Slatest PM: The White House's New Healthcare Headache

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 29 2013 4:38 PM

Slatest PM: The White House's New Healthcare Headache

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Marilyn Tavenner, Administrator for Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, US Department of Health and Human Services speaks during a hearing with the House Ways and Means Committee in Washington, DC, October 29, 2013

Photo by Jim WatsonAFP/Getty Images

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

Website Woes Find Company: Associated Press: "Lawmakers confronted the Obama administration Tuesday with a difficult new health care problem — a wave of cancellation notices hitting individuals and small business who buy their own insurance. ... Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner said it's not the administration but insurers who are responsible for cancellation letters now reaching many of the estimated 14 million people who buy individual policies. And, officials said, people who get cancellation notices will be able to find better replacement plans, in some cases for less."

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Why The Cancellations Are Happening: More AP: "The Associated Press, citing the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, reported in May that many carriers would opt to cancel policies this fall and issue new ones. Administratively that was seen as easier than changing existing plans to comply with the new law, which mandates coverage of more services and provides better financial protection against catastrophic illnesses. While the administration had ample warning of the cancellations, they could become another public relations debacle for President Barack Obama's signature legislation. This problem goes to the credibility of one of the president's earliest promises about the health care overhaul: You can keep your plan if you like it."

It's Tuesday, October 29th, welcome to the Slatest PM. Follow your afternoon host on Twitter at @JoshVoorhees, and the whole team at @Slatest.

An Apology: Washington Post: "Testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee, Marilyn Tavenner, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), said: 'To the millions of Americans who’ve attempted to use HealthCare.gov to shop and enroll in health-care coverage, I want to apologize to you that the Web site has not worked as well as it should. We know how desperately you need affordable coverage.' She offered assurances that the Web site 'can and will be fixed' and said that already 'we are seeing improvement each week.'"

Lots of Question, Few Answers: Politico: "But after that mea culpa, it was all downhill for Tavenner. She didn’t have any answers for Republicans who wanted to know how many people have successfully enrolled in the Obamacare health insurance exchanges, including the federal one. 'We’ll have those numbers available in mid-November,' she said over and over again as Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp pressed her for hard information. ... She also couldn’t say how many young adults were in the mix or how the website can effectively warn adults under age 26 that they won’t get a subsidy because they can stay on their parents’ plans. And she didn’t have a direct answer when Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) asked whether she could guarantee that no one would have a gap in their health insurance, if their old individual policies are being cancelled and they can’t sign up for a new one by Jan. 1."

Spy Chiefs Concede "Mistakes": NBC News: "The U.S. spy chiefs defended the NSA's data collection programs to a Congressional committee on Tuesday, saying the activities were lawful, aimed at foreign terrorists and saved lives. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said he would support declassifying secret intelligence court orders to boost transparency, and National Security Agency director Keith Alexander said an independent Senate-confirmed inspector general 'won't hurt.' But Clapper also warned those weighing measures to reform the NSA's activities that they must avoid 'over-correcting.' ... 'We do not spy on anyone except for valid foreign intelligence purposes and we do not violate the law.' Clapper conceded 'mistakes have been made,' blaming them on human error or technical problems and said there has been an 'erosion of trust in the in the intelligence community.'"

Ms. Fulton Goes to Washington: Los Angeles Times: "The mother of Trayvon Martin ... testified Tuesday about the need to amend a law that 'does not work.' Speaking just months after George Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder charges in her son's February 2012 death in Florida, Sybrina Fulton appeared before the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights to ask its members to "seriously take a look" at the 2005 Florida law and similar ones passed in more than a dozen other states since then. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the chairman of the subcommittee, agreed that it was time for the laws 'to be carefully reviewed and reconsidered.' ... But others, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, said the right of people to stay and 'stand their ground' stems from a 1895 Supreme Court decision."

Syria's Polio Problem: Reuters: "With the world tantalizingly close to wiping out polio, conflict in Syria has allowed the crippling disease to take hold again, putting at risk the rest of the region as well as plans for global eradication. ...  The polio outbreak in Syria, confirmed on Tuesday by the World Health Organization (WHO), is depressingly similar to previous resurgences in countries such as Sudan and Colombia, where the once eliminated virus exploited opportunities offered by conflict and poverty to find its way back in. ...  Polio spreads easily from person to person. The WHO's ominous warning is that as long as any child remains infected, children everywhere are at risk. ... Syria had not seen polio since 1999, according to the WHO, but its 2-1/2-year-old conflict, which began with popular protests against President Bashar al-Assad before degenerating into civil war, has brought poverty, violence and displacement to many millions of people there. And polio was not far behind. Syria's health ministry said on October 19 that 22 children in the country's north eastern Deir al-Zor province had become paralyzed with polio-like symptoms. The WHO's Tunis laboratory has now isolated the polio virus in samples taken from 10 victims."

See you back here tomorrow. Until then, tell your friends to subscribe, or simply forward the newsletter on and let them make up their own minds.

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