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Affordable Care Act

The first phase of the Affordable Care Act rollout begins October 1 with the launch of the Health Insurance Marketplace.

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A last-minute enrollment surge enabled the White House to meet its original sign-up target for the Affordable Care Act, a surprising victory for the Obama administration after a rocky rollout of the program that has become a political hot potato for Democrats and a rallying cry for Republicans.

President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that 7.1 million people had signed up on federal or state exchanges for coverage under the health care law now often known as Obamacare.

The enrollment period began anemically in October with a faltering federal website and ended with a crush of people trying to beat Monday’s deadline to get coverage. Not everyone who has selected a health plan has paid for it yet, officials said.

Nevertheless, Obama claimed victory at a White House ceremony, saying the program approved by Congress in 2010 — with no Republican support and vilified relentlessly by the GOP as government overreach — has been a force for good.

He said it wasn’t perfect, acknowledging the early difficulties in selecting a policy on HealthCare.gov, and he predicted more hurdles in carrying it out.

But the overall goal of starting to narrow the gap between those with health coverage and those without it has begun, and millions of Americans are embracing it, Obama said.

“That’s what the (law) is all about, making sure all of us and all our fellow citizens can count on the security of health care when we get sick,” he said, noting that the “law is doing what it’s supposed to do. It’s working.”

The numbers

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office originally projected the 7 million enrollment target for the October through March period, which was adopted by the administration.

Expectations plummeted throughout the fall and into this year after the early website problems, which Obama called “several lost weeks.”

But signs of a pickup began in late January and continued into February and early March despite a fierce campaign by Republicans to demonize the law as unworkable.

Administration officials said an absolute crush of people pushed the program — Obama’s chief domestic accomplishment — over the finish line at the 11th hour. More than 4.8 million visits were made to HealthCare.gov on Monday alone.

Officials stressed that the 7.1 million figure represents only those who signed up for coverage. Those who came in late and encountered technical problems have until mid-April to complete the process. Private insurers are providing the coverage.

Health of Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told an Oklahoma TV station on Monday that insurers were reporting that 80% to 90% had paid so far.

The law also includes expanded Medicaid insurance for the poor in many states, but those participants are not part of the sign-up total.

The politics

Republicans, especially in the House, have waged a nonstop campaign to repeal or roll back the Affordable Care Act, saying it was rammed through Congress without their input and now is another illustration of big government at its worst.

They have made it a rallying cry of their fall campaign to expand their majority in the House and reclaim the Senate. It has energized the base, and the issue informs the commentary of potential GOP candidates for president as well.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said in a statement that the law “continues to harm the American people” despite Obama’s “victory lap.” He said costs are not going down, as Obama contends, and people are losing insurance plans they preferred and small businesses are chafing under the law’s requirements.

“That’s why we must replace this fundamentally flawed law with patient-centered solutions that will actually lower health care costs and help create jobs,” Steel said.

Democrats on the stump, especially those who voted for it and now find themselves in tight races, have recalibrated their position with Obama’s presidency not much help to them with voters overall in their states.

But Obama said at the White House that the law is good for the country, regardless of politics, and that the numbers show Americans want it and that it’s “here to stay.”

“I don’t get it. Why are folks working so hard for people not to have health insurance? Why are they so mad about the idea of people having health insurance?” he asked.

What people think

Americans are divided over how they view the law. Last month, 46% said they viewed it unfavorably, down 4 points since January, and 38% said they viewed it favorably, up 4 points over the same time period, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

Those who held unfavorable views cited concerns about costs (23%), opposition to the individual mandate (17%), and concerns about government intrusion (10%).

Those with favorable views cited expanded access to health care and health insurance (61%), followed by the perception that it will control health care costs and make it more affordable (10%) and that it will be good for the country (7%).

The telephone survey of 1,504 adults was conducted March 11 to 17 and had a sampling error of plus or minus 3 points.

Professor Uwe Reinhardt, a health economist at Princeton University, said he was not surprised at the last-minute rush to sign up.

“I think the prayer of the conservatives that this would collapse just didn’t get answered,” he told CNN. “It fills a need.”

