Medicare Upgrades its Website Ahead of Sign-Up Season

Medicare is modernizing its website to make it more useful for beneficiaries, particularly younger ones accustomed going online for information from insurers, hospitals and doctors.

Administrator Seema Verma announced the changes Monday, including a five-point questionnaire to help seniors decide between original Medicare and private plans offered under Medicare Advantage, an online calculator to help estimate out-of-pocket costs, a webchat option and a simplified login.

But some consumer advocates said the new features seem to paint Medicare Advantage plans offered by private insurers more favorably than original Medicare. Medicare officials deny the assertion.

Open enrollment for Medicare Advantage and Medicare prescription plans starts Oct. 15 and runs through Dec. 7.

More than one-third of beneficiaries are already in private plans, a growing share of the program.

Drugmaker Pfizer’s CEO Read to Leave in January

The drugmaker Pfizer will replace CEO Ian Read with Chief Operating Officer Albert Bourla in January.

Pfizer said Monday that Read will then become executive chairman of the company’s board of directors.

The 56-year-old Bourla just became chief operating officer in January. Before that, he served as the head of the company’s Innovative Health business. He also has run the drugmaker’s vaccines, oncology and consumer health care business.

Read became CEO at the end of 2010 and has served as board chairman since 2011.

New York-based Pfizer Inc.’s products include the cholesterol pill Lipitor and the pain medication Lyrica.

Shares of the drugmaker slipped in early-morning trading.

US Factories Grew at Slower Pace in September

U.S. factories grew at a slower pace in September as manufacturers continued to cope with supply disruptions stemming from trade disputes with China, Europe, Mexico and Canada.

The disruptions forced manufacturers to make a larger draw on their inventories. Overall the country’s industry continues to show strength, the Institute for Supply Management reported Monday. The trade group of purchasing managers said its manufacturing index fell last month to 59.8 from 61.3 in August. Anything over 50 signals growth, and U.S. manufacturing is on a 25-month winning streak.

Fifteen of 18 manufacturing industries expanded in September, led by makers of textiles, plastics and rubber products, and computers and electronics.

Growth in new orders slowed in September, but production and hiring grew faster.

US Construction Spending up Slightly 0.1% in August

Spending on U.S. construction projects edged up a slight 0.1 percent in August as a strong gain in government spending offset weakness in home building and nonresidential construction.

The Commerce Department said Monday that the rise, which followed a 0.2 percent July increase, put total construction at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $1.32 trillion. That was down 0.4 percent from a record high set in May.

Residential construction fell 0.7 percent while nonresidential construction edged down 0.2 percent. Those declines were offset by a strong 2 percent rise in public construction, which increased to the highest level since July 2009. Spending for federal and state and local projects increased.

Construction activity is contributing to solid overall growth although home building has faced a number of challenges this year.

GE Appliances to Add 400 Jobs at Kentucky Plant

A Kentucky-based home appliances business says it will add 400 jobs as part of a $200 million investment at its sprawling Louisville operation.

GE Appliances on Monday announced plans to expand its laundry and dishwasher production at Appliance Park, its largest manufacturing facility and headquarters.

The GE Appliances business is owned by Haier, a Chinese appliances giant.

Kevin Nolan is CEO at GE Appliances. He says the investment in Louisville will accelerate the company’s ability to introduce new products.

GE Appliances has manufacturing plants in Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. It employees about 6,000 people in Louisville and about 12,000 in the U.S.

Since May, GE Appliances has announced more $475 million in investments in products, manufacturing and distribution, creating more than 1,000 new jobs.

Baylor Scott & White Health, Memorial Hermann Plan to Merge

Two major not-for-profit health care providers in Texas plan to merge with a goal of improved patient care and more cost-effective services.

Officials with Baylor Scott & White Health and Memorial Hermann Health System on Monday announced their respective boards have signed a letter of intent. Financial terms weren’t immediately released on the deal expected to be completed next year.

The systems currently have about 73,000 employees in more than 30 Texas counties with 68 hospital campuses. The combined operation, with a new name to be determined, would have executive and support staff based in Austin, Dallas, Houston and Temple.

The statement from Baylor Scott & White and Memorial Herrmann notes both health care systems have strong ties to the academic community, for continued training and research.

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