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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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By Chris Frates, CNN

President Obama may have promised Americans that they can keep their insurance if they like it, but that’s not the case in at least three states where insurance companies are required to discontinue plans that don’t meet Obamacare’s new coverage standards.

Virginia, Kentucky and Idaho have told insurance companies that they must scrap insurance plans that don’t meet the minimum coverage requirements laid out in the Affordable Care Act. Some states allow insurers to amend their current plans to include the new benefits, such as maternity care and prescription drug coverage, required under Obamacare.

But these three states have determined that with so many changes required under Obamacare, it’s easier to start over than to try to bring existing plans into compliance.

Ronda Sloan, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Insurance, explained the policy this way: “In this case, you’re talking about an entirely new product. They had to file a completely new policy. … It was easier just to start from scratch.”

That means that about half of the roughly 600,000 people in Kentucky’s private insurance market will have their current insurance plans discontinued by the end of next year. Private insurance only makes up part of the state’s insurance market, which also includes employer-based coverage, and Medicare and Medicaid.

Virginia Bureau of Insurance spokesman Ken Schrad said insurance companies could offer customers with discontinued plans similar coverage, but it also has to include the new mandated Obamacare benefits.

But, he cautioned, “it is virtually impossible to compare what you have to what you’re going to have because of all the new provisions.”

Indeed, some people may find the new plans cost more. Others might qualify for subsidies and pay less for their insurance.

White House spokesman Jay Carney on Tuesday defended the president’s promise, arguing that anyone who has a plan that predates the Affordable Care Act can keep that plan — as long as its terms have not changed in the interim.

“The president was clear about a basic fact: If you had insurance that you liked on the individual market, and you wanted to keep that insurance through 2010, ’11, ’12, ’13 and in perpetuity if you wanted it and it was available, you could. You were grandfathered in,” Carney said at the White House briefing Tuesday.

In practice, insurance companies are loath to leave their plans unchanged, so grandfathered plans are disappearing. Numbers for how many grandfathered plans are hard to come by, and insurers don’t seem to be looking back.

“Health plans want to keep their customers. In notifying consumers about changes to their existing coverage, health plans are educating them about their new coverage options, including the benefits and assistance that are available through the new marketplaces, and helping them enroll,” said Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans.

But even having to enroll in a new plan could leave some people confused and upset, particularly after the president assured them repeatedly that that wouldn’t be the case.

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

For the first time, someone in the Obama administration apologized for the problem-plagued Obamacare website.

Marilyn Tavenner also said on Tuesday that the online troubles were being resolved and the overall program was working, albeit slower and less successfully than hoped.

In the first congressional testimony from a government official on the botched launch of HealthCare.gov, the head of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told the House Ways and Means Committee that the “vast majority” of consumers would be able to successfully use the site by the end of November.

Rev. Jesse Jackson calls on people to sign up for health insurance“I want to apologize to you that the website does not work as well as it should,” she said, adding that HealthCare.gov “can and will be fixed.”

The hearing served as a hot seat for Tavenner, whose agency has been blamed for the website troubles causing a political headache for President Barack Obama and his signature health care reforms, as well as a venting session for Republicans after their failed efforts to scuttle the reforms.

Policies canceled

More trouble for Obama came out of the testimony, as Tavenner conceded that some people with individual health coverage — rather than the group coverage that most Americans have — will be forced to get new policies because of increased requirements under the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

“These individuals in a small group, our individual markets, had no protections” before the reforms became law, Tavenner explained.

Until now, such consumers “could be kicked out any time for pre-existing conditions” or realize too late that their policies failed to cover hospitalization or cancer treatments, Tavenner said. The reforms protect them by requiring a minimum standard of coverage, she added.

For some, that means more expensive policies and any change breaks the oft-repeated pledge by Obama that “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan” when he was pushing for Congress to pass his signature reforms.

Republican Rep. Aaron Schock of Illinois hammered Tavenner on that point, noting a constituent who got a letter telling her that the health care reforms caused the cancellation of her current plan with a more expensive alternative in its place.

“She has health insurance that she likes. She’s been paying her premium. She wants to keep it. But she can’t,” Schock said. “Isn’t that a lie?”

Tavenner responded that some insurers changed or discontinued plans that failed to meet the Obamacare requirements, even though present coverage could still be offered in some cases under a “grandfather” provision in the legislation, despite lacking the full benefits of the reforms.