He predicted conservatives would chip away at whatever the number proves to be.

“It’s all just, some people hate Obama and anything he does,” he said.

The details

The administration did not release details about the numbers, including the number of younger Americans who signed up. That metric is crucial for making the program work economically because premiums from younger, healthier participants are needed to make the program work for older people who use the health care system more.

An official briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity said insurance companies were confident the percentage of young people was sufficient for the insurance marketplaces to function properly.

Obamacare’s primary goal is to reduce the ranks of the 45 million uninsured.

Until now, many Americans with pre-existing conditions had to pay sky-high prices for insurance, if they could get any at all. Often, insurers branded them “uninsurable.”

The surge

The administration pulled out all the stops in the final weeks of the enrollment period — an effort one official equated to a “get out the vote” campaign before an election.

Administration officials took to the radio airwaves by participating in 400 interviews, enlisted celebrities and athletes to promote the law, and engaged people on social media. And Obama’s interview on the online comedycast “Between Two Ferns” resulted in the so-called Zach Galifianakis effect, resulting in 33 million views of his mock interview with the comedian.

The interview with Galifianakis, along with a promotional push from Miami Heat forward LeBron James, were cited by administration officials as two of the most effective components in the push to enroll young Americans on the health care exchanges. The overall effort, the White House said, surpassed their expectations in terms of last-minute sign-ups.
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The clock is ticking and the uninsured across the U.S have only hours now to sign up and get on the list for private health insurance before the government can add you to a different list.

11 p.m. is the magic hour when the uninsured put themselves on the list for penalties. If they haven’t signed up for health insurance now mandated by the federal government, they face fines of 1% or $95, whichever is greater.

Chicago residents, like Frankie Beljung, are not waiting any longer.

“I just tried doing it on line but everything was backed up,” Beljung who showed up at Ann Sathers restaurant on Chicago’s North Side to enroll in person.

All over the country similar gatherings are underway for the last time with people are signing up, taking numbers and sitting down with people called “navigators” to get them locked in during open enrollment.

While the website itself failed registrants again today, crashing for hours this morning, the people behind healthcare.gov claim no one who tried to sign up will be without health care. A grace period already in effect.

Time is running out to sign up. So far 114,000 are registered in Illinois and around 6 million across the U.S.

But the stream of people registering is good and steady, mostly those who are totally uninsured and have been for some time– now leaving, they say, with a sense of relief.

The next enrollment period opens in November.

FOR MORE INFO, GO TO: www.healthcare.gov

Today is the last day to sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

Open enrollment ends at 11 p.m.

People who do not have health insurance and miss that deadline will face fines when it’s time to file federal income tax returns.

According to the White House, more than six million people have enrolled so far.

That number fulfills a goal set by the Congressional Budget office, but still falls about a million short of the original goal of seven million.

Republicans argue those numbers don’t add up.

They say the figures only reflect people who have picked plans, not those who have actually paid premiums.

The next enrollment period opens in November.

The website was experiencing issues earlier this morning due to “maintenance”, according to a spokesperson for healthcare.gov. The website is now back up and running.

FOR MORE INFO, GO TO: www.healthcare.gov

Americans who do not have health coverage are being reminded to sign-up for what is commonly known as “Obamacare” or The Affordable Care Act before the Monday night deadline, or face a tax penalty.

In Illinois, the “Get Covered Illinois” marketplace is partnering with several community groups by offering special late-night enrollment hours for those seeking to enroll by 11:00 p.m. Monday, March 31. People called “navigators” will be at several Chicago-area locations to help those who need insurance complete the enrollment process.

Those locations include University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System at 1740 W. Taylor, Mercy Hospital and Medical Center at 2525 S. Michigan, Ann Sather Restaurant at 909 W. Belmont, Norwegian American Hospital at 1044 N. Francisco, and Ingalls Hospital in south suburban Harvey.

No appointments are necessary, but consumers should bring Social Security number, proof of state residency, housing lease or utility bill, 2012 tax return and current health insurance information if applicable.

Anyone who does not have insurance faces a fine of either one-percent of income or 95-dollars, whichever is greater, when it comes time to file federal taxes for 2014.

