Latest from The Spokesman-Review
WASHINGTON – A huge, new paperwork headache for the government also could be jeopardizing coverage for some of the millions of people who just got health insurance under President Barack Obama’s law.
A government document provided to the Associated Press indicates that at least 2 million people enrolled for taxpayer-subsidized private health insurance have data discrepancies in their applications that, if unresolved, could affect what they pay for coverage, or even their legal right to benefits.
The final number affected could well be higher. According to the administration, the 2 million figure reflects only consumers who signed up through the federally administered HealthCare.gov website and call centers. The government signed up about 5.4 million people, while state-run websites signed up another 2.6 million.
If you signed up for this how confident are you that you are covered?
Today's Spokesman.com business story focused on one employer, national food service provider Sodexo, to cut medical insurance costs by redefining its full time workers.
As the story noted, this has not been a unique decision. Many companies are looking at the new Affordable Care Act as a way to cut the medical benefit while workers are shunted into new private plans.
Altogether, about 44 percent of employers contacted during a 2013 survey said they plan to stop administering health plans for their former workers over the next two years. The survey was commissioned by Towers Watson, a consulting firm that focuses on helping companies improve performance.
Boundary County, Idaho, is cutting the number of hours people can drop off garbage for the county landfill because of health care reform, the county said in a news release today.
Here's how the news release put it:
“Due to increased expenses of the Federally Mandated Affordable Care Act, also known as Obama Care, Boundary County is forced to reduce the hours of operation at our monitored solid waste disposal/collection sites.”
The new hours will be 9-5 seven days a week, versus the current hours of 8-6.
The release doesn't explain the connection between the Affordable Care Act and dump hours, and workers in the solid waste and planning and zoning departments for the rural Idaho county couldn't elaborate either.
We're waiting to hear from the public information officer who issued the release.
Michael Meier, the county's public information officer, just called to say that the county is cutting hours for full-time workers so they no longer are eligible for the county's health care plan. Fewer worker hours mean fewer hours the dump collection sites can be open.
OLYMPIA – A quarter-million adults in Washington will gain dental coverage over the next two years as the state expands its Medicaid rolls under the Affordable Care Act and re-establishes programs dropped in budget cutbacks.
Starting Jan. 1, current Medicaid recipients who lost coverage after successive rounds of budget cuts in 2009 and 2011 will have it restored and those who being added to the health care program under an agreement between the state and federal government will also be eligible for dental coverage, state officials said.
“Obviously, it’s a relief,” Dr. Ashley Ulmer, a Spokane dentist who has a North side private practice and serves as director of the Inland Dental Expanded Access, or IDEA, Clinic. “Some people have put off care for a long time.” . .
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers hears lots of angst about Obamacare in Eastern Washington.
At least, that's what she says in a USA Today guest column defending the House Republicans in their move to link continued funding of the federal government to some changes in the Affordable Care Act.
“No matter where I go when I'm home in Eastern Washington — the grocery store, the local coffee shop, the county fair — the concern is the same: Obamacare is making life harder for everyday Americans. At the doctor's office, the dinner table and in the job market. “ ” she wrote in a counterpoint to the newspaper, which criticized House Republicans.
A skeptic would probably point out that McMorris Rodgers most recent visit to the home district was pretty much designed so she would mostly hear criticisms of the new law. A playbook for House Republicans returning home for the August recess (they prefer “work period”) advised members to hold an Obamacare Media Tour “to emphasize the need to repeal Obamacare to protect employees, small businesses and jobs.” Such events were to be peopled with like-minded folks, so the opportunity to hear something other than a discouraging word about the new law at those gatherings was pretty limited.
The forward to this “Planning Kit” was written by McMorris Rodgers herself, so it's a good bet she followed it closely.
The congresswoman did hold a “y'all come” town hall meeting in Spokane during that recess, but by most accounts the reaction to the Affodable Care Act was mixed, with some people unhappy with it, and others unhappy with McMorris Rodgers and her fellow Republicans for repeatedly trying to repeal it.
Yesterday she sent out a tweet noting problems on the opening day for Washington state's health care exchange, where people without insurance can sign up for plans, “#ObamaCare exchanges open today and #WA State's website isn't even working. Precursor to the complications to come,” she wrote.