She advised anyone being forced to get a new policy to examine all options under the new system, including the possibility of getting federal subsidies if they are eligible.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation website, 15.4 million people had individual health care coverage in 2011, representing about 5% of the population. The vast majority of Americans — at least two-thirds of the population in 2011 — had coverage through their employer, Medicare, Medicaid or other public providers and will not be affected by changes involving individual coverage.

At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney said “a significant portion” of the 5% of people with individual coverage will end up paying less for better policies when they shop around in the new exchanges.

“One of the issues that the Affordable Care Act was designed to address was the need to provide greater security to those Americans forced to seek insurance on the individual market,” Carney said.

On Capitol Hill, a top House Democrat told reporters on Tuesday that his party “should have been more precise” when making the pledge about people keeping coverage they liked.

“I think preciseness would have been better,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland.

He added that the promise was made to try to allay the fears of the majority of Americans who get health coverage from their employers or government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

Partisan exchanges

As expected, Tuesday’s hearing included fiery partisan exchanges, with Republicans saying the website problems foreshadow deeper problems that threaten higher premiums and government intrusion in future health coverage while Democrats accused them of trying to kill reforms that benefit millions of Americans.

Under GOP questioning, Tavenner said initial figures on how many people have enrolled so far for health coverage under the reforms won’t be available until mid-November.

She noted that the administration has expected the initial enrollment to be small, but noted that the enrollment period ends on March 31.

When asked by Republicans about the expected initial low enrollment, Tavenner pointed out that a similar dynamic occurred with implementation of the Massachusetts health care law, when people waited until the final deadline approached to sign up.

To GOP Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, the committee chairman, low enrollment signals the failure of the health care reforms, which need young people, and people who are less expensive to insure, to sign up so insurers can offer affordable plans in markets that include older and people who are more expensive to cover.

“I fear we can see a fundamental breakdown of the insurance market where premiums will skyrocket, pricing millions of Americans out of health care,” he said.

Later, Republican Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas asked Tavenner for a guarantee that consumers will be able to obtain coverage required by the health care law before the deadline.

“What I can guarantee is that we have a system that is working. We are going to improve the speed of that system,” she said.

But Brady interrupted her.

“Excuse me,” he said. “You are saying the system right now is working?”

Tavenner didn’t budge, responding: “I am saying it is working. It is just not working at the speed that we want and at the success rate that we want.”

Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey lambasted Republicans on the panel for choosing to pile on the website woes in their continuing attempt to dismantle Obamacare instead of working with Democrats to improve settled law.

Citing the political battle last decade over the Bush administration’s Medicare prescription drug benefit opposed by Democrats, Pascrell noted “we lost the policy fight” then but chose to help make the program work instead of trying to discredit or undermine it.

Standing up and pointing at his GOP colleagues, Pascrell shouted: “How many of you stood up to do that? None. Zero. Zero.”

Website problems

Late Tuesday, Connecticut officials said the data hub behind the Obamacare website was experiencing an outage.

Verizon, which provides some technology services behind HealthCare.gov, said federal officials asked the company to provide additional computing and storage ability.

“At the request of HHS’s deputy CIO, we are now undertaking infrastructure maintenance, which should be complete overnight,” Verizon spokesman Jeffrey Nelson said. “We anticipate the strengthened infrastructure will help eliminate application downtimes.”

Verizon had no immediate response to questions about how customers using the site would be affected.

A key tech malfunction brought down the site Sunday.

In prepared testimony for the hearing, Tavenner said private contractors hired to create the website “have not met expectations.” Asked about that statement, she cited one of the contractors — CGI Federal, which has a contract worth as much as $200 million for its work on the system.

Tavenner’s agency oversaw the creation of the online health insurance marketplace that has taken so much heat.

She reports to Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who has come under fire for the problems that plagued the introduction of the enrollment website.

Some congressional Republicans demand her resignation or firing, and Sebelius will face a hearing by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday.

In an exclusive interview with CNN last week, Sebelius said Obama didn’t know of the problems with the Affordable Care Act’s website until after its troubled launch on October 1. This was despite the fact that insurance companies had been complaining and the site crashed during a prelaunch test run.
TM & © 2013 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

A contractor hired to fix Healthcare.gov predicts the site will be working by the end of November.

The site has been plagued with major problems since its rollout on October 1st.

The Maryland company now in charge of fixing the problems said it brought in a team of experts and says all of the issues can be corrected.

This past week, contractors who built the website told a congressional panel they did not fully test the site until two weeks before launch.

Officials are warning the public to be wary of impostors posing as experts on the Affordable Care Act, telling consumers they are eligible for the health insurance card in exchange for their bank account and Social Security numbers.

