Story Summary

Affordable Care Act

The Affordable Health Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” was signed into law in March 2010. The statute represents a major overhaul of the country’s healthcare system — the most substantial since Medicare and Medicaid were initiated in 1965.

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This story has 9 updates
Politics
12/30/13

Obama’s healthcare law takes full effect this week

WASHINGTON — Nearly four years after it was signed and after months of scrambling and uncertainty, President Obama’s landmark bid to guarantee Americans health security takes full effect Wednesday as the Affordable Care Act begins delivering healthcare coverage to millions nationwide.

Administration officials reported Sunday that about 1.1 million people had enrolled in health plans using the federal website, HealthCare.gov, the main entry point for coverage in 36 states. Nearly all the enrollments came in the last couple of weeks as the deadline approached for coverage that would take effect Jan. 1.

Several hundred thousand people have enrolled on separate sites run by 14 states and the District of Columbia, with the largest figure coming from California, where more than 400,000 have signed up.

Americans Sign Up For Health Insurance On ACA Deadline Day

From Getty Images

An exact count nationwide is not yet available because not all states have tallied their figures, but the total appears to be about 2 million. That remains short of the administration’s original goal of 3 million by this point, but marks a significant recovery from the system’s disastrous debut in October.

More than 4 million additional people have been found eligible for coverage under the law’s expansion of Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

How the law will ultimately work and whether it can endure remain unclear, though the fact that coverage will now be real for several million people will almost certainly change the debate over Republican efforts to repeal it.

While that broader political fight plays out, doctors, hospitals and pharmacies across the country are bracing for more confusion as patients struggle to understand their new coverage.

Some may show up at physicians’ offices without insurance cards, victims of the error-plagued enrollment process that bedeviled the initial rollout.

For more on this LA Times story, click here.

 

OLYMPIA — The state’s health care exchange announced Wednesday a process for those who started to apply for health insurance online but who will be unable, due to computer system problems, to complete applications by the Dec. 23 cutoff date to still enroll for coverage effective Jan. 1.

Washington state healthcare enrollment

People seeking health insurance compare plans at a Washington Healthplanfinder enrollment event in Kent, Wash. (Maria L. La Ganga / Los Angeles Times / November 9, 2013)

“Many of our customers experienced problems with our system that may have prevented them from meeting the Dec. 23 deadline,” said Richard Onizuka, CEO for Washington Healthplanfinder. “We understand the frustration this has caused and realize that we must honor the promise we made to thousands of people in our state that Washington Healthplanfinder will empower them in finding and enrolling in health coverage.”

The exchange will systematically modify the eligibility and enrollment date of applications affected by errors to support coverage beginning Jan. 1.  These complete applications submitted by 11:59 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 23, will have their insurance benefits retroactively configured to the start of the year.

The solution will be for those individuals who started an application in the system prior to the Dec. 23 deadline and are determined eligible, select a health plan and pay for coverage by Jan. 15. The exchange will follow up with these individuals with guidance in order for them to secure coverage effective Jan. 1.

The exchange offers these tips for customers seeking coverage beginning Jan. 1:

Don’t Wait until Dec. 23: Make sure you allow enough time to begin your application process online in order to select and pay for an appropriate health plan. Remember, you may also enroll through March 31, 2014, if you don’t need coverage starting Jan. 1. Current Medicaid subscribers who have been notified that their annual review is due must also visit Washington Healthplanfinder and verify their eligibility before the end of 2013 to continue their coverage after Jan. 1.

Find an Insurance Agent or Broker: The toll-free Customer Support Center at 1-855-WAFINDER has doubled staff since mid-September, but is still experiencing high call volumes. In-person help is also available. Click on the “Customer Support” link in the upper right-hand corner of wahealthplanfinder.org and select “Find a Broker” or “Find a Navigator” from the drop-down menu.

Enroll Online: Complete an application online at wahealthplanfinder.org for a faster eligibility determination. If you’ve encountered an issue when completing an application online, do not complete a paper application. Instead, revisit your account periodically as staff continue to make nightly corrections and updates to address any errors.