The tweet was time stamped at 7 a.m., which was before state officials said the website was supposed to open. The exchange did have problems later in the day, but for reasons that somewhat undercut her statement about people being so concerned about the program. The system was slow or crashed at times because so many people were trying to go online to sign up.
Figures released Wednesday from the Washington Health Benefit Exchange showed that the web site had 170,487 page views and the call center fielded 6,199 calls. It established 6,385 accounts.
The system is still having problems — it's being taken down from 10 p.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Thursday for maintenance — and it would be a fair criticism that one might've expected better from the nearly $55 million contract Deloitte received to build it. But it seems fair to say that at least some people think the new law is going to make their lives easier.
Suffering? Getting old? The pharmaceutical industry wants to help. Every night on TV, photogenic actors frolic with photogenic grandchildren, or lounge in bathtubs gazing into the setting sun, telling emotion-laden tales of 30-second Madison Avenue cures: E.D.? Low T? R.A.? COPD? Dry eye? Sneezy? Wheezy? Queasy? There’s a drug for that.
And all the consumer needs to do – all together, now – is “Talk to your doctor.”
But there are a few things the ads don’t mention: Low-cost alternatives to the high-cost drugs featured in the ads. Lifestyle changes that could make drugs unnecessary. Damaging side effects that may not be discovered until a drug has been on the market for a while.
Less obvious is the fact that when consumers do show up to talk to their doctors, the drug industry got there first. Read more. John Webster, SR
My 82-year-old mother takes a bewlidering number of medications. It really concerns me. I don't take any regular medication— not even vitamin suppliements.
Do you take prescribed meds? Why or why not?
Third in a row; another blog post on the ACA (Affordable Care Act).
Just today, the Obama administration announced it will waive all enforcements or penalties until 2015 for any company that doesn't provide health care insurance to workers.
The law's full list of provisions goes into effect Jan. 1. Tuesday's announcement means larger firms have a full year to establish compliance with the regulations the law imposes.
Passed three years ago, the law mandates large firms — those with 50 or more workers — to provide health benefits to full-time employees or pay fines starting at $2,000 per worker.
As a WSJ.com story noted, “Many large companies already provide coverage voluntarily, but some industries, particularly restaurant and retail and other sectors with significant numbers of lower-wage workers, had criticized the additional costs.”
But, it's not clear how many businesses will be affected. One group, the Small Business Majority, estimates 96 percent of businesses in the U.S. have fewer than 50 employees.
The Treasury Department on Tuesday said the waiver will help companies work out the details of compliance.
And of course, after listing three handy sources for businesses dealing with the Affordable Care Act, it's natural that an hour later along comes another good, valuable link.
This would be the Health Care Inc. Northwest blog, managed and operated by the Puget Sound Business Journal. The blog can be accessed directly, or one can sign up and receive a newsletter summary.
The newsletter signup page is here.
Small business owners certainly are facing a raft of complex concerns as they prepare to deal with the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. This is not a simple question.
Many information sources can be found online, and there are several sites specifically tailored to guide businesses through the new legislative-regulatory maze.
One is the Health Coverage Guide, managed by Small Business Majority, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.
Probably as good a basic and advanced information source is the U.S. Department of Commerce's SBA site specifically on the health care law..
For the tablet-reader, we'll recommend this book available on Amazon, “The Busy Business Owner's Guide to Health Care Reform: What You Need to Know.”
Many of the business-related provisions of the care act go into effect later this year, and then fully on Jan. 1, 2014.
The Affordable Care Act takes effect for many small businesses over the next two years.
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) on Monday started a website to help small businesses understand the set of choices they face.
It includes online tools to gather up information provided by agenices that will be responsible for implementing the law, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The act specifies a set of choices that affect how business owners deal with premiums and access to insurance plans. The new site breaks down some of the act's provisions for businesses in different sizes — such as, self-employed, fewer than 25 employees, fewer than 50 employees and more than 50 employees.
WASHINGTON — Pressing an election-year point, Republicans pushed yet another bill through the House on Wednesday to repeal the nation’s two-year-old health care law, a maneuver that forced Democrats to choose between President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement and a public that is persistently skeptical of its value.
The vote was 244-185, with five Democrats defectors siding with Republicans. By Republican count, the vote marked the 33rd time in 18 months that the tea party-infused GOP majority has tried to eliminate, defund or otherwise scale back the program — opponents scornfully call it “Obamacare” — since Republicans took control of the House.
