The longest war in American history drags on, with Washington a captive of purposeless inertia. The Obama administration should bring all U.S. forces home from Afghanistan and turn the conflict over to the Afghans.
After Afghan-based terrorists orche…
This week brought the passing of Nelson Mandela. He was a man whose towering authority derived from his relentless devotion to humanity at its most basic level. While locked away for 27 years, the rage of injustice was supplanted by a willingness to b…
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The California health exchange says it’s been giving the names of tens of thousands of consumers to insurance agents without their permission or knowledge in an effort to hit deadlines for coverage.
The consumers in question had gone online to research insurance options but didn’t ask to be contacted, the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday (http://lat.ms/1jyABXS ). Officials with Covered California, the exchange set up in response to the federal health law, said they began providing names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses if available this week in a pilot program. They said they thought it would help people meet a Dec. 23 deadline to have health insurance in place by Jan. 1.
The state doesn’t know exactly how many people are affected by the information sharing. Social Security numbers, income and other information were not provided to the agents, exchange officials said.
The pilot program meets privacy laws and was cleared by the exchange’s legal counsel, Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, told the Times.
But some insurance brokers and consumers weren’t pleased with the state’s initiative.
“I’m shocked and dumbfounded,” said Sam Smith, an Encino insurance broker and president of the California Association of Health Underwriters, an industry group.
“These people would have a legitimate complaint,” said Smith, who added he had been given two consumer names.
The names provided include people who started an insurance application on the Covered California website but didn’t complete the process.
A local agent emailed Robert Blatt on Thursday asking him about the application he’d started.
“You can’t do this,” Blatt, a technology consultant in Ventura County, told the newspaper. “For a government agency to release this information to an outside person is a major issue.”
Covered California has signed up nearly 80,000 people in private health plans and an additional 140,000 people qualified for Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program.
But the exchange has been struggling recently with a surge of applicants, and consumers are getting frustrated with long wait times. The state wanted to provide additional help by connecting consumers with a network of 7,700 insurance agents who are trained and certified in the enrollment process, said Lee, the exchange chief.
“I can imagine some people may be upset,” he said. “But I can see a lot of people will be comforted and relieved at getting the help they need to navigate a confusing process.”
A call to Covered California’s media line by The Associated Press was not immediately returned Saturday.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House says President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama will attend a Tuesday memorial service in South Africa honoring Nelson Mandela.
The service will take place at a stadium in Johannesburg. The Obamas will be accompanied on Air Force One by former President George W. Bush and wife Laura Bush. Former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, along with former President Jimmy Carter, will also attend memorials for Mandela in South Africa.
A state funeral for Mandela will take place Dec. 15 in the anti-apartheid leader’s hometown.
Mandela died Thursday. He was 95.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is bringing a former top aide with deep ties to Congress back to the White House to help get his health care overhaul back on track after a bungled rollout.
Officials say Phil Schiliro, who as Obama’s top liaison to Capitol Hill helped push the Affordable Care Act through Congress, is taking on a short-term assignment to help coordinate policy surrounding the law. He’ll work with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, other agencies and members of Congress.
The Medicare agency oversees the federal website that uninsured people are supposed to use to buy government-subsidized health insurance. Starting next year, virtually all Americans will be required to have coverage or face fines. But a cascade of technical problems overwhelmed HealthCare.gov when it went live on Oct. 1, frustrating consumers and sending Obama’s poll ratings into a dive.
After weeks of repairs, the administration announced last week that the worst of the technical problems had been fixed and that the site was working reasonably well for most users. But it’s too really to say if the website has really turned a corner. It’s also quite likely that the White House will stumble into another crisis as officials try to implement a complex, politically polarizing law with broad effects on society.
Schiliro’s appointment is comparable to that of Jeffrey Zients, the management expert and former Obama administration official who returned in mid-October to oversee the rescue of the dysfunctional website. But where Zients is an organizational troubleshooter, Schiliro brings years of political connections and health care policy expertise to an insular White House. Prior to his first stint in the administration, he had been a longtime adviser to California Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman, one of the co-authors of the health care law.
Schiliro left the White House about two years ago and moved to New Mexico, where he opened a business consulting for nonprofits.
In a statement provided by the White House, Schiliro said he wants to help because the law is important to Obama.
The health care law is the signature domestic achievement of Obama’s presidency, but it’s been challenged every step of the way by congressional Republicans and other opponents.
