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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WASHINGTON — The rocky rollout of the Affordable Care Act again came under sharp criticism Wednesday, three weeks into the launch, but this time some of the loudest voices were among top Democrats, including President Obama’s closest allies.

Democrats on Capitol Hill said they were unhappy with the performance of the Obamacare website, which has been plagued with problems since its debut Oct. 1. Even the president’s longtime campaign guru, David Axelrod, was critical of the administration’s handling of the issue.

“This has been shrouded in a little bit of mystery. I don’t quite understand why that is,” Axelrod said in an MSNBC interview this week. He added that if he were at the White House, he would be “very, very tough on the people who are responsible.”

obamaEven those who support the new healthcare law — and its promise of providing affordable insurance coverage to millions of Americans — suggested that aspects of it may need to be postponed unless changes can be put into place quickly. Some were calling on Obama to hold people accountable for the mistakes.

“Somebody’s got to man up here — get rid of these people,” said Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.), who stopped short of calling for the ouster of any specific administration official or contractor but characterized the president’s response to the rollout as “weak.”

“There are people like myself who supported the Affordable Care Act, but I’m not oblivious to the fact that this layout has done harm and damage to the brand,” Nolan said.

Democratic Party leaders also suggested that heads should roll, even while maintaining strong support for Obamacare.

“I absolutely believe that somebody should be held accountable,” said Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), the No. 4 Democrat in the House.

For more on this LA Times story, click here.


President: No sugarcoating Obamacare problems


President Barack Obama on Monday said there was “no excuse” for the cascade of computer problems that have marred the rollout of key elements in his healthcare law, but declared he was confident the administration would be able to fix the issues.

“There’s no sugarcoating it,” Obama said. “Nobody is more frustrated than I am.”

The president said his administration was doing “everything we can possibly do” to get the federally run websites up and running. And he guaranteed that everyone who wants to get insurance through the new healthcare exchanges will be able to.

Obama’s event in the White House Rose Garden had the feeling of a healthcare pep rally, with guests in the Rose Garden applauding as Obama ticked through what the White House sees as benefits of the law. The president was introduced by a woman who had successfully managed to sign up for health insurance through the marketplaces in her home state of Delaware.

The president insisted that his healthcare law is about more than just a website.

“The essence of the law, the health insurance that’s available to people, is working just fine,” he said.

The White House says more than 19 million people have visited since the site went live on Oct. 1. Officials also say a half million people have applied for insurance on the federal- and state-run websites.

Administration officials initially blamed a high volume of interest for the frozen screens that many people encountered when they first logged on to the website. Since then, they have also acknowledged issues with software and some elements of the system’s design.

For more on this LA Times story, click here.


Obama to address health-care website glitches

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Monday will talk about the website glitches that have plagued the application process for health care insurance since the new exchanges opened up this month.

In Rose Garden remarks about the Affordable Care Act, the president will reiterate his stance that he finds the technical problems unacceptable and will discuss steps his administration has taken to get them fixed, a White House official said Sunday.

Obama administration also officials highlighted over the weekend the fact that nearly 500,000 people have filled out applications for Obamacare.

The site has seen many problems with people trying to log on as well as issues once they have applied, such as some people applying for different plans. Insurance industry sources have said they are getting some applications with missing information.

Republicans on the Sunday talk shows aimed their fire at the site.

“It’s been a fiasco. Send Air Force One to Silicon Valley. Load it up with smart people, bring it back to Washington and fix this problem. It’s ridiculous, and everybody knows that,” Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, told CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger on “State of the Union.”

obama at un

Photo courtesy of CNN

“They’ve had three or four years here to get this ready. God only knows how much money they’ve spent, and it’s a failure. You know, the government simply isn’t going to be able to get this job done correctly,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

For more on this CNN story, click here.

C.R. Douglas talks with state Insurance Commission about Health ExchangeOLYMPIA – More than 10,000 people have completed applications for healthcare in the first week the Washington Healthplanfinder website has been operational, state officials said.

