In brief: June 14, 2021

Kupu promotes Kaneakua to external affairs officer

Kupu, Hawaii’s leading conservation and youth education nonprofit organization, today announced that Jessica Kaneakua has been promoted to external affairs officer.

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In her new role, Kaneakua will work in fundraising, strategic communications, strategic partnerships, government affairs and community outreach. She previously served as Kupu’s government relations and strategic partnerships officer for the past six months.

Kaneakua was born in Minneapolis. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Macalester College and a master’s degree in human development and family studies at the University of Connecticut. She previously worked at Molokai Community Health Center and relocated to Hawaii Island seven years ago, where she has served in the education, community and nonprofit sectors.

Hawaii Water to acquire Kauai wastewater utility

Hawaii Water Service, a subsidiary of California Water Service Group, announced Friday that it has signed an agreement to acquire the assets of HOH Utilities Company, a wastewater utility located in the growing Poipu-Koloa area.

The acquisition is subject to satisfaction of customary closing conditions, including approval by the Public Utilities Commission.

As part of the purchase, Hawaii Water will own and manage the wastewater utility, which currently serves almost 1,800 residential, commercial, and resort customers in Poipu and Koloa, including three hotels, condominiums, multi-family housing, a golf course, and single-family homes.

In addition to the new HOH Utilities Company customers, Hawaii Water currently provides water and/or wastewater utility services to almost 6,000 customers, including a number of large resorts and condominium complexes, on Maui, Oahu and along the North Kona and Kohala coasts of the Big Island.

UnitedHealthcare to halt payments for ‘non-emergency’ care in ERs

UnitedHealthcare wants to stop paying for non-emergency care that’s provided in emergency rooms, a move that doctors and hospitals are criticizing for its potential to stop patients from quickly getting care in situations they believe are emergencies.

Officials at Minnetonka-based UnitedHealthcare, which is the nation’s largest health insurer, say the goal is to encourage patients to use urgent care, clinics or even virtual visits, when appropriate, for low-level health care needs that don’t require the expertise of an ER.

Starting in July, the company in most states will review ER claims to evaluate whether the visit should be paid for considering the patient’s presenting problem, the intensity of diagnostic services provided and factors such as complicating health conditions. Claims deemed to not meet the criteria of an emergency medical condition, or”non-emergent,” either won’t be covered, or they’ll be subject to limited coverage.

“Unnecessary use of the emergency room costs nearly $32 billion annually, driving up health care costs for everyone,” said Tracey Lempner, a UnitedHealthcare spokeswoman, in a statement. “We are taking steps to make care more affordable, encouraging people who do not have a health care emergency to seek treatment in a more appropriate setting.”

But doctors and hospitals say the policy is driven by the company’s bottom line concerns, and could create risks for patients.

“We object to UnitedHealthcare’s pending policy that asks patients to second guess their instincts that emergency care is needed,” said. Dr. Susan Bailey, president of the American Medical Association, in a statement. “Requiring ill and vulnerable patients to diagnose their acute symptoms at a critical and emotional moment, when time could be of the essence, is potentially harmful or even dangerous and may violate federal patient protections for access to emergency treatment.”

UPS sets goal to be carbon neutral by 2050

UPS announced Wednesday it aims to be carbon neutral by 2050.

The pledge by the package delivery giant includes carbon neutrality across the key categories of greenhouse gas emissions, including direct emissions and indirect emissions.

To get there, its 2035 targets include reducing CO2 per package by 50% from 2020 levels in its small package operations, powering all of its company facilities with renewable electricity and using sustainable aviation fuel as 30% of its aircraft fuel.

“Our strategic priorities are evolving to reflect the changing needs of our customers and our business, and what matters most to our stakeholders,” said UPS CEO Carol Tomé in a written statement.

UPS laid out its environmental goals as part of its investor conference planned for Wednesday.

Ahead of the conference, it also announced that it aims for 2023 revenue ranging from about $98 billion to $102 billion.

In 2020, the shipping company had revenue of $84.6 billion, up 14.2% year-over-year amid a pandemic shipping surge. The shift to online shopping due to COVID-19 is expected to have lasting effects, driving continued reliance on e-commerce.

US inflation expectations build in June survey of economists

Economists’ inflation expectations keep rising as a variety of key metrics underscore building price pressures.

Forecasters raised their estimates for the consumer price index and for a key inflation gauge favored by the Federal Reserve, known as the personal consumption expenditures price index, every quarter through the first half of next year, according to the latest monthly survey of economists by Bloomberg.

Compared to a year earlier, the CPI is now forecast to remain above 3% through March 2022, peaking at a 4.3% year-over-year gain in the current quarter, according to the median forecast in a June 4-9 survey of 77 economists. Data out Thursday showed the gauge rose more than expected for a third straight month.

The PCE price index is expected to rise 3.5% in the April to June period, up from the 3% estimate in the May survey and well above the Fed’s 2% goal. While rising fuel prices may in part help explain the upgrades to inflation, metrics excluding food and energy are also being adjusted higher.

Faced with a surge in demand, supply bottlenecks and rising input costs, many businesses have raised their prices to protect their profit margins. Whether those increases will lead to a more persistent inflationary trend has divided economists and market participants.

“Supply capacity should eventually catch up, but this could take time with the risk that we see more elevated inflation readings for longer than we have experienced at any point in the past 20 years,” said James Knightley, chief international economist at ING.

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Fed officials have repeatedly said they expect the price pressures to prove temporary. As a result, they’ve given no indication that they’re ready taper bond purchases or raise rates in the foreseeable future.

So far, economists surveyed by Bloomberg also appear to see the pop in prices as somewhat temporary. Expectations for annual gains in both CPI and PCE are holding near 2% in the second half of next year.

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