Our guide to getting covered under Obamacare (updated for 2015!)

by Rob Cullen on December 12, 2014 - 6:44 PM

The first deadline for Obamacare’s second year is coming up fast– for coverage that starts on January 1, you have to sign up by this Monday, December 15– and the February 15th end of open enrollment for 2015 will be here before you know it. Buying insurance can be ridiculously confusing, especially if you’ve never done it before, and on top of that, the deadlines, income guidelines, and penalties have all changed since last year. But don’t worry: to help make the process a little easier, we have a new guide to getting covered under Obamacare for 2015!   [click to continue reading…]

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UK - Candle Light Vigil for Michael Brown at US Embassy in London

A few weeks back, when a grand jury failed to indict the police officer who shot and killed an unarmed teen in Ferguson, Missouri, sparking waves of protest, former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani had this to say on Meet the Press:

The fact is that I find it very disappointing that you’re not discussing the fact that 93 percent of blacks in America are killed by other blacks. We are talking about the significant exception here [in the Brown case]. I’d like to see the attention paid to that that you are paying to this.

Plenty of people have already pointed out that Giuliani’s statements are both (1) offensively misleading (he neglects to mention that 84% of whites are killed by other whites); and (2) willfully ignorant of the point of the protests. Atlantic Magazine’s Ta-Nehisi Coates puts it succinctly in “The Gospel of Rudy Giuliani”:

Yes. It’s almost as if killers tend to murder people who live near them. Moreover, it seems that people actually hold officers operating under the color of law to a different standard.

But as a healthcare blog, we were interested in his dismissal of police violence as a “significant exception.” Of course other homicides happen much more frequently, but since we’re hearing a lot about police killings lately, we were curious– what are the exact figures? Are these shootings becoming more common? Are they more likely to occur in certain areas? How many people who are killed were unarmed? How much more likely are police to shoot people of color?

Turns out Giuliani wasn’t able to offer an exact figure because no one is keeping track. [click to continue reading…]

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We’ve been talking a lot about the Supreme Court’s decision to hear yet another Obamacare case, but that wasn’t the only big legal news in November. Last month, House Republicans finally filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration over how the law has been implemented.

We say “finally” because House Speaker John Boehner announced that Republicans would be suing the president over, well… something back in June, and picked Obamacare’s employer mandate as a target a couple weeks later. However, since then House Republicans had struggled to find a lawyer who would represent them.

The lawsuit, which was filed immediately after President Obama announced executive action on immigration, seems as though it was put together solely to get newspapers to run headlines with the words “Congress sues” and “Obamacare” in them. It’ll be a tough case for Republicans to win, but more importantly, we’re not sure they even want to win it.   [click to continue reading…]

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APphoto_Supreme Court Health Overhaul Subsidies

As promised, we’re back with part 2 of our coverage of the Supreme Court’s surprising decision to take on yet another Obamacare case. Last time, we pointed out that the announcement means four of the nine justices are at least considering ruling that would eliminate subsidies to help pay for insurance in states that run their own exchanges. That doesn’t mean they will, but it’s worth looking at what can be done if the Court does make coverage unaffordable for nearly five million Americans.

Luckily, not only are relatively easy fixes available at both the state and national level, but Republicans might actually be willing to join Democrats in passing them.   [click to continue reading…]

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jonathan-gruber-mit

Ok, I know we said that our next post would be about how states and Congress might react if the Supreme Court does decide to kill Obamacare subsidies in 34 states. However, since the Internet has apparently decided that the most important thing in healthcare this past week was a year-old video clip of an MIT professor talking to a roomful of other health economists (aka “Grubergate”), we figured we’d take a look at that first.

For those who don’t know, Jonathan Gruber was an architect of the Massachusetts health reform effort (aka “Romneycare”), which served as the model for Obamacare, and an adviser on Obamacare itself. At the University of Pennsylvania’s Annual Health Economics Conference last year, Gruber said this:

This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure the CBO [Congressional Budget Office] did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies. So it’s written to do that.

In terms of risk-rated subsidies, in a law that said health people are gonna pay in — if it made explicit that healthy people are gonna pay in, sick people get money, it would not have passed. Okay — just like the … people — transperen— lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to get anything to pass.


It sounds an awful lot like he’s saying that the Obama administration secretly snuck some provisions into the bill that, if the American public knew about them, Obamacare never would have passed.