The marketplace opened on Oct. 1, and allows uninsured Washingtonians to find, compare and enroll in health insurance and gain access to free or low-cost coverage.

In addition to the thousands of applications submitted, the site has seen more than 837,000 total site visits and more than 2.5 million page views in the first week.The state call center has field more than 23,000 calls from people seeking information on the new healthcare exchange.

Health insurance through the marketplace begins on Jan. 1, 2014.  The open enrollment period runs through March 31, 2014.

The Washington Healthplanfinder website is run by the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, which was established as part of the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

Dr. Nick Rajacich, president of the Washington State Medical Association, discusses what changes the Affordable Care Act has had on doctors. Watch the video report.

wa pathfinder healthcareSEATTLE — After suffering through a host of technical issues that kept many from using its website, the Washington Health Plan Finder is up and running. More maintenance is planned and the website will be down from 10 p.m. Thursday until 6 a.m. Friday.

Here is a statement from Richard Onizuka, CEO for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange:

“As of this morning, Washington Healthplanfinder is up and running after planned maintenance that took place from 10 pm through 6 am. We are continuing to see tremendous interest in signing up for health coverage, both through our online marketplace, our community organizations and brokers, as well as our toll-free Customer Support Center at 1-855-WAFINDER.

Last night, we took several steps to improve Washington Healthplanfinder to handle the interest, specifically improving the configuration of our system. Early indications show the changes made are allowing people to more easily search for health plans, create accounts and complete applications.

Today, we will continue to monitor how the website performs and make additional changes as necessary. We remain committed to improving the consumer experience and getting as many Washingtonians enrolled in coverage as possible. It’s also important to remember that residents have until Dec. 23, 2013 to enroll in coverage that begins on Jan. 1, 2014. The open enrollment period extends all the way through March 31, 2014 for this first year. Medicaid individuals may apply year round.

We will continue to provide updates throughout the day. Thank you for your patience.”


Local News

New benefits of Affordable Care Act

SEATTLE- The state’s new health care exchange is up and running. Even if you already have insurance, you may be in for a surprise.

There are a lot of new benefits, ones that could at add up in your family’s pocketbook.

“Whether you’re newly insured or you have been insured, you are going to see expansion of coverage,” says Alison Carl White with Within Reach.

From screenings to shots, a number of preventative services will now be covered under the Affordable Care Act. Come January, preventative shots and screenings, even diet counseling and help for smoker, will all be covered.

Vaccines, like Hepatitis A and B, which cost about 120 dollars each, will now be free.

“You won’t have to make those choices of do I get the flu shots or do I do this,” says Carl White.

For kids, coverage now includes screenings for autism or depression and hearing tests for newborns. In many cases, there’s no-copay or deductible to meet. Insurance companies will also have to cover trips to the dentist, benefit that will help fight tooth decay, which is the most chronic health problem in children.

“It’s a big deal to get people  signed up for health insurance but the real win is when we all start having healthy behaviors and I really believe that starts with preventative care,” says Carl White.

Be aware, many existing healthcare plans are grandfathered in under the law, meaning they are not required to offer these new benefits. If you’re not sure, just ask your insurance provider or HR representative at work.

You can also learn more at this website.

Local News

The business end of new health care law

SEATTLE — As we’ve seen with the new health care law it provides more choices for individual coverage, but businesses have to weigh the choice of whether or to not provide coverage and risk losing employees if they don’t offer a health care plan.

Fremont bakery shop Pie has survived the recession. Owner Jess Whitsitt’s has expanded to two locations, a food truck and 30 employees. She’s let them all know about their new healthcare options in writing, which is required by law. As a small business owner she doesn’t have to provide coverage for her workers, but she’s doing what she can.

“For my managers I can afford to give you a $150 stipend a month, for my lead bakers I can do $100 — I can’t afford to cover them completely, but I can at least help them,” Whitsitt said.