The website woes took the White House by surprise, rattling Obama’s own supporters and undermining their confidence in the administration’s basic competence. Then Obama sailed into another political storm: millions of people who buy insurance individually were getting cancellation notices because their policies did not measure up to the standards of the health care law. Amid growing criticism, the president apologized and proposed a workaround involving temporary extensions of current policies.
On Capitol Hill, Democratic lawmakers facing tough re-elections next year began wavering.
Word of Schiliro’s return also comes as the White House seems to have realized that the success of the health care overhaul can’t be taken for granted. The president himself has plunged into a renewed effort to promote the law.
“We moved to New Mexico to go in a new direction, but this is important to the president,” Schiliro said in the statement. “A law that guarantees coverage to millions of Americans, improves quality and saves hundreds of billions of dollars is worth fighting for. I hope to help with that effort.”
Schiliro will work with White House-based health care advisers, including Jeanne Lambrew and Chris Jennings.
The New York Times first reported on Schiliro’s return.
Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap
Holy Ghost Preparatory teacher Michael Griffin emailed school principal Jeffrey Danilak this week to say he’d be late on Friday because he was getting his marriage license, WPVI-TV reports. Shortly afterwards, he was called to a meeting with Danilak and Holy Ghost President Father James McCloskey.
Griffin said that at the meeting, McCloskey told him he’d be fired if he went through with his plan to get the marriage license. Sure enough, Griffin was fired on Friday — the same day he got his marriage license, WPVI-TV notes.
Holy Ghost Preparatory is a 116-year-old all-boys private Catholic high school in Bensalem, Pa., about 15 miles northeast of Philadelphia. Griffin graduated from the school in 1996 and taught French and Spanish there for nearly 13 years before being fired on Friday, according to the school’s website.
Holy Ghost Preparatory in Bensalem, Pa. (credit: Facebook/HolyGhostPrep)
So far, WPVI-TV is the only source to report that Griffin was fired essentially for being gay. Holy Ghost Preparatory administrators did not respond to a request for comment from The Huffington Post, but students and alumni left comments online in support of Griffin.
“I’ve had señor Griffin as a teacher for a couple of months now, and he is easily one of the most intelligent, kindest, and most qualified teachers at my school,” wrote Holy Ghost freshman Dave Connuck. “The fact that the school would fire him because of his personal lifestyle is just unbelievably horrifying.”
“Mr. Griffin led the service trip to the Dominican Republic every year and was a man of great character. He was an intelligent man and a great teacher,” wrote a Holy Ghost sophomore. “Being homosexual outside of the school does not affect a man’s ability to teach or a student’s ability to learn.”
While Griffin’s fate may sound outrageous, the U.S. still has a long way to go to protect homosexuals from workplace discrimination. Under federal law, Pennsylvania state law, and by law in 28 other states, it is still perfectly legal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A tired but smiling 85-year-old U.S. veteran detained in North Korea for several weeks returned home Saturday to applause from supporters, yellow ribbons tied to trees outside his home and the warm embrace of his family.
Merrill Newman arrived at the San Francisco airport after turning down a ride aboard Vice President Joe Biden’s Air Force Two in favor of a direct flight from Beijing. He emerged into the international terminal smiling, accompanied by his son and holding the hand of his wife amid applause from supporters. He spoke briefly to the assembled media, declining to answer questions about his ordeal. “I’m delighted to be home,” he said. “It’s been a great homecoming. I’m tired, but ready to be with my family.”
He also thanked the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang, North Korea, and the U.S. Embassy in Beijing for helping to secure his release. He declined to answer any questions and didn’t discuss his detention.
Newman was detained in late October at the end of a 10-day trip to North Korea, a visit that came six decades after he oversaw a group of South Korean wartime guerrillas during the 1950-53 war.
Last month, Newman read from an awkwardly worded alleged confession that apologized for, among other things, killing North Koreans during the war. Analysts questioned whether the statement was coerced, and former South Korean guerrillas who had worked with Newman and fought behind enemy lines during the war disputed some of the details.
North Korea cited Newman’s age and medical condition in allowing him to leave the country.
Barbara Ingram, a friend and neighbor of Newman’s at the senior citizen complex where they live said residents broke into applause when news of Newman’s release was announced Friday during lunch.
“A great cheer went up,” Ingram said. “We are all so very relieved and grateful.”
Newman’s detention highlighted the extreme sensitivity with which Pyongyang views the war, which ended without a formal peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula still technically in a state of war. The conflict is a regular focus of North Korean propaganda and media, which accuse Pyongyang’s wartime enemies Washington and Seoul of carrying on the fighting by continuing to push for the North’s overthrow.
