Anthony Varriano

Anthony Varriano

There were plenty of NFL teams that made playoff statements in Week 9 -- some good, some bad. No team made a bigger statement than Philadelphia, though.

The NFC road to the Super Bowl will go through Philadelphia

The Eagles (8-1) have been fantastic and should end up the top playoff seed in the NFC. The rest of Philadelphia’s schedule isn’t easy, with two games against Dallas, one at Seattle and one at the Rams. But with eight wins already and a home game against the Bears and the hapless Giants on the schedule, the Eagles should win more than 10 games. If the offensive line holds up and Carson Wentz stays healthy, the Eagles might win 14. As for their opponent in Week 9...

The Broncos will miss the playoffs

The Broncos are a mess when they have the ball, and their defense was picked apart for 51 points by Wentz. Worse yet, the Broncos will take their sixth loss of the season at home against the Patriots next week. The Denver defense can’t carry this team to the playoffs if the turnovers continue, unless Kansas City collapses.

The AFC road to the Super Bowl won’t go through Kansas City

MVP candidate Alex Smith was stymied by an overachieving Dallas secondary and pass rush, and Kareem Hunt was taken out of the game by his own coach. He had just nine carries. The Chiefs were sloppy pre-snap, wouldn’t establish a running game nor stop the run. The Chiefs will make the playoffs, but I like the Steelers’ and Patriots’ schedules (and quarterbacks) better the rest of the way.K

The Steelers (6-2) have the Andrew Luck-less Colts next, the Titans at home, and the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers followed by the reeling Bengals in Cincinnati. The Patriots are the only team remaining that should beat them, but we’ve already seen Pittsburgh fall to the Bears this season and struggle with the really good Jacksonville secondary.

Despite an ugly loss to Kansas City in Week 1, the Patriots could still end up the AFC’s top playoff seed. They play the Dolphins and Bills twice, and the Jets once. The Broncos and Raiders won’t likely pose problems for the Patriots, either.

The Carolina Panthers will win the NFC South

The Panthers’ Cam Newton was better than reigning MVP Matt Ryan on Sunday, and Christian McCaffrey displayed why the Panthers don’t need Kelvin Benjamin, who was traded to Buffalo for third- and seventh-round draft picks. If Newton and McCaffrey stay healthy, the Panthers are champions of the NFC South.

The Panthers (6-3) have just one blemish on their record, which is a home loss to New Orleans. They’ll get a chance to redeem themselves on Dec. 3 in New Orleans, after facing the hapless Dolphins and Jets with a bye week sandwiched in between. The Saints (6-2) have three tough games upcoming: at Buffalo, hosting Washington and at the white hot Rams prior to hosting Carolina. They also have two games against the Falcons, who were a Julio Jones drop away from making a positive playoff statement in Week 9. Instead…

The Atlanta Falcons will miss the playoffs

With losses to the Bills and Dolphins already this season, the Falcons have lost too many of the games they need to win to make the playoffs. Atlanta can still make a positive playoff statement either next week against the Cowboys or the week after in Seattle, but that’s looking less likely with every snap. If the offensive woes continue, the Falcons will lose either one of their two games against the high-octane Saints and/or another against the Panthers, which will make them miss the playoffs.

The Los Angeles Rams will make the playoffs

The Rams (6-2) put up 51 on the terrible Giants, but they also put up 35 on Dallas in a win that could break a tie for a Wild Card spot. The Rams are dangerous on both sides of the ball and on special teams, too. Jared Goff is starting to show why he was selected number one overall now that he has weapons in former Bills Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods. Speaking of the Bills…

The Bills will miss the playoffs

Buffalo’s loss to the Jets on Thursday to kick off Week 9 of the 2017 NFL season was certainly a Thursday Night Football anomaly, but it left the Bills 4-3 with two games left to play against the Patriots. The Saints visit next week before the Bills visit the Chargers and Chiefs. That’s seven losses right there, so the Bills will miss the playoffs.