Attend an Enrollment Event: Community groups and partners are organizing outreach and awareness events across the state. To find an event in your area, go to: http://www.wahbexchange.org/get-involved/community-events/

Use Helpful Tips: For answers to frequently asked questions and tips to address hurdles you may face in completing an application, Washington Healthplanfinder has created an “Application Tips” webpage: http://www.wahbexchange.org/news-resources/healthplanfinder-status-updates/healthplanfinder-quick-tips/ .

As of Dec. 12, more than 32,000 Washingtonians had already completed their health insurance enrollment through Washington Healthplanfinder in a private health plan, the exchange said.

In addition, 61,000 individuals are eligible for private health plans but must submit their first payment due by Dec. 23 for coverage to begin on Jan. 1.

Local News
12/17/13

Local executive tapped to head up Healthcare.gov

SEATTLE — The head of Microsoft’s Office Division — and husband of Congresswoman Susan DelBene — announced Tuesday he was leaving the computer giant in order to head up the government’s embattled healthcare website.

DelBene will head up the country’s Healthcare.gov website starting Wednesday, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said in a release Tuesday. DelBene will succeed Jeff Zients, the former director of the National Economic Council. He will serve for at least a year and a half as the director, Sebelius said.

Microsoft

Kurt DelBene

Sebelius said DelBene will work closely with her in building confidence and strengthening progress in the country’s healthcare.gov website; something that has lacked since the website’s roll-out in November.

“First, Kurt will provide management expertise, operations oversight, and critical advice on additional enrollment channels, field operations, marketing and communications,” Sebelius said. “The President and I believe strongly in having one person with strong experience and expertise in management and execution, who is thinking 21/7 about HealthCare.gov.”

The Puget Sound Business Journal reported that DelBene, who is wealthy from his career at Microsoft,  will donate his entire salary gained from the position back to the country’s treasury.

The former chief of Microsoft has already said he would retire from the position at the end of his head position at the end of the year.

Congresswoman DelBene commented Tuesday on her husband’s post.

“Kurt has demonstrated throughout his career that he is about results, and his decision to join the Administration will be extremely valuable to their efforts to improve the website,” Congresswoman DelBene said.

For more on this story, see the LA Times profile on Delbene.

By Noam N. Levey

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — Beset by problems with the rollout of the president’s health care law, the Obama administration has postponed for at least a year its plans to allow small businesses in many states to use a website to select health insurance plans for their employees.

obamaOfficials said they needed to concentrate on fixing the HealthCare.gov website that is supposed to allow individual consumers who don’t get health benefits at work to sign up for coverage.

The postponement is another major setback for the president’s hopes of showcasing how the Affordable Care Act can help consumers and small businesses get health insurance. And political opponents quickly pounced on the latest bad news.

Instead of a website, small employers in about three dozen states that wish to offer their employees coverage will have to go through insurance brokers or deal directly with insurance companies, as many already do. Small businesses that do enroll their employees in health insurance plans that meet new standards in the Affordable Care Act will remain eligible for tax credits provided by the law.

The administration’s announcement does not affect businesses in states, including California, that are operating their own Obamacare marketplaces, many of which have been successfully enrolling people. California opened its small-business online marketplace this week after a delay.

The announcement also does not affect large employers, which were not eligible to use the online system. The vast majority of large businesses already offer health coverage.

Because small businesses in every state can still sign up their workers through brokers or insurers, the lack of an online enrollment system in many states may not have a large, short-term impact on coverage.

That did little to lessen the political sting, however.

“It’s another broken promise and more proof this administration’s assurances have no credibility,” House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said. “This law has been an absolute disaster, leaving us to ask, ‘What’s next?’”

Several leading business groups also reiterated their reservations about the law.

In addition to the small-business marketplace, the Obama administration has also delayed other elements of the law, including a one-year hiatus in enforcement of a penalty on large employers that do not provide health coverage.

