partlycloudy
Friday February 12th, 2016 9:12AM

Health care signups pick up pace in November

By The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Playing catch-up with a long way to go, President Barack Obama's new health insurance markets last month picked up the dismal pace of signups, the administration reported Wednesday.

Enrollment statistics from the Health and Human Services Department showed that 364,682 people have signed up for private coverage as of Nov. 30 under the federal health law. Although that's more than three times the October total, it's less than one-third of the 1.2 million people officials had originally projected would enroll nationwide by the end of November.

Crunch time is now for Obama's health care law, as consumers face a Dec. 23 enrollment deadline if they want to have coverage on Jan. 1. Yet HealthCare.gov, the revamped federal website serving 36 states, continues to have issues. Just Tuesday there was an extended maintenance outage. And some states running their own websites are also having problems.

That's created stress and uncertainty not only for the uninsured but also for consumers seeking to avoid an interruption in coverage in January. Those trying to preserve coverage include some or many of the more than 4 million people whose individual plans were canceled because they didn't measure up under the law, as well as hundreds of thousands in federal and state programs for people with serious health problems, from cancer to heart disease to AIDS.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a blog post early Wednesday that she is asking the department's inspector general to investigate the contracting process, management, performance and payment issues that may have contributed to the flawed launch of HealthCare.gov.

The administration report found a total of 137,204 people enrolled in the states served by the federal website by the end of November, up from 26,794 in October.

The 14 states running their own websites enrolled 227,478 people, up from 79,391 in October.

California, which is running its own program, led the nation, with more than 107,000 signups. Oregon, also running its own market, had the lowest total, with just 44 people enrolled. Florida was the leader among states with federally run markets, with nearly 18,000 signups.

Nationally, an additional 803,077 people have been determined to be eligible for Medicaid, the safety-net program shaping up as the health overhaul's early success story. That's about double the number for October. Nonetheless, state Medicaid directors are reporting accuracy problems with information on prospective enrollees that the federal government is sending them.

The administration report comes as Sebelius returns to the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday morning for another grilling from Republicans committed to repealing the law, not to mention Democrats angry over a rollout Sebelius herself called a debacle.

Lawmakers have questions about how and why HealthCare.gov did not work as advertised, whether the federal website meets government security standards and how much all the repairs are costing.

Although Republicans have called for Sebelius to resign, and some Democrats have urged Obama to fire those responsible, the White House has given no indication that a house-cleaning is coming. The secretary's unusual pre-dawn announcement of an inspector general probe indicates that she realizes she has some explaining to do.

"I believe strongly in the need for accountability, and in the importance of being good stewards of taxpayer dollars," Sebelius said in her announcement. The website has cost taxpayers more than $600 million so far, according to the congressional Government Accountability Office.

In addition to the inspector general review, Sebelius said she has ordered the hiring of a new "chief risk officer" at the Medicare agency, which also oversees the new programs created to expand health insurance coverage under Obama's law. That official will focus on making sure technology programs work as advertised.

Sebelius also said she's ordered a retraining of her department on best practices for outside contracting.

The site went live on Oct. 1 and immediately turned into an impenetrable maze for most consumers. A two-month program of fixes directed by White House troubleshooter Jeffrey Zients stabilized the site and made it more workable, resolving hundreds of software glitches and adding more hardware to handle high demand from consumers.

Zients also found that the technical problems were compounded by inadequate oversight and coordination among teams working for the government and its contractors. That raises questions about how Sebelius and her subordinates have managed the complex program. Through the summer and into the fall, the secretary had repeatedly assured Congress and the public that the insurance markets would open for business on schedule Oct. 1.

With his poll ratings in a dive, Obama not only accepted the blame for website woes, but personally apologized for the canceled individual insurance policies. The cancellations issue is highly sensitive politically because it contradicts Obama's promise that if you like your coverage you would be able to keep it.

The president sought to calm the backlash by allowing states and insurers to extend existing plans for another year. Thirty-eight have done so, according to analysis by the consulting firm Avalere Health. But it's unclear to what extent insurers have taken advantage of the leeway granted by state regulators.

