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Dylan Scott

Dylan Scott is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. He previously reported for Governing magazine in Washington, D.C., and the Las Vegas Sun. His work has been recognized with a 2013 American Society of Business Publication Editors award for Best Feature Series and a 2010 Associated Press Society of Ohio award for Best Investigative Reporting. He can be reached at dylan@talkingpointsmemo.com.

Articles by Dylan

The Obama administration gave new life Monday to the idea of working with insurance companies to help them sign people up for health coverage outside of the troubled federal website, HealthCare.gov.

"We are working to set up direct enrollment through insurance companies so that Americans could choose to enroll directly through the insurance company," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said during a daily press briefing after reporters asked about the possibility. "We’re interested in engaging or opening as many channels for enrollment as possible."

That makes sense on one hand because the administration wants to enroll as many people as possible -- but on the other hand, it comes through the sacrifice of the competitive nature of the online marketplace, where insurers were supposed to vie for consumers' business. That was a big part of President Obama's pitch prior to the Oct. 1 launch.

"It’s a website where you can compare and purchase affordable health insurance plans, side-by-side, the same way you shop for a plane ticket on Kayak, the same way you shop for a TV on Amazon. You just go on and you start looking, and here are all the options," he said on Sept. 26. "Now you've got new competition, because insurers want your business. And that means you will have cheaper prices."

But after HealthCare.gov's struggles since its launch, losing that feature for some people might be a price that Obamacare supporters have to accept.

"In terms of overcoming these initial glitches, I think this is fine," Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economist who helped craft the law, told TPM. "We're transforming the way health insurance is shopped. If it takes an extra few months, it's not the end of the world. We can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good here."

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House Oversight Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA) is taking his Obamacare oversight investigation on a four-state national tour in the next month.

Issa's office announced the tour Monday. It will start in Gastonia, N.C., Friday and end in Dallas, Texas, on Dec. 16. In between, there will be hearings in Gainesville, Ga., (Dec. 6) and Arizona (Dec. 6).

“While the President repeatedly said that Americans could keep their insurance under ObamaCare, even he has had to admit that just isn’t so. By holding these field hearings, the Committee will hear firsthand the stories about the initial impact of broken promises," Issa said in a statement. "These hearings will help the Oversight Committee determine how the Affordable Care Act is affecting individuals in areas hit the hardest by the ACA where costs are rising and choices are limited. HealthCare.gov continues to struggle while millions of Americans have their health plans cancelled and are left without the options the President promised.”

The Washington, D.C. insurance commissioner was fired Friday, the day after he had expressed skepticism about President Obama's plan to let people keep their current health insurance under Obamacare and indicated that it would not be implemented in Washington.

According to the Washington Post, William White was told that Mayor Vincent Gray (pictured) "wants to go in a different direction." His comments about the Obamcare 'fix' weren't explicitly referenced, but on Thursday, White had said that the plan would have damaged the law's insurance marketplaces and "make it more difficult for them to operate."

The timing was hard to ignore, White told the Post. His statement was also removed from the insurance department's website.

The city declined to comment on White's firing.

According to the Post, White had tried to apologize for the comments on Thursday night, before he was fired, in a voicemail for Gray and an email sent to the mayor's senior staff.

Beware anybody trying to help people sign up for health insurance under Obamacare.

That's the line from top Senate Republicans, who have magnified their smear campaign against the law's so-called navigators, groups that have received federal money to assist people in enrolling for coverage. Their latest shot: darkly warning that Americans could put their personal and financial safety at risk if they seek out assistance.

Republicans have a longstanding animosity toward the navigators -- state officials in a number of red states have put up roadblocks for them -- but the comments of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) are a new extreme in the party's assault on those tasked with helping Americans navigate the health reform law.

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The Obama administration has said that HealthCare.gov will be "working smoothly for the vast majority of users" by the end of November. They've brought in Jeff Zients, a former corporate executive, to save the ailing website from its disastrous launch. So how are they doing?

They're making serious progress, Zients said on a Friday conference call with reporters.

The administration is judging its improvement by two metrics, Zients said: the website's response times and its error rates. In other words, how long it takes a page to load for users and how often users encounter a crash or error page.

In both areas, Zients reported, HealthCare.gov is improving exponentially.

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"I lost my health insurance under Obamacare," Rep. Michele Bachmann lamented to CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Thursday evening.

She didn't sound happy about it. "Actually, we were just fine before," she told Democratic strategist Paul Begala after he suggested that she should be thankful for the health reform law because she and her husband, who Bachmann said had serious health issues, couldn't be discriminated against now.

Has she checked out the Washington, D.C., health insurance marketplace, where she could see what Obamacare might actually be able to offer her and her family? Yeah, right