The Jaguars will win the AFC South

The Bills’ misfortune on Thursday night will open the door for the Jaguars to make the playoffs. Despite a Week 1 loss at home to the Titans, the Jaguars can win their division. They will take their revenge at Tennessee in the final week of the season to win the AFC South -- if they haven’t won it by then already. The Jaguars get the Chargers, Browns, Cardinals and Colts over the next four weeks. Tennessee hosts Cincinnati and visits the Steelers and Colts before hosting the Texans.


This was originally published at GCNLive.com.

In a season that took 2,468 games to decide a champion, it might seem foolish to base any conclusions on the result of one game. But no game is more important and, therefore, more revealing, than a World Series Game 7. So here’s what we learned from the Astros’ World Series win.

1) Veterans and small ball still win championships

The Astros took the lead in the first inning of Game 7 with a leadoff double followed by an error by 22-year-old, first baseman Cody Bellinger, who also struck out thrice in the game and finished the series with a .565 OPS. Alex Bregman then stole third base on Darvish, who seemed to forget about him, which resulted in a second run when the likely American League Most Value Player, Jose Altuve, did exactly what he needed to do -- hit a ground ball past the pitcher. That was enough to win the game.

2) Yu Darvish is a nice, reserved person, but not a reliable ace

Darvish’s thoughtful, Twitter reaction to Yuli Gurriel’s insensitive, racially-charged gesture following a home run in Game 3 was a pleasant surprise in what’s been a year defined by racial divisiveness. But Darvish’s World Series performance might leave some MLB general managers reluctant to sign the starter to a big-money, long-term deal in free agency this offseason. As the moments got bigger, Darvish got worse. He allowed eight runs over three-and-a-third innings in the World Series while allowing just two runs in 11-and-a-third innings in his other two postseason starts. He was responsible for two of the Astros’ four wins.

More importantly to his free agent value, Darvish was either really good or really bad in 2017. In his 10 wins during the regular season, Darvish averaged just 1.6 earned runs allowed. In his 12 losses during the regular season, Darvish averaged 4.17 earned runs allowed. He allowed five or more earned runs five times during the regular season. Including the postseason, Darvish allowed four or more earned runs eight times.

3) Clayton Kershaw still isn’t a pressure player

Kershaw tossed four innings of scoreless ball in Game 7 but blew his chance to shake his bad postseason reputation in Game 5 -- the most important game of the series. He allowed six earned runs over four-and-two-thirds innings pitched, and like Darvish, performed better earlier in the postseason. Kershaw actually lowered his postseason ERA from 4.44 to 4.35. His regular season ERA of 2.31 led the majors. Unlike Darvish, I doubt Kershaw’s postseason struggles will scare away any general managers looking to sign him next offseason if he declines his player option with Los Angeles. He’s still the best regular season starter in baseball.

4) The Astros are going to be good for a really long time

The Astros will likely return their entire roster next season, but the team is built for long-term success thanks to home-grown talent. Altuve won’t be a free agent for another two years, and Carlos Correa won’t hit free agency until 2022, which is the final year of Bregman’s arbitration eligibility. And now Houston has Justin Verlander signed through 2020, so look for the Astros to be perennial contenders for the next three to five years.

5) The Dodgers’ window of opportunity closes next season

Regardless of what happens with Kershaw after next season, the Dodgers aren’t built for sustainable, long-term success. While the Dodgers could have up to $96 million coming off their books after 2018, they would like to stay under the $195 million luxury tax threshold to avoid paying the 50-percent tax reserved for teams exceeding the threshold for three consecutive seasons. So paying Kershaw $40 million annually might not be feasible. The Dodgers will also have to consider signing 25-year-old, center fielder Joc Pederson long-term, who was their best player in the World Series with a 1.344 OPS. He’s eligible for arbitration for the first time this offseason.

