two months. It’s the first time someone from Asia has featured this highly in the top echelons of the wealth index, which has been dominated by US tech entrepreneurs.

Adani, 60, dropped out of college to try his luck in Mumbai’s diamond industry in the early 1980s before turning to coal and ports. His conglomerate has since expanded into everything from airports to data centers, cement, media and green energy, focusing on areas that Prime Minister Narendra Modi deems crucial to meeting India’s long-term economic goals. The nation’s largest private-sector port and airport operators, city-gas distributor and coal miner are all part of Adani’s empire, which also aims to become the world’s largest renewable-energy producer. Last year, it pledged to invest $70 billion in green power, a pivot that has been criticized by some as greenwashing given that so much of the group’s revenue still comes from fossil fuels.

The push into renewables and infrastructure has earned Adani investments from firms including Warburg Pincus and TotalEnergies SE, helping boost his companies’ shares and his personal fortune. This year, he added about $70 billion to his wealth — more than anyone else — while many have seen losses.

World Could Face Recession Next Year: World Bank Report

The world could face a recession next year amid simultaneous tightening of monetary policy by central banks around the world, the World Bank has said in a new report that called for boosting production and removing supply bottlenecks to ease inflation. Several indicators of global recessions are already “flashing signs”, the report said. The global economy is now in its steepest slowdown following a post-recession recovery since 1970, it added.

Global interest rate hikes by central banks could reach 4%, double that in 2021, just to keep core inflation — which strips out volatile items such as food and fuel — at 5% levels, the bank said.

From the US to Europe and India, countries are aggressively raising lending rates, which aim to curb the supply of cheap money and thereby help bring down inflation. But such monetary tightening has costs. It dampens investment, costs jobs, and suppresses growth, a trade-off faced by most nations, including India.

“Global growth is slowing sharply, with further slowing likely as more countries fall into recession. My deep concern is that these trends will persist, with long-lasting consequences that are devastating for people in emerging market and developing economies,” World Bank president David Malpass said in a statement after the report was released on Thursday.

The world is facing record inflation due to factors including the Ukraine war that has dwindled food supplies, knock-on effects of the pandemic on supply chains, poor demand in China due to its persistent Covid lockdowns, and extreme weather that has upended forecasts of agricultural output.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) announced a third repo rate hike to 5.40% in August, up 50 basis points. A basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point. The RBI maintained its inflation estimate at 6.7% for 2022-23 while forecasting real (inflation-adjusted) GDP growth at 7.2%.

The Biden-Harris Administration’s Student Debt Relief Plan Explained

What the program means for you, and what comes next

President Biden, Vice President Harris, and the U.S. Department of Education have announced a three-part plan to help working and middle-class federal student loan borrowers transition back to regular payment as pandemic-related support expires. This plan includes loan forgiveness of up to $20,000. Many borrowers and families may be asking themselves “what do I have to do to claim this relief?” This page is a resource to answer those questions and more. There will be more details announced in the coming weeks. To be notified when the process has officially opened, sign up at the Department of Education subscription page.

The Biden Administration’s Student Loan Debt Relief Plan

Part 1. Final extension of the student loan repayment pause

Due to the economic challenges created by the pandemic, the Biden-Harris Administration has extended the student loan repayment pause a number of times. Because of this, no one with a federally held loan has had to pay a single dollar in loan payments since President Biden took office.

To ensure a smooth transition to repayment and prevent unnecessary defaults, the Biden-Harris Administration will extend the pause a final time through December 31, 2022, with payments resuming in January 2023.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Do I need to do anything to extend my student loan pause through the end of the year?

No. The extended pause will occur automatically.

Part 2. Providing targeted debt relief to low- and middle-income families

To smooth the transition back to repayment and help borrowers at highest risk of delinquencies or default once payments resume, the U.S. Department of Education will provide up to $20,000 in debt cancellation to Pell Grant recipients with loans held by the Department of Education and up to $10,000 in debt cancellation to non-Pell Grant recipients. Borrowers are eligible for this relief if their individual income is less than $125,000 or $250,000 for households.

In addition, borrowers who are employed by non-profits, the military, or federal, state, Tribal, or local government may be eligible to have all of their student loans forgiven through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. This is because of time-limited changes that waive certain eligibility criteria in the PSLF program. These temporary changes expire on October 31, 2022. For more information on eligibility and requirements, go to PSLF.gov.

Frequently Asked Questions:

How do I know if I am eligible for debt cancellation?

To be eligible, your annual income must have fallen below $125,000 (for individuals) or $250,000 (for married couples or heads of households)

If you received a Pell Grant in college and meet the income threshold, you will be eligible for up to $20,000 in debt cancellation.

If you did not receive a Pell Grant in college and meet the income threshold, you will be eligible for up to $10,000 in debt cancellation.

What does the “up to” in “up to $20,000” or “up to $10,000” mean?

Your relief is capped at the amount of your outstanding debt.

