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Published: Thursday, 9/26/2013

Shutdown or not, government advances on health-care reforms

BY TRACIE MAURIELLO
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans’ threat to stop funding the federal government won’t stop the Affordable Care Act’s online insurance markets from opening on Tuesday, top White House aides say.

“Whether there is a government shutdown or not our call centers will be ready to go,” David Simas, deputy senior adviser to President Obama, said Wednesday. “The phones will be answered” and enrollments will be accepted, he said.

His comments were made as Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) wrapped up a 21-hour speech opposing implementation of the health care act, while other conservatives, including Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey worked to dismantle it.

“Since the bill was enacted it was my goal — and it continues to be my goal — to completely repeal Obamacare. This is a bill that is simply not fixable. It is damaging our economy, it is costing us jobs, it’s reducing paychecks, [and] it’s shrinking hours worked,” Mr. Toomey said in a conference call with reporters.

But, he said, as long as Democrats control the White House and Senate, repeal isn’t possible.

The administration, meanwhile, is moving ahead on implementing the health-care reforms.

Aides aren’t expecting an overwhelming influx of enrollments Tuesday, the first day of a six-month open-enrollment period. Rather, top aides expect people to merely start looking at their options.

“This is the beginning of the [enrollment] period, not the end of the period, not the most important day in the period,” Mr. Simas said.

Those who want to sign up right away can, but most are expected to wait until spring, just before the April 1 deadline for most Americans to have coverage or risk fines, Mr. Simas said.

Mr. Simas walked a group of Washington reporters through the steps of enrolling online — a process he said should take between eight and 10 minutes for an individual. Customers need only enter their names, birthdates, and gross incomes. That will instantly bring up information about eligibility for government insurance subsidies.

Next, the Web site will show price ranges for various coverage tiers ranging from platinum, which covers 90 percent of medical costs, to bronze, which covers 60 percent.

Users can click through to see variations in coverage, deductibles, and network providers.

When they’re ready, they can enroll and pay the first month’s premium online. The government will automatically forward the subsidized portion of the premium directly to the insurance company.

Best of all, Mr. Simas, said, there are no questions about medical conditions, which under the old system, could result in high premiums or, worse, denial of coverage.

“The economic model of insurance to this day has not been to bring more customers in; it’s to bring healthy customers in because you don’t make money off sick people,” he said.

To learn more about the exchanges or — after Tuesday — to enroll, visit healthcare.gov.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Tracie Mauriello is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

Contact Tracie Mauriello at: tmauriello@post-gazette.com, 703-996-9292, or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.



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