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7 Steps to Take Now to Catch Up on Retirement Savings

Another option is applying for coverage through the Affordable Care Act, which offers a range of plans, including for those still unemployed.

Make catch-up contributions. If you’re 50 or older, the Internal Revenue Service gives you a little savings plum: You can save as much as an extra $6,500 annually in your defined contribution plans (which include 401(k)s, 403(b)s and 457s). If you have a SIMPLE (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees) individual retirement account or SIMPLE 401(k), the catch-up contribution is $3,000 annually; it’s $1,000 for a Roth I.R.A.

Automate your savings. If you’re working and offered a 401(k) with automatic payroll withdrawals, you can simply increase your contribution. Want to save even more? Many plans allow you to boost your 401(k) savings when you get a raise. Let’s say you’re 50 or older and save the maximum annual amount — $26,000. That’s $19,500 plus a $6,500 catch-up contribution. Also take your employer’s matching contribution, if it’s offered. This is the low-hanging fruit of retirement savings that most financial planners recommend — again, if you have access to it.

Adjust your portfolio. Just socking more money into a bank money-market account won’t help you catch up much at all. After all, the S&P 500 index is up a stunning amount: more than 40 percent this year. Yields on money markets are awful — the top rate nationally was 0.60 percent, according to Bankrate.com. The best way to achieve your goals is to invest in no-load mutual or exchange-traded funds, preferably with an annual expense ratio below 0.30 percent.

Most mutual fund companies offer dividend growth and income mutual and exchange-traded funds. Also avoid the trap in thinking that money in the bank is safe money. If it’s not beating inflation, which is currently running at an annual rate of just under 3 percent, you’re losing purchasing power. “Don’t keep too much money in a bank account,” Ms. Price warned. “You’re getting paid very little to keep it there.”

Retire later. If you’re able, one simple strategy is to retire after the “normal” age for Social Security benefits, which is 66 for most Americans. That will give you more time to save. Social Security will even pay you more each month if you wait until 70 to collect benefits. A “delayed retirement credit” will raise your retirement payments 8 percent annually every year you wait from age 66 until taking benefits at age 70 for those born in 1943 and later.

Set up your own plan. Small-business owners or those who are self-employed can set up their own plans, from Simplified Employee Pension I.R.A.s to 401(k)s. Ms. Price suggests those over 50 consider a Roth 401(k), if your employer offers it. While contributions are taxed, withdrawals are not. “You’re taxed on money going in, not on gains,” she said. “If you can’t afford to pay taxes on withdrawals later, this is a good idea.”

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An unvaccinated worker set off an outbreak at a U.S. nursing home where most residents were immunized.

An unvaccinated health care worker set off a Covid-19 outbreak at a nursing home in Kentucky where the vast majority of residents had been vaccinated, leading to dozens of infections, including 22 cases among residents and employees who were already fully vaccinated, a new study reported Wednesday.

Most of those who were infected with the coronavirus despite being vaccinated did not develop symptoms or require hospitalization, but one vaccinated individual, who was a resident of the nursing home, died, according to the study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Altogether, 26 facility residents were infected, including 18 who had been vaccinated, and 20 health care personnel were infected, including four who had been vaccinated. Two unvaccinated residents also died.

The report underscores the importance of vaccinating both nursing home residents and health care workers who go in and out of the sites, the authors said. While 90 percent of the 83 residents at the Kentucky nursing home had been vaccinated, only half of the 116 employees had been vaccinated when the outbreak was identified in March of this year.

identified 627 coronavirus infections in 78 skilled nursing facilities in the city in February, but only 22 were found in individuals who were already fully vaccinated. Two-thirds of the cases in the vaccinated individuals were asymptomatic, the report found, but two residents were hospitalized, and one died.

The authors of the Chicago study said their findings demonstrate that nursing homes should continue to follow recommended infection control practices, such as isolation and quarantine, use of personal protective equipment and doing routine testing, regardless of vaccination status.

