Better, Faster, Cheaper

How Shopping Around Can Hold Down Health Costs

As consumers suffer sticker shock over rising health insurance premiums, insurers increasingly are responding with policies that aim to hold down premiums with narrower provider networks or much higher co-pays and/or deductibles. According to the National Business Group on Health, 32 percent of American companies intended to offer only high-deductible plans to their employees last year.

As out-of pocket costs rise, so does consumer interest in the cost of the procedures they undergo. Legislation pending in Maine would add it to the list of states requiring hospitals and other providers to share price information with prospective patients upon request. But the legislation goes further. It would make Maine the first state to allow consumers and insurance companies to split savings of more then $50 if the consumer can find a provider that offers the service at a cost that is lower than the regional average. A similar shared-savings model is in place for state employees in neighboring New Hampshire. READ MORE

Can Privacy Coexist With an Internet Kiosk?

The streets of New York City are one step closer to super-fast public Wi-Fi. LinkNYC, a public-private partnership between the city and a consortium of technology companies, has debuted its first two payphone-turned-tech kiosks in Manhattan. These gleaming aluminum "Links," as they are called, contain Wi-Fi beacons, mobile device chargers and informational tablets that include an app allowing free phone calls to anywhere in the country. The city plans to roll out 500 more of them by July and to have at least 4,550 spread across the five boroughs by 2020.

The Links are an early example of efforts by cities across the country to retool their public rights of way to provide better services and even generate revenue. In the case of LinkNYC, that revenue comes from advertisements that light up 55-inch HD screens on each side of the kiosks, changing every 15 seconds. The ad revenue will be split between the city and CityBridge, the designer and operator of the Links. The city is guaranteed at least $500 million over the next 12 years. READ MORE

State Spending and the Search for Hidden Efficiencies

After years of dealing with budget crises that followed the major tax cuts pushed through by Gov. Sam Brownback in 2012, Kansas is proving that necessity is indeed the mother of invention. With all of the easy spending cuts -- and a number of hard ones -- already made, the state commissioned a study to determine how it can achieve money-saving efficiencies. A preliminary draft includes 105 recommendations that would save an estimated $2 billion over five years.

The need to find more ways to save money couldn't be clearer. The state faces an estimated $354 million two-year shortfall in its current $15.4 billion budget. Last spring, budget woes caused some Kansas schools to close early. READ MORE

Cities’ Pension Liabilities Are About to Look a Lot Worse

A new rule from the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) requiring municipalities that participate in plans in which they share pension costs with states to allocate and disclose their share of unfunded pension liabilities provides states with some much-needed good news when it comes to pension finances, but it comes at the cost of cities' balance sheets. Hopefully the enhanced transparency will prompt cities to take measures to address their long-term liabilities.

The cost-sharing plans affected by the new GASB rule are those in which pension obligations and assets are pooled and the assets can be used to pay benefits for any participating government employer. A new issue brief from the Center for State and Local Government Excellence samples 173 municipalities and finds that 92 of them are affected by the new rule because they either participate exclusively in a state retirement system or both administer their own plan and pay into a state system. READ MORE

What a Brown Delivery Truck Could Teach Government

Advanced data analytics have created a heightened awareness of how marginal reductions in time or cost, seemingly insignificant at the granular level, can add up to big savings over time. Courier services know this well, and could teach the public sector some lessons on efficient fleet management.

A UPS truck driver, for instance, makes about 120 deliveries per shift. On average, the company's fleet of brown trucks makes a total of 16 million deliveries each day, which translates to an imponderable number of possible routes. To meet this challenge, a team of engineers and mathematicians in Operations Research at UPS worked for nearly a decade to build ORION -- the On-Road Integrated Optimization and Navigation program. ORION is a sophisticated algorithm that ensures that UPS vehicles take the most time- and energy-efficient routes while making multiple deliveries. READ MORE