But if we’ve learned anything from the resignation of Shirley Sherrod and James O’Keefe’s takedown of ACORN it’s that if a conservative website has a video clip of an Obama supporter saying something that seems outrageous, chances are it was taken out of context. So we went back and watched the full video of Gruber’s remarks, and, sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.   [click to continue reading…]

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486059953.0

We think the Supreme Court might be trolling us. Just two days after we wrote about some silver linings for Obamacare supporters in the wake of the midterms, the justices unexpectedly announced that it would hear King v. Burwell, a case that has the potential to cripple the law.   [click to continue reading…]

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2014 midterm voters

There’s really no sugar-coating it: the election yesterday was a bad one for supporters of universal health care. Margot Sanger-Katz, writing on The New York Times Upshot blog, reports:

Arkansas, Kentucky and West Virginia — states that saw substantial drops in the proportion of their residents without insurance — all elected Republican Senate candidates who oppose the Affordable Care Act. Control of the West Virginia state House of Delegates flipped from Democrats to Republicans. And Arkansas elected Republican supermajorities to both houses of its legislature along with a Republican governor, a situation that could imperil the Medicaid expansion that helped more than 200,000 of its poorest residents get health insurance.

Meanwhile, vulnerable Republican governors in Georgia, Maine, Kansas, Wisconsin, and Alaska who refused to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, and Florida governor Rick Scott who only tepidly supported expansion, all cruised to reelection. And, in what might be the night’s biggest surprise, Vermont’s Democratic governor Peter Shumlin, who had been working toward implementing a single-payer health system in his state, was nearly unseated.

However, it wasn’t all bad news for healthcare yesterday. Here are some bright spots.   [click to continue reading…]

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Why the 2014 midterms are a big deal for Obamacare

by Rob Cullen on November 3, 2014 - 7:13 PM

voting machines

If you read some of this year’s election coverage, you might get the sense that the 2014 elections don’t matter all that much. The current Congress is on track to be the least productive in modern history, and even if the GOP takes control of the Senate, that’s unlikely to change much– they won’t have enough votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster or a Presidential veto.

So it seems many people have tuned out. Usually there’s more and more interest as elections get closer, but a recent WSJ/NBC News poll found that the number of people who expressed interest in this year’s midterm actually declined, from 51% to 50%, between June and October.

2014 election interest

The lack of interest is unfortunate because the 2014 elections could have big consequences for health care, especially at the state level.   [click to continue reading…]

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Kaci Hickox

How NOT to treat healthcare workers who return from fighting Ebola in Africa.

Looks like our recent post, on why Americans should calm down about Ebola, worked: in a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, 63% of respondents said they were “confident in the government’s ability to respond to an outbreak of the Ebola virus in the United States.”

That was the good news. We had hoped that the recent panic might lead more of us to support policies that would strengthen healthcare systems in west Africa, where the disease where the disease has been devastating. The bad news is that hasn’t happened:

An overwhelming 70 percent support restrictions on travel from afflicted countries (which helps explain why vulnerable Democrats have caved to Republican pressure and come out in support of one, too). And far more (61 percent) think we need to do more against Ebola in the United States than think we need to do more to stop the spread of it in Africa (46 percent).

Public health experts agree that to end the threat of Ebola in the United States, we need to stop its spread in west Africa. They also say that restrictions on travel– especially those targeting healthcare workers, like the mandatory quarantines announced by governors Mario Cuomo (D-NY), Chris Christie (R-NJ), and Pat Quinn (D-Ill.)– could actually increase the chances of future outbreaks here.   [click to continue reading…]

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The Obamacare question that Republican candidates won’t answer

by Rob Cullen on October 23, 2014 - 4:32 PM

mcconnell-grimes debate

In theory, this should be an interesting election for health care issues. After all for the past few years, the debate about Obamacare has been about what might happen: would it cover millions of people as expected, or would it be a total disaster, like Republicans claimed. Now we can see what is happening: Obamacare is working.

About 7.3 million people are currently enrolled through the exchanges, 60% of whom were previously uninsured (an additional 8 million or so enrolled in Obamacare-regulated plans outside of the exchanges), and, depending how you count it, another 6 to 9 million people gained coverage thanks to the Medicaid expansion. The U.S. uninsured rate is now at its lowest point since Gallup began tracking it in 2008:

gallup uninsured poll 3rd quarter 2014

All of which naturally leads to an important question for Republican candidates: what happens to all those people if you repeal Obamacare?

Unfortunately it’s not a question they’ve had to answer.   [click to continue reading…]

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