Better Business Bureau Spokesperson Tom Joyce told the Chicago Tribune, “People are looking for help on it.  It’s a very complicated issue, and therefore you can get information out of somebody.”

Experts note the government does not make calls for this type of information and recommend verifying the identity of the caller before releasing any information.

[Breaking news update at 12:01 p.m. Monday]

Though some people are having trouble applying for Obamacare on Healthcare.gov, those who already have had the chance to enroll are “thrilled with the result,” and people can apply in ways other than the website — including though a call center and in person at certain locations across the country, President Barack Obama said Monday.

[Breaking news update at 11:54 a.m. Monday]

President Barack Obama said Monday that no one is more frustrated by the problems with Healthcare.gov than he is.

“There’s no excuse for the problems,” including the website working too slowly and people getting stuck during the online application process, he said, but officials are working to get it running as it should.

“We are confident that we will get all the problems fixed,” Obama said.

[Breaking news update at 11:42 a.m. Monday]

President Barack Obama on Monday acknowledged that Healthcare.gov “hasn’t worked as smoothly as is it was supposed to work,” but added that “thousands of people are signing up and saving money as we speak.” He spoke Monday morning at the White House Rose Garden.

[Original story posted at 11:20 a.m. Monday]

With shutdown over, Obama to focus on health care problems

(CNN) — President Barack Obama on Monday turns his attention to website problems that have plagued his signature health care reforms since new exchanges for people to purchase required coverage opened three weeks ago.

Problems include people being unable to log on Healthcare.gov as well as issues once they have applied for the health insurance they must obtain by March 31 to avoid a fine.

The political showdown over government spending and raising the federal borrowing limit that ended last week distracted public attention from the problems of the new health care system, which conservatives have repeatedly tried to dismantle.

In Rose Garden remarks Monday about the Affordable Care Act, Obama will reiterate that he considers the technical problems unacceptable and discuss steps his administration has taken to get them fixed, a White House official said Sunday.

Obama administration officials also highlighted over the weekend the fact that nearly 500,000 people have filled out applications for Obamacare, though the number who purchased coverage remains unknown.

Initial difficulties have started to ease for logging on to the website for the new exchanges, some of which are run by states and others by the federal government. Now problems are occurring further along the process, with insurance industry sources having said they are getting some applications with missing information.

Republicans on Sunday talk shows kept up their incessant attacks on the program.

“It’s been a fiasco,” GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona told CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger on “State of the Union,” while Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told CBS that “God only knows how much money they’ve spent, and it’s a failure.”

“You know, the government simply isn’t going to be able to get this job done correctly,” McConnell said.

The administration insisted it is working to fix the problems.

“I think there is no one more frustrated than the President at the difficulty in the website,” Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” The Department of Health and Human Services “has got plans to fix this, and they have to fix this. It has to be done right.”

The application portion of the website was brought down this weekend for overnight maintenance, as it has been on previous weekends and some weeknights.

An administration official confirmed to CNN that additional government and private technology experts will be brought on to help solve the problems, but did not provide any details.

“To ensure that we make swift progress, and that the consumer experience continues to improve, our team has called in additional help to solve some of the more complex technical issues we are encountering,” the Health and Human Services department said in a blog post Sunday. “Our team is bringing in some of the best and brightest from both inside and outside government to scrub in with the team and help improve HealthCare.gov.”

Two officials said staffing at call centers has been increased by about 50% to help people phoning in, and officials are emphasizing that now, as an alternative, one can enroll over the phone. About 1.2 million calls have been processed from those seeking information.

“The website is unacceptable, and we are improving it,” one senior administration official told CNN. “But the underlying insurance product is good, and across the country, people are getting access to affordable care on January 1.”

The administration is still not releasing the numbers on how many people have taken the next step of enrolling: choosing a specific health care plan. The administration has said it will do that only on a monthly basis, so the first tally of enrollment numbers will come in November.

The Congressional Budget Office has said it expects 7 million people to enroll by April 1.

Although the administration tally of applications did not break down how many of the applications came through state-run exchanges, a CNN survey of officials with those exchanges found that at least 257,000 people had signed up for new insurance plans as of Friday afternoon.

Not all of them had made a payment, and not every state responded to the CNN request.

While March 31 is the deadline for people to get health insurance, officials warn that failure to sign up by February 15 could be a problem because of the time needed for the coverage to take effect.

