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.
Both at home and abroad, anger over the surveillance programs that NSA leaker Edward Snowden revealed in June has given rise to a new round of plans to limit U.S. snooping. But the government is sharply divided over how to assure Americans and the world at large that their private lives are not being invaded while still protecting against terror attacks. It’s likely that lawmakers who oversee competing interests of justice and intelligence issues will end up with a compromise that limits some domestic surveillance.
On Tuesday, Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., offered legislation to overhaul the NSA. Already, the bill has bipartisan backing in the House and Senate and support from a broad array of support groups that ranges from the National Rifle Association to the American Civil Liberties Union.
“We have to make a balance between security and civil liberties,” Sensenbrenner said in an interview last week. “And the reason the intelligence community has gotten itself into such trouble is they apparently do not see why civil liberties have got to be protected.”
Man trapped for days penned letters to family before death
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A missing Kansas man spent his final days trapped in the wreckage of his van in a rural Utah ravine — writing goodbye letters to the family he unexpectedly left in early September.
David Welch, 54, was found on Oct. 18 by a hitchhiker who spotted the crash in a desolate stretch of eastern Utah more than 50 miles from any town, said Utah Highway Patrol trooper Gary Riches.
They found Welch trapped inside his mangled minivan at the bottom of a 50-foot ravine — with hand-written notes to his wife and four adult sons.
What’s in those letters, though, is not being made public. The Welch family declined comment for this story and the Utah Highway Patrol isn’t sharing what they call very personal.
The discovery brought a tragic end to a difficult several weeks for Welch’s family that began on Sept. 2 when they reported him missing from his home in Manhattan, Kan. The family said Welch, a retired salesman, left in a 2000 Pontiac Montana without telling anyone where he was going, said Riley County Police spokesman Matt Droge.
Texas AG asks for quick ruling on new clinic abortion rule
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A federal appeals court weighed whether to grant an emergency motion Tuesday that would allow some new Texas abortion restrictions to take effect, the latest step in a lengthy battle activists on both sides predicted would end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Texas leaders urged the panel to quickly hear their appeal of a judge’s ruling Monday striking down a requirement that doctors performing abortions must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic.
He agreed with abortion-rights activists that the restriction, which was to be enforced starting Tuesday, placed an unconstitutional burden on women seeking an abortion and didn’t make the process safer, as state officials had argued.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott immediately appealed the ruling to the conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. The first order of business for the court was to decide whether to grant an emergency motion to allow that and another part of the new law to take effect Tuesday as scheduled.
The provision, part of a large package of abortion limits the Legislature approved in July, would effectively force the closure of about a third of the state’s 32 abortion clinics — some the only facility within hundreds of miles where women can get an abortion. Abortion rights supporters argued most hospitals will not grant abortion doctors admitting privileges for religious, business or competitive reasons.