Administration officials said they hoped that a website allowing small employers to shop online would be operational by next November so that employers can select plans for 2015.

“It was important for us to prioritize the functionality that would enable consumers individually to shop and enroll online,” said Julie Bataille, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is working on the websites.

The agency has been focused for the last two months on rescuing HealthCare.gov and meeting Saturday’s self-imposed deadline for making the site usable for the “vast majority” of users.

The small-business marketplaces — known as SHOP exchanges, for Small Business Health Options Program — were supposed to offer small employers the ability to compare health plans for their employees online and select among several options.

But development of the federal SHOP marketplaces has been dogged by many of the same technical problems that led to the disastrous rollout of the online marketplaces for individual consumers.

“It’s disappointing,” said John Arensmeyer, chief executive of Small Business Majority, a business group that has supported the Affordable Care Act. “It’s important it get up and running as soon as possible.”

Small businesses have long struggled with high health costs and have been less likely than large companies to offer health benefits.

Just 57% of firms with three to 199 employees offer health insurance, according to an annual survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust. By comparison, 99% of firms with more than 200 employees have health benefits.

The Affordable Care Act exempts businesses with fewer than 50 employees from a new requirement that employers offer health benefits.

 

 

WASHINGTON — Despite the disastrous rollout of the federal government’s healthcare website, enrollment is surging in many states as tens of thousands of consumers sign up for insurance plans made available by President Obama‘s health law.

A number of states that use their own systems, including California, are on track to hit enrollment targets for 2014 because of a sharp increase in November, according to state officials.

“What we are seeing is incredible momentum,” said Peter Lee, director of Covered California, the nation’s largest state insurance marketplace, which accounted for a third of all enrollments nationally in October. California — which enrolled about 31,000 people in health plans last month — nearly doubled that in the first two weeks of this month.

Health Tips: Understanding the Affordable Care ActSeveral other states, including Connecticut and Kentucky, are outpacing their enrollment estimates, even as states that depend on the federal website lag far behind. In Minnesota, enrollment in the second half of October ran at triple the rate of the first half, officials said. Washington state is also on track to easily exceed its October enrollment figure, officials said.

The growing enrollment in those states is a rare bit of good news for backers of the Affordable Care Act and suggests that the serious problems with the law’s rollout may not be fatal, despite critics’ renewed calls for repeal.

But the trend also emphasizes how widely experience with the new law varies by location.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia, covering about one-third of the nation’s population, are operating their own Obamacare marketplaces and have their own enrollment websites. The others, including most states with Republican-led governments, have declined to do so, making their residents dependent on the malfunctioning federal site.

For more on this LA Times story, click here.

WASHINGTON — The GOP-controlled House voted 261-157 to approve a Republican bill giving health insurers the option of extending plans through 2014 that would otherwise be canceled for not complying with Affordable Care Act standards.

The bill would also allow new customers to enroll in those plans. Thirty-nine Democrats crossed party lines and joined a nearly unanimous GOP caucus in voting for the bill.

obama — just voteIt has little chance of clearing the Democratic-controlled Senate. The White House has also indicated President Barack Obama will veto the measure if it reaches his desk, saying the Republican plan would undermine the integrity of the law aimed at providing health coverage to millions of Americans without it.

The Senate is taking a wait-and-see attitude about possible legislation over insurance cancellations after Obama took administrative steps on Thursday to address the matter.

Obama’s signature domestic policy initiative has been marred by the disastrous launch of the HealthCare.gov website, which allows consumers to buy new health plans online, and by the policy cancellations.

Both problems have put congressional Democrats in a difficult political position since the Affordable Care Act was approved in 2010 with no Republican support and signed by Obama, a Democratic president.

For more on this CNN story, click here.

WASHINGTON — With millions of consumers getting cancellation notices for their current health plans, President Obama announced Thursday that he will encourage insurance companies to continue offering their customers the same health plans next year.

