An anonymous reader writes: NASA says their New Horizons probe suffered a temporary communication breakdown on Saturday, 10 days before it's supposed to fly past Pluto. The mission team is working to restore normal communications. "Full recovery is expected to take from one to several days," NASA wrote in a status report on Saturday. "New Horizons will be temporarily unable to collect science data during that time."
Christine White pays $300 a year more for her health care because she refused to join her former employer’s wellness program, which would have required that she fill out a health questionnaire and join activities like Weight Watchers.
“If I didn’t have the money … I’d have to” participate, says White, 63, a retired groundskeeper from a Portland, Ore., community college.
Like many Americans, White gets her health coverage through an employer that uses financial rewards and penalties to get workers to sign up for wellness programs. Participation used to be a simple matter — taking optional classes in nutrition or how to stop smoking. But today, a small but growing number of employers tie those financial rewards to losing weight, exercising or dropping cholesterol or blood-sugar levels — often requiring workers to provide personal health information to private contractors who administer the programs. The incentives, meanwhile, can add up to hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars a year.
Employers say wellness programs boost workers’ health and productivity while helping companies curb rising health care costs. President Barack Obama’s signature health law allows employers to increase those financial incentives. But asking workers to undergo medical exams or share personal health information is sharply limited by another law, the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits such questioning — except under limited circumstances, such as by voluntary wellness programs.
So what is a voluntary wellness program and when do employer incentives cross the line to become coercive?
A proposed rule published this spring by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – the agency charged with protecting workers against discrimination – attempts to strike a balance between employers who want to use incentives to drive worker participation and consumer advocates who see penalties as de facto coercion. The plan drew about 300 comments from employers and consumer groups by a June 19 deadline, with plenty of criticism.
The equation tilts too far against workers “when … employers can charge you a couple thousand dollars more for refusing to give private medical information, [that] doesn’t sound very voluntary to me,” said Samuel Bagenstos, a University of Michigan Law School professor.
But many employers say the proposal doesn’t clear up conflicts between the health law and the ADA. In addition, it restricts their ability to offer rewards, which are needed to “engage employees and their families to be aware of their … lifestyle risks,” said Steve Wojcik, vice president of public policy for the National Business Group on Health. The EEOC has not set a timetable for issuing a final rule.
Employers Want More Flexibility
Under the proposal, wellness programs would be considered voluntary so long as the employer rewards or penalizes an employee no more than 30 percent of the cost of health insurance for a single worker. Since the average cost for such coverage is $6,025 a year, the 30 percent limit would be about $1,800.
Employers cannot fire workers for declining to participate nor can they deny them coverage, the proposal says. They also must give workers a notice explaining what medical information will be obtained by the wellness administrator — often a private contractor — and how that might be used.
Some employers say the rule could force them to cut the size of wellness programs’ financial incentives or penalties, particularly for families and smokers. Such limits could mean “advancements in workplace health improvement may come to an end,” wrote the Northeast Business Group on Health, a coalition of large employers, insurers and benefit consultants.
Consumer groups are also unhappy, saying the proposal strips workers of important protections against health or disability-related discrimination by loosening earlier government definitions of what constitutes voluntary.
“It walks back people’s rights,” said Jennifer Mathis, director of programs for the nonprofit Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, a legal advocacy organization for people with mental disabilities. In its comments, the group said the proposal would allow “employers to use steep financial penalties in wellness programs to force workers to disclose sensitive medical information.”
Interest in workplace wellness programs began two decades ago, prompted by employers’ rising health care spending. Today, a growing percentage of companies ask workers to answer lengthy questionnaires about their health, including their exercise and drinking habits and whether they are depressed. Some employers also require testing of cholesterol levels and blood sugar to assess who might be at risk for heart trouble, diabetes or other problems.
About 56 percent of employers with wellness programs offered financial incentives last year, according to benefits firm Mercer, with 23 percent of large employers tying those incentives to showing progress on health care goals, such as exercising more, losing weight, dropping cholesterol levels or improving blood sugar readings.
While aimed at preventing illness and encouraging a healthy lifestyle as a way to reduce health care costs, there is wide debate over whether the programs achieve those goals.
Obamacare Ok’d Bigger Incentives
The health law permits employers to offer incentives or penalties of up to 30 percent of the cost of a health insurance plan – up from 20 percent under a previous regulation – if they set specific health goals for workers, such as quitting smoking or achieving certain results on medical tests. Most employers’ incentives are still well below those levels.
How does that square with the ADA’s restrictions on employers asking for personal medical information? That’s where it gets complicated. The EEOC long defined voluntary wellness programs under the ADA as those where “an employer neither requires participation, nor penalizes employees who do not participate.”
But what constitutes a penalty? Prior to the proposed rule, it was clear that employers who tried to charge workers the full cost of their insurance, or who barred them from coverage for refusing to participate, could run into trouble, said Sarah Millar, a partner at law firm Drinker Biddle in Chicago.
“What was not clear was at what point between zero and 100 percent [of the cost of employee health coverage] does a program not become voluntary?” she said. “Now, as long as it’s below 30 percent and meets certain disclosure requirements, then a program is still considered voluntary.”
Some consumer advocates say that level is punitive.
“Medical questions that an employee may only decline to answer if he or she agrees to pay thousands of dollars more for health insurance can hardly be called ‘voluntary,’” the Bazelon center wrote. The group wants the government to prohibit penalties for those who decline to answer such questions.
