Asteroids And Healthcare Benefits

Grind for May 10th, 2019
“Impossible is just an opinion.”

– Paulo Coelho

Out Of This World

The Headline

NASA makes plans to study asteroid in 2029

The Grind

Scientists are already making plans to study an asteroid that will pass within 19,000 miles of Earth in 2029.

The asteroid – named “99942 Apophis” – will pass closer to Earth than several of our satellites.

“Apophis is representative of about 2,000 currently known ‘Potentially Hazardous Asteroids,'” explains NASA researcher Paul Chodas. “By observing Apophis during its 2029 flyby, we will gain important scientific knowledge that could one day be used for planetary defense.”

The Details

Astronomers taking part in the 2019 Planetary Defense Conference in Washington, DC this month discussed the possibility of sending a spacecraft to examine Apophis as it passes by Earth.

Data gathered from such a mission could help us avoid future collisions.

In a separate project, experts at the conference are preparing for the arrival of a fictitious asteroid that will approach Earth in 2027.

“This is a threat that could happen, even though it’s extremely unlikely,” says Chodas, who designed the exercise to test international cooperation and decision-making. “Our goal here is to go through all of the steps that we would have to go through.”

The imaginary asteroid measures between 300 and 1,000 feet in diameter and has a 1% chance of hitting Earth. Scientists will discuss ways to deflect the asteroid, blow it up before it reaches Earth, or evacuate the strike zone.

“The asteroid is not in a convenient orbit at all,” says Chodas. “It’s not like one of these asteroids that we go to with our science missions, where you get to pick a nice asteroid that’s easy to get to. In planetary defense, the asteroid picks you.”

Bad Planning

The Headline

US states are unable to pay promised retiree benefits

The Grind

A handful of state governments are eliminating or reducing the health benefits they once offered to state workers.

The cuts come in response to growing medical costs, the aging of the American workforce, and new rules which force governments to be more transparent about how much they owe.

According to the latest report from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), nearly all states are unable to afford the retiree health benefits and pensions they promised employees.

The same report found that the average US pension is funded at about 35% of what it should be.

Pension liabilities are “the existential financial threat facing state and local governments today,” says ALEC economist Jonathan Williams. “This is a huge crowding-out area for states, in that pension obligations will threaten future core government areas of spending such as healthcare, transportation, and education. And they also threaten future tax increases.”

The Details

Because the legal protections for pensions tend to be strong, officials in several states are taking aim at retiree benefits to cut down on debt.

States like Texas, Michigan, and Connecticut have already pushed workers out of the system by increasing premiums, reducing benefits, and tightening eligibility requirements.

Kansas was more aggressive, announcing in 2017 its decision to charge retirees the full cost of healthcare coverage. The policy caused 75% of participants to drop out and pushed the state’s retiree healthcare liability down from $6.1 million to $508,000.

North Carolina, which struggles with a retiree healthcare liability of more than $28 billion, will stop offering retiree healthcare benefits to workers hired in 2021 and beyond.

While these cuts may be states’ only option to avoid bankruptcy, the changes are sure to make it harder for states to find employees.

“It’s going to make a difficult situation even more difficult,” says Charles Johnson, who works as a corrections official in North Carolina. The facility is currently looking to fill 100 positions.

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