“This fix won’t solve every problem for every person,” Obama said, saying he would consider legislative action to go further. But he appeared to rule out the sort of legislation that House Republicans are pushing, which would allow insurance companies to continue selling new policies, indefinitely, that would not comply with the law’s new consumer standards.

obama 03-13-13

Courtesy of Fox News

“I will not accept” legislation that would “drag us back to a broken system,” Obama said.

The move comes amid rising outrage over the cancellation notices, which insurers have sent out to customers nationwide who do not have health plans through an employer. Many of these plans do not comply with the Affordable Care Act, which was supposed to require health plans sold next year to offer consumers a new basic set of benefits.

Obama conceded that the problems with the rollout of Obamacare have hurt his standing with Americans, saying he has to “win back some credibility” on the issue.

For more on this LA Times story, click here.

 

OLYMPIA — The state’s insurance commissioner on Thursday rejected President Obama’s plan to allow insurance companies to extend health care policies for one more year for those who are receiving cancellation notices.

healthcare310x177Mike Kreidler, the state’s insurance commission, said that Washington state has worked hard to implement the Affordable Care Act, and the state has built a “stable, fair and competitive individual health insurance market.”

Washington, and the state-based exchange at Wahealthplanfinder.org, is successfully enrolling thousands of consumers, Kriedler said, and he has “serious concerns” about how Obama’s proposal would be implemented, as well as its impact on the health insurance market.

“I do not believe the proposal is a good deal for the state of Washington,” Kreidler said in a release Thursday. “In the interest of keeping the consumer protections we have enacted and ensuring that we keep health insurance costs down for all consumers, we are staying course. We will not be allowing insurance companies to extend their policies.”

Gov. Jay Inslee later Thursday released the following statement:

“We appreciate President Obama’s efforts, through the administrative fix announced today, to address the concerns of those who have gotten ‘cancellation’ letters from their insurance companies. Each state will be examining this option to see whether it works for them, and we know different states will come to different conclusions.

“Here in Washington, we are fortunate to have a robust insurance exchange, with 46 plans from eight different carriers. We’re also fortunate that our exchange, the Washington Healthplanfinder, is up and running and enrolling tens of thousands of people in meaningful and affordable health coverage.

“Because of that, the majority of Washingtonians who get these letters are able to find better plans and get tax subsidies to help pay for them. They are getting better coverage at a better price.

“Largely because of the success we’ve had implementing the Affordable Care Act so far, Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has concluded that the option of extending old health plans is not a good solution for the state of Washington.

“We understand that these cancellation letters can be upsetting, and we want to make sure everyone knows how to find the best deal for themselves and their families. We encourage everyone to explore their options on the Washington Healthplanfinder — www.wahealthplanfinder.org — and seek out the help of an in-person assistor or broker to find a plan that fits their needs and their budgets.

“We also want to make sure that the people of our state have meaningful health insurance that will cover them when they get sick or end up in the hospital or find they need ongoing prescription drugs, and we know the plans we have in Washington will do that.”

WASHINGTON — Just 106,000 Americans successfully signed up in October for health coverage through President Obama’s healthcare law, the administration announced Wednesday in a report that underscored damage from the botched rollout of the law.

The tally falls well short of administration hopes that as many as 500,000 people would select a health plan in the first month of enrollment.

Enrollment has been particularly weak in the 36 states whose new insurance marketplaces are being run by the federal government.

Fewer than 27,000 consumers signed up for coverage on a federally run marketplace. These federal marketplaces rely on the malfunctioning healthcare.gov website, which Obama administration officials are scrambling to repair.

obamaEnrollment was stronger in several states that are running their own marketplaces, including California, which had more than 35,000 enrollees in October, more than double any other state.

Despite the relatively low enrollment numbers, administration officials stressed Wednesday that consumer interest in health insurance appears strong.

Nationwide, nearly 1.1 million people have been deemed eligible to get insurance through one of the new marketplaces, according to applications that have been submitted by consumers, the Department of Health and Human Services reported. An additional 396,000 people have been eligible for the government’s Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program, officials reported.

For more on this LA Times story, click here.

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