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San Diego approves construction of city’s most important infrastructure project

By: Adriana Valentina San Diego City Council has voted to approve the first phase of construction of the city’s Pure Water program. The vote authorizes Mayor Kevin Faulconer to award construction contracts to the lowest responsible and reliable bidders for the various projects in Phase 1, including the future North City Pure Water Facility. Construction is scheduled to start this spring. The Pure Water San Diego program is the city’s phased, multi-year program that will provide one-third of San Diego’s water supply locally by 2035. The program will use water purification technology to clean recycled water to produce safe, high-quality drinking water. “This will be one of the most important infrastructure projects in city history and puts San Diego on the path to water independence for the first time,” Faulconer said in a prepared statement. “Pure Water will deliver a safe, reliable and sustainable source of water for all San Diegans for generations to come. It’s just the latest example of how we’re leaving a cleaner San Diego than the one we inherited.” Under the initial phase, the North City Pure Water facility will be built on a city-owned parcel east of Interstate 805 and north of Eastgate Mall – across from the existing North City Water Reclamation Plant. The phase also includes construction of new pump stations and pipelines, as well as upgrades to existing facilities. Personal Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Home Renovation Projects? There are a lot of things you usually do before kicking off a home renovation project. Whether you're planning a home addition or want to improve your existing space, you might start by browsing blogs and building Pinterest boards to organize your ideas. Then, there's the whole process of setting a budget, vetting contractors and securing the necessary permits (not nearly as fun, of course). But what about homeowners insurance? Does reaching out to your agent even cross your mind as you plan a home improvement project? Because it should. WHY SHOULD YOU NOTIFY YOUR AGENT? You may run a risk if the limits on your homeowners insurance policy aren't high enough to cover the increase in your home's value after a home renovation. If something happens to your home and you need to rebuild it, you'll want to know that your policy provides sufficient coverage. Be sure to tell your agent about improvements you make to your home and ask if you should increase your coverage limits, says the Insurance Information Institute (III). WHAT POLICY CHANGES SHOULD YOU MAKE? Before construction begins, you may want to ask your agent whether your existing homeowners policy should be updated, says the III. Insurance Journal says that it often makes sense to incrementally increase your coverage limits as the project progresses. If it's a major project — you're adding on a new room, for instance — you may also want to specifically list the addition on your policy, suggests the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). WHAT ABOUT THE CONTRACTOR? Beyond that, you should also think about the risk of injury that comes when you have contractors on your property. You can help protect yourself against a potential lawsuit by verifying that your contractor is properly insured, the III says — namely that he is armed with liability insurance and workers' compensation coverage. Ask to see proof of your contractor's insurance, suggests the AICPA, and make the same request of any subcontractors on the job (electrician, plumber, etc.). WHAT IF IT'S A DIY JOB? Of course, not every home improvement project is farmed out. If you plan on a do-it-yourself project and expect to have friends or family lending a hand, you should also check that your own liability coverage is up to snuff, the III says. While it may be hard to believe, you may still run the risk of a lawsuit if a friend or family member who doesn't live with you is injured while helping out. That's why the III suggests raising the amount of no-fault medical protection on your homeowners policy. With this coverage, if someone gets injured, they can directly submit medical bills to your insurance, which may lessen the likelihood of you being sued, says the III. Finally, as with any big project, organization is key. Keep copies of any contracts and receipts for materials purchased for the home renovation project. And take photos before, during and after the remodeling so you have a visual record of all the work. Taking the time to do all this may add a few steps to your remodeling project. But having documentation and sufficient homeowners insurance coverage in place may help protect you against the many perils that even the smallest home renovation project might face. Is Pet Insurance Worth the Cost? By: Mandy Walker Two years ago, Elizabeth Newsom-Stewart’s cat Fawkes ate part of a lily plant leaf. Newsom-Stewart, then a veterinary student at Cornell University, immediately knew the danger he was in, and rushed him to an animal hospital. “Some lily plants are toxic to cats” she says, and may cause kidney failure. “Symptoms can take 12 to 24 hours to show. By the time kidney failure occurs, it’s almost always fatal.” Emergency treatment, which included three days in intensive care, medication, tests, and lots of IV fluids, cost $1,783. But just three months before, Newsom-Stewart bought pet insurance, and it covered $1,327 of the bill. And Fawkes, now 4, made a full recovery. A serious illness or injury can take a financial toll, even when the patient is a pet. Cancer treatments can easily run $5,000; surgery to fix a torn ACL from, say, a poorly executed jump off the sofa can cost about $3,300. Pet insurance is sold with the promise that by helping to cover some of your pet’s medical bills, you won’t be forced to consider “economic euthanasia” in the most dire circumstances. But as helpful and emotionally comforting as it might be, is insurance really worth the price? About 1.4 million pets in the U.S. and Canada were covered by a plan at the end of 2014, according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association, a trade group. That’s less than 1 percent of about 174 million pet cats and dogs, but up from 680,000 policies in 2008. Some of the increase may be linked to a surprising fact: Pet insurance is one of the fastest-growing optional employee benefits. Major policy providers include the ASPCA (through Hartville), Embrace, Healthy Paws, PetFirst, Petplan, and Trupanion. Most cover only