The administration had set a goal of signing up 7 million people by the end of open enrollment season March 31. HHS health reform director Mike Hash says they're still "on track" to meet it. Uninsured people who procrastinate beyond that date will face tax penalties when they file their returns for the 2014 tax year.
© Copyright 2016 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
S&P 500 index has its best year since 1997
The stock market closed out a record year with more all-time highs on Tuesday, giving U.S. indexes their biggest annual gains in almost two decades.
6:56PM ( 2 years ago )
Colorado readies for 'Green Wednesday' pot sales
Police were adding extra patrols around pot shops in eight Colorado towns that plan to allow recreational sales to anyone over 21 on Jan. 1.
1:52PM ( 2 years ago )
Kerry seeks framework for Mideast peace talks
A senior State Department official says Secretary of State John Kerry will try this week to get Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a framework for negotiating a final peace agreement, yet cautions against raising expectations for Kerry's latest round of shuttle diplomacy.
1:35PM ( 2 years ago )
U.S. News
Missing Ga. bank director arrested in Brunswick
A bank director accused of losing millions of investors' dollars before vanishing last year was arrested Tuesday during a traffic stop in a city in south Georgia.
7:00PM ( 2 years ago )
Amtrak to suspend some Crescent service in Jan., Feb.
Amtrak service will shut down in parts of the Southeast for several days in January and February for rail maintenance by Norfolk Southern Railway.
9:00AM ( 2 years ago )
Lung cancer scans urged for some smokers, not all
Certain current or former heavy smokers should start getting yearly scans for lung cancer to cut their risk of death from the nation's top cancer killer, government advisers said Monday - even as they stressed that the tests aren't for everyone.
7:26AM ( 2 years ago )
Business News
Sex offender held in Hall County for failing to register
A 47-year-old man was booked into the Hall County Jail Tuesday, being held without bond for allegedly failing to register as a sex offender, his second such arrest.
6:09PM ( 2 years ago )
Pharmacy robberies may involve same suspect
Oakwood Police Tuesday afternoon released details in a pharmacy robbery they're investigating, similar to one that happened in the Hall County Tuesday morning.
5:46PM ( 2 years ago )
Victim critical following apartment fire
A 41-year-old woman was in critical but stable condition Tuesday after being rescued from an apartment fire in Forsyth County late Monday afternoon.
3:16PM ( 2 years ago )
Local/State News
Feeling US snub, Saudis strengthen ties elsewhere
Increasingly vocal in its frustration over U.S. policies in the Mideast, Saudi Arabia is strengthening ties elsewhere, seeking out an alignment that will bolster its position after it was pushed to the sidelines this year.
4:34PM ( 2 years ago )
NSA reportedly intercepts computer deliveries
A German magazine has lifted the lid on the operations of the National Security Agency's hacker unit, revealing how American spies intercepted computer deliveries, exploited hardware vulnerabilities, and even hijacked Microsoft's bug report system to spy on their targets.
12:31PM ( 2 years ago )
Rockets fired from Lebanon into Israel
Rockets from Lebanon struck northern Israel on Sunday, causing no injuries but sparking an Israeli reprisal shelling in a rare flare-up between the two countries.
12:26PM ( 2 years ago )
Politics
New details about the possible effects of the Zika virus on the fetal brain are emerging
WASHINGTON (AP) — New details about the possible effects of the Zika virus on the fetal brain emerged Wednesday as U.S. health officials say mosquito eradication here and abroad is key to protect preg...
6:22PM ( 1 day ago )
President Barack Obama is asking Congress for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding to help fight the Zika virus
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is asking Congress for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding to fight the Zika virus and the mosquitoes that spread it here and abroad, but says "there s...
10:40PM ( 3 days ago )
Search for Missouri couple wanted for crimes across the South, including Ga., ends with one suspect dead and the other wounded
A weeklong search for a Missouri couple wanted in a series of robberies and abductions across the South ended with one suspect dead and the other wounded Friday, after authorities say they chased the pair across the highway and through a rural neighborhood and exchanged gunfire with them in Florida's Panhandle.
By The Associated Press
9:57PM ( 6 days ago )
Cheap oil will be sticking around for a while, buoying consumers, frustrating oil producers
Cheap oil will be sticking around for a while.That reality is wreaking havoc and causing uncertainty for some governments and businesses, while creating financial windfalls for others. Less expensive...
6:18PM ( 1 week ago )
Cruz (R) expected to claim conservative Iowa caucus victory, with Clinton (D) and Sanders (D) deadlocked among liberal vote
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz swept to victory in Iowa's Republican caucuses Monday, overcoming billionaire Donald Trump and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were deadlocked in a tight race.
By The Associated Press
10:55PM ( 1 week ago )