- David Brooks: Obama Will Further Weaken Healthcare Mandates
- Krauthammer: Insurance Company Bailouts Likely
© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
By Elliot Jager
© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
By Elliot Jager
President Barack Obama on Friday defended his administration’s decision to delay for some people the requirement to buy medical insurance under his healthcare law, explaining that the rollout of his signature domestic policy is a “messy process” — and admitting “we screwed it up.”
Officials said late Thursday that people whose insurance plans were canceled because of new standards under the law may be able to claim a “hardship exemption” to the requirement that all Americans must have coverage by March 31, or face a penalty.
The sudden change came four days before the deadline to sign up for coverage, which starts on Jan. 1 under Obamacare. It threatened to further dampen enthusiasm for the law, which has suffered a chaotic rollout that has driven Obama’s public approval numbers to historic lows.
Republicans seized on the latest announcement as further proof that Obamacare is unworkable, but Obama said it was just a bump in the road.
“I’ve said before, this is a messy process,” Obama said during a news conference before leaving for Hawaii for the holidays. “When you try to do something this big, affecting this many people, it’s going to be hard.”
Obama also pointed to a surge in enrollment, after the disastrous launch of the glitch-ridden HealthCare.gov website resulted in fewer than 27,000 people signing up through the federal marketplace in October.
Officials said that more than 1 million people have signed up so far for new coverage under Obamacare through state and federal marketplaces.
Still, there are lingering problems. Consumers were unable to access HealthCare.gov for a few hours during the middle of the day Friday, a critical time before the Dec. 23 deadline. Officials said they needed to repair a website error that occurred overnight.
The rocky rollout of the law since Oct. 1 has been embarrassing and politically damaging. Obama again accepted blame, saying: “Since I’m in charge, obviously we screwed it up.”
Part of the recent backlash came when millions of people received policy cancellation notices, forcing Obama to apologize for a promise he made that people who liked their insurance policies could keep them under the reforms.
Officials estimated that fewer than 500,000 people would be affected by this delay in the so-called individual mandate. The mandate is a core part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act that aims to provide coverage to millions of uninsured Americans.
However, the announcement raises fairness questions, as it gives a subset of Americans relief from the requirement to buy insurance. “It is the beginning of the end of the individual mandate,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Republicans have opposed the healthcare law as an unwarranted expansion of the federal government.
“This latest rule change could cause significant instability in the marketplace and lead to further confusion and disruption for consumers,” AHIP President and CEO Karen Ignagni said in a statement.
© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.
By Melanie Batley
Republican lawmakers are blasting the Obama administration’s decision to exempt large numbers of people from having to buy insurance under Obamacare — a last-ditch attempt to help the millions of people who received insurance cancellation notices because of the new healthcare law.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius confirmed the changes in a letter to six Democratic senators Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reports. She said the government would permit those who could not find affordable new coverage to quality for a “hardship exemption” to avoid a penalty next year for not having insurance.
The administration also downplayed the change, saying the it is expected to affect fewer than 500,000 people.
Democrats have praised the announcement, but Republicans say it’s one more example of a healthcare program that is unworkable.
“We asked Secretary Sebelius point blank what would be the next holiday surprise, and she was silent. Yet, here we are with another major policy shift,” said Tennessee GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Fox reports. “The sad reality is that when the law takes effect come Jan. 1, more Americans will be without coverage under Obamacare than one year ago.”
“Less than two weeks from going live, the White House seems to be in full panic mode. Rather than more White House delays, waivers, and exemptions, the administration should provide all Americans relief from its failed law,” she added.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., called it a “slap in the face” to those already enrolled in Obamacare.
“Holding a fire sale of cheap insurance is not a responsible fix for a broken program. This is a slap in the face to the thousands of Americans who have already purchased expensive insurance through the Obamacare exchanges,” he said.
The insurance industry also reacted negatively to the news, saying the decision to allow people to sign up for “catastrophic” coverage plans would cause tremendous “instability.”
“This latest rule change could cause significant instability in the marketplace and lead to further confusion and disruption for consumers,” Karen Ignagni, head of America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry trade group, told the Journal.
ObamaCare: You Can Win With The Facts
© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
By Newsmax Wires
The Obama administration was hoping to have 7 million people enrolled in health insurance through HealthCare.gov, but at the current rate that won’t be possible, according to some experts who have crunched the numbers.
And if that pool is dominated by older people, Jarvis noted, premiums in 2015 could skyrocket.
