HHS to job-seekers: Got ObamaCare?
December 17, 2014
The job search site Monster.com has begun sharing ObamaCare success stories as part of a new partnership with the federal government to help spur healthcare sign-ups. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the partnership Wednesday, alongside several other tech platforms, to reach wider audiences during its second year of open enrollment. One post features a 28-year-old Alaskan woman named Susan Shain, who has bounced between jobs and is now a travel blogger. “To me, health insurance is like freedom,” she writes, adding. “It’s a pretty cool feeling when they ask you ‘Do you have insurance?’ and you get to say yes.”
Vermont bails on single-payer health care
December 17, 2014
Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin on Wednesday dropped his plan to enact a single-payer health care system in his state — a plan that had won praise from liberals but never really got much past the framework stage. “This is not the right time” for enacting single payer, Shumlin said in a statement, citing the big tax increases that would be required to pay for it. Shumlin faced deep skepticism that lawmakers could agree on a way to pay for his ambitious goal and that the feds would agree to everything he needed to create the first state-based single-payer system in 2017. And that was all before Shumlin, a Democrat, almost lost reelection last month in one of the country’s most liberal states. And it was before MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, the now notorious Obamacare consultant who also advised Vermont until his $400,000 contract was killed amid the controversy, became political poison.
HealthCare.gov enrollment hits nearly 2.5 million
December 16, 2014
Demand for Obamacare insurance plans strongly accelerated in the days leading up to a key enrollment deadline, with the HealthCare.gov federal exchange signing up more than 1 million customers in one week and indications that many more enrollees are on the way, officials announced Tuesday. By last Friday, total sign-ups on HealthCare.gov for the ongoing open enrollment season had topped 2.466 million customers since Nov. 15, roughly split between new customers and returning ones, officials said. That tally did not include sign-ups from "an extremely busy weekend" into Monday, the day that HealthCare.gov had set as a deadline for selecting health plans that take effect Jan. 1, according to Andy Slavitt, principal deputy administrator for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Vivek Murthy, the New Surgeon General, Isn’t Afraid to Take a Stand
The New York Times
December 16, 2014
Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, a Boston internist who at the age of 37 has become one of the youngest surgeons general of the United States, is a self-described dreamer and grass-roots organizer. He has professed a deep fondness for mangoes, and his interests include studying ways to increase global happiness. But his lighthearted style should not be taken as a lack of seriousness. In fact, his stance on a divisive issue — he has been an outspoken supporter of gun control laws — put him in a professional limbo that lasted months. Dr. Murthy’s appointment was confirmed Monday night, more than a year after he was nominated — a delay that said as much about the American political cycle as it did of his views. His remarks on guns, including a Twitter posting in 2012 that “guns are a health care issue,” enraged the National Rifle Association and frightened politically vulnerable Democrats ahead of the midterm election.
Mass. doctor Vivek Murthy OK’d as surgeon general
The Boston Globe
December 15, 2014
Dr. Vivek Murthy, the Harvard professor whose nomination for surgeon general was held up because of his support for gun control and his political activity in President Obama’s campaign, was confirmed Monday by the Senate, more than a year after he was nominated. As surgeon general, Murthy will be the nation’s chief public health advocate. Prior surgeons general have used the position to bring attention to health threats, particularly smoking and AIDS. Murthy, 37, has said he will focus on preventing chronic diseases, efforts to curb smoking, and programs to improve diets and combat obesity. Surgeons general do not serve on the president’s Cabinet but they do advise the White House and use their platform to champion public health causes. “We need a voice that we can trust who can explain these diseases to the American people, and Dr. Murthy is absolutely the man with the medical expertise, the academic background, and the policy experience to do that,” said Senator Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat.
Obama signs $1.1 trillion spending bill into law
December 16, 2014
President Obama signed a $1.1 trillion spending bill into law Tuesday night, keeping most of the federal government open through next September but the Department of Homeland Security only through February. The short-term spending provision for Homeland Security was a protest by congressional Republicans, angered by President Obama's executive action last month delaying deportation for millions of undocumented immigrants. The short leash means that Congress will have to revisit the issue soon after a new Republican-controlled House and Senate take office in January. The bill was opposed by both liberals and conservatives in Congress. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., complained that it didn't do enough to halt immigration actions he considers to be unconstitutional. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., protested a provision loosening regulations on federally insured banks trading in complicated financial derivatives. The spending bill did increase enforcement funding for the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, however.