cats and dogs, but one company, Nationwide (formerly Veterinary Pet Insurance), also insures birds, rabbits, snakes, turtles, and other animals. How the Plans Work Like people insurance, pet policies come with a variety of deductibles, co-payments, and premiums. Unlike people coverage, you usually have to pay the vet bills in full and wait for reimbursement. But Trupanion launched a service in February that can disburse payments directly to vets on the day of service. The company says about 60 percent of its bills are already processed that way. The cost of coverage can increase depending on your pet’s breed (purebreds cost more to insure because they’re more prone to some hereditary conditions), age (plans may cost more as your pet gets older), the rising cost of veterinary care, and the coverage options you choose, such as your deductible amount. Embrace and Healthy Paws pay a flat percentage of covered costs after your deductible is met. Other companies calculate reimbursements based on the “usual and customary costs” of vet care in your area. Embrace lets you pick the annual maximum amount it will cover each year ($5,000, $8,000, $10,000, or $15,000); Healthy Paws and Trupanion have no annual ceiling. Almost all policies exclude pre-existing conditions and may exclude breed-specific conditions (or charge you more to cover them). What They Cover You can pick a plan that insures costs due to accidents (such as injuries caused by motor vehicles), or accidents and illness (including arthritis, cancer, and colitis). Some providers also offer wellness coverage for certain routine care, like annual exams, flea and tick treatments, and vaccinations. Eighty-one percent of pet insurance policies are accident and illness plans for dogs; 14.6 percent provide the same kind of coverage for cats and other pets. Only about 4 percent of the market is made up of accident-only and wellness coverage. The insurance trade group says that accident and illness coverage per year averaged $473 for dogs and $285 for cats in 2014. Accident-only policies ran $158 and $132, respectively. To compare costs, we asked four providers—Embrace, Healthy Paws, Nationwide, and Trupanion—whose parent companies comprise roughly 75 percent of the market, to estimate what their accident and illness policies would cover for a specific dog and cat. After initially agreeing, Nationwide decided it would only provide data for its policy that had accident, illness, and wellness coverage, so we didn’t include the company in our analysis. We used the vet bills of Guinness, an almost 12-year-old Labrador mix from Westchester County, N.Y., and Freddie, a mixed-breed cat from Fairfield County, Conn., who’s almost 9. Guinness had few health problems over the years until he was diagnosed with skin cancer last fall. Treating him required two costly surgeries and expensive follow-up care. Freddie has been relatively healthy; he had one pricey dental cleaning under anesthesia, and has been prescribed cat food and medication to treat infections. We did our analysis assuming that their owners had signed them up for coverage when they were just a few weeks old, and we adjusted each medical-care charge into present-day dollars to judge how their expenses would have been covered. Playing the Odds For Freddie, only the Healthy Paws policy would have paid out more than it cost, in part because of its lower premiums. If you have a pet like Guinness with a costly condition or illness you want to treat, we found that pet insurance may pay out more than it costs you. In our exercise, a Healthy Paws plan was the only one that paid more than it cost. But if his owner continues to cover cancer treatments, all three plans may be worth it. In 2015, for example, Healthy Paws and Trupanion would have reimbursed the owner over $3,000 more than they would have charged for coverage. Embrace would have covered more than $4,000 over the cost of its plan. Of course, our results are for a single cat and dog; vet bills are different for every animal, and there’s no way to predict whether your pet will become sick or injured. But if you’d like help with unexpected, large vet bills, a plan may be worth considering. Talk with your vet about the medical costs your pet’s breed will usually incur, and ask about his experience with different pet insurers. Download sample policies from insurance websites and read them thoroughly for limitations, exceptions, and co-payments. Consider skipping wellness coverage if possible and paying for it out of pocket. Last year routine vet care cost cat owners just $196 and dog owners only $235, according to the American Pet Products Association. If you don’t want to pay for pet insurance, consider starting an emergency savings fund for pet care instead. If you find you need help with a big pet medical bill, the Humane Society has a list of organizations that may help pay for it. More Ways to Save Take steps to keep your pet healthy to trim medical costs. • Ask your vet which vaccines you can skip. Some effectively prevent serious and costly diseases, says Louise Murray, D.V.M., a veterinarian and vice president of the ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City. But ringworm, for example, is a mild condition and its vaccine isn’t that effective, she says. • Guard against parasites. Fleas can cause life-threatening anemia, and ticks can spread Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. An inexpensive topical solution can keep the bugs at bay. • Spay or neuter your pet. Doing so can help prevent health problems, including some cancers. Many sheltersor chapters of the ASPCA provide low-cost or no-cost spayor neuter surgery. How We Crunched the Numbers To compare policies, we converted all of the vet charges over the years into 2016 dollars, and checked current premiums for our pets at different ages. We chose a 10 percent co-pay for all three policies, which means the plans cover 90 percent of eligible charges. Embrace has a $200 annual deductible; for Healthy Paws, it’s $250. Trupanion has a $200 deductible per type of illness or accident. Once that deductible is met (say, for a cancer treatment), it covers 90 percent of additional charges for that condition. Healthy Paws and Trupanion have unlimited annual reimbursements; Embrace lets you choose an annual ceiling of $5,000, $8,000, $10,000, or $15,000. In only one year did bills for Guinness go over the $5,000 annual ceiling we used in our example. Note that the premiums of an Embrace plan go up significantly if you choose higher annual ceilings.

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