Alexander blames Democrats for higher Obamacare rates

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate health committee, said Thursday he welcomed the drop in premiums proposed by Tennessee's biggest health insurers for 2019 but said health insurance rates could be even lower if Democrats didn't block changes to the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

Alexander said premiums for individual health plans under Obamacare nearly tripled in the past four years prior to the announcement this week of rate cuts planned for 2019 by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennesee and Cigna Insurance, the state's biggest health insurers.

"Today's news is a welcome step for Tennesseans after facing an over 176 percent increase in health insurance premiums since Obamacare took effect, but the news could have been even better," Alexander said. "Since Democrats in Congress have elevated Obamacare to the 67th book of the Bible, and have blocked even minor changes to the law that could have lowered rates by up to 40 percent."

Defenders of Obamacare blame some of the increase in rates in recent years on insurers raising prices because of the uncertainty of cost sharing payments and the future of the Affordable Care Act under President Trump, who wants the law repealed.

Despite the addition of the two new insurers next year in Tennessee, the number of participating insurance companies offering individual plans in Tennessee is still only a fraction of the 23 providers offering such coverage in 2012 before Obamacare began, Alexander said.

Mortgage rates edge up; 30-year at 4.53 percent

Long-term U.S. mortgage rates edged higher this week, marking their first increase since early June.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages ticked up to 4.53 percent from 4.52 percent a week earlier.

Despite the decline in recent weeks, long-term loan rates have been running at their highest levels in seven years. The average benchmark 30-year rate reached a high this year of 4.66 percent on May 24. The rate stood at 4.03 percent a year ago.

The average rate on 15-year, fixed-rate loans rose to 4.02 percent this week from 3.99 percent last week.

Fed says economy is "in good place"

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Thursday that the economy is in a "good place" at the moment with low unemployment and inflation rising toward the Fed's optimal range. But he says rising trade tensions and higher tariffs could end up being a drag on growth.

In an interview for American Public Media's "Marketplace" radio program, Powell gave an upbeat assessment of the economy, in remarks signaling that the central bank's current pace of gradual interest rate increases should continue. The Fed has raised rates twice this year and is projecting two more rate hikes before the year is over.

"I think the economy's in a really good place," Powell said, noting that unemployment, currently at 4 percent, is at its lowest point in nearly two decades. "This strengthening, tightening labor market that you know we've been supporting with low interest rates has really been working for American workers and families."

Powell said that inflation, after a prolonged period of falling below the Fed's 2 percent target, has in recent months finally touched that goal, although he cautioned that he did not want to declare victory yet on the price front.

Amazon Prime Day brings more sales

As Amazon gears up for its Prime Day promotion, other big-name retailers like Macy's and eBay are launching deals and sales of their own. But small businesses — including those that don't sell much online — shouldn't sit on the sidelines.

While entrepreneurs may not be able to go head to head with the online behemoth in some areas, experts say they should differentiate themselves by offering unique products and experiences, whether their business is rare books or shoe repairs.

"Stay authentic," says Amit Sharma, who is CEO of Narvar, a tech company, and is a former executive at Walmart, Williams-Sonoma and Apple. "You can't compete on price and promotions, but highlight your product and how you stand out."

Amazon has emphasized Prime Day's own impact on small businesses that sell on its platform. It said Prime members ordered more than 40 million items from small and medium-sized businesses last year during the promotion. And it said thousands of those businesses selling on Amazon had more than $50,000 in sales on that day.