Consumers Won't Face Penalty for Enrolling in Health Plans on March 31
On Wednesday, the Obama administration confirmed that consumers will be able to enroll in health plans through March 31, the last day of the current open enrollment period. Though consumers would need to enroll by Feb. 15 in order to begin receiving coverage by April 1, those who have enountered problems enrolling online or who wait until the end of the open enrollment period will not be penalized. This means, however, that some exchange enrollees may not begin receiving health coverage until May 1, 2014 or later, depending upon the volume of applications submitted and pending the website's technical glitches. Despite delaying the tax penalty for individuals (for 2014 that's $95 or 1 percent of annual income, whichever is greater), the administration claims that the decision was not a response to the technical issues plaguing the federal exchange website, healthcare.gov, according to Kaiser Health News.
Democrats Urge Administration to Delay Obamacare Deadlines in Open Letter to President Barack
Obama, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Wednesday called on the administration to change the deadline by which individuals must purchase health insurance and waive the fine for those who are unable to secure coverage because of the Affordable Care Act's problem-filled rollout, U.S. News reported. "Allowing extra time for consumers is critically important so they have the opportunity to become familiar with the website, survey their options and enroll," she wrote. "As website glitches persist, we are losing valuable time to educate and enroll people in insurance plans." Several other Democrats have backed Shaheen, who says she is still a strong supporter of the health care law.
President Obama Speaks About Troubled Healthcare Rollout
On Monday in the Rose Garden, President Obama said that there were "no excuses" for the technical and software issues plaguing healthcare.gov, the federal online health insurance exchange. But besides expressing his frustrations, Mr. Obama offered little else to ensure that the glitches would be fixed any time soon. Though administration officials originally blamed heavy traffic for the glitches, developers told The Associated Press that the site-wide problems seemed to be surfacing as early as a year ago. A Spanish-version of the online exchange was promised this week, but is still unavailable, and an upgrade to healthcare.gov has been pushed back indefinitely.
Previous U.S. Deputy Budget Director Appointed to Help Fix Federal Online Exchange
President Obama has decided to bring in "his Mr. Fix it," as The Associated Press reports, to help solve the major technical issues facing the federal health exchange. Jeffrey Zients, Obama's previous Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget, has been called upon in the past to resolve similar crises. On Tuesday, the Obama administration announced that Zients will lead the way in fixing the healthcare.gov site. "His skill is going to be how to identify challenges, prioritize what solutions need to be done next, assessing what talent is already available and then how to motivate them to do that job as quickly and as ably as possible," says Kenneth Baer, a senior advisor in the budget office. In January, Zients will become the director of the National Economic Council, a role that will make him the president's chief economic adviser.
Ohio to Expand Medicaid
On Monday, Ohio governor John R. Kasich, succeeded in expanding Medicaid to low-income residents in Ohio, which will make approximately 275,000 eligible for the program, reports The New York Times. The expanded program allows Ohioans making up to 138 percent of the poverty level ($15,860 for an individual) to qualify for the program. With a 5-2 vote, the $2.5 billion expansion made possible under the Affordable Care Act, makes Ohio the 25th state in addition to the District of Columbia to expand the federally-run program for the poor.
U.S. Federal Court to Hear Lawsuit Against Subsidies
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman ruled that a lawsuit against subsidies for people who buy health insurance on the exchange may proceed to court, reports The Wall Street Journal. The case involves four individuals who do not want to purchase the type of health insurance mandated by the Affordable Care Act. In turn, the Obama administration will now have to defend its signature health law in a federal court in the capital. Judge Friedman stated that a decision would be reached before February, when most must have enrolled in health plans or face the 2014 penalty. As the case awaits a trial date and a decision, subsidies will remain available to people who qualify on the exchanges.
Thousands Receive Insurance Cancellation Notices due to Health Law Reform
Under the Affordable Care Act, all health plans, whether sold on or off the exchanges, must meet certain federal requirements. Rather than revamp their offerings in order to comply with the law, many insurers are simply terminating plans which do not meet the requirements and forcing consumers to enroll in different ones. Under the health law, insurers also cannot deny or charge higher premiums for customers with pre-existing medical conditions, and annual out-of-pocket expenses are capped at $6,350 for individuals and $12,700 for families. In Florida, Florida Blue has canceled over 300,000 policies, roughly 80 percent of its individual market in the state. In California, Kaiser Permanente has cancelled 160,000 policies, roughly 50 percent of its individual market in the state. Some letters, like the ones sent by Blue Shield of California, have given their members until Dec. 31 to make a decision, at which point, the insurer will enroll them in a "recommended plan", reports Kaiser Health News.