Will the Affordable Care Act become the undoing of Obama's re-election bid or the making of it?
OLYMPIA – In a world of e-mails and Twitter tweets, it’s usually nice to get a real letter. Except, maybe, if it’s a letter telling you to do something that you’ve already said you aren’t gonna do, or not do something you’ve said you will.
This is the case with the letter that U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, and a cohort of other Republican senators and congresspersons, sent to Gov. Chris Gregoire, urging her and her 49 fellow governors to “join us in resisting a centralized government approach to health care reform.” . . .
To read the rest of this item, or to commen, go inside the blog.
OLYMPIA — In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act, Republicans have a split in their party's candidates for governor.
Attorney General Rob McKenna, by far the GOP frontrunner for governor, joined one of the key lawsuits that because he doubted the constitutionality of the individual mandate, said post-decision that that question was answered. Time to get on with implementation and stop talking about a wholesale repeal of the law, he said in a press conference.
Shahram Hadian, an Iranian-American Christian pastor is a long-shot to be sure, but is trying to close the gap by vowing to be as resolute against federal health care reform and “join other fiscally conservative, freedom loving, citizen defending, courageous governors to rise up against the implementation of this unconstitutional and outrageous law.” He lists some current Republican governors who he says are refusling to implement Obamacare in their states, and includes Idaho's Butch Otter in that list. (In fact Otter hasn't said much post-decision because he was out of the office when it came down, other than he's not calling a special session to deal with setting up a health insurance exchange or other looming provisions of the federal law.)
Hadian isn't the only other Republican sharing the primary ballot with McKenna, but he's the only other one with anything close to an active campaign, and the only other one allowed to address the GOP state convention. He a sent out a fund-raising appeal and press release late last week based on fighting federal health care reform: “As the next governor, I will invoke the 10th Amendment rights and fight tooth and nail in refusing to implement any part of Obamacare. Period.”
It's a strong appeal to the Tea Party wing of the GOP. But it seems to ignore the fact that unlike Idaho, the Washington Legislature has already set the state on course to have a health insurance exchange in time for the federal deadline. So he'd have to convince the Lege to repeal that law, toss out that work and give up the promise of federal funds for the exchange.
Of course, if Mitt Romney wins the White House and Republicans take control of both house of Congress, that all may be taken care of in the other Washington. But that would be the case for McKenna… or even Democrat Jay Inslee, should he win.
There was a wide range of reaction among Washington politicians to Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act. Here’s an example of how wide:
Jay Inslee, who voted for the law as a congressman and now wants to be Washington’s next governor, and insisted he wasn’t surprised by the ruling: “I always believed this was constitutional.”
That would seem to make him significantly more confident than the president, and four justices on the court.
Michael Baumgartner, a state senator who voted against bills to set up and expand a health benefit exchange this year and last – and wants to be Washington’s next U.S. senator – was surprised: “Today, the Supreme Court did something none of us expected – they held that the Affordable Care Act is not in violation of the Constitution.”
Baumgartner apparently never talked with Inslee.
As usual, Jon Stewart properly skewered CNN for botching the announcement of yesterday's U.S. Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act.
The perils of jumping to analysis before one knows the facts.
Retired state Supreme Court Justice Gerry Alexander was in Spokane Thursday for the last scheduled meeting of the city's Use of Force Commission.
Afterward, we asked him about his thoughts about this morning's U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld most of the Affordable Care Act.
“I had previously thought that they would strike the mandate down,” said Alexander, outside the Spokane City Council chambers. “It seemed to me that they were taking the Commerce Clause where it hadn't gone before.”
Alexander, who was appointed to the Use of Force Commission by Mayor David Condon, said he followed the case, but hadn't read the ruling Thursday afternoon. The majority of justices agreed with Alexander about the Commerce Clause, but a different majority upheld the law under Congress's taxing authority.
“I felt all along they could pass a tax for this,” Alexander said.
OLYMPIA – When a divided Supreme Court settled the question of whether federal health care reform is constitutional Thursday, it turned up the spotlight on the issue for Washington’s hotly contested governor’s race.
Now the question is, how long before that light dims?
Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, one of the original plaintiffs in the failed multi-state challenge, said he was surprised at the ruling but insisted he was relieved, not disappointed.
Former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, Inslee’s likely Democratic opponent for governor this November, was happy: “I always believed this was constitutional. I had no qualms in voting for this bill.”