The administration had been counting on younger, healthier people signing up to keep costs down for older people who use health services more often. But early reports showed young people either not signing up – possibly opting for a less-expensive fine – or signing up for Medicaid, which is funded by taxpayers.
The White House released a statement Sunday morning that it had met its self-imposed November 30 deadline to make major repairs to the site, which barely worked for the first month after its October 1 launch. Reporters testing the site, however, still found it crashed.
Even with the repairs, the Obama administration is asking people not to flood the site. It is said to be capable of handling 50,000 people at a time now, or 800,000 per day.
ABC’s numbers used only the current known capacity of the website and not the projected 800,000 per day. The administration originally set December 15 as the deadline to sign up for coverage that would take effect January 1. But because of the technical problems, that deadline was extended to December 23.
Open enrollment lasts until March 31.
After the disastrous initial rollout, federal officials reported that only about 23,000 people signed up for private insurance through HealthCare.gov. Even worse, just 150,000 signed up for private plans through both the federal and state-based exchanges.
But as the states addressed their own website glitches, their numbers seemed to go up. Kentucky, a Republican stronghold that decided to expand Medicaid and build a state-based exchange, has been an early success. Kentucky announced it would add an 80 percent increase in capacity by Dec. 2, and that more than 60,000 people had enrolled in coverage by Nov. 26.
“There is great variation by state,” Stan Dorn, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, told USA Today. “In states that are enthusiastically implementing the law and trying to implement the state exchanges and trying to increase enrollment, there’s going to be greater numbers.”
Still, those numbers don’t seem to be at the level needed to make Obamacare work.
In Colorado, enrollment figures are below the state’s own worst-case projections. The lowest-level mid-November enrollment projection was 11,108; the middle range 20,186 and highest hitting 30,944, the Denver Post reported.
In Maryland, meanwhile, the situation got so bad that the exchange board decided to let insurance companies deal with payments directly.
Its first full month of operation saw only 1,278 people signed up for the state-run option. During the first week in November, 465 people signed up.
The low numbers have some questioning whether Maryland will make its goal of signing up 800,000 uninsured residents during its first year, Fox News reported. The state also delayed its small business marketplace enrollment deadline until April.
“The complexity of the challenge has been clearly more than we anticipated,” Joshua Sharfstein, Maryland’s health secretary, said in a statement. “Our focus is on improving the performance of the system. We are really looking for significant improvement.”
Along with Kentucky, New York and California seem to be the best hope for Obamacare.
New York’s enrollment numbers showed 76,177 had enrolled in a health plan, up from 48,162 on Nov. 12. And 257,414 people had completed their exchange applications, up from 197,011. New York officials expected 1.1 million to sign up by the end of three years.
California has said enrollment applications grew from 334,027 as of Nov. 16 to 385,556 as of Nov. 23.In Washington, more than 150,000 have started applications.
Insurers, meanwhile, also are very concerned about “back-end” issues, according to Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans. Specifically, they want to know if the non-consumer portion of the site that ensures insurers receive subsidy payments will be ready by Jan. 1. There have also been considerable problems with “834” forms, or the process by which the government gives insurers data about whom they’re insuring, she told USA Today. That will have a huge effect on numbers.
“HealthCare.gov and the overall enrollment process continue to improve, but there are significant issues that still need to be addressed,” Ignagni said. “Health plans will continue to support federal and state officials’ efforts to fix the ongoing technical problems and improve the direct enrollment process so that consumers can get the coverage they need.”
“The real challenges remain, and that’s downstream,” said Rick Howard, research director for the technology consultant Gartner. “The real error rate will be in the billing transactions and how accurate the billing information is and how accurate the premium calculation is.”
Republicans plan to highlight Obamcare’s failures in the 2014 midterm elections, and many Democrats in tough elections are distancing themselves from the program they once touted.
In addition to the website failures, the program has come under fire because President Barack Obama promised people they could keep insurance plans and doctors they like. That has proved to not always be the case.
And some people who currently have insurance are being forced into plans that cost significantly more.
The employer mandate, which affects people who get insurance through their jobs, was delayed until 2014. Republicans charged that this was to move the full impact on the public until after the 2014 vote.
The White House denied that, but on November 22 confirmed that the 2015 enrollment period would be delayed by a month to give insurance companies more time to calculate their premiums.
That would move enrollment to November 1, just three days before the midterm elections.
© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
The worst of the online glitches, crashes and delays may be over for the problem-plagued government health care website, the Department of Health and Human Services said Sunday.
But that doesn’t mean HealthCare.gov is ready for a clean bill of health.
