GOP set to jump on low Oba­macare num­bers

First test will fo­cus on keep­ing plans

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is set to re­lease Oba­macare en­roll­ment data this week, fig­ures that prom­ise to be low and likely will feed fur­ther into Repub­li­can at­tempts to dis­credit the health care law.

House GOP lead­er­ship has set some plans in mo­tion, hop­ing to par­lay a pres­i­den­tial apol­ogy and ugly head­lines about the law’s rocky start into pas­sage of a bill that lets Amer­i­cans keep their ex­ist­ing health plans, even if they do not meet new stan­dards out­lined in the re­forms.

The cham­ber will vote Fri­day on the Keep Your Health Plan Act, of­fer­ing a key test to Democrats who are ner­vous about early flaws in the roll­out of Oba­macare.

“Ac­tions speak louder than words. If the pres­i­dent is se­ri­ous about of­fer­ing relief to Amer­i­cans whose health plans are be­ing can­celed, then he should strongly sup­port the Keep Your Health Plan Act,” Rep. Fred Up­ton, Michi­gan Repub­li­can, said. “This bill is a sim­ple so­lu­tion that would be­gin to re­store health care peace of mind.”

The House has voted about 40 times to re­peal all or part of the Af­ford­able Care Act or al­ter it in some way, a se­ries of ac­tions that have died in the Demo­crat-con­trolled Se­nate.

But those votes oc­curred be­fore the Oct. 1 launch of web­sites tied to the law. The fed­eral ver­sion, Health­Care.gov, serves 36 states and has ex­pe­ri­enced ram­pant glitches that pre­vent cus­tomers from en­rolling in a new health plan.

The dy­namic puts pres­sure on Mr. Obama to apol­o­gize for say­ing Amer­i­cans could keep the plans they liked. Mil­lions of Amer­i­cans are re­ceiv­ing can­cel­la­tion notices be­cause their ex­ist­ing plans do not meet Oba­macare’s stan­dards, and the trou­bled web­site pre­vents them from find­ing bet­ter deals through fed­er­ally fa­cil­i­tated and staterun insurance ex­changes.

Last week, the ad­min­is­tra­tion re­ported mixed progress in fix­ing the fed­eral web­site, as Repub­li­cans piled on crit­i­cism by say­ing tax­pay­ers should get a re­fund for the flawed $400 mil­lion por­tal.

Jeff Zients, the man­age­ment spe­cial­ist tapped to fix Health­Care.gov, said his re­pair team knocked items off its to-do list last week, re­duc­ing the time it takes for pages to load and im­prov­ing users’ ex­pe­ri­ences on the front-end of the web­sites. How­ever, ca­pac­ity is­sues and soft­ware prob­lems are crop­ping up as more users make it fur­ther into the en­roll­ment process.

“We made progress this week, though again hit road­blocks that im­pacted the user ex­pe­ri­ence and slowed us down,” he told re­porters Fri­day in a con­fer­ence call.

The IRS be­gan its own set of fixes over the weekend, mean­ing its role in the fed­eral data hub that ver­i­fies en­rollees’ per­sonal data will not be avail­able from Satur­day to early Tues­day. Users can still use most as­pects of the fed­eral site, which is sup­posed to con­nect peo­ple from 36 states with cov­er­age op­tions, but will have to come back this week to fin­ish up their en­roll­ment, said Julie Bataille, spokes­woman for the Cen­ters for Medi­care and Med­i­caid Ser­vices.

Mr. Zients said he is work­ing “around the clock” on patch­ing up the site and that he is “not re­ceiv­ing any pay.”

Tax­payer money was at the fore­front of Sen. Mark Kirk’s mind on Fri­day. One day af­ter the Illi­nois Repub­li­can filed a bill with Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Vir­ginia Demo­crat, that would de­lay the law’s in­di­vid­ual man­date for one year, he said Amer­i­cans “de­serve a clear ex­pla­na­tion and a re­fund of their money.”

Repub­li­can Sens. Or­rin G. Hatch of Utah and Chuck Grass­ley of Iowa, mean­while, cast doubt on the Dis­trict’s abil­ity to en­roll peo­ple on its ex­change, which is run by the city and does not rely on Health­Care.gov.

They said that, based on data re­quests to the four in­sur­ers that of­fer plans on D.C. Health Link, only five peo­ple have en­rolled.

“With num­bers like th­ese, it’s no won­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion hasn’t wanted to re­lease how many peo­ple have signed up for Oba­maCare,” Mr. Hatch said. But D.C. ex­change spokesman Richard So­rian said “that is not an ac­cu­rate de­pic­tion of the strong level of in­ter­est in the Dis­trict of Columbia in ob­tain­ing qual­ity, af­ford­able health insurance.”

He said as of Oct. 21, more than 12,000 city res­i­dents had cre­ated ac­counts on the site and 321 had se­lected a health plan for en­roll­ment. Also, 426 small busi­nesses had cre­ated ac­counts.

“Con­sumers have un­til Dec. 15 to fi­nal­ize their se­lec­tion by pay­ing their first month’s pre­mium in or­der to have cov­er­age on Jan. 1, 2014,” he said, not­ing he can­not speak to what met­ric the se­na­tors were us­ing be­cause he had not seen their doc­u­men­ta­tion.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Rep. Fred Up­ton, Michi­gan Repub­li­can, calls the Keep Your Health Plan Act “a sim­ple so­lu­tion that would be­gin to re­store health care peace of mind.”

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