A ConsumerReports.org article last week offered tips for people trying to sign up, but had the following advice for those overwhelmed by the difficulties:

“If all this is too much for you to absorb, follow our previous advice: Stay away from Healthcare.gov for at least another month if you can. Hopefully that will be long enough for its software vendors to clean up the mess they’ve made.”

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

President Barack Obama on Monday will talk about the website glitches that have plagued the application process for health care insurance since the new exchanges opened up this month.

In Rose Garden remarks about the Affordable Care Act, the president will reiterate his stance that he finds the technical problems unacceptable and will discuss steps his administration has taken to get them fixed, a White House official said Sunday.

Obama administration also officials highlighted over the weekend the fact that nearly 500,000 people have filled out applications for Obamacare.

The site has seen many problems with people trying to log on as well as issues once they have applied, such as some people applying for different plans. Insurance industry sources have said they are getting some applications with missing information.

Republicans on the Sunday talk shows aimed their fire at the site.

“It’s been a fiasco. Send Air Force One to Silicon Valley. Load it up with smart people, bring it back to Washington and fix this problem. It’s ridiculous, and everybody knows that,” Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, told CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger on “State of the Union.”

“They’ve had three or four years here to get this ready. God only knows how much money they’ve spent, and it’s a failure. You know, the government simply isn’t going to be able to get this job done correctly,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“Obamacare is a disaster. It’s not working. It’s hurting people all across the country,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash.

The administration says it is working to fix the problems.

“I think there is no one more frustrated than the President at the difficulty in the website,” Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” The Department of Health and Human Services “has got plans to fix this, and they have to fix this. It has to be done right.”

The application portion of the website was brought down this weekend for overnight maintenance, as it has been on previous weekends and some weeknights. An administration official confirmed to CNN that additional government and private technology experts will be brought on to help solve the problems but did not provide any details.

In a blog post Sunday afternoon, the Health and Human Services department said: “To ensure that we make swift progress, and that the consumer experience continues to improve, our team has called in additional help to solve some of the more complex technical issues we are encountering. Our team is bringing in some of the best and brightest from both inside and outside government to scrub in with the team and help improve HealthCare.gov.”

Two officials said staffing at call centers has been increased by about 50% to help people phoning in, and officials are emphasizing that now, as an alternative, one can enroll over the phone. About 1.2 million calls have been processed from those seeking information.

“The website is unacceptable, and we are improving it,” one senior administration official told CNN. “But the underlying insurance product is good, and across the country, people are getting access to affordable care on January 1.”

The administration is still not releasing the numbers on how many people have taken the next step of enrolling: choosing a specific health care plan. The administration has said it will do that only on a monthly basis, so the first tally of enrollment numbers will come in November.

The Congressional Budget Office has said it expects 7 million people to enroll by April 1.

Although the administration tally of applications did not break down how many of the applications came through state-run exchanges, a CNN survey this week of officials with those exchanges found that at least 257,000 people had signed up for new insurance plans as of Friday afternoon.

Not all of them had made a payment, and not every state responded to the CNN request.

Democrats say it is still early in the process, because the uninsured have until January before they need to sign up or face a penalty, and they point to a lot of interest despite the problems.

“Nineteen million unique visitors to the health care site, and I think that is very important,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said. “How the technology is working is unacceptable, and they are working to correct that. But that doesn’t change what the initiative is, which is affordable, quality health care accessible to many more people in our country, and I’m very excited about that.”

CNN’s Adam Aigner-Treworgy, Brian Todd and Dugald McConnell contributed to this story.

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

Dr. Kevin Most from Central DuPage Hospital explains how Obamacare may affect everyone’s access to health care.

Local News
10/01/13

How to navigate new Affordable Care Act websites

Despite the government shutdown, a key part of the Affordable Care Act launched on October 1: You can now sign up for insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace.

This video explains how to navigate some of the websites. Here are the links, too:

http://getcoveredillinois.gov/

https://www.healthcare.gov/

There’s more online resources and information at wgntv.com/healthcare

The state’s insurance exchange website is now open.

quinn obamacare

GetCoveredIllinois.com lists all the plans that six insurers are offering.

The site can also explain if you qualify for government subsidies that can help you pay for it. This will mostly benefit the uninsured and those who are not eligible for Medicaid.

Anyone using the exchange must be signed up by December 15 in order to be covered on January 1.

Most people will be legally required to have health insurance next year, or else they’ll be charged a tax penalty.

At news conference at the Thompson Center, Governor Pat Quinn called it a historic day.  “This is a very special day for health and wellness in the Land of Lincoln,” Quinn said.

