The Week That Was: 08/12/12

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A healthy outlook, Part I?

Large American businesses are budgeting for a 7 percent increase in health care costs in 2013, according to a new employer survey. It's the second year in a row that large businesses have budgeted for a 7 percent increase, a sign that the annual increases in health care costs are flattening -- but not shrinking or reversing.

Small- and medium-sized businesses in Pittsburgh, however, continue to see great quotes on new policies and policy renewals, thanks to the battle royale among Highmark, UPMC Health Plan and the national insurers that are now active in the region.

A healthy outlook, Part II?

Development in the Marcellus Shale accounted for one-fifth of the nation's natural gas reserve increase in 2010, and one industry group now predicts the Marcellus soon will be the new leader in domestic shale plays.

Right now, the Barnett Shale in Texas takes the top spot, according to the Post-Gazette's Erich Schwartzel, but newer estimates could eventually show that the Appalachian gas-and-oil formation will become the nation's top gas producer.

When is a debit card ...

... not a debit card? When it's a reloadable, pre-paid debit card, more like a gift card than a "traditional" debit card that is tied to a checking or savings account. PNC Financial Services Group -- following the lead of a number of other big banks, according to the PG's Patricia Sabatini -- is now offering its own prepaid debit card, called SmartAccess:

"Reloadable debit cards appeal mainly to people who don't have bank accounts. Some people also use them as a substitute for cash while traveling, as a budgeting tool to help limit how much they spend, or as a way for children to buy things while away at camp or school."

It's a booming market, and the fees tied to the prepaid bank cards can help banks "recoup some revenue lost after federal regulators capped fees on traditional debit cards tied to bank accounts."

A billion here ...

... a billion there, and you'd still be $3 billion short of what the U.S. Postal Service lost in its third quarter: $5.2 billion. It reported the loss Thursday, and the financially ailing agency says it plans to default on a $5.6 billion retiree health-care payment due Sept. 30, absent some kind of fix or infusion from Congress.

In case you missed it ...

... visit the Post-Gazette's special section on business diversity, called Diversity Matters, at http://pgne.ws/cRBAo. There, you'll find articles about workforce diversity, Pittsburgh's continuing racial disparities, LGBT acceptance, and the city's increasing Hispanic population.

Quote of the week

"We sold retro candy before it was retro."

-- Jon Prince, president of the McKeesport Candy Co., the 85-year-old candy wholesaler that now does most of its business on the Internet, selling retro, novelty and themed candy.

businessnews

Bill Toland: btoland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2625.


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