They also emphasized the importance of “maintaining high vaccination coverage among residents and staff members” in order to “reduce opportunities for transmission within facilities and exposure among persons who might not have achieved protective immunity after vaccination.”

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Why Amazon Workers Sided With the Company Over a Union

When Graham Brooks received his ballot in early February, asking whether he wanted to form a union at the Amazon warehouse in Alabama where he works, he did not hesitate. He marked the NO box, and mailed the ballot in.

After almost six years of working as a reporter at nearby newspapers, Mr. Brooks, 29, makes about $1.55 more an hour at Amazon, and is optimistic he can move up.

“I personally didn’t see the need for a union,” he said. “If I was being treated differently, I may have voted differently.”

Mr. Brooks is one of almost 1,800 employees who handed Amazon a runaway victory in the company’s hardest-fought battle to keep unions out of its warehouses. The result — announced last week, with 738 workers voting to form a union — dealt a crushing blow to labor and Democrats when conditions appeared ripe for them to make advances.

annual letter to investors that the outcome in Bessemer did not bring him “comfort.”

“It’s clear to me that we need a better vision for how we create value for employees — a vision for their success,” he wrote.

Michael Corkery contributed reporting.

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Biden Takes On Sagging Safety Net With Plan to Fix Long-Term Care

President Biden’s $400 billion proposal to improve long-term care for older adults and those with disabilities was received as either a long overdue expansion of the social safety net or an example of misguided government overreach.

Republicans ridiculed including elder care in a program dedicated to infrastructure. Others derided it as a gift to the Service Employees International Union, which wants to organize care workers. It was also faulted for omitting child care.

For Ai-jen Poo, co-director of Caring Across Generations, a coalition of advocacy groups working to strengthen the long-term care system, it was an answer to years of hard work.

“Even though I have been fighting for this for years,” she said, “if you would have told me 10 years ago that the president of the United States would make a speech committing $400 billion to increase access to these services and strengthen this work force, I wouldn’t have believed it would happen.”

knocking millions of women out of the labor force — or deplete their resources until they qualify for Medicaid.

Whatever the limits of the Biden proposal, advocates for its main constituencies — those needing care, and those providing it — are solidly behind it. This would be, after all, the biggest expansion of long-term care support since the 1960s.

“The two big issues, waiting lists and work force, are interrelated,” said Nicole Jorwic, senior director of public policy at the Arc, which promotes the interests of people with disabilities. “We are confident we can turn this in a way that we get over the conflicts that have stopped progress in past.”

And yet the tussle over resources could reopen past conflicts. For instance, when President Barack Obama proposed extending the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to home care workers, which would cover them with minimum-wage and overtime rules, advocates for beneficiaries and their families objected because they feared that states with budget pressures would cut off services at 40 hours a week.

“We have a long road ahead of passing this into law and to implementation,” Haeyoung Yoon, senior policy director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, said of the Biden proposal. Along the way, she said, supporters must stick together.

half of adults would need “a high level of personal assistance” at some point, typically for two years, at an average cost of $140,000. Today, some six million people need these sorts of services, a number the group expects to swell to 16 million in less than 50 years.

In 2019, the National Academy of Social Insurance published a report suggesting statewide insurance programs, paid for by a dedicated tax, to cover a bundle of services, from early child care to family leave and long-term care and support for older adults and the disabled.

This could be structured in a variety of ways. One option for seniors, a catastrophic insurance plan that would cover expenses up to $110 a day (in 2014 dollars) after a waiting period determined by the beneficiary’s income, could be funded by raising the Medicare tax one percentage point.

Mr. Biden’s plan doesn’t include much detail. Mr. Gleckman of the Urban Institute notes that it has grown vaguer since Mr. Biden proposed it on the campaign trail — perhaps because he realized the tensions it would raise. In any event, a deeper overhaul of the system may eventually be needed.

“This is a significant, historic investment,” Mr. Espinoza said. “But when you take into account the magnitude of the crisis in front of us, it’s clear that this is only a first step.”

