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WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans quietly secured a recent change in President Barack Obama's health law to expand coverage choices.

It's a one-of-a-kind departure from the GOP's dozens of attempts to repeal or dismember the law.

Democrats describe the change as a straightforward improvement of the type they're eager to make.

Republicans are reluctant to agree, given the strong sentiment among the rank and file that the only fix the law deserves is a burial.

The provision eliminated a cap on deductibles for small group policies offered inside the new health exchanges as well as outside. That cap was set at $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for families.

Republicans say they sought the change so small businesses could offer high-deductible plans that could be bought by individuals who also have health savings accounts.

Published in National News
   The deadline to sign up for insurance in states like Missouri and Illinois, where the federal government running the healthcare exchange, is 11:59 p.m. Monday.  And as the number of people rushing to the Healthcare.gov website accelerates, federal officials are warning that they could again face long wait times on the site.  
   The site is reportedly working well now after its disastrous start last October.  Today the problem is expected to be the sheer volume of users.  
   Those without insurance can be fined either one-percent of their income or $95, whichever is greater, when they file 2014 federal taxes.  Some local residents tell Fox 2 News that the fine isn't enough to persuade them to sign up.
   To sign up before the deadline, visit HealthCare.gov or you can call 1-800-318-2596 to sign up by phone.
   Federal officials have said the deadline will be pushed back for anyone who is still working on an application at midnight.  
Published in Local News

Monday is the deadline to sign up for private health insurance in the new online markets created by President Barack Obama's health care law. So far, about 4 out of every 5 people enrolling have qualified for tax credits to reduce the cost of their premiums.

Here's what you need to know:

— The deadline is Mar. 31 at midnight EDT for the states where the federal government is running the sign-up website; states running their own exchanges set their own deadlines.

— You can sign up online by going to HealthCare.gov or your state insurance exchange. If you don't know what your state marketplace is called, HealthCare.gov will direct you.

—You can call 1-800-318-2596 to sign up by phone or get help from an enrollment specialist.

—Check online for sign-up centers that may be open locally, offering in-person assistance.

—If you started an application by Monday but didn't finish, perhaps because of errors, missing information or website glitches, you can take advantage of a grace period. The government says it will accept paper applications until April 7 and take as much time as necessary to handle unfinished cases on HealthCare.gov.

—Be prepared for the possibility of long wait times.

Published in National News
   JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - In case there was any doubt, several Republican state senators are making it clear that there will be no expansion of Medicaid eligibility this year in Missouri.
   Five GOP senators took to the Senate floor Monday as the Legislature returned from spring break to say they will block any attempt to expand Medicaid eligibility during the session that ends in mid-May.
   Their strong pronouncement came a day before a House committee is to hear testimony on a proposal that would expand Medicaid coverage to thousands of lower-income adults, partly by subsidizing their enrollment in private health insurance policies. The House legislation would link the Medicaid expansion to a broader overhaul of the program.
   States that expand Medicaid eligibility can get extra federal money under President Barack Obama's health law.
 
Published in Local News
Wednesday, 19 March 2014 02:44

Health law concerns for cancer centers

   WASHINGTON (AP) - Some of the nation's best cancer hospitals have been left out by insurers selling coverage under President Barack Obama's health care law.
   For example, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance was excluded by five out of eight insurers in the state's insurance exchange. MD Anderson is in less than half the exchange plans in the Houston metro area. Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis is in some plans offered by one of two insurers on the Missouri exchange.
   Only four of 19 nationally recognized cancer centers that responded to an Associated Press survey said patients have access through all the insurers in their state's exchange.
   Before the new health care law, a cancer diagnosis could make you uninsurable.
   Now, you can get coverage, but the obstacles may be more subtle.
   
 
Published in Health & Fitness
A bill filed in the Missouri Senate could well strike another blow against the federal Affordable Care Act. The bill, sponsored by Ladue Republican John Lamping, would suspend insurance companies’ state licenses if they accepted subsidies offered by the federal government to help pay health insurance premiums for low- and middle-income Missourians.  Lamping tells the St. Louis Post Dispatch that the subsidies are illegal and eventually will be thrown out by a federal court. By rejecting them, he says, Missouri could remove the trigger in the federal law that, beginning in 2015, will assess penalties against large employers that don’t provide health insurance.  Critics of Lamping’s plan say that the Affordable Care Act is helping people obtain health insurance and that it’s time to stop fighting it. 
It wouldn’t be the first time Missouri had tried to halt Obamacare.
In 2010, about 71 percent of Missourians voted to oppose the mandate to purchase insurance and in 2012, nearly 62 percent voted to prevent the governor from setting up a state-based insurance exchange.
As a result, Missouri is one of 34 states where the federal government is operating the exchange, an online marketplace that allows consumers to compare health plans and sign up for coverage.
That website, HealthCare.gov, gained notoriety because of a problem-plagued rollout last fall. As of Nov. 30, only 4,124 Missourians had selected a marketplace plan.
Published in Local News
   HONOLULU (AP) — The Obama administration says its rehabilitated health insurance website has seen a December surge in customer sign-ups, pushing enrollment past the 1 million mark.
   Independent experts say that should put total enrollment in the new private insurance plans offered on both federal and state-run markets at about 2 million people through the end of the year.
   That would be about two-thirds of the administration's original goal of signing up 3.3 million by Dec. 31, and would represent a significant improvement given the technical problems that crippled the federal market during much of the fall. The overall goal remains to enroll 7 million people by March 31.
 