Depending on household income, financial help can also be made available.

The deadline to sign up for a health care plan under the Affordable Health Care Act has been extended by a day for those who want coverage by Jan. 1.

The new deadline is now Tuesday, Dec. 24.

Premiums for people who sign up will be due by Jan. 10.

The deadline to sign up for so-called Obamacare before tax penalties kick in is March 31.

Some senators, including Mark Kirk (R-Illinois), are calling for the deadlines to be pushed back to 2015.

Deadlines vary for people applying for health through state-run insurance exchanges.

“Get Covered Illinois” announced Monday that its help desk will be available from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. for the next four days.

There’s been a lot of confusion surrounding the deadlines for applying for Obamacare — and with good reason. Federal and state governments, as well as insurers, keep changing the dates, mainly to accommodate those blocked from completing enrollment due to technical problems.

More than a million people have signed up for private insurance in the federal and state exchanges, President Obama said Friday. And exchanges are reporting heavy interest in the days leading up to Monday.

Each consumer faces two deadlines: One by which to choose a plan and another for making a payment.

Federal exchange: As of now, if you live in one of the 36 states serviced by the federal enrollment website, healthcare.gov, your best bet for getting hassle-free coverage in 2014 is to select a policy by end of the day on Monday and pay your first month’s premium by December 31.

But procrastinators and those running into technical roadblocks might get a short reprieve.

Federal officials said recently that individuals who try to sign up, but encounter a problem with the website, can qualify for a special enrollment period and gain coverage as soon as possible. The government is also “encouraging” insurers to allow people who miss Monday’s deadline to still be eligible for coverage starting January 1, even if they sign up sometime in January.

When it comes to paying for a plan selected on healthcare.gov, the insurance industry trade group said last week that folks who pay by January 10 can have coverage retroactive to the start of the year. But the group stressed that coverage doesn’t begin until the first payment is made. So people who wait until the 10th to pay might have to shell out for their initial medical care up front and file for reimbursement from their provider.

State exchanges: If you are applying in one of the 14 states running its own exchange, you may have a different set of deadlines.

Minnesota became the latest state to change its dates. Residents there have until December 31 to pick a plan and have coverage start the next day, exchange officials said Friday. They have until January 10 to pay.

Rhode Islanders also have until December 31 to pick a plan and have coverage start the next day. But they have to pay their first premium by January 6 and won’t receive an ID card until they do.

The change was made “to make sure more Rhode Islanders are able to have health care on January 1,” said Dara Chadwick, spokeswoman for the Rhode Island exchange. “There’s been a lot of confusion in the messaging.”

In Washington, residents who try to apply by Monday but run into problems have until January 15 to pick and pay for a plan. Coverage will be retroactive to January 1.

Other states have extended either the deadline to choose a plan or to pay the premium. Oregon and Maryland pushed back the deadline to pick a policy to December 27, with one Maryland insurer giving applicants until December 31.

Consumers in Maryland and Oregon have until January 15 to pay, while California is giving residents until January 6, Vermont until January and Connecticut until January 10.

Regardless of where you live, you should call your insurer of choice to check its deadlines and, after you pay, check your enrollment status.

For those who miss the deadline altogether, don’t worry. You can still get coverage starting February 1 if you pick a plan by January 15 and pay by the end of January.

Open enrollment ends March 31. The uninsured must pick a plan by then to avoid a penalty. These procrastinators would see coverage start May 1.

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By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer

The high-stakes fight over implementing parts of the troubled health care reform law will move to the U.S. Supreme Court in coming months, in a dispute involving coverage for contraceptives and “religious liberty.”

Obamacare site going offline a few hours each dayThe justices agreed on Tuesday to review provisions in the Affordable Care Act requiring employers of a certain size to offer insurance coverage for birth control and other reproductive health services without a co-pay.

At issue is whether private companies and non-profits can refuse to do so on the claim it violates their religious beliefs.

Oral arguments will likely be held in March with a ruling by late June.