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Imagine a world where the winner of an election actually earns a majority of the popular vote. Imagine a world without primaries, and political campaigns without attack ads. Imagine a world where you visit your polling place for your local elections and instead of choosing the lesser of two evils, ranking three to six candidates by your order of preference. This is the world of ranked-choice voting.

In the ranked-choice voting world, it’s less likely a candidate will give up on a voter, assuming they’ll never get their vote because a candidate likely needs both the first-choice rankings from his or her core supporters as well as some lower rankings from other voters to win an election. The result is more civil campaigning by candidates and more discussion of issues voters find important. A Rutger-Eagleton poll found that likely voters in cities using ranked-choice voting in 2013 and 2014 perceived less candidate criticism and negative campaigning and were more satisfied with the conduct of candidate campaigns.

Ranked-choice voting also reduces the influence of money in campaigns because of the elimination of negative campaigning and use of attack ads. A survey of over 200 candidates in ranked-choice voting municipalities found that candidates were less likely to use television or radio ads, more likely to praise their rivals and less likely to report that their or their opponent’s campaign portrayed candidates negatively.

Ranked-choice voting also eliminates the need for primary elections, which saves taxpayer dollars, but it also makes voters feel like their vote has value, which makes them more likely to vote. In Minneapolis, the number of votes cast in the 2013 municipal election were nearly double that of 2009, when ranked-choice voting was first implemented. A study by University of Missouri-St. Louis professor David Kimball and PhD candidate Joseph Anthony found that voter turnout increases by 10 percent when compared to the primary and runoff elections ranked-choice elections replace.

Most importantly, ranked-choice voting makes elections more democratic. It eliminates the lesser-of-two-evils “option” and opens elections up to third-, fourth- and fifth-party candidates, giving America’s diverse populace the diverse electorate it deserves. Even if a voter’s highest-ranked candidate loses, that voter's vote will still count for their second-, third-, fourth-, fifth- or even sixth-ranked candidate.

Passing and implementing ranked-choice voting everywhere is an easy and effective way to make our elections more democratic and ensure that those elected best represent the concerns and values of us.

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Saturday, 28 October 2017 18:52

5 steps to get out of student loan debt

It might be a while before post-secondary education is free for any American accepted to a public college or university. New York has become the first state to offer residents a tuition-free, post-secondary education at community colleges and public colleges and universities, and California could be next. That doesn’t help those of us who have already graduated from college with massive student loan debt, but you can get out of student loan debt without paying it all or worrying about interest accruing. The earlier you take these steps the better.

1) Don’t get scammed by student loan “negotiators”

There are a ton of corporate scammers out there preying on recent college graduates struggling to repay their student loan debt. These companies offer nothing you can’t do yourself from the StudentLoans.gov website but charge a monthly fee for playing middle man between you and your student loan servicer(s).

You should be able to identify these scammers by their too-good-to-be-true offer, but if you ever call any other number besides (800) 557-7394 or (800) 557-7392, you’re likely dealing with a scammer. Keep in mind, though, that these companies already get a bad rep, so if you do end up being scammed, do not hesitate to demand a full refund.

2) Don’t take on new debt

This might sound impossible for an unemployed, college graduate, but it’s essential to improve your borrowing power during the six-month grace period you have before your first student loan payments are due.

What you can borrow depends on your debt-to-income ratio, which is probably pretty terrible for any recent college graduate looking for a job. But even if your income is low (or nonexistent), you can take steps to improve your financial situation by simply moving your debt around. The first step is prioritizing your non-student-loan debt.

Credit cards can be an asset if you use them correctly. If you’re struggling to find a job to improve your debt-to-income ratio by increasing your income, you must improve your debt-to-income ratio by reducing your debt. But how can you reduce your debt without income?

You should know which credit cards are costing you the most in interest. Some of these rates can be upwards of 30 percent, so check to see if there’s an opportunity to transfer your highest credit card balance to a credit card with a lower rate. You might pay a three percent fee on the balance transferred, but if that’s less than you’d pay in interest over the life of the introductory rate, better to pay that amount upfront during your six-month grace period.

