Affordable Care Act

"My mouse pad broke, and I had to get my great-aunt some diabetes shoes."

That's how comedian Zach Galifianakis begins his segment with President Obama in an episode of the online interview show Between Two Ferns that was posted Tuesday. It was an interview unlike any other for a sitting U.S. president, as Galifianakis probed the commander in chief's views with a range of oddball questions.

Insurance coverage for maternity care is required in most individual and small group plans under the federal health law, extending such coverage to plans where it used to be rare. But for women who prefer services provided by midwives and birthing centers, there are no coverage guarantees, despite the law's provisions that prohibit insurers from discriminating against licensed medical providers.

Kevin Counihan, the CEO of Access Health CT, is walking through the 15th floor of a downtown Hartford office building that houses Connecticut's health insurance marketplace. He passes the legal department, the IT folks and the consultants, then stops in front of three large, wall-mounted computer screens.

With a bit more than a month left for people to sign up for health insurance plans set up under the Affordable Care Act, the federal website known as finally seems to be working smoothly — in 36 states.

But what's happening in the 14 states that are running their own exchanges?

Jeff Cohen / WNPR

The goal of the Affordable Care Act was to insure more people at a lower cost. Affordability is still a moving target. At least in Connecticut, the enrollment numbers are looking good. State officials announced that they have beaten their goal of enrolling 100,000 people in the Affordable Care Act by March 31 by more than 20 percent.

Obamacare enrollment surged in December, and the administration's report on the numbers made headlines early this week.

But the national figures tend to obscure the differences from state to state.

Chion Wolf / WNPR

Health care costs are going to be increasingly shifted to consumers. That was the message from Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini at a presentation Wednesday.

Arielle Levin Becker / The Connecticut Mirror

The Affordable Care Act is the signature piece of the president's domestic agenda and it's now, finally, operational. The question is: Is it working? On Where We Live we talk Obamacare and ask whether it is doing what it promised - helping the nation's poor and uninsured. 

New York's health insurance marketplace is working, but some consumers are still having problems with insurers. Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield is the state's largest insurer and the target of a lot of consumer complaints.

Angela Felan is sitting in the ER waiting room at O'Connor Hospital in San Jose, Calif. A blue surgical mask covers her nose and mouth, and a sweatshirt is pulled snug over her head.

She first came into the emergency room a few days ago with what she thought was bronchitis. The doctor prescribed an inhaler that cost her $56.

Felan, 31, works part time in retail and hasn't had insurance for at least a decade because she hasn't been able to afford it. "Unfortunately even not having insurance is just as expensive," she says.

For the first time, we are getting some demographic information about the more than 2 million people who have signed up for private health insurance through the exchanges set up by the federal government.

The New York Times reports that the Obama administration said older, less healthy enrollees outnumber healthy, younger ones. The Times adds:

Health care spending grew at a record slow pace for the fourth straight year in 2012, according to a new government report. But the federal officials who compiled the report disagree with their bosses in the Obama administration about why.

The annual report from the actuaries at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, published in the journal Health Affairs, found total U.S. health spending totaled $2.8 trillion in 2012, or $8,915 per person.

The Obama administration has asked the Supreme Court not to extend a temporary injunction given to a group of Colorado nuns who want to be exempt from some rules in the new health care law. The rules relate to the requirement that most employers provide health insurance that includes coverage of birth control costs.

The Justice Department will answer a challenge Friday morning to a controversial provision in the new health care law. It requires most employers that offer health insurance to include birth control at no cost.

A group of Catholic nuns has objected to that, and this week they won a temporary reprieve from Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. It's an unusual test case, but it won't be the last one.

Despite Health Law, Many People May Be Left Underinsured

Dec 31, 2013

People with chronic conditions will be better protected from crippling medical bills starting in January, as the health law's coverage requirements and spending limits take effect.

The White House released new figures on Sunday that show a surge in the number of Americans who have signed up for health insurance through the federal marketplace.

According to a blog post by Marilynn Tavenner, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services administrator, 1.1 million Americans have signed up for coverage since the marketplace opened in October.

