Affordable Care Act

The health care exchanges may be open, but there's no question they're still kind of a mess.

"The rollout has been excruciatingly awful for way too many people," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius conceded to the Senate Finance Committee last week.

But mess or not, the law is going forward, people are trying to use it, and they have questions. Here are some of yours, and our answers.

Before the Affordable Care Act was even open for enrollment, Viviana Alvarado was already taking calls from people who wanted to know more.

She and about 40 of her colleagues are staffing the phones for Maximus, the company Connecticut has contracted to run its call center.

The government contractors running the troubled HealthCare.gov website have been under intense scrutiny in the past month, but those businesses aren't the only ones being paid to rollout Obamacare.

Lipothymia / Creative Commons

It's no secret to say that health care has been undergoing radical change in this country. But what's less well-known is that the state of Connecticut is going beyond the current changes in the Affordable Care Act to address the way we deliver care and pay for medical services. And some consumer advocates are disturbed by the results.

When the head of the agency responsible for the troubled Healthcare.gov went before Congress for the first time since its foibles became apparent Oct. 1, she probably didn't expect that many questions would be on something else altogether.

Chion Wolf / WNPR

Despite technical problems plaguing the rollout of the Affordable Care Act nationwide, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy said the launch in Connecticut has gone better than expected.

HealthCare.gov, the faulty website where people can sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, has become nearly synonymous with the word "glitch" — sometimes defensively, sometimes mockingly.

They've got a few weeks.

But if federal officials can't get the new online insurance marketplace running smoothly by mid-November, the problems plaguing the three-week-old website could become a far bigger threat to the success of the health law, hampering enrollment and fueling opponents' calls to delay implementation, analysts say.

Since the Affordable Care Act's health care exchanges launched to a long series of error messages Oct. 1, most of the "what went wrong" fingers have been pointing at software developers.

But some say there's more to it than that — that politics has played a role as well.

The Obama administration's hopes ran high that millions would flock to enroll for health insurance on state and federal exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act.

Those exchanges went online Oct. 1. The administration projected that half a million individuals or families would enroll within 30 days, according to The Associated Press.

But three weeks in, the data suggest the actual number of enrollments is lagging far behind that number.

Mackenzie Kreitler / Verizon Wireless

The Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence received a grant form the Verizon Foundation Friday that will train Health Care providers to become effective domestic violence screeners.

HealthCare.gov was meant to create a simple, easy way for millions of Americans to shop for subsidized health care.

Instead, in a little two more than weeks, it has become the poster child for the federal government's technical ineptitude.

Pete Souza / White House

This shutdown is getting old. Federal workers aren’t getting paid, and that means lots of people right here in Connecticut are affected directly - and a lot more are having problems, too.

Chion Wolf / WNPR

It's been two weeks since enrollment began under the new health insurance law known as Obamacare. First, the numbers. Connecticut has about 344,000 people without health insurance. Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, was designed to lower that number.

These first two weeks have been rocky for the state health insurance exchanges. The online marketplaces opened across the country Oct. 1, with computer glitches and staffing shortages.

Even the states that have agreed to run their own exchanges are having a hard time. In states that have not embraced the Affordable Care Act, the federal government is struggling to fill in the gap.

Matanya / Flickr Creative Commons

Quinnipiac University released their latest national poll on Tuesday, looking at American voters' attitudes about the government shutdown and Obamacare. The poll of 1,497 registered voters revealed that 72 percent are opposed to the notion of shutting down the government to stop implementation of Obamacare, and 64 percent oppose blocking an increase of the debt ceiling to derail the Affordable Care Act.

Chion Wolf / WNPR

Join us while we talk about the new Connecticut health care exchange on Where We Live. Listen live here.

9:11 am: Kevin Counihan, CEO of Connecticut's health insurance exchange, says Access Health CT is up and running. He says plenty of people are visiting the site and it's active. "It's a highly complex implementation," he says, citing lots of support in the state for the health care exchange.