The key is to never allow your credit card balance to grow. At the end of every month, your credit card balance should be less than it was when you graduated. That way, when the six-month grace period on your student loans expires, you can work with smaller (or nonexistent) credit card payments.

3) Consolidate your student loans under one servicer

If you are tired of paying multiple student loan servicers, consolidate your loans under one servicer. This will make your student loan payments one payment paid to one servicer. The important thing to keep in mind when consolidating, though, is when asked the question of whether you work for a nonprofit, answer “yes,” even if you don’t. This will assure that your loans are consolidated with a servicer who qualifies for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF). So if you end up working for a nonprofit in the future, your loans already qualify for the program.

4) Apply for an income-based repayment plan

You can only pay what you have, so anyone with student loan debt should be on an income-based repayment plan, unless, of course, you make a ton of money. If that’s the case you should just pay off your student loans as quickly as possible to avoid paying interest.

While you must reapply for an income-based repayment plan annually, regardless of your change in adjusted gross income, it will result in the lowest qualifying payment you can make on your student loans.

If your income is low enough, you could end up paying $0 per month, but unless you intend to work for a nonprofit for 10 years and have the remaining balance of your student loans forgiven, interest will accrue at an astronomical rate.

5) Work for a nonprofit for 10 years, or start your own

Under the PSLF program, if you make 120 payments -- even of $0 -- while working at least 30 hours per week for a nonprofit organization, the remaining balance of your student loans after those 120 payments will be forgiven. It will disappear.

You don’t necessarily have to be paid by the nonprofit. If you volunteer for 30 hours per week with a nonprofit or multiple nonprofits, you just need an executive of that nonprofit to verify that you work 30 hours per week for them using this form.

You can even start a nonprofit and have a member of your board verify your work hours. I just found out all the work I did for a nonprofit I started to grow ice sports in my hometown qualifies me for the PSLF program, so if there’s a cause near and dear to your heart that isn’t being addressed by a nonprofit, start one. It’s as easy as raising some money and filing some corporate paperwork with the state to acquire tax exempt status. (Note: partisan political nonprofits and labor unions do not qualify.)

Don’t let student loan debt cripple your economic outlook. Take these steps as soon as possible to get out of student loan debt.

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Congress passed a bill Wednesday that makes it harder for consumers to sue banks. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s arbitration agreements rule protected users of credit services from being forced into arbitration rather than being allowed to join together in class-action lawsuits against financial firms with other users who were wronged.

Sixty days after Donald Trump signs the bill it will go into effect, providing little protection for consumers when financial firms wrong them in the future. The right of consumers to join together in class action lawsuits is not unlike the right unions have to collectively bargain contracts with employers, so, Conservatives are, of course, opposed. Democrats, on the other hand, are finally ready to pick a fight on the subject of economic inequality.

Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren was at the University of Minnesota speaking on the very subject of economic inequality on Sunday. She’s not happy with consumer protections and regulations of financial firms she championed being undermined by the Conservative-controlled Congress, and she’s ready to pick a fight over it. Unfortunately, she and the Democrats are in no position to fight, and likely won’t be until after the 2020 election -- if at all.

The 2020 census will offer an opportunity for Democrats to undo the gerrymandering that has served Republicans so well in state elections since 2010, and it will be just in time for all 435 seats in the House of Representatives are up for reelection. That’s exactly why former President Barack Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder are spearheading the effort to redraw district lines in 2020.

There are states that have taken the mapmaking pen out of the hands of politicians, though. In Washington, California, Idaho, Arizona, Alaska and Montana, an independent commission redraws district lines. In Maine, New York, Rhode Island and Iowa, an advisory commission redraws the districts, but that accounts for just 10 of the 50 states. The rest allow politicians to redraw district boundaries, most of which consist of legislatures that rarely lean Left, so if Democrats want to pick a fight over economic inequality, they’ll have to level the playing field first.