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Doctors Accuse UnitedHealthcare of Stifling Competition

UnitedHealth directly competes with U.S. Anesthesia, according to the Texas lawsuit, through an ownership interest in Sound Physicians, a large medical practice that provides emergency and anesthesiology services. Sound Physicians is looking to expand in markets like Fort Worth and Houston, and U.S. Anesthesia claims in the lawsuit that its doctors were contacted by Sound Physicians “to induce them to leave” and challenge the noncompete provisions in their contracts to work with the United group.

The major insurer throws its weight around in other ways, the lawsuit claims. While the company’s Optum unit, which operates the surgery centers and clinics, is technically separate from the health insurer, the doctors accuse United of forcing its OptumCare facilities to sever their relationships with the anesthesiology group and pushing in-network surgeons to move their operations to hospitals or facilities that do not have contracts with U.S. Anesthesia.

“United and its affiliates have extended their tentacles into virtually every aspect of health care, allowing United to squeeze, choke and crush any market participant that stands in the way of United’s increased profits,” the doctors claim in their lawsuit.

It is standard practice, United said, for an insurer to encourage the use of hospitals and doctors within its network.

In contrast to many smaller physician groups that are struggling because of the pandemic, United has maintained a strong financial position, shoring up profits while elective surgeries and other procedures were shut down, resulting in fewer medical claims. So it has continued to expand, hiring more doctors and buying up additional practices. The company says it plans to add more than 10,000 employed or affiliated doctors this year.

The relationship between insurers and providers has become more complicated as more insurance carriers own doctors’ groups or clinics. “They want to be the referee and play on the other team,” said Michael Turpin, a former United executive who is now an executive vice president at USI, an insurance brokerage.

Employers that rely on UnitedHealthcare to cover their workers have a difficult time judging who benefits when insurers fail to reach an agreement to keep a provider in network. “This is just as much about profit as it is about principle,” Mr. Turpin said.

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Doctors Sue UnitedHealthcare

UnitedHealth directly competes with U.S. Anesthesia, according to the Texas lawsuit, through an ownership interest in Sound Physicians, a large medical practice that provides emergency and anesthesiology services. Sound Physicians is looking to expand in markets like Fort Worth and Houston, and U.S. Anesthesia claims in the lawsuit that its doctors were contacted by Sound Physicians “to induce them to leave” and challenge the noncompete provisions in their contracts to work with the United group.

The major insurer throws its weight around in other ways, the lawsuit claims. While the company’s Optum unit, which operates the surgery centers and clinics, is technically separate from the health insurer, the doctors accuse United of forcing its OptumCare facilities to sever their relationships with the anesthesiology group and pushing in-network surgeons to move their operations to hospitals or facilities that do not have contracts with U.S. Anesthesia.

“United and its affiliates have extended their tentacles into virtually every aspect of health care, allowing United to squeeze, choke and crush any market participant that stands in the way of United’s increased profits,” the doctors claim in their lawsuit.

It is standard practice, United said, for an insurer to encourage the use of hospitals and doctors within its network.

In contrast to many smaller physician groups that are struggling because of the pandemic, United has maintained a strong financial position, shoring up profits while elective surgeries and other procedures were shut down, resulting in fewer medical claims. So it has continued to expand, hiring more doctors and buying up additional practices. The company says it plans to add more than 10,000 employed or affiliated doctors this year.

The relationship between insurers and providers has become more complicated as more insurance carriers own doctors’ groups or clinics. “They want to be the referee and play on the other team,” said Michael Turpin, a former United executive who is now an executive vice president at USI, an insurance brokerage.

Employers that rely on UnitedHealthcare to cover their workers have a difficult time judging who benefits when insurers fail to reach an agreement to keep a provider in network. “This is just as much about profit as it is about principle,” Mr. Turpin said.

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The Triple Tax Break You May Be Missing: A Health Savings Account

The federal government’s pandemic relief program expanded what H.S.A.s can pay for, including nonprescription medicine like pain relief and allergy pills, and menstrual products like tampons and pads. (The I.R.S. has a full list of eligible items.)

