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October 30, 2013

Around the Nation

Obama official blames insurers for policy cancellations

WASHINGTON (AP) — Move over, website woes. Lawmakers confronted the Obama administration Tuesday with a difficult new health care problem — a wave of cancellation notices hitting individuals and small business who buy their own insurance.

At the same time, the federal official closest to the website apologized for its dysfunction in new sign-ups and asserted things are getting better by the day.

Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner said it’s not the administration but insurers who are responsible for cancellation letters now reaching many of the estimated 14 million people who buy individual policies. And, officials said, people who get cancellation notices will be able to find better replacement plans, in some cases for less.

The Associated Press, citing the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, reported in May that many carriers would opt to cancel policies this fall and issue new ones. Administratively that was seen as easier than changing existing plans to comply with the new law, which mandates coverage of more services and provides better financial protection against catastrophic illnesses.

While the administration had ample warning of the cancellations, they could become another public relations debacle for President Barack Obama’s signature legislation. This problem goes to the credibility of one of the president’s earliest promises about the health care overhaul: You can keep your plan if you like it.

US spying prompts reversal by architect of USA Patriot Act

WASHINGTON (AP) — He gave more surveillance power to U.S. government spies, railed against civil liberties advocates who warned about privacy abuses, and famously shut down a 2005 hearing to silence critics. Now Rep. James Sensenbrenner wants to scale back some of the counterterror laws he once championed, citing an overreach by the National Security Agency that has proven him wrong.

Sensenbrenner says he was “appalled and angry” to learn this year that the NSA was sweeping up millions of Americans’ phone records each day. He says that goes far beyond the intent of the 2001 USA Patriot Act, of which he was the chief congressional architect and which was enacted weeks after the 9/11 terror attacks.

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