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I’ve been looking to adopt a dog for about two months now, and while I’ve been picky about what type of dog I want to adopt, potential pet owners are subject to a more investigative process than potential gun owners.

I want a dog for multiple reasons. I just bought a home with a fenced yard, so I finally have the space to get the type of dog I want. I’ve always liked big, lap dogs, specifically, those that have come to be called “aggressive breeds” or “bully breeds.” I’ve come to despise those monikers because a dog’s behavior is representative of its owner. So despite having big teeth and a large bite radius, an “aggressive breed” like a Rottweiler is only aggressive if the owner makes it so, just as a gun is only dangerous if the owner makes it so.

Now, if you want to call them “protective breeds,” I’d be fine with that, because that’s what they are -- protective of their owners. That’s just one of the reasons I want a dog. I live in a relatively high crime rate area, especially when it comes to vehicle and home burglaries, but I’d rather have a home security system that acts instead of phoning the police. A dog might not be a better deterrent than those home security stickers people put in their windows, but a home security system doesn’t have a personality, either. I’ll take the personality.

I’ve never owned a gun and have never come across a reason for owning a gun. I grew up shooting BB-guns with my grandfather like most Americans. I even hunted as a child (once) but still never felt a gun to be necessary. The first day I went hunting, I shot a Whitetail doe in the neck while it was running away from me -- the perfect shot for preserving the meat. I was praised by all the old men who accompanied my dad and me, but I wasn’t surprised by my ability. I was the best marksman in my hunter safety course, and yet I still didn’t feel comfortable using a gun. I didn’t think it was fair to the deer. I find bow-hunting more sporting, or even fishing.

I’ve also enjoyed firing handguns for recreation, but that’s not reason enough for me to own a handgun. It certainly wouldn’t be my first choice when it comes to home protection, but it is for too many Americans in my opinion. Stand-your-ground laws have only exacerbated this situation.    

I’ve submitted multiple applications revealing more about myself and my home than is required to get a gun. Some pet adoption agencies even require a home inspection, but getting a gun in this country is as simple as attending a gun show with enough cash in-hand or knowing someone with a gun looking to sell. I asked Minnesota Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar whether they thought legislation that would make the gun application process mirror the pet adoption process could pass Congress, and only got a vague, email response from Franken.

“We can...address gun violence by closing loopholes in the federal background check system so that guns don't get into the wrong hands, like convicted felons or people with serious mental illness,” the letter read.

The response doesn’t answer my question, of course, but I think members of all political parties can agree that “gun control” should start with controlling who can get guns. The fact we as a society are more concerned about who owns a dog than who owns a gun reveals plenty about the American way. Dogs, like guns, aren’t inherently dangerous. Dog owners and gun owners are dangerous. A dog in the wrong hands can be as dangerous as a gun in the wrong hands. Both can take a life.

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If you’ve driven near downtown Minneapolis lately, you’ve surely noticed how different (and better) Target Center looks on the outside. Target’s mascot Bullseye looks much more at home shaking his tail on the north side of Target Center overlooking Target Field. But it’s what’s inside Target Center that makes the new Minnesota Timberwolves experience worth every penny.

The Product

There has never been a Timberwolves team with so much potential. What head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau has done with the roster over the last few years is extraordinary. Everything the team lacked last season has been addressed. The Timberwolves now have the lockdown defender who can guard anyone on the floor in Jimmy Butler.

Thibedeau has vastly improved the bench, which has already paid dividends, with Jamal Crawford taking over the fourth quarter in the home opener against Ricky Rubio and the Utah Jazz. And the potential of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns is getting closer and closer to being realized with every game. The two have already won a huge conference, road game at Oklahoma City in the closing seconds, with Towns providing the hard pick that freed Wiggins to bank in a buzzer beater on Sunday night. Beating Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George on their own court is no small feat, regardless of how early it is in the season.

While many of these Timberwolves are still pups (Towns is 21 and Wiggins is 22) and will continue to experience growing pains closing out games, they are already 2-0 in close games this season. They were 26th in the league with a .391 winning percentage in close games last season. The product is definitely worth watching.