The televised statement read last month by Newman said he was attempting to meet surviving guerrilla fighters he had trained during the conflict so he could reconnect them with their wartime colleagues living in South Korea and that he had criticized the North during his recent trip.
Members of the former South Korean guerrilla group said in an interview last week with The Associated Press that Newman was their adviser. Some have expressed surprise that Newman would take the risk of visiting North Korea given his association with their group, which is still remembered with keen hatred in the North. Others were amazed that Pyongyang still considered Newman a threat.
“As you can imagine this has been a very difficult ordeal for us as a family, and particularly for him,” Newman’s son Jeff Newman said in a statement read outside his home in Pasadena Friday night, adding that they will say more about this unusual journey after Newman has rested.
Newman’s release comes as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visit to the region brought him to Seoul. Biden said Saturday that he welcomed the release and said he talked by phone with Newman in Beijing.
Associated Press writers Eun-Young Jeong, Hyung-jin Kim, Foster Klug and Josh Lederman in Seoul, Martha Mendoza and Paul Elias in San Francisco, and Didi Tang and Aritz Parra in Beijing contributed to this report.
By KELLI KENNEDY, The Associated Press
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Federal health officials, after encouraging alternate sign-up methods amid the fumbled rollout of their online insurance website, began quietly urging counselors around the country this week to stop using paper applications to enroll people in health insurance because of concerns those applications would not be processed in time.
Interviews with enrollment counselors, insurance brokers and a government official who works with navigators in Illinois reveal the latest change in direction by the Obama administration, which had been encouraging paper applications and other means because of all the problems with the federal website. Consumers must sign up for insurance under the federal health overhaul by Dec. 23 in order for coverage to start in January. “We received guidance from the feds recommending that folks apply online as opposed to paper,” said Mike Claffey, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Insurance.
After a conference call earlier this week with federal health officials, Illinois health officials sent a memo Thursday to their roughly 1,600 navigators saying there is no way to complete marketplace enrollment through a paper application. The memo, which Claffey said was based on guidance from federal officials, said paper applications should be used only if other means aren’t available.
Federal health officials also discussed the issue during a conference call Wednesday with navigators and certified counselors in several states.
“They’ve said do not use paper applications because they won’t be able to process them anywhere near in time,” said John Foley, attorney and certified counselor for Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, who was on the call.
That contradicts what federal health officials told reporters during a national media call this week, during which they said there were no problems with paper applications.
“There is still time to do paper applications,” Julie Bataille, communications director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told reporters on the call Wednesday.
A CMS spokesman declined to comment directly on the issue Friday when asked whether they discouraged navigators from using paper applications.
“With the recent fixes to the website, we are encouraging consumers to use healthcare.gov since it’s the quickest way to get coverage, but paper applications remain an option for consumers and navigators if they choose,” said spokesman Aaron Albright.
In early November, President Barack Obama himself encouraged paper applications as one of several alternatives to the federal website.
“I just want to remind everybody that they can still apply for coverage by phone, by mail, in person,” Obama said on Nov. 4 in remarks to Affordable Care Act supporters at a Washington hotel.
The paper application problem comes as insurance agents and brokers are dealing with a massive backlog of applications that they can’t process because of problems with the federal website, including incomplete enrollment files sent electronically to insurance companies.
Paper applications seemed like a safe bet in early October as agents and navigators struggled with online applications. Once federal health officials receive a paper application, they check with other federal agencies to determine whether an applicant is eligible for a subsidy to help pay for a portion of their health coverage. But the process, which includes verifying incomes and immigration status, is taking longer than expected.
“This timing concern is enormous,” said Jessica Waltman, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Association of Health Underwriters.
Her organization, which represents insurance brokers and agents, is in daily contact with CMS on enrollment issues. In several recent conversations, Waltman said CMS has expressed concerns about paper applications but stops short of saying they can’t be used.
“We’ve gotten concerns from them saying, ‘I don’t know about the paper applications. That’s a really slow go or I don’t know if that’s the best idea,’” she said.
Kelly Fristoe, an insurance agent in Wichita Falls, Texas, has submitted 25 paper applications since early October and hasn’t received a response from federal health officials yet.
“At this time, we are not using any paper applications,” he said.
That also contradicts what CMS told reporters this week.
Bataille, the spokeswoman for the federal agency, said all paper applications received during October have been processed.
Follow Kelli Kennedy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/kkennedyAP