For example: If you are eligible for $20,000 in debt relief, but have a balance of $15,000 remaining, you will only receive $15,000 in relief.

What do I need to do in order to receive loan forgiveness?

Nearly 8 million borrowers may be eligible to receive relief automatically because relevant income data is already available to the U.S. Department of Education.

If the U.S. Department of Education doesn’t have your income data – or if you don’t know if the U.S. Department of Education has your income data, the Administration will launch a simple application in the coming weeks.

The application will be available before the pause on federal student loan repayments ends on December 31st.

If you would like to be notified by the U.S. Department of Education when the application is open, please sign up at the Department of Education subscription page.

What is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program?

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program forgives the remaining balance on your federal student loans after 120 payments working full-time for federal, state, Tribal, or local government; military; or a qualifying non-profit.

Temporary changes, ending on Oct. 31, 2022, provide flexibility that makes it easier than ever to receive forgiveness by allowing borrowers to receive credit for past periods of repayment that would otherwise not qualify for PSLF.

Enrollments on or after Nov. 1, 2022 will not be eligible for this treatment. We encourage borrowers to sign up today. Visit PSLF.gov to learn more and apply.

Part 3. Make the student loan system more manageable for current and future borrowers

Income-based repayment plans have long existed within the U.S. Department of Education. However, the Biden-Harris Administration is proposing a rule to create a new income-driven repayment plan that will substantially reduce future monthly payments for lower- and middle-income borrowers.

The rule would:

Require borrowers to pay no more than 5% of their discretionary income monthly on undergraduate loans. This is down from the 10% available under the most recent income-driven repayment plan.

Raise the amount of income that is considered non-discretionary income and therefore is protected from repayment, guaranteeing that no borrower earning under 225% of the federal poverty level—about the annual equivalent of a $15 minimum wage for a single borrower—will have to make a monthly payment.

Forgive loan balances after 10 years of payments, instead of 20 years, for borrowers with loan balances of $12,000 or less.

Cover the borrower’s unpaid monthly interest, so that unlike other existing income-driven repayment plans, no borrower’s loan balance will grow as long as they make their monthly payments—even when that monthly payment is $0 because their income is low.

The Biden-Harris Administration is working to quickly implement improvements to student loans. Check back to this page for updates on progress. If you’d like to be the first to know, sign up for email updates from the U.S. Department of Education.

Singapore Unveils Long-Term Work Visas To End Talent Crunch

Singapore is overhauling visa rules to attract foreign workers and ease a tight labor market that’s contributing to wage and price pressures. The new rules will allow foreigners earning a minimum S$30,000 ($21,431) per month to secure a five-year work pass, with a provision to allow their dependents to seek employment, according to the Ministry of Manpower.

The new rules will allow foreigners earning a minimum S$30,000 ($21,431) per month to secure a five-year work pass, with a provision to allow their dependents to seek employment, according to the Ministry of Manpower. Exceptional candidates in sports, arts, science and academia who don’t meet the salary criteria are also eligible for the long-term visa under the so-called Overseas Networks and Expertise (ONE) pass that will take effect Jan. 1.

“Both businesses and talent are searching for safe and stable places to invest, live and work in. Singapore is such a place,” Manpower Minister Tan See Leng told reporters on Monday. “It is therefore timely to leverage on this opportunity to cement Singapore’s position as a global hub for talent.”

The announcement is the latest in a string of decisions this year that are meant to address a still-tight labor market, as well as attract international business to drive the city-state’s ambitions as a global financial hub, after a pandemic-era slump in white-collar workers from abroad. Many parts of the economy have seen pay increases this year to lure talent, stoking fears wage-cost escalation will add to headline inflation that’s touched a 14-year-high and force the central bank to tighten monetary policy further.

Effective Sept. 1 next year, Singapore plans to exempt jobs, comparable to those held by top 10% of Employment Pass holders, from the need to be advertised locally before hiring foreigners under a system called Fair Consideration Framework. The duration of FCF advertisements, where applicable, will be halved to 14 days, the ministry said, adding that processing time for all EP applications will be cut to 10 business days from the current maximum three weeks.

The rule change will help the city-state better compete with rival business hubs like Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates and catch up to Australia and the UK, which have similar global talent visas. More than 700 finance professionals moved to Singapore from Hong Kong last year, according to recruitment firm Robert Walters.

The UAE this year made it easier for expatriates to work without being sponsored by an employer, as well as switched to a Saturday-Sunday weekend to align the country with global markets as it seeks to win more businesses, with Dubai positioning itself as a crypto hub.

Singapore has had to grapple with especially challenging labor-market dilemmas as the nation lives with Covid and the need to recharge sectors like hospitality and food and beverage that suffered disproportionately amid social mobility restrictions that are finally all but canceled.

A key gauge that measures the imbalance between demand and supply of workers rose earlier this year to the highest level since 1998. That trend is a risk to productivity in the economy, which officials expect will grow by 3%-4% this year, narrower than the 3%-5% seen before — a pace that will be among the slowest in Southeast Asia.