Gov. Chris Gregoire, who disagreed so strongly with McKenna’s decision to draw Washington into the court battle that she filed as a “friend of the court” on the other side, was both celebratory and caustic.
As his Republican opponent continues to call for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, Democratic congressional candidate Rich Cowan said it's time to “put aside the partisan bickering.”“
Cowan's likely opponent in November, four term Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, was one of the go-to commentators for the House GOP on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision today and called for Congress to “repeal and replace the law” in the face of the narrow decision that said the law is constitutional. She also blasted some scatological messages she said that came from national Democrats in the wake of the decision, and sent out a fund-raising appeal for the National Republican Congressional Campaign that asked those who also find the messages crass to donate $3 to “show Democrats what Mom-power looks like.”
Cowan said the court “did the right thing for our health care today” and cited some popular features that will continue, such as extended coverage for young adults on their parents' insurance and an end to coverage denials for pre-existing conditions. And he played the “I understand these things because I'm in the private sector” card.
“As a business owner I have experienced first hand how important basic, affordable health care is to employees,” he said in a press release. “here are parts of this law that can be improved, like cost containment and access issues, but it is time to put aside the partisan bickering and put America back to work.”
There will be days and days of analysis – some of it even important – of today’s historic Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act, or as those who hate the law say – Obamacare. We’ll hear every possible interpretation and then some. Here is my initial take on one sliver of the story; the fact that Chief Justice John Roberts authored the majority opinion upholding the law, went against four other conservatives on the Court with whom he often finds compatibility and maybe – just maybe – wrote himself firmly into the history books. I think most Court watchers would say that a Chief Justice – any Chief Justice – always wants to be in the majority. Roberts worked hard to get there even while taking pains to throw a rhetorical political bone to those who will see him as an updated version of former Justice David Souter, an appointee of the first George Bush who served to infuriate many conservatives/Marc Johnson, The Johnson Report. More here. (AP photo of Chief Justice John Roberts with President Barack Obama during 2010 State of the Union speech)
Question: Do you think Roberts made the right kind of history?
If this morning's CNN fiasco on announcing the Affordable Care Act wasn't a good enough reminder about how bad the media frenzy can get over something like a major Supreme Court ruling, this segment from The Daily Show on Wednesday night showed how silly the news network talking heads have been all week.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee said his GOP opponent was “wrong from the beginning” to join the lawsuit challenging the federal health care reform law.
A couple hours earlier, Inslee's chief Republican rival, Attorney General Rob McKenna had defended his decision to join the lawsuit and said that with the court's 5-4 ruling, at least the state and nation has greater certainty on what Congress can and can't do.
“I always believed this was constitutional,” Inslee said Thursday afternoon at a brief press conference. “I had no qualms in voting for this bill.”
The ruling means the efforts to expand and improve the nation's health care system can move forward, he said. If he wins the race for governor in November “I will lead the effort to expand coverage,” Inslee said.
Whether or not McKenna's participation in the suit influences voters, health care remains a major issue for the state for years to come, Inslee said.
President Obama looked pretty happy when he took to the microphone earlier this morning to comment on the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision that upheld the Affordable Care Act.
For those who didn't see that, but wonder what he had to say, a transcript is inside the blog.
Attorney General Rob McKenna did his best to count victories this morning after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the lawsuit he joined to overturn the Affordable Care Act. And he said other Republicans should drop talk of a wholesale repeal of the law because “that's not going to happen.”
At a late morning press conference, McKenna insisted the ruling was good for Washington because the court ruled Congress doesn't have the authority under the Constitution's Commerce Clause to order people to buy health care insurance. “We achieved our goal” of finding that out, he said.
But he was surprised by the decision of five members of the court to rule the mandate is allowable under Congress's taxing authority, adding that Chief Justice John Roberts' determination that the tax isn't subject to the restrictions of some other taxes was “a bracket buster.”
The state should move ahead with its work to meet provisions of the law, such as the Health Insurance Exchange which will allow individuals to shop for insurance more easilly, he said, and to look for more ways to reform health care.
But other Republicans should stop talking about repealing the law, and instead focus on specific provisions that prove unworkable, he said.
Democrats passed a massive bill with many controversial provisions by pushing it through Congress. “To completely blow it up means we're essentially doing the same thing, in reverse,” he said.