Pete/Comedy_Nose / Flickr Creative Commons

Access Health CT, the state's new health care marketplace, goes live for customers today. Officials are encouraging people shopping for insurance plans to do it online, if possible, to limit paperwork. Officials are also sending workers into the community to work with low-income people who may not have web access, or may not be web-savvy. 

Update at 8:18 p.m. ET. Impasse:

As first day of a federal government shutdown came to a close, Congress was not any closer to a resolution.

Case in point: Republicans in the House proposed three bills that would have reopened national parks, the Department of Veteran's Affairs and kept the D.C. government afloat. But all three bills didn't even make it out of the House.

NPR's Steve Inskeep interviewed President Obama on Monday about the looming government shutdown, the upcoming debt ceiling fight and more. A full transcript of the interview follows:

STEVE INSKEEP: As you have watched what's happening in Congress, do you feel that House Republicans are coming any closer to anything that you could sign?

Today marks a milestone on the nation's long march toward universal health coverage: the launch of online marketplaces, called exchanges, designed to help people find insurance they can afford.

It's an idea pioneered by Massachusetts seven years ago. People here call their program a success, and say the state's exchange was an indispensable factor.

Chion Wolf

Today’s the day the new Affordable Care Act kicks into gear.  

The health care reform known as “Obamacare” is creating state exchanges where those without insurance can buy it.  But how do these exchanges work? Who’s eligible and who’s not? What about all the myths, mysteries and misconceptions? How much is it really costing us?

Monday's Highlights:

Only hours before a partial shutdown of the federal government would take effect, House Republicans still hadn't arrived at a temporary spending bill that Senate Democrats were willing to approve to keep government workers on the job. A closure appeared inevitable.

On Monday afternoon, Senate Democrats rejected a stopgap spending bill passed by the House over the weekend because it contained anti-Obamacare measures that Democrats found objectionable.

With just hours to go before a potential government shutdown, President Obama said there is still a window to avert it.

"There's still an opportunity, during the course of this day to avert a shutdown and make sure that we are paying our bills," Obama said in an interview with NPR.

But when asked if any proposal from the House is closer to something he would approve, Obama said flatly, "No."

Not even an hour after the House voted in favor of a bill that would avert a shutdown of the federal government, but also delay a key part of President Obama's Affordable Care Act, the Senate rejected it with a vote of 54-46.

With less than an hour before the government runs out of authority to spend money, the ball is now back in the court of Speaker John Boehner in the House.

The Affordable Care Act has been through two years of legislative wrangling, a presidential election and a Supreme Court test that took it to the brink.

Now, after yet another round of debate and argument, major pieces of the federal health law are expected to kick in Tuesday.

If all goes as planned, people who don't have insurance or who buy it on their own will be able to shop online or at various locations in their communities for coverage that will take effect Jan. 1.

The federal government has moved closer to the brink of a shutdown, as the House of Representatives approved a temporary funding bill Saturday night that the Senate and White House say has no chance of becoming law.

The House bill would avert the budget deadline at midnight Monday by funding the U.S. government into December. But it also includes a one-year delay of Obamacare — a provision that Democrats and some Republicans say has no place in a stopgap funding bill.

Tuesday is a big day for the White House. That's when new health insurance exchanges open in every state, where people can buy the insurance the Affordable Care Act requires next year. They will also see if they qualify for new subsidies to help them afford it.

Updated at 12:24 a.m. ET Sunday

The House voted early Sunday to tie government funding to a one-year delay in implementing Obamacare, sending the dispute back to the Senate, where it is certain to get a frosty reception. The House measure also repeals the Affordable Care Act's tax on medical devices.

Government Shutdown Looms

Sep 27, 2013
Diliff / Wikimedia Commons

In a rare weekend session, Congress will continue to debate how to avoid a government shutdown. The Senate voted along party lines for a temporary spending bill that would keep the government from shutting down next week. But Senate Democrats stripped a provision that would defund Obamacare, something House Republicans insist upon.

Jeff Cohen / WNPR

The nation's new health care law rolls out next week. One essential part of that is a call center to both field questions and enroll people. But it's not clear how much the private company taking these calls, Maximus Health Services, is actually charging taxpayers. 

Pages