Beware When Trading and Selling Online
If you've been around the digital block a few
times, you know to be careful when buying online. But you also need to be careful
when selling or trading in items. And it's not only the small percentage of
unscrupulous buyers you need to watch out for. Sometimes it's the particular
online marketplace itself.
Among the options are Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. Both
can hook you up with local buyers, preventing you from having to ship items.
Another option is eBay. Still another option is Amazon Trade-In, which
specializes in letting people trade in used smartphones, tablet computers,
notebook computers, and other electronics. You might think Amazon would be a great choice here, with its
stellar overall reputation for reliability. Amazon has been around for more
than 20 years, and it's by far the largest online marketplace in the U.S. Amazon always has done of a good job of providing feedback to
shoppers about the reliability of sellers, which can be businesses or
individuals. About 40 percent of the merchandise sold is from third-party
sellers, with the remainder from Amazon itself.
Amazon's overall reliability, however, hasn't prevented
unscrupulous people from writing bogus positive reviews about their own items
or bogus sabotage reviews about others' items, though Amazon devotes considerable
resources to cracking down on this.
Most who use Amazon all the time to buy products and
consistently have had positive experiences, from the quality of the items to
the fast shipping times. Customers also like Amazon Smile, which lets you designate a
nonprofit organization that Amazon will donate a percentage of revenue to.
( Learn how to use Amazon Smile to
contribute to participating charities, including the MOAA Scholarship Fund.)
Amazon Trade-In, however, has its problems. Announced in 2009, it
initially received positive reviews. When you send in an item, Amazon has you
rate its condition and check a box to choose whether to reject the trade if
Amazon thinks it's in worse condition or accept the trade at a lower condition
if Amazon determines this and a subsequently lower amount of credit. In return for the item, you receive an Amazon gift card,
good for buying anything on the huge marketplace that's Amazon.
After a few years, however, stories began to surface about Amazon
unfairly downgrading the condition of items people trade in. ZDNet reported
this in October 2015 in an article titled Amazon Trade-In: Fair Value for
Your iPhone or Scam? According to the article, "It is
more or less standard practice for [Amazon] to automatically downgrade the
condition of the device no matter what condition it is in."
Lifewire reported the same in an article The Precipitous Fall of
Amazon's Trade-In Service and several updates of it, the
latest in October 2016. According to the article, if you complain too much
about this practice with your own trade-ins, "Amazon can and will just
outright ban you. Not just from trading, but from using the site at all."
A new investigation by freelance tech journalist Andrea
Smith just found the same thing still is happening.
After repeatedly having items downgraded by Amazon, out of
frustration, Smith tested Amazon. She sent Amazon Trade-In an unopened Roku 4
streaming device, sealed with the plastic wrap still around it, as she told me
in email. She rated it as being in excellent condition, and she chose "reject
the trade" if Amazon didn't agree with the condition. Amazon didn't agree
and sent it back.
She phoned to ask what the issue was and was told the device had
scratches on it. She looked for the scratches but couldn't find any.Amazon
wanted to offer her 45 percent of what it would have if it determined the item
was in excellent condition as she said.
Smith says, "Trader beware!" She recommends going with
another trade-in site. Other sites include Gazelle, Swappa, SecondSpin,
Care is Key to Veterans Choice
Just a little beyond his first 100 days in office, VA Secretary
Dr. David Shulkin presented more details on his plan to overhaul the current
Veterans Choice Program and improve health care delivery in testimony June 7
before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.
While the VA has yet to officially submit its
plan to modernize and consolidate community care programs, MOAA has been able
to obtain some details in addition to what we learned during the hearing. The
new proposal would consolidate all purchased care programs into a single
community care program called Veterans Coordinated Access and Rewarding
The current Choice program has been cumbersome
and difficult to navigate and understand since its inception. In some
locations, the program has actually made it more difficult for veterans to
access care because of administrative hurdles, contracting rules, and
inconsistencies in implementing policies, with prime examples being the
arbitrary eligibility standards of 30-day wait time and 40-mile distance
criteria established under Choice in order to access care in the community.
According to the secretary, the Veterans CARE
proposal would “clarify and simplify eligibility requirements, build high
performing networks, streamline clinical and administrative processes, and
implement new care coordination support for veterans.”
So what will this new proposal mean to veterans?
The secretary told lawmakers, “We believe that a
redesigned community care program will not only improve access and provider
greater convenience for veterans, but will also transform how VA delivers care
within our facilities.” “We first need to move from a system where
eligibility for community care is based on wait times and geography to one
focused on clinical need and quality care. … This gives veterans real choice in
getting the care they need and ensures it is of the highest quality.”
The fix for community care is moving to a
program based on clinical criteria where the provider or health care team and
veteran mutually determine the best care options, whether within the VA or in
the community. The process is expected to empower veterans to work more closely
and collaboratively with providers. A simple clinical appeals process would be
available when a veteran does not agree with a provider's clinical referral
The decision to use VA or community care will
depend on who can provide the best clinical care based on availability of
services, access to services, and the feasibility of the veteran getting those
For instance, if the VA does not offer a service
or specialized care, or VA is unable to provide care within the clinically
appropriate time, or the quality of care at the VA does not meet performance
standards, then community care would be an option for a veteran.
Veterans also would have access to community
walk-in clinics in the network to treat minor illnesses or injuries, with no
referral required. Additionally, veterans would have a single contact for care
coordination and new tools to easily schedule appoints with VA and community
While committee members praised Shulkin for his
fortitude and decisive leadership in fixing Choice, addressing system
accountability, and announcing his plan to join with DoD in adopting the Cerner
electronic health record (EHR) platform, some lawmakers voiced concerns and
skepticism over these system changes.
Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-Mo.) and Sen. Patty
Murray (D-Wash.) worried the community care and associated pilot program
proposals would eventually hollow out the VA health system and lead the
department down the path of privatization.
Shulkin assured the committee CARE would make
the health system sustainable and stronger in the long run by giving veterans
more choice, and reiterated throughout the hearing he had no intention to
privatize the VA.
“But when you have 33 percent of your health
care budget going to fund community care, yet only increasing VA direct care
spending by 1.2 percent, then you are moving toward privatization, driving
veterans to follow the money into the community,” Tester stated.
Lawmakers also questioned the secretary on his
plans to fill the 45,000 existing vacancies and the administration's budget
proposal to cut Individual Unemployability (IU) benefits for veterans at age 62
when becoming eligible for Social Security benefits. Shulkin also was asked how
he planned to finally achieve full interoperability when the VA and DoD have
been unable to do so over at least the last 17 years.
Shulkin told members he expects to address the
vacancy gap within the next year. While sensitive to the issue of cutting IU
benefits, VA benefits have increased by $12 billion in just the last two years,
and he insisted a current review is warranted.
In terms of the EHR, Shulkin tried to allay
concerns by saying, “The president is fully committed to creating a single
system, but I don't think it is fair to Congress or the president until VA
provides a plan we can stand behind.” Shulkin is expected to come up with a
plan in the next three to six months.
While there was universal support and commitment
to fixing Choice permanently with the end goal of ensuring veterans get the
highest quality of care they need, there remains much uncertainty around the
actual details of the CARE and EHR plans and how to pay for these reforms.
Like many veteran service organizations, MOAA
supports much of Shulkin's community care plan but opposes cutting IU benefits
to pay for veterans health care or making veterans with service-connected
conditions pay for health care they earned.
In closing, Committee Chair Johnny Isakson
(R-Ga.) urged lawmakers and veteran organizations to not let pilot programs or
other issues be the stopping point to finding a solution. “No problem is
too big when people who want to solve them come together.”
MOAA couldn't agree more. Stay tuned as we
continue to engage and report on these important issues.
Individual Unemployability Is Safe
The program that allows veterans facing long wait times to seek
care outside the VA is rapidly running out of funds - but older disabled vets
won't lose their benefits in order to pay for it.
VA Secretary David Shulkin said his department “walked back” plans
in the Trump administration's 2018 budget proposal to cut disabled veterans'
individual unemployability benefits once they're eligible for Social Security
payments at age 62.
“We're not going to do something that hurts veterans,” Shulkin
said at a roundtable with veterans service organizations at the VA's
headquarters in Washington, D.C. “But that doesn't mean that we're not going to
look for alternative ways … to make these programs work better or work more
Shulkin's department is under pressure from lawmakers to fill an
unexpected shortfall for VA Choice, the $10 billion program Congress created in
2014 that allows veterans facing long wait times who live more than 40 miles
from a VA facility to find care closer to home. VA officials thought there was
enough money to keep the program running through December. But demand for the
program has been high in recent months, reaching nearly 18,000 care-seekers per
day, and funding has plunged from about $2 billion to $821 million since
Choice could be out of money within a month, Shulkin said, so the
VA has to find ways to make up the shortfall. The secretary is working with
members of Congress along with the Office of Management and Budget to come up
with offsets to help foot that bill.
“We're looking at potentially extending some of the administrative
fees that were in the original Choice authorization that are expiring in
August,” he said. “We are still looking and going back into our mandatory
funding and seeing whether there are other programs that can work or that will
actually benefit veterans and save money.”
One solution, Shulkin said, could include focusing on the VA's
vocational rehabilitation programs. If veterans can get back to work quicker,
they won't need to draw IU benefits in the first place, he said. The secretary
is also instructing leaders across the VA to look for programs that can run
Even though Shulkin said veterans drawing IU benefits are
protected for now, members of his department still contend that the IU
system needs to be overhauled.
During the roundtable, Shulkin acknowledged that he wouldn't have written the
rules for IU as they stand today.
“The way the program was implemented was the unemployment payments
never stopped, so you could be 95 years old sitting in a nursing home and you
are still going to get unemployment benefits,” he said. “Frankly, if I were
designing a new program, I wouldn't design it that way.”
MOAA has spoken out against the administration's proposal to end
IU benefits once veterans reach the age of 62.
“[IU] is not merely a form of unemployment insurance that should
end when someone ages out of the work force,” said Lt. Col. Aniela Szymanski,
USMCR and MOAA's director of Government Relations for Veterans Benefits.
“…Veterans don't suddenly stop suffering from a service-connected disability once
they're old enough to retire.”
New Income Tiers for Medicare Part B Premiums
You may remember some years ago, Medicare had to fix the payment
system used to pay doctors. A permanent fix was passed in 2015. The permanent
fix established new income tiers for Part B premiums to pay for the doctor
payment fix. The new income tiers start in 2018.
Below you can compare the current tiers against the
2018 income tiers. You will see how the higher income tiers have smaller
amounts thereby making more people pay higher premiums in the future. The 2018
Part B premiums are not known at this time.
Tax 2017 Part B
than $85,001 $134/mon
Married Less than $170,001
Single 85,001-$107,000 $187.50
Single $170,001-$160,000 $267.90
Single $160,000-$214,000 $348.30
Single More than $241,000 $428.60
Married More than $428,000