Besides, the Democratically controlled Senate isn't going to repeal the law, and Obama isn't going to sign a repeal, he said.
Gov. Gregoire discusses health care ruling.
OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire “couldn't be more happy and relieved” by the Supreme Court's majority decision that the Affordable Care Act was constitutional.
The decision is good for state residents with pre-existing medical conditions, for young adults who remain on their parent's insurance until they reach 26 and for people who will eventually have coverage through an expansion of Medicaid.
“The real winners are the people of our state,” she said.
She also had harsh words for Attorney General Rob McKenna, her wouldbe replacement, for joining the suit. He was wrong on his insistence that the court could overturn the individual mandate and keep other parts of the law that Washington needs, Gregoire said.
“He was dead wrong on that. You can't have your cake and it it too,” she said.
Health care reform is sure to come up in McKenna's run against former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, she added.
“Inslee went back (to Congress) and fought for health care reform and the attorney general was just wrong.”
Gov. Chris Gregoire is holding a press conference at 10:30 a.m. in Olympia on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act. She's already released a statement that she's pleased.
Attorney General Rob McKenna is holding a press conference at 11:30 a.m. in Seattle on the ruling. He was part of the group that opposed the law and lost, but he's described it as part of the nation's system of checks and balances.
Former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, McKenna's likely opponent for governor in the November election, has a press conference after a campaign luncheon in Seattle at about 1:30 p.m.
U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is part of a House GOP squadron holding a press conference in Washington, D.C. at 10:30 a.m. She's already released a statement saying they'll keep trying to “repeal and replace” it.
OLYMPIA — Attorney General Rob McKenna was among the original plaintiffs challenging the Affordable Care Act and this morning defended the lawsuit, despite the loss, as part of the nation's “series of checks and balances”.
“While we’re disappointed that this close decision did not find in the states’ favor with regard to the individual mandate, the country benefits from a thoughtful debate about the reach of federal power into the legal rights of the states and the personal financial decisions of all Americans,” he said in a press release.
Other state officials who are Democrats were critical of McKenna for joining the lawsuit, and turned up the criticism when he said he was only challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate but the suit called for throwing out the entire law. It's a major bone of contention between McKenna and former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, the Democrat challenging McKenna for governor, who voted for the law when it was in Congress. So it's unlikely to be viewed as merely a way of testing the checks and balances by them.
To read the entire press release from McKenna, go inside the blog.
OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire said she believed the Affordable Care Act would withstand the legal challenge but was “extremely pleased” the Supreme Court agreed with some of the points highlighted in a brief she and others in the state submitted in support of the law.
Attorney General Rob McKenna, it may be recalled, signed on on the other side of the argument, as one of the officials from 26 states challenging the law.
With the decision, the state will continue efforts to expand health care, Gregoire said.
To read the full press release, go inside the blog.
Even if the Affordable Care Act is constitutional, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this morning, it's still unworkable, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers insisted.
The Eastern Washington Republican was sent to the court as one of the GOP spokespersons to address the gathered media hordes. After listening to the decision, she issued a press release that vowed her party will continue trying to repeal the law that she called “an unprecedented expansion of government power.”
To read the full press release, go inside the blog.
The Republicans said all along that the individual mandate was a tax, Sen. Mike Crapo said this morning after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act on that point. Democrats had insisted it wasn't.
“It's an incredibly big irony,” the Idaho Republican said.
President Obama rejected the GOP arguments that the penalties contained in the law amounted to a tax, and promised the American public he wouldn't raise taxes, Crapo said.. During the Senate debate on the Affordable Care Act, Crapo said he offered an amendment that would have stripped the bill of anything that violated Obama's pledge. It was rejected.
“Now, we're back into that argument,” he said. Although the law is constitutional, “this is still the bad law we said it was.”
Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler was among the first with instant analysis of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on health care reform.
Not surprisingly, Kreidler, who is a big supporter of the Affordable Care Act, was upbeat. His take: That Washington is ahead of most states because of steps it has taken to comply with the law. It's on track to set up a Health Exchange in 2014, as the law requires; some states have been waiting on the court ruling.
The state is also in line for federal subsidies for 477,000 for insurance for poor people, expanded Medicaid for poor children and a ban on insurance companies denying coverage to people who are sick.
The entire press release is inside the blog.