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More Technical Issues For Obamacare, But Good News For Medicare

Posted: October 28, 2013

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After yet more problems over the weekend, HealthCare.gov, the federal site for people to buy insurance through the Affordable Care Act, seems to be making incremental improvements. Probably the best news on the health care front is that premiums for Medicare will not increase next year.

Gone is the smiling young woman who used to grace HealthCare.gov. Now it's time to get down to work.

Gone is the smiling young woman who used to grace HealthCare.gov. Now it's time to get down to work.

Monday was yet another troubled day for the Affordable Care Act.

Sunday night, the outside vendor that operates two key parts of the website that lets people browse and sign up for health insurance experienced a failure.

The failure took place at a vendor called Verizon Terremark and presumably affected other clients as well as HealthCare.gov, the federal website that people use to sign up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

By 7 a.m., federal officials say, the data hub at HealthCare.gov that certifies things like citizenship and eligibility for tax credits was back up and running. And by midafternoon Monday, the rest of the website was back as well, they say. It's unknown how many people tried and failed to get on the site Sunday.

But not all the news was bad. Monday brought good news for the 49 million people on Medicare, with officials announcing that premiums and deductibles won't increase in 2014.

That's the third straight year those patient costs have been less than projected or stayed the same. And Medicare officials also said seniors have saved more than $8 billion since the Affordable Care Act closed the prescription drug doughnut hole gap in coverage. It's a bit ironic because public opinion polls consistently show that seniors are the least enthusiastic about the Affordable Care Act.

Fixing the other problems with HealthCare.gov will be a longer-term project. But last week the new guy in charge, Jeff Zients, said the site should be running smoothly by the end of November, something Health and Human Services officials reiterated Monday. And it does seem that while things are not fixed yet, the website's performance is getting incrementally better by the day.

But we're also hearing about people getting notices that their old health insurance is being canceled, and that could be the next big political issue. Those people are in the individual market who buy their own insurance. That's about 14 million people out of more than 300 million Americans.

Some of them are going to have to buy new policies and some are going to have to pay more, because the policies they have now don't meet the current minimum requirements of the Affordable Care Act. But at the same time, there are people in the individual market who will no longer be paying extra because they're women, or older, or have pre-existing medical conditions.

The fact is, one of the biggest things the Affordable Care Act does is remake the market for individually purchased policies. That's going to cause some dislocation for people in that market now. It's going to create winners and losers. And it's the losers who complain the loudest.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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