The Package

The Timberwolves are wrapped in a newly beautified building, but the amenities inside the building are what make a visit to Target Center worth every penny. The new Daktronics LED video display features 4,300 square feet of display space, making for a better view of replays than you’d have from the comfort of your own home. Each of the four main displays are approximately 18 feet high by 33 feet wide.

Following the example set by the Minnesota Twins, the troughs in the men’s bathrooms are now gone. And while concession prices might be a little higher than in the past (a Coca-Cola will cost you $6 and a water $5), the accessibility to food and refreshments regardless of your location has improved considerably. There are more local and healthy options available, including a Walleye Sandwich at Lord Fletcher’s in Section 136 and Tuna Togarashi at the Life Cafe in Section 106. (Hint: the lines at the concession stands offering healthier options are always shorter than those offering burgers and hot dogs. I didn’t spend any time in line at the Life Cafe during the home opener.)

The Presentation

Jimmy Butler taking the microphone prior to the home opener and welcoming everyone in attendance to the new Target Center was a fabulous way to present the new product to the people. Better yet were the pregame introductions.

While the new uniforms are a little blah, at least the advertisement for Fitbit isn’t overdone, and at least the Timberwolves are advertising a health product. Once the neon green, alternative jerseys debut, though, they’re going to catch on like football did in Seattle when they went to a similar color scheme.

The new Timberwolves logo is a vast improvement, though. The old logo didn’t convey much through imagery. Sure, the Timberwolf was menacing, but the only way you knew the team was from Minnesota was due to the word “Minnesota” in the logo. The new logo can stand alone without words and conveys not only where the team resides, thanks to the use of the North Star, but it also conveys what sport the team plays, with a basketball included in the background. It’s also an homage to the original Timberwolves logo, which was much better than the last attempt and utilized a similar shade of green used now.

The Timberwolves organization mostly aced their rebranding. The only thing that could have been done better are the jerseys, and those change pretty regularly. If you haven’t seen a Timberwolves game yet, now’s the time to get down to Target Center.

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Donald Trump’s executive order he declared killed Obamacare hasn’t actually changed any laws, but if Trump cuts subsidies paid to health insurance companies like he proposed, it would increase premiums for middle-class Americans and increase the federal deficit by $194 billion over the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The $19.4 billion that would be added to the federal deficit annually on average is $12.4 billion more than the government is currently paying to subsidize health insurance discounts for low-income Americans. That $7 billion the federal government pays in annual subsidies to cover the discounts insurers are required to offer under the Affordable Care Act insures helps about 7 million Americans afford health insurance.

Since insurers are required to offer those discounts by law, that $7 billion in lost income (and any in lost premiums due to more Americans choosing to go uninsured) will fall on the backs of middle-class Americans who don’t receive insurance through their employers. Individuals making around $48,000 or a family of four earning almost $100,000 annually are expected to see their premiums increase 20 percent next year.

While Senators came to a bipartisan agreement to float Obamacare for the next two years, Trump said he opposes any measure that “bails out” health insurance companies. But if Trump is so concerned about the $7 billion paid annually to health insurance companies to make health insurance more affordable for low-income Americans, what about the $92 billion the government spends on corporate welfare, according to research by the Libertarian Cato Institute done in 2006? The federal government spends $6.18 billion more subsidizing Boeing aircraft production than it does to make health insurance more affordable to low-income Americans.

Trump's Obamacare Executive Order Explained

While Donald Trump’s executive order he claimed killed Obamacare hasn’t actually changed any laws, it could eventually allow associations to skirt state rules so employers can provide employees health insurance that covers next to nothing.

Under the new executive order, an association of businesses offering similar products or services could choose which state’s marketplace they want to use to provide health insurance to all the association’s employees -- regardless of location. The association could and likely would pick a state offering the cheapest option providing the fewest benefits for its employees, resulting in less money paid in premiums and, therefore, higher premiums for individuals and families who don’t get insurance through their employer.