“The Affordable Care Care Act is requiring some preventive services to be covered that are really critical for people living with diabetes, or perhaps currently undiagnosed and living with diabetes,” said Jeanette Flom, Executive Director of the American Diabetes Association,  “Things like folks with high blood pressure being encouraged to get a diabetes screening, covering cholesterol screenings, just a variety of tests that will now be available and covered for individuals.”

While the Illinois site was operating Tuesday morning without issue, other exchange websites were already crowded.  Specifically, when you try to enroll at healthcare.gov, several people are reporitng error messages.

For more information about the Affordable Care Act, go to wgntv.com/healthcare

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

Here are some resources and other helpful information that explain what you need to know.Healthcare

ONLINE RESOURCES

GetCoveredIllinois.gov

This website went live on Oct. 1, and can help Illinois residents compare health insurance plans. There’s FAQs and a glossary of terms; plus, you can also find out how to talk with people over the phone or face-to-face if you have questions.

HealthCare.gov

This website, created by the federal government, tells you what you need to know about the Health Insurance Marketplace. You can also sign up here to get email alerts for the latest news and updates on the Affordable Care Act. This is also where you apply to the Health Insurance Marketplace.

Localhelp.healthcare.gov

This link can help you find organizations that have people you can meet with that will help you navigate and sign up the

Subsidy Calculator from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s website, “This tool illustrates health insurance premiums and subsidies for people purchasing insurance on their own in new health insurance exchanges (or “Marketplaces”) created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

HealthLawHelper

Consumer Reports created this website “to give consumers accurate and unbiased information about this complex new law and how it affects them,” they say.

BeCoveredIllinois.org

Be Covered Illinois is a grassroots campaign introducing uninsured Illinoisans to the new health insurance options available under the Affordable Care Act. The campaign provides user-friendly information and on-the-ground guidance to help families understand the new health care law.

Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky’s “Obamacare Toolkit”

From Rep. Schakowsky’s website: “This Obamacare Toolkit is designed to help you learn about the many benefits of Obamacare and how you can take advantage of them. Whether you have insurance or need insurance, if you’re a small business or a health care provider, Obamacare will have benefits for you.”

Or, call 1-800-318-2596 for assistance. 

MORE: AFFORDABLE CARE ACT: WHAT’S FACT AND WHAT’S FICTION?

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HEALTH INSURANCE MARKETPLACE

(Information from HealthCare.gov)

The Marketplace is a new way to find quality health coverage. It can help if you don’t have coverage now or if you have it but want to look at other options. With one Marketplace application, you can learn if you can get lower costs based on your income, compare your coverage options side-by-side, and enroll.

There are 3 key dates you’ll want to mark on your calendar:

October 1, 2013: Marketplace open enrollment starts

Open enrollment starts October 1, 2013. You can compare and select from private health insurance plans in the new Marketplace. You’ll learn if you can get lower costs on your insurance before you enroll in a plan.

You’ll also learn if you qualify for free or low-cost coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). (You can apply for Medicaid and CHIP right now. Visit the links above to learn more.)

After reviewing your options, you can choose a plan that fits your needs and budget and enroll.

January 1, 2014: Health coverage can start

If you enroll in a private health insurance plan any time between October 1, 2013 and December 15, 2013 and make your first premium payment, your new health coverage starts January 1, 2014.

During the rest of open enrollment, if you enroll between the 1st and 15th day of the month and pay your premium, your coverage begins the first day of the next month. So if you enroll on February 10, 2014, your coverage begins March 1, 2014.

If you enroll between the 16th and the last day of the month and pay your premium, your effective date of coverage will be the first day of the second following month. So if you enroll on February 16, 2014, your coverage starts on April 1, 2014.

March 31, 2014: Open enrollment ends

Open enrollment for 2014 health insurance coverage closes on March 31, 2014. Be sure to visit the Marketplace and enroll in a plan before this date.

After March 31, 2014, you can get new private health insurance for 2014 only through a special enrollment period if you have a qualifying life event like a job loss, birth, or divorce.

You can apply for Medicaid and CHIP any time

The Marketplace will tell you whether you qualify for Medicaid or theChildren’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). If you qualify for Medicaid or CHIP, your coverage can begin immediately. You can also apply for either of these programs right now, before open enrollment begins. Follow the the links above to learn more.

Small employers can start SHOP coverage any time

Small employers generally may start offering health insurance coverage to their employees through the SHOP Marketplace at any time during the year.

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