Blue Cross extends coverage to married gay couples
December 15, 2014
Alabama's largest insurer now offers spousal coverage to legally married gay couples in order to comply with a federal rule that insurance companies must treat married couples the same regardless of sexual orientation. A spokeswoman for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama said the company began offering same-sex spousal coverage for underwritten plans in early 2014, "in response to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' regulations that prohibit health insurers from discriminating in health plan coverage on the basis of sexual orientation." The state of Alabama does not currently recognize same-sex marriages and has a ban on gay marriage written into the Alabama Constitution. However, the Department of Health and Human Services issued guidelines in March reiterating that same-sex couples, who were legally married in any of the states that currently authorize gay marriage, are entitled to the same coverage as heterosexual couples.
Spending bill may save jobs in Del.
December 12, 2014
Congress may make a technical change to the Affordable Care Act that Delaware lawmakers began pushing after global health insurer Cigna threatened to ship hundreds of Wilmington jobs overseas. Under the proposed change, included in a federal spending bill that passed the House Thursday, “expatriate” health insurance plans that cover people working outside their home country – like the plans offered by Cigna – would be mostly exempt from the 2010 law. The plans would still have to comply with minimum coverage standards and certain reporting requirements. Delaware lawmakers say the legislation is designed to “level the playing field,” primarily through tax relief, between American insurers offering such plans and foreign competitors not subject to the Affordable Care Act. Cigna spokesman Jon Sandberg said passage of the legislation “will save the jobs in Cigna’s Delaware office. It is Cigna’s goal to continue to create more jobs in the United States as we grow our expatriate business around the world.”
Gruber subpoenaed over ObamaCare contracts
December 12, 2014
ObamaCare consultant Jonathan Gruber has been subpoenaed for documents related to his work on the healthcare law after refusing to give details about his compensation to House lawmakers. House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) issued the order late Thursday, asking for a full account of Gruber's contracts with federal and state health insurance exchanges. The decision follows a tense hearing earlier in the week in which Gruber, infamous for his comment that the "stupidity of the American voter" helped ObamaCare to pass, repeatedly declined to say how much he was paid as a consultant on the law. Issa vowed to follow through with a subpoena and to possibly bring Gruber back to testify. The California Republican will be replaced as chairman in January by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). "As one of the architects of ObamaCare, Jonathan Gruber is in a unique position to shed light on the 'lack of transparency' surrounding the passage of the President's health care law, however he has so far been unwilling to fully comply with the Oversight Committee's repeated requests," Issa said in a statement Friday.
Obamacare paradox: Medicaid is expanding, but doctors are facing a huge pay cut
The Washington Post (Blog)
December 10, 2014
Obamacare's Medicaid expansion is facing a new threat from an unlikely source: the law itself. An additional 9.1 million Americans have been added to the Medicaid rolls in the year since the program expanded under Obamacare. But a scheduled cut in Medicaid payments — built into the law — could steer doctors away from taking new patients covered the program. That's because a temporary payment bump to Medicaid primary care doctors, included in the Affordable Care Act, is likely to expire at the end of the year. That will mean an average payment cut of 42.8 percent to Medicaid primary care doctors next year, according to a new Urban Institute analysis.
Jonathan Gruber: I'm not 'the architect' of Obamacare
December 9, 2014
Beleaguered Obamacare adviser Jonathan Gruber declared he was not “the architect” of the health law as House Republicans on Tuesday hit hard at a pair of scandals that have overshadowed an otherwise successful launch of the second sign-up season. “I was not the ‘architect’ of President [Barack] Obama’s health care plan,” the Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist told the House Oversight committee. He repeatedly apologized and dismissed as “mean,” “glib” and “arrogant” a series of controversial remarks about the passage of Obamacare and the “stupidity” of the American voter. “I am not a political adviser nor a politician,” said Gruber, who was a key economic adviser during the drafting of the law. And in his most pointed mea culpa, he allowed: “It was inexcusable that I tried to appear smarter by insulting others.”
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