The country is witnessing an easing of labor market tightness, Minister Tan said, adding that labor supply in manufacturing and construction, among others, have gone back almost to pre Covid levels.

The problems are at the high end of the income ladder — where Singapore wants to attract top global talent particularly in next-generation, technology-heavy industries — as well as the lower end. The government fielded criticism during the pandemic that treatment and broader policies for migrant workers primarily employed in the construction industry needed a reboot.

“This is an age where talent makes all the difference to a nation’s success,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his Aug. 21 National Day Rally speech. “We need to focus on attracting and retaining top talent, in the same way we focus on attracting and retaining investments.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci To Step Down In December After More Than 50 Years Of Public Service

Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to the president and longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said he will be leaving those positions to “pursue the next chapter in my career.” Fauci, 81, has led the NIAID for 38 years, and has advised every president since Ronald Reagan.

“While I am moving on from my current positions, I am not retiring,” Fauci said in a statement Monday. “After more than 50 years of government service, I plan to pursue the next phase of my career while I still have so much energy and passion for my field.”

Fauci has become a household fixture during the Covid-19 pandemic, battling back misinformation — sometimes from the highest levels of government. His steadfast commitment to science, challenging former President Donald Trump on everything from the use of hydroxychloroquine to mask mandates, made him a quasi-celebrity in the process.

The 81-year-old has advised seven U.S. presidents, starting with Ronald Reagan through the HIV/AIDS epidemic, West Nile virus, the 2001 anthrax attacks, pandemic influenza, various bird influenza threats, Ebola, Zika and, most recently, Covid and monkeypox.

In a statement, President Biden praised Fauci as a dedicated public servant with a “steadying hand” who helped guide the country through some of “the most dangerous and challenging” public health crises.

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Fauci has been at the forefront of every new and re-emerging infectious disease threat the country has faced over the past four decades, including HIV/AIDS, West Nile virus, the 2001 anthrax attacks, pandemic influenza, Ebola and Zika, and most recently the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Because of Dr. Fauci’s many contributions to public health, lives here in the United States and around the world have been saved. As he leaves his position in the U.S. Government, I know the American people and the entire world will continue to benefit from Dr. Fauci’s expertise in whatever he does next,” Biden said.

Biden worked closely with Fauci during the Zika and Ebola outbreaks when he was vice president, and has leaned heavily on Fauci’s expertise during the COVID-19 pandemic. Biden noted one of his first calls as president-elect was to ask Fauci to become his chief medical advisor.

Fauci previously said he does not plan to stay beyond the end of President Biden’s first term in 2025, but had yet to give a formal announcement.

“I want to use what I have learned as NIAID Director to continue to advance science and public health and to inspire and mentor the next generation of scientific leaders as they help prepare the world to face future infectious disease threats,” Fauci said.

Fauci said he would use his remaining time in government to “continue to put my full effort, passion and commitment into my current responsibilities” and to help prepare his institute for a leadership transition.

Fauci has been one of the leading infectious diseases researchers for decades, but he became a household name at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic during the Trump administration as part of the White House pandemic response team.

It was in this role that Fauci became a political lightning rod. He fell out of favor with Trump after numerous public disagreements over unproven COVID-19 treatments as well as the level of danger posed by the virus.

Fauci’s embrace of mitigation measures like masks and temporary business closures early in the pandemic made him a villain to conservatives, who view him as a symbol of government overreach and “lockdown culture.”

Threats from the public led to Fauci needing a security detail. Fauci has clashed repeatedly with Republicans in Congress, who are are eagerly floating investigations into the Biden administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic if they win back control of the House or Senate in November’s midterm elections.

Fauci’s fiercest clashes have come against Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a libertarian ophthalmologist who has repeatedly antagonized Fauci over the benefits of masks, vaccinations and the origins of COVID-19.

“Fauci’s resignation will not prevent a full-throated investigation into the origins of the pandemic. He will be asked to testify under oath regarding any discussions he participated in concerning the lab leak,” Paul tweeted Monday.

Following Fauci’s announcement Monday, House Republicans also indicated Fauci’s decision to leave government won’t shield him from any potential investigations.

Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, said in a statement Monday Fauci needs to answer questions about what he knows about the origins of the coronavirus, including whether the National Institutes of Health helped fund controversial research that led to the virus’s creation in a lab in Wuhan, China.

“Retirement can’t shield Dr. Fauci from congressional oversight,” Comer said. “The American people deserve transparency and accountability about how government officials used their taxpayer dollars, and Oversight Committee Republicans will deliver.”

The U.S. intelligence community has ruled out the possibility that COVID-19 was a bioweapon developed by China, but beyond that the origins of the virus are unclear.

Some scientists have said the idea that it escaped from a lab needs further investigation but acknowledge that won’t happen without China’s help. Many others think that it spilled into the human population from animals sold in a Wuhan market. Still, there is little evidence to suggest it was created in a lab or with funding help from the National Institutes of Health or Fauci.

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