Officials acknowledged more work remains on the website that included hundreds of software bugs, inadequate equipment and inefficient management for its national debut two months ago. Federal workers and private contractors have undertaken an intense reworking of the system, but the White House’s chief troubleshooter cautioned some users could still encounter trouble.
“The bottom line — HealthCare.gov on Dec. 1 is night and day from where it was on Oct. 1,” Jeff Zients told reporters.
But on CNN Sunday, reporters trying to test the site found that it still crashed.
“We’ve been trying to get into the site since October 1 on and off again,” said CNN medical reporter Matt Sloane. “I have to say it did work a lot more smoothly this morning. I got through. I picked my state. I put in all of my information and I got through the whole process in eight minutes.
“And then it said my status was in progress. So I went to refresh it and I got the error message.”
Story continues below video.
More than 50,000 people can log on to the website at one time and more than 800,000 people will be able to shop for insurance coverage each day, the government estimated in a report released Sunday. If true, it’s a dramatic improvement from the system’s first weeks, when frustrated buyers watched their computer screen freeze, the website crash and error messages multiply.
The figures — which could not be independently verified — suggest millions of Americans could turn to their laptops to shop for and buy insurance policies by the Dec. 23 deadline.
“There’s not really any way to verify from the outside that the vast majority of people who want to enroll can now do so, but we’ll find out at least anecdotally over the coming days if the system can handle the traffic and provide a smooth experience for people trying to sign up,” said Larry Levitt, a senior adviser at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
But, he added, HealthCare.gov is clearly working better than when it first went online. Its challenge now is to convince users who were frustrated during their first visit to give it another chance.
Politically, a fixed website could also offer a fresh start for President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats after a wave of bad publicity surrounding the president’s chief domestic achievement.
“This website is technology. It’s going to get better. It’s already better today,” said Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat who is a co-chairman of the liberal Congressional Progressive Caucus. “And we’re only going to be working out more kinks as we go forward.”
HealthCare.gov was envisioned as the principal place for people in 36 states to buy insurance under Obama’s health care law. But its first few weeks were an embarrassment for the administration and its allies.
Obama set Saturday as the deadline to fix several significant problems and the administration organized a conference call with reporters Sunday morning to boast that 400 technical problems had been resolved. Officials, however, declined to say how many items remain on the to-do list.
Even with the repairs in place, the site still won’t be able to do everything the administration wants, and companion sites for small businesses and Spanish speakers have been delayed. Questions remain about the stability of the site and the quality of the data it delivers to insurers.
“The security of this site and the private information does not meet even the minimal standards of the private sector, and that concerns me,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, the Michigan Republican who leads the House intelligence panel. “I don’t care if you’re for it or against it, Republican or Democrat, we should not tolerate the sheer level of incompetence securing this site.”
Obama promised a few weeks ago that HealthCare.gov “will work much better on Nov. 30, Dec. 1, than it worked certainly on Oct. 1.” But, in trying to lower expectations, he said he could not guarantee that “100 percent of the people 100 percent of the time going on this website will have a perfectly seamless, smooth experience.”
Obama rightly predicted errors would remain. The department reported the website was up and running 95 percent of the time last week — meaning a 1-in-20 chance remains of encountering a broken website. The government also estimated that pages crashed at a rate less than once every 100 clicks.
The nation’s largest health insurer trade group said significant problems remain and could be a barrier for consumers signing up for coverage effective Jan. 1.
“HealthCare.gov and the overall enrollment process continue to improve, but there are significant issues that still need to be addressed,” said Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans.
Republicans, betting frustration about the health care law is their best bet to make gains in 2014’s congressional and gubernatorial elections, continued their criticism of the system.
“I don’t know how you fix it, I’ll be honest,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. “I don’t know how you fix a program that was put together in this manner with only one side of the aisle, and taking the shortcuts we’re taking to put it in place.”
Democrats, sensing their potential vulnerability, sought to blame Republicans for not offering ideas on how to improve the website.
“Yes, we have to fix it. We should be working together to fix it,” said Van Hollen, a former chairman of the committee tasked to elect more Democrats to the U.S. House.
The first big test of the repaired website probably won’t come for a few more weeks, when an enrollment surge is expected as consumers rush to meet a Dec. 23 deadline so their coverage can kick in on the first of the year.
Avoiding a break in coverage is particularly important for millions of people whose current individual policies were canceled because they don’t meet the standards of the health care law, as well as for a group of about 100,000 in an expiring federal program for high-risk patients.
Ellison spoke to ABC’s “This Week.” Rogers and Van Hollen were interviewed on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Corker joined CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.
By Newsmax Wires