Published in National News
Wednesday, 18 December 2013 15:57

Thousands told to start over on health insurance

 CHICAGO (AP) - Illinois officials are emailing and calling thousands of people, advising them to start over on their health insurance applications if they believe the federal government mistakenly referred them to Medicaid.
 
Federal officials received more than 30,000 applications from Illinoisans who may be eligible for Medicaid, the government health program for the poor.
 
But the federal HealthCare.gov website has been plagued by glitches, now mostly fixed. Illinois officials say anyone who believes they were referred to Medicaid by mistake should start again at the Get Covered Illinois online screening tool.
 
Officials advise if the screener sends them to HealthCare.gov, they should create a new account with a different email address and submit a new application. If the screener refers them to the state's Medicaid site, they can submit an application there.
Published in Local News

   CHICAGO (AP) - The Illinois Department of Insurance and the state's major health insurer say they are reviewing changes to the health law announced Thursday by President Barack Obama that address policy cancellations.

   Obama said insurers can continue to sell policies canceled under the Affordable Care Act for at least one more year to existing customers. But insurers aren't required to continue the canceled plans.

   Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois officials say the company is "determining next steps" and will reach out to consumers who may have new options as a result of Obama's announcement.

   A spokesman says Illinois Insurance Director Andrew Boron has been in contact with federal authorities and is evaluating options, keeping in mind what's best for the state's consumers.

   At least 4 million Americans have received cancellation notices.

 
Published in Local News
Thursday, 14 November 2013 03:44

Obamacare enrollment low; Democrats unhappy

   WASHINGTON (AP) — Add simmering Democratic discontent to the problems plaguing "Obamacare," now that first-month enrollment figures are out.

   The White House is rushing to come up with an unspecified fix as early as this week to counter the millions of health coverage cancellations going to consumers, at the same time it promises improvements in a federal website so balky that enrollments totaled fewer than 27,000 in 36 states combined.

   The White House also is taking a more open approach to changes in the law itself. "We welcome sincere efforts," presidential press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday at the White House as Democratic impatience grew over a program likely to be at the center of next year's midterm elections for control of Congress.

   After weeks of highly publicized technical woes, the administration had said in advance the enrollment numbers would fall far short of initial expectations.

   They did, easily.

   A paltry 26,794 people enrolled for health insurance during the first, flawed month of operations for the federal "Obamacare" website.

   Adding in enrollment of more than 79,000 in the 14 states with their own websites, the nationwide number of 106,000 October sign-ups was barely one-fifth of what officials had projected — and a small fraction of the millions who have received private coverage cancellations as a result of the federal law.

   The administration said an additional 1 million people have been found eligible to buy coverage in the markets, with about one-third qualifying for tax credits to reduce their premiums. Another 396,000 have been found eligible for Medicaid, which covers low-income people.

   Republicans were unmoved.

   "Even with the administration's Enron-like accounting, fewer people have signed up for Obamacare nationwide than the 280,000 who've already lost their plan in Kentucky as a result of Obamacare mandates," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said.

   Administration officials and senior congressional Democrats expressed confidence in the program's future. "We expect enrollment will grow substantially throughout the next five months," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who is in overall charge.

   "Even with the issues we've had, the marketplace is working and people are enrolling," she added.

   Despite the expressions, the White House raced to reassure anxious Democrats who are worried about the controversial program, which they voted into existence three years ago over Republican opposition as strong now as it was then.

   Senate Democrats arranged a closed-door meeting for midday Thursday in the Capitol with White House officials, who held a similar session Wednesday with the House rank and file.

   So far, five Senate Democrats are on record in support of legislation by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., to make sure everyone can keep their present coverage if they want to. The bill would require insurance companies to continue offering existing policies, even if they fall short of minimum coverage requirements in the law.

   The measure has little apparent chance at passage, given that it imposes a new mandate on the insurance industry that Republicans will be reluctant to accept.

   At the same time, a vote would at least permit Democrats to say they have voted to repair some of the problems associated with the Affordable Care Act, as many appear eager to do.

   In a statement, Landrieu said Sens. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Pryor of Arkansas were now supporting the legislation, as is Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. All but Feinstein are on the ballot next year.

   Across the Capitol, majority Republicans in the House set a vote for Friday on legislation to permit insurance companies to continue selling existing policies that have been ordered scrapped because they fall short of coverage standards in the law.

   While House passage of the measure is assured, each Democrat will be forced to cast a vote on the future of a program that Republicans have vowed to place at the center of next year's campaign.

   The promise of keeping coverage was Obama's oft-stated pledge when the legislation was under consideration, a calling card since shredded by the millions of cancellations mailed out by insurers.

   Obama apologized last week for the broken promise, but aides said at the time the White House was only considering administration changes, rather than new legislation.

Published in National News
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