Nearly 100 pending lawsuits have been filed in federal court challenging the birth control coverage benefits in the “Obamacare” law championed by President Barack Obama, which has come in for fierce political criticism over its rocky public introduction.

The high court last year narrowly upheld the key funding provision of the health care law, a blockbuster ruling affirming that most Americans would be required to purchase insurance or pay a financial penalty — the so-called “individual mandate.”

The constitutional debate now shifts to the separate employer mandates and whether corporations and religious institutions themselves enjoy the same First Amendment rights as individuals.

Three federal appeals courts around the country have struck down the contraception coverage rule, while two other appeals courts have upheld it. That “circuit split” made a Supreme Court review more likely.

Among the plaintiffs is Hobby Lobby, Inc. a nationwide chain of about 500 for-profit arts and crafts stores.

David Green and his family are the owners, and say their Christian beliefs clash with parts of the law’s mandates for comprehensive coverage.

They say some of the drugs that would be provided prevent human embryos from being implanted in a woman’s womb, which the Greens equate to abortion.

The privately held company does not object to funding other forms of contraception — such as condoms and diaphragms — for their roughly 13,000 employees, which Hobby Lobby says represent a variety of faiths.

Companies that refuse to provide the coverage could be fined up to $1.3 million daily.

The Obama administration has been defending the law and federal officials say they have already created rules exempting certain nonprofits and religiously affiliated organizations from the contraceptives requirements. In those cases, women would receive coverage from another company at no cost.

The law’s supporters say the law does not require individual company owners to personally provide coverage they might object, but instead places that responsibility on the corporate entity.

A key issue for the justices will be interpreting the 1993 federal law known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Can companies, churches, and universities be included, or do the protections apply only to “persons?”

The botched rollout of HealthCare.gov, the federal Obamacare website, has become a political flashpoint along with other issues that Republicans say proves the law is unworkable.

The pending cases are Liberty University v. Lew (13-306); Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (13-354); Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius (13-356); and Autocam Corp. v. Sebelius (13-482).

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(CNN) - A newly disclosed report indicates that officials in the Obama administration and the Department of Health and Human Services received warnings from a private consultant group that the federal online healthcare enrollment site could potentially fail to function properly for the October 1 launch date.

Obamacare site going offline a few hours each dayThe analysis by McKinsey & Company was requested by the White House. It identified various problems with the exchange, including limited testing time and resources before the launch, and found that call-in centers wouldn’t function properly if the website malfunctioned.

The Obama administration has come under fire for the botched October 1 launch of healthcare.gov. The site has been plagued with technical issues barring many enrollees from signing up for the federal exchange though the site. This report suggests problems were brought to the attention of key officials as early as March.

The administration has said the President didn’t know of problems with the Affordable Care Act’s website until after its fumbled rollout – even though insurance companies had been complaining and the site crashed during a pre-launch test run.

CNN received the report from the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The committee said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius received a briefing at the HHS headquarters with these concerns on April 4, along with acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Marilyn Tavenner and White House chief technology officer Todd Park. Park was also present at a briefing on March 28 at the CMS headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland.

“Despite assurances from Secretary Sebelius, Marilyn Tavenner, and Gary Cohen that ‘all was well’ and ‘on track’ with the launch of the Affordable Care Act, we now have documents dating back to April that call into question what they told us,” said Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman Tim Murphy (R-Pennsylvania).

On Tuesday, a House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee holds a hearing on the security of the federal healthcare website.

McKinsey’s report says the group reviewed 200 documents and sources, interviewed about 40 people across a variety of federal agencies and participated in some meetings and work sessions. But the analysis did not include outside interviews with insurers or access computer code or programs.

The report also points to potential areas of risk that never became a significant issue – like the data hubs used by the state sites and the federal site, to verify applicants’ income, citizenship and eligibility. Or prolonged call times, which have been brought down in the weeks following the launch.

The story was first reported by the Washington Post.

CNN Senior Congressional Producer Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

TM & © 2013 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Host of ‘Politics Tonight’ on CLTV joins WGN Morning News with more on the fallout for President Obama

Healthcare expert and Northwestern University Business Professor Craig Garthwaite discusses the Obamacare delay and its site’s issues.

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