BrianAJackson/iStock / Thinkstock

Officials running the state's new health care exchange say thousands of people are enrolling for insurance as Monday's deadline draws near.

Christine Stuart / CT News Junkie

If you want to be insured under Obamacare come January 1, Monday is your deadline to enroll. But the agency running the program fears that some people may think they've signed up when they actually haven't.

President Obama, in his final news conference of the year, sought to put the best face on a difficult first year of his second term.

Speaking a few hours before he heads to Hawaii for a two-week vacation, Obama is meeting with reporters at the White House.

He touted the improving economy, saying 2 million jobs had been added in 2013, with the unemployment rate now at its lowest level in five years.

"2014 can be a breakthrough year," he said.

Gubcio / iStock / Thinkstock

At the end of this month, Connecticut will submit a plan for a radical change in the way health care is delivered in the state. Connecticut is one of 16 states bidding for a $45 million federal grant to develop a model for the future of health care. 

Chion Wolf / WNPR

The last few months have seen the Affordable Care Act rollout, and the well-publicized problems with websites and signups. Connecticut’s Health Exchange has been doing much better than the rest of the country, but getting people signed up is only one part of the massive health care overhaul in the country.

Jeremy Brooks/flickr creative commons

From Faith Middleton: Our check-up on our health care enrollees reveals Connecticut has one of the nation's most successful exchanges. The state doubled what the Obama administration set as a target for Connecticut—more than 14,000 of us have enrolled in the exchange. 

The majority of enrollees are between the ages of 55 and 64, which raises the question of whether the majority are also unemployed. 

Numbers released by the Obama administration show enrollment in health exchanges edged up in November, but the uptake remains far short of the administration's initial targets.

Roughly 264,000 people signed up for private insurance coverage last month through the federal and state exchanges, according to data from the Health and Human Services Department. That brings the total to about 364,000 for October and November.

Chion Wolf / WNPR

Senator Chris Murphy just got back from Europe, talking to allies about U.S. spying abroad and counter-terrorism efforts. He’s also been outspoken about the role of the media in covering the Obamacare rollout. In fact, he’s got so much to talk about, we’re bringing him into our weekly news roundtable, The Wheelhouse. Join us for a free-wheeling conversation and ask your questions of Senator Murphy.

While conceding that "more problems may pop up as they always do when you're launching something new," President Obama on Tuesday said the troubled website "is working well for the vast majority of users" and his Affordable Care Act "is working and will work into the future."

"We may never satisfy the law's opponents," Obama added during an afternoon event at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House. But, he said, "we know the demand [for health insurance] is there and we know the product on these marketplaces is good."

White House officials say the government's health insurance website, which has been plagued with problems ever since it launched in October, is now working smoothly for most users.

"The site is now stable and operating at its intended capacity with greatly improved performance," Jeffrey Zients, the president's appointee to fix the site, said during a telephone conference with reporters on Sunday. The bottom line, said Zients, is that is "night and day" from what it was at launch.

The Obama administration is delaying yet again online signup for small businesses through the Affordable Care Act. The program was intended to make it easier for small employers to provide health insurance to their workers on a more equal footing with big business.

Try this on for size: The Affordable Care Act is good for young adults because it'll save them money on health care, leaving them more to spend on liquor and birth control.

That's one way to interpret the message from a provocative new ad campaign in Colorado. Not everyone is thrilled with it.

Patrick Skahill / WNPR

Governor Dannel Malloy said he will not allow insurance companies to renew non-compliant health plans in Connecticut, rejecting President Obama's fix announced last week. The President left it to states to decide whether to adopt his change, which was a response to news that hundreds of thousands of people across the country had received insurance cancelation notices. 

Chion Wolf / WNPR

Another chapter in the political scandal that derailed former House Speaker Chris Donovan’s congressional campaign has come to a close as one of the key figures in the case was sentenced earlier this week. Our weekly political news roundtable The Wheelhouse will discuss this and what the Obamacare delay means for Connecticut. And will Foxwoods get a casino in Massachusetts?