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New rules tell insurers: spend more on care

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration issued new federal rules Monday that will require many health insurance companies to spend more on medical care and allocate less to profits, executive compensation, marketing and overhead expenses.

The rules, intended to benefit consumers, vastly expand federal authority to direct the use of premiums collected by companies like Aetna Inc., Humana, UnitedHealth Group Inc. and WellPoint Inc. While some states have had such requirements, Monday’s announcement is the first such mandate by the federal government and grows out of the new national health care law.

“Millions of Americans will get better value for their health insurance premium dollar,” Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said in issuing the rules.

Starting next year, she said, insurers in the individual and small-group markets must spend at least 80 percent of their premium revenues on medical care and activities to improve the quality of care. Insurers in the large-group market must spend at least 85 percent of premium dollars for those purposes.

Insurers that do not meet the standards next year will have to pay rebates to consumers, starting in 2012.

Stampede in Cambodia leaves hundreds dead

BANGKOK — More than 300 people were killed and hundreds more were injured in a stampede at an annual water festival in Cambodia that the prime minister Tuesday called the nation’s worst tragedy since the murderous Khmer Rouge regime more than three decades ago.

Witnesses in Phnom Penh, the capital, said the stampede began Monday night when people panicked in a dense crowd on a small island close to the shore of the Bassac River.

Hundreds of people tried to escape over a short suspension bridge. Many died of suffocation, were crushed underfoot or were electrocuted by loose wires. Many drowned when they leapt from the suspension bridge into the water.

The night was filled with the constant sound of sirens and, at the scene and in the hospital, with the wailing of people discovering dead friends or relatives.

“This is the biggest tragedy in more than 31 years since the Pol Pot regime,” Prime Minister Hun Sen said in one of several television announcements through the night.

There was no confirmation of the cause of the stampede, but Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said it began when what he said were one million people became “scared of something.”

Instead of company cars, rentals by the hour

Businesses are increasingly adopting car sharing as a cost-saving alternative for employee travel. Workers can step outside their company’s front door and into a car they can drive to a business meeting or sales call, and — during breaks or lunch hour — use for errands or shopping.

For companies, car sharing is a way to reduce rental costs, fleet size or use of car livery services. The hourly rentals, with gas, insurance and parking included, can also help businesses bolster their green credentials by offering hybrids as well as electric plug-in cars.

Zipcar, the pioneer of per-trip rentals in the United States, in Cambridge, Mass., has been wooing corporate customers to expand its 400,000-client list. Zipcar has signed up 10,000 company clients under its Zipcar for Business program, said Scott Griffith, the company’s chief executive.