Some employers match contributions to H.S.A.s as they do retirement savings. But self-employed people and contractors can open them, too.

People often confuse H.S.A.s with other types of health accounts, such as flexible health spending accounts. But unlike F.S.A.s, health savings accounts are portable: If you change jobs or leave the work force, you keep the account. Contribution limits are higher for H.S.A.s, and there is no deadline to spend the cash. Unspent money can be invested for health needs in retirement.

A study published last summer in JAMA Network Open, a journal from the American Medical Association, found that many people with high-deductible insurance didn’t have a health savings account. And more than half who had one had not contributed to it in the previous year. People with health plans bought through a government exchange were more likely to not have an H.S.A., even though the average deductible in the federal marketplace is high enough.

How Has the Pandemic Changed Your Taxes?

Nope. The so-called economic impact payments are not treated as income. In fact, they’re technically an advance on a tax credit, known as the Recovery Rebate Credit. The payments could indirectly affect what you pay in state income taxes in a handful of states, where federal tax is deductible against state taxable income, as our colleague Ann Carrns wrote. Read more.

Mostly.  Unemployment insurance is generally subject to federal as well as state income tax, though there are exceptions (Nine states don’t impose their own income taxes, and another six exempt unemployment payments from taxation, according to the Tax Foundation). But you won’t owe so-called payroll taxes, which pay for Social Security and Medicare. The new relief bill will make the first $10,200 of benefits tax-free if your income is less than $150,000. This applies to 2020 only. (If you’ve already filed your taxes, watch for I.R.S. guidance.) Unlike paychecks from an employer, taxes for unemployment aren’t automatically withheld. Recipients must opt in — and even when they do, federal taxes are withheld only at a flat rate of 10 percent of benefits. While the new tax break will provide a cushion, some people could still owe the I.R.S. or certain states money. Read more.

Probably not, unless you’re self-employed, an independent contractor or a gig worker. The tax law overhaul of late 2019 eliminated the home office deduction for employees from 2018 through 2025. “Employees who receive a paycheck or a W-2 exclusively from an employer are not eligible for the deduction, even if they are currently working from home,” the I.R.S. said. Read more.

Self-employed people can take paid caregiving leave if their child’s school is closed or their usual child care provider is unavailable because of the outbreak. This works similarly to the smaller sick leave credit — 67 percent of average daily earnings (for either 2020 or 2019), up to $200 a day. But the caregiving leave can be taken for 50 days. Read more.

Yes. This year, you can deduct up to $300 for charitable contributions, even if you use the standard deduction. Previously, only people who itemized could claim these deductions. Donations must be made in cash (for these purposes, this includes check, credit card or debit card), and can’t include securities, household items or other property. For 2021, the deduction limit will double to $600 for joint filers. Rules for itemizers became more generous as well. The limit on charitable donations has been suspended, so individuals can contribute up to 100 percent of their adjusted gross income, up from 60 percent. But these donations must be made to public charities in cash; the old rules apply to contributions made to donor-advised funds, for example. Both provisions are available through 2021. Read more.

The findings suggest that health plans, employers and financial advisers could do more to explain how H.S.A.s work, simplify their use and encourage contributions, said an author of the study, Dr. Jeffrey T. Kullgren, associate professor of internal medicine and health management and policy at the University of Michigan.

“Anything that makes it easier would be a good thing,” he said.

H.S.A. providers increasingly are cutting fees and using technology to encourage use. Fidelity Investments this month will test an app that will allow clients with employer H.S.A.s to track account balances, contributions and spending. The app will also let users scan products to check if they are H.S.A.-eligible.

Others are focusing on workers in the gig economy. Starship, a start-up, promotes its accounts through affiliations with ride-hailing and delivery companies. Its app allows workers to automatically invest contributions in low-cost index funds and exchange-traded funds. Because there is no required minimum balance, users are able to invest all of their contributions. But that would also leave no cash available to cover medical costs, unless the investments are sold. Starship sets the default minimum threshold before investing at $2,000, but users can lower it to zero, said Sean Engelking, the company’s chief executive.

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