Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: Mar 12, 2013 5:50 PM

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AP Exclusive: Applying for Obama plan benefits not easy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Applying for benefits under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul could be as daunting as doing your taxes.

The government's draft application runs 15 pages for a three-person family. An outline of the online version has 21 steps, some with additional questions.

Seven months before the Oct. 1 start of enrollment season for millions of uninsured Americans, the idea that getting health insurance could be as easy as shopping online at Amazon or Travelocity is starting to look like wishful thinking.

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Drugmakers, Interpol ramp up fight against fakes

More than two dozen of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies have agreed to provide funding and other support to Interpol's battle against counterfeit prescription drugs, the international police agency said Tuesday.

Interpol's newly created Pharmaceutical Crime Program aims to help health agencies, police and customs bureaus in countries around the world stem the supply of bogus brand-name and generic medicines, as well as identify and dismantle the organized crime rings distributing them.

Those rings, which operate across borders, are raking in billions of dollars every year, costing legitimate drugmakers a small fortune in lost sales. Meanwhile patients who unknowingly take counterfeit drugs often are poisoned or get sicker because they're not receiving what doctors prescribed. Experts estimate hundreds of thousands of people around the world die because of counterfeit medicines each year.

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China wrestles with cost of cleaner environment

BEIJING (AP) — Facing public outrage over smog-choked cities and filthy rivers, China's leaders are promising to clean up the country's neglected environment — a pledge that sets up a clash with political pressure to keep economic growth strong.

An array of possible initiatives discussed by officials and state media ahead of this week's meeting of China's legislature include tightening water standards and taxing carbon emissions. No change is expected at the National People's Congress, which will be dominated by the installation of a new Cabinet under Communist Party leaders who took power in November. But the meeting offers a platform to try to appease the public by discussing possible changes.

Pollution and public frustration about it are hardly new to China. But now, the ruling party is under pressure from entrepreneurs and professionals who are crucial to its development plans and want cleaner living conditions. Pressure intensified after this winter's record-shattering smog in Beijing and other cities left office workers wheezing.

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FDA head says menu labeling 'thorny' issue

WASHINGTON (AP) — Diners will have to wait a little longer to find calorie counts on most restaurant chain menus, in supermarkets and on vending machines.

Writing a new menu labeling law "has gotten extremely thorny," says the head of the Food and Drug Administration, as the agency tries to figure out who should be covered by it.

The 2010 health care law charged the FDA with requiring chain restaurants and other establishments that serve food to put calorie counts on menus and in vending machines. The agency issued a proposed rule in 2011, but the final rules have since been delayed as some of those non-restaurant establishments have lobbied hard to be exempt.

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Airlines seek alternative for grounded 787

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The prolonged grounding of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner has forced some airlines to seek alternative arrangements, including renting other planes to fill gaps for the upcoming busy summer travel season.

It's a sign that some Boeing customers don't expect a quick fix to the 787's problems.

Jeff Knittel of airplane leasing company CIT said Tuesday that unnamed airlines are talking to CIT about alternatives to the Dreamliner. Interest has come from a handful of airlines that already have the plane or were supposed to get it before the summer travel season.

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Chavez tattoos, kitsch in demand since death

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Business has never been better for Eudis Carrillo. Sure, he's heartbroken over the death of his hero Hugo Chavez, but there's precious little time for sentiment: Hats and T-shirts of the late Venezuelan president are flying off the shelves at his street-side stand faster than he can keep them in stock.

Ditto demand for Chavez tattoos, Chavez earrings, Chavez mugs and talking Chavez action figurines. One can even buy Chavez boxer shorts and panties, part of a cult of personality that began while the former paratrooper was still alive but has exploded in the week since he succumbed to cancer.

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US employers post more jobs, cut fewer workers

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. employers advertised more job openings in January, suggesting that hiring will remain healthy in coming months.

Job openings rose 2.2 percent in January from December to 3.69 million, the Labor Department said Tuesday. Openings had fallen nearly 5 percent in December, and they remain below November's level of nearly 3.8 million.

Yet the report provided further evidence that the U.S. job market is strengthening. Employers laid off the fewest workers in January than in any month since records began in 2001. And the number of Americans who quit their jobs rose to the highest in more than four years. People usually quit when they have another job, so more quitting suggests it is easier to find work.

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White promises "unrelenting" enforcement at SEC

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mary Jo White vowed Tuesday to make "bold and unrelenting" enforcement of Wall Street a high priority if she is confirmed chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The former federal prosecutor told a Senate panel that investors need to know the playing field is level and that wrongdoers will be "aggressively and successfully" pursued.

White also pledged to avoid potential conflicts of interest from her work over the past decade as a corporate litigator.

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GOP budget takes aim again at healthcare, Medicaid

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans unveiled their latest budget outline on Tuesday, sticking to their plans to try to repeal so-called Obamacare, cut domestic programs ranging from Medicaid to college grants and require future Medicare patients to bear more of the program's cost.

The GOP plan came as President Barack Obama traveled to Capitol Hill to meet with Senate Democrats on the budget and a broad range of other proposals that are part of his second-term agenda. The president has launched a new outreach to rank-and-file Republicans, and his Hill visit is one of several planned with lawmakers of both parties this week.

The fiscal blueprint released Tuesday by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., will be dead on arrival with the White House and Democrats controlling the Senate. The point was to prove it's possible to balance the budget within 10 years by simply cutting spending and avoiding further tax hikes.

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Twinkies buyer says cakes could return by summer

NEW YORK (AP) — Hostess is moving ahead with plans to sell its Twinkies, and one of the new owners says the spongy cream-filled snacks could be back on shelves by summer.

The bankrupt company had earlier picked a $410 million joint offer from Metropoulos & Co. and Apollo Global Management as the "stalking horse" bid to set the floor for an auction.

In a document filed in U.S. bankruptcy court on Monday, however, Hostess Brands said the auction would not be held because no other qualified bids were submitted for the cakes, which include Ding Dongs and Ho Hos.

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Google pays $7 million fine to settle Wi-Fi privacy case

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Google will pay a $7 million fine to settle a multistate investigation into a snoopy software program that enabled the Internet search leader to intercept emails, passwords and other sensitive information sent several years ago over unprotected wireless networks in neighborhoods around the world.

The agreement announced Tuesday covers 38 states and the District of Columbia, part of the area where households and local merchants unwittingly had some of their communications on Wi-Fi networks snatched by Google Inc. from early 2008 until the spring 0f 2010.

Google stopped the data collection in May 2010, shortly before the company revealed cars taking street-level photos for its online mapping service also had been grabbing information transmitted over Wi-Fi networks set up in homes and businesses that didn't require passwords to gain access.

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By The Associated Press(equals)

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 2.77 points, or 0.02 percent, to 14,450.06. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 ended down 3.74 points, or 0.2 percent, at 1,552.48. The Nasdaq composite dropped 10.55 points, or 0.32 percent, to 3,242.32.

Benchmark oil for April delivery gained 48 cents to finish at $92.54 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price many kinds of oil imported by U.S. refineries, slipped 46 cents to end at $109.23 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Wholesale gasoline finished unchanged at $3.15 a gallon. Heating oil fell 2 cents to end at $2.95 a gallon. Natural gas was unchanged at $3.65 per 1,000 cubic feet.