Opinions about the Affordable Health Care Act differ among business owners.

Suzie Burke, owner of Fremont Dock and a property management company said her insurance companies told her that covering her workers will cost more under the new law.

“Both of them say it’s probably going to be 20 percent more than it was last year — we’ll get back to you as to what we can do. And bear in mind what we can do is probably give up vision care. I don’t like it. I’m small business and I’d rather make my own choices,” Burke said.

Many employers are frustrated by the new law. The rules are so complex that special navigators have been hired to help people understand them.

Under the health care act, smaller businesses get better tax breaks to help cover costs. But firms with more than 50 employees must provide health insurance for all employees who work 30 hours or more a week or face a stiff fine. That rule has been so problematic, it’s been pushed back to 2015. But many companies are already cutting people’s hours to avoid providing coverage, something that has lead to strike votes by grocery and dairy workers here in Washington.

What does this mean for you? First, read the stuff you’re getting from your job. Talk to your boss or HR person continually about what’s going on from the company’s perspective. Make sure you get straight answers because there may be changes coming that they’re not aware of yet.

About 80 percent of Americans will notice no change whatsoever to their coverage. But if the new law does apply to you, you can go the website for more information:

SEATTLE — Washington Healthplanfinder ( went live online at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, but four hours later the site was taken down for maintenance after reports it wasn’t working.

“Some were able to go through the application with no issues. Others were experiencing some slowdowns and pages weren’t loading. As opposed to trying to fix the tire as it’s getting flat while you’re driving the car, it’s much easier to pull over to the side of the road to get the situation resolved,” said Michael Marchand, communications director for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange.

wa pathfinder healthcareAt the SeaMar Medical Clinic in South Park, people lined up early Tuesday morning to enroll for health care coverage, but couldn’t.

“For the actual day to come and the website to crash, it’s extremely disappointing.  We’re very much advocating this and want to help people become insured.  So when you can’t use the tools you were promised, it’s disheartening,” said Karrie VanZant, vice president of SeaMar Medical Clinic.

Instead, their customer service reps had to improvise, using paper applications to get information from folks and then making follow-up appointments to come back and finish the enrollment process later.

“We know what launches are like.  We understood there might be some glitches, but we are fully confident that every Washingtonian is going to have a chance to sign up for health care plans in the next several months,” Gov. Jay Inslee said.

Folks like Charles Jackson say they just can’t wait any longer.

“I have heart disease, high blood pressure and I’m a diabetic.  If I need to be rushed to a doctor or to a hospital, how am I going to pay for it?” asked Jackson.

There is plenty of time to sign up.  Open enrollment goes through the end of March and even if you sign up now, the coverage doesn’t start until Jan. 1.

Richard Onizuka, CEO for the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, issued the following statement:

“As of 1:30 p.m. the Washington Healthplanfinder marketplace is back online. Our IT staff took several steps to investigate the earlier issues, complete system modifications and get the website up and running.

“Earlier in the day we determined that consumers attempting to enroll in health coverage through Washington Healthplanfinder experienced slow loading times or difficulty completing their application. In order to remedy the issue as quickly as possible, we placed the marketplace into maintenance mode to help identify and correct these issues.

“Please note that some users may still experience intermittent issues completing online applications. We encourage all applicants to save their information and return to should such a situation arise. At 8:00 p.m., the marketplace may be temporarily unavailable as we conduct additional maintenance to improve the current experience. We expect to have more information to share tomorrow morning. Thank you to everyone for their patience as our staff actively works to address the problem.

“We remain committed to providing consumers with the most seamless online experience possible and apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.  Customers may also visit a community organization or registered insurance broker to complete a paper application, as well as contact our toll-free Customer Support Center at 1-855-WAFINDER for general questions.  We look forward to working with Washington residents through March 31, 2014 to enroll them in quality health coverage through Washington Healthplanfinder.”