These associations would be considered large employers, which aren’t subject to the same rules as individual or small group plans under the Affordable Care Act. They are not required to cover all the ACA’s essential health benefits nor are they required to offer insurance that covers a minimal percentage of their employees’ medical bills. This puts the bulk of the medical risk and expense burden on the employee instead of the insurance company while also lowering expenses for employers. This will also result in individuals and families picking up more of the tab when it comes to premiums paid.

The executive order also expands short-term insurance plans, which were designed for people temporarily out of work for a limited amount of time. Like insurance plans for large businesses, these insurance plans are not required to meet ACA regulations of providing essential health benefits, not charging sick people more than healthy people for health insurance or denying people insurance based on preexisting conditions or medical history.

The executive order will lift the burden of insurance premiums off the shoulders of businesses and onto the shoulders of individuals and families, which will result in more under- and uninsured Americans and higher premiums.

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Despite Donald Trump declaring Obamacare dead after signing an executive order on Thursday, United States Senators came to a bipartisan agreement on Tuesday to float Obamacare for the next two years. That doesn’t mean Obamacare is in the clear, but it is still the law of the land, and with open enrollment beginning on Nov. 1, it’s time you understood your healthcare options so you can make the right choice for you and your family.

First Thing’s First: Check if You’re Eligible for Medicaid

Medicaid expansion has been implemented in 32 states, and if you’re a citizen of Louisiana, your state expanded Medicaid in July of 2016, so check to see if you qualify. If you make less than $16,040 annually and are single, you do. Here’s the breakdown of the Federal Poverty Level for households of multiple people and here’s where you can find your state’s income requirements. Medicaid in any state will be considerably cheaper than a Bronze plan on the Obamacare marketplace.

Louisianans are already taking advantage of the Medicaid expansion, with enrollment in the program increasing 42 percent since Obamacare debuted in 2013. The state’s 21.7 percent uninsured rate in 2013 has fallen to 12.7 percent.

Weighing the Risk of Going Uninsured

Going uninsured only increases premiums for your family, friends and neighbors, and if you were to require medical care, you would incur considerable medical debt for which you could end up paying the rest of your life. A 2016 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found those who visit the hospital without insurance double their chance of declaring bankruptc within four years.

Even if your hospital visit doesn’t burden you with medical debt, any “uncompensated care” the hospital provides, it makes up by raising rates on medical care for everyone. So going uninsured raises medical costs for everyone and is not advised.

That said, if you haven’t been to the doctor in years, don’t do dangerous work or have dangerous hobbies and are healthy -- you can determine whether it would be cheaper to pay the penalty for going uninsured than it would be to pay a health insurance premium.

The penalty for going uninsured in 2017 is 2.5 percent of your income or $695 -- whichever is higher. So if you make less than $27,750 annually, you’d pay $695, which would likely be cheaper than any health insurance plan you could purchase on the Obamacare marketplace. In fact, if you make less than $45,000 annually, the penalty for going uninsured ($1,125) is likely less than your premiums would be for the year. Keep in mind that premium payments are only part of your potential healthcare costs, though. It only takes one accident or illness to make you regret going uninsured.

If You’re Healthy and Under 30 (or not), Get a Catastrophic Plan

Catastrophic health insurance plans cover the same essential health benefits marketplace plans cover, including preventative care and three primary care visits. They’re also cheap and protect you from both the penalty for going uninsured and the medical debt that could bankrupt you in the future. You might even qualify for a catastrophic plan if you’re over 30 years old.

If you have experienced any one of the hardships listed here in the past year, you could qualify for a catastrophic health insurance plan. Some examples would be death of a family member, increased expenses due to caring for a sick family member, or damage to property due to natural disaster. You might even qualify if you experienced a hardship applying for health insurance not listed on the website.

