7:45am

Mon October 21, 2013
It's All Politics

Monday Morning Political Mix

Originally published on Mon October 21, 2013 10:55 am

Good morning.

Happy Tech-Surge-To-Fix-Healthcare.gov Day in your nation's capital.

In the wake of a disastrous rollout of his legacy legislation, President Obama will speak in the White House Rose Garden later this morning to declare the problems unacceptable.

And to outline how the White House has dispatched an A-Team to fix glitches that have frustrated many of the 19 million Americans that have gone online to research or sign up for insurance coverage through Healthcare.gov.

Which, of course, begs the question, what team did the White House have working on the system from the start?

The president's effort to reassure Americans, and his party, that he can get Obamacare back on track will come after a weekend full court press to outline steps already being taken.

That effort included a statement on the Health and Human Services website that outlined fixes underway - there's a new "apply by phone" option on the site, for example - and used the term "tech surge," now, already, part of the Beltway vernacular.

In a post on its blog, the HHS insists that it is "Listening, and Improving Every Day:"

"We know using HealthCare.gov has been frustrating for many Americans. The initial consumer experience of HealthCare.gov has not lived up to the expectations of the American people. We are committed to doing better."

Here's what they say they've done:

  • You can now preview plans and prices available in your area without filling out the online application.
  • You can find out, with an improved calculator, whether your income and household size may qualify you for lower costs on your monthly premiums and out-of-pocket costs.
  • You can apply for coverage 4 ways: By phone, online, by mail with a paper application, or with the help of an in-person assistant.
  • We've been adding educational online content where you tell us you need more information: About estimating your income, accounting for people in your household, eligibility rules, and more."

If you like, check out our NPR insurance rate calculator, and links to lots more information on the exchanges and how they work.

Reuters reports that the president "will directly address the technical problems with HealthCare.gov - troubles that he and his team find unacceptable - and discuss the actions he has pushed for to make it easier for consumers to comparison shop and enroll for insurance while work continues around the clock to improve the website."

Over at CNN, the cable network lets its online readers weigh in on what they say are their top complaints about HealthCare.gov, where citizens seeking insurance go if their state has decided not to create its own health care insurance exchange to help residents find coverage.

Of the nearly half million applications reported by the White House, about half have been from the 36 states where the federal government is taking the lead in running the markets. The rest are from the 14 states and Washington, D.C., that have opted to run their own insurance exchange markets.

Top complaints? Can't log in, personal information not correct, costs too high, employers changing existing coverage.

MedicalDaily.com notes that although official Obamacare sign-up numbers won't be released until mid-November, the administration has said that more than 476,000 Americans have applied.

We'll turn to the Associated Press now to put the issue in context, including the administration's failure to "fully explain what went wrong with the online system consumers were supposed to use to sign up for coverage."

Here's more: "Initially, administration officials blamed a high volume of interest for the frozen screens that many people encountered. Since then, the administration has also acknowledged unspecified problems with software and some elements of the system's design."

That being said, there is little doubt that there is great national interest in the insurance exchanges. The AP reports: "...about 19 million people had visited HealthCare.gov as of Friday night."

While criticism rains down in Washington, the politics of the health care legislation is playing out in states like Louisiana, where GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal is being urged by the New Orleans Time-Picayune to "put people over politics" and accept federal money for Medicaid services

The editorial says: "Gov. Jindal's refusal to accept almost $16 billion in extra Medicaid money was destined to hurt thousands of low-income Louisiana residents who lack health insurance. That has been clear for months, as study after study - including the state's own — showed that tens of thousands of people would benefit if Louisiana accepted the Medicaid expansion that is part of President Obama's health care act."

The newspaper points to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study that found more than 5 million poor American adults will remain uninsured in states, like Louisiana, where Republican governors have refused federal money made available through Obamacare to expand Medicaid.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld the health care legislation, also asserted that states cannot be compelled to accept money for expanding Medicaid coverage of their poor.

Kaiser found "over five million poor uninsured adults have incomes above Medicaid eligibility levels but below poverty and may fall into a "coverage gap" of earning too much to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to qualify for Marketplace premium tax credits."

Writes the Times Picayune of Jindal, who has been looking at a White House run: "What a shame if the governor's ambitions were to trump his own people's needs."

Finally, Dan Diamond, writing at Forbes.com, says he and his research colleagues at the Advisory Board Company have been compiling state-level sign-up data, and here are their latest takeaways:

The 476,000 applications filed disproportionately come from a handful of states; California, Kentucky, New York and Washington may well be responsible for one-third of the applications on their own.

  • The number of actual enrollees remains just a fraction of the applicants; while at least 192,042 applications had been filed across the 14 states and Washington D.C., only 54,575 people had picked a plan, pointing to the lag time in processing.
  • A significant number of people applying—and signing up for coverage—are ending up in the Medicaid program, not private insurance.
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