Consumers Seek Privacy Protections
Consumer groups also want increased privacy protections for those who share their health information with a wellness plan.
The proposed rule says employers whose wellness programs are tied to their health insurance benefits must tell workers specifically what information will be gathered and with whom it might be shared.
Still, Anna Slomovic, a researcher at the George Washington University Cyber Security Policy and Research Institute, says that provision should be broadened to encompass wellness programs that are unrelated to a health plan.
“This leaves unregulated a number of wellness programs … even though these programs collect personal health data,” she said in her comments. The protections should include all data, “including that collected via fitness trackers and mobile apps.”
Many employers also asked the administration to allow them to impose penalties of up to 50 percent of insurance costs for tobacco users, which the federal health law allows.
“This is potentially putting a wrench in the system for some employers,” said Seth Perretta, a principal at the Groom Law Group in Washington D.C. “If it’s finalized, it would force them to reduce incentives back to 30 percent.”
Additionally, employers want to be able to charge workers 30 percent of the cost of more expensive family coverage, if the family is also eligible to participate in the wellness program — something the federal health law allows but the proposed rule does not. That could dramatically increase the dollar amount of the financial incentive or penalty.
So, I realized it has been a while since posting about freedreno progress, so in honor of US independence day I figured it was as good an excuse as any for an update about independence from gpu blob driver for snapdragon/adreno.. Back in end of March 2015 at ELC, I gave a freedreno updatepresentation at ELC, listing the following major tasks left for gles3 support:
Uniform Buffer Objects (UBO)
Transform Feedback (TF)
advanced flow control in shader compiler
and additionally for gl3:
Multisample anti-aliasing (MSAA)
32b depth (z32 and z32_s8) (which I forgot to mention in the presentation)
Since then, we've gained support for UBO's (a3xx by Ilia Mirkin, and a4xx), MRT (for a3xx and core, again thanks to Ilia.. still needs to be wired up for a4xx), 32b depth (a3xx and core, again thanks to Ilia), and I've finished up shader compiler for loops/flow-control for ir3 (a3xx/a4xx). The shader compiler work was a somewhat larger task than I expected (and I did expect it to be a lot of work), but it also involved moving over to NIR, in addition to re-writing the scheduler and register allocation passes, as well as a lot of re-org to ir3 in order to support multiple basic blocks. The move to NIR was not strictly required, but it brings a lot of benefits in the form of shared support for conversion to SSA, scalarizing, CSE, DCE, constant folding, and algebraic optimizations. And I figured it was less work in the long run to move to NIR first and drop the TGSI frontend, before doing all the refactoring needed to support loops and non-lowerable flow-control. Incidentally, the compiler work should make the shader-compiler part of TF easier (since we need to generate a conditional write to TF buffer iff not overwriting past the end of the TF buffer).
In the mean time, freedreno and drm/msm have also gained support for the a306 gpu found in the new dragonboard 410c. This board is a nice new low cost ($75) snapdragon community board based on the 64bit snapdragon 410. And thanks to a lot of work by linaro and qualcomm, the upstream kernel situation for this board is looking pretty good. It is shipping initially with a 4.0 based kernel (with patches on top for stuff that hadn't yet been merged for 4.0, including a lot of stuff backported from 4.1 and 4.2), including gpu/display/audio/video-codec/etc. I believe that the 4.1 kernel was the first version where a vanilla kernel could boot on db410c with basic stuff (like serial console) working. The kernel support for the gpu and display, other than the adv7533 hdmi bridge chip) landed in 4.2. There is still more work to get *everything* (including audio, vidc, etc) merged upstream, but work continues in that direction, making this quite an exciting board.
Also, we have a GSoC student, Varad, working on freedreno support for android. It is still in early stages, with some debugging still to do, but he has made a lot of progress and things are starting to work.
And since no blog post is complete without some nice screenshots... the other day someone pointed me at a post in the dolphin forums about how dolphin was running on a420 (same device as in the ifc6540). We all had a good laugh about the rendering issues with the blob driver. But, since dolphin was the first gl3 game that worked with freedreno, I was curious how freedreno would do.. so I fired up the ifc6540 and replayed some dolphin fifo logs that would let me render approximately the same scenes:
Yoshi looks to be rendering pretty well.. digimon has a bit of corruption, but no where near as bad as the blob driver. I suspect the issue with digimon is an instruction scheduling issue in the shader compiler (well, no rest for the gpu driver writers), but nice to see that it is already in pretty good shape.
Now we just need steam store or some unigine demos for arm linux :-P
I wrote at great
length about why the decision isn't actually a decision about whether
APIs are copyrightable, and that the decision actually gives us some
good clarity with regard to the issue of combined work distribution
(i.e., when you distribute your own works with the copyrighted material
of others combined into a single program). The basic summary of the blog
post I linked to above is simply: The lower Court seemed genially
confused about whether Google copy-and-pasted code, as the original trial
seems to have inappropriately conflated API reimplemenation with code
No one else has addressed this nuance of the lower Court's decision in the
year since the decision came down, and I suspect that's because in our
TL;DR 24-hour-news cycle, it's much easier for the pundits and
organizations tangentially involved with this issue to get a bunch of press
over giving confusing information.