You could also be eligible for a catastrophic health plan if your employer doesn’t offer affordable health insurance and Obamacare is prohibitively expensive for you, or if your state didn’t expand Medicaid, for which you would qualify. Be sure to investigate your eligibility for a catastrophic health insurance plan thoroughly, especially if you live in one of the 18 states that didn’t expand Medicaid.

Finding the Best Health Insurance Plan for You and Your Family

If you and your family is healthy and has no history of medical problems, a Bronze health insurance plan is probably all you need. Bronze plans only cover up to 60 percent of medical costs, though. Silver health insurance plans cover up to 70 percent of expenses, Gold plans cover 80 percent and Platinum plans cover up to 90 percent of medical expenses.

Based on you and your family’s medical history and current health, you can determine which plan best fits into your budget while also covering your expected medical costs for the year. If you are injury-prone or have a history of visiting the hospital regularly, a Gold or Platinum plan might actually save you money in a bad year health-wise.

So there’s your checklist for understanding your options prior to Obamacare open enrollment starts on Nov. 1. Exhaust all of your healthcare options before giving up and taking the penalty, because you never know what could happen.

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Attending a first-time homebuyer workshop is a great way to prepare yourself for purchasing your first home. You’ll learn how much home you can really afford and how mortgage interest rates are determined, the importance of home inspections, what to look for in a home and how to thoroughly inspect a home during an open house. But an eight-hour, first-time homebuyer workshop isn’t enough time to completely prepare you for the home-buying process. Here are 5 things they don’t tell you at first-time homebuyer workshops.

1. Check the light bulbs and faucets when you tour a home

You’ll probably be looking at homes during the day, so you might not turn on all the lights to make sure they work. You should. When I moved into my house I found almost every light bulb dead, which isn’t a big or expensive problem, but one fixture had a connection that needed cleaning with steel wool and electronic parts cleaner. It could have been worse. I could have had to replace the entire fixture, or worse yet, the wiring to the fixture. So turn on every light switch.

Flush the toilets and turn on all the faucets, too. You might find out your kitchen faucet or sink leaks, or your toilet doesn’t flush, or your shower head needs to be replaced, or your washer or dryer doesn’t work. These are all things you should request the seller repair, and you should go so far as to request all the carbon monoxide and smoke detectors and thermostats have fresh batteries. When buying your first home, you should nitpick.

2. Check crawl spaces, attics and basements for rodents

Even your home inspector might not do a thorough inspection of your attic or crawl spaces. Their biggest concern is with the insulation of those areas, which they can see from afar. When you tour a home, check those areas for rodents or places where rodents could enter the home. If there are holes where rodents can enter, request the seller cover those holes with steel, which rodents can’t chew through. This will save you a lot of trouble you really don’t want.

3. Find out the cost of the average utility bill for the home

You can get a sense of what utilities will cost you before offering on a home by making a few calls. Call the city or county regarding garbage and water, and call the electric company to see what the monthly electricity bill will run. If your home has natural gas, that should excite you, as it’s more efficient and cheaper than electricity. Once you have an idea what your monthly living expenses will be, you’re ready to make an offer.

4. The seller can verbally accept your offer and deny it two weeks later

Even after you submit your highest and best offer and it’s verbally accepted by the seller, the seller has more than a week to sign the papers officially confirming the acceptance of your offer, which is contingent on your request for work to be done on the house prior to the sale. If the seller decides to go with another offer because they don’t want to do the work you’ve requested, they can. So don’t get too excited when your realtor says your offer was the highest and best, and the seller has verbally accepted it, because the next eight to 10 days (depending on whether your offer is accepted around a weekend) will be the longest in the entire home-buying process unless your realtor has made you aware of it. Now you’ll be prepared.

5. Owning certain dogs will raise your home insurance rates

If you’re the owner of an “aggressive breed” or “bully breed” dog, you won’t even qualify for home insurance policies with some insurers. Others will raise your rate because of the perceived risk associated with your dog, even if your dog is the gentlest dog on the planet. So before considering homeownership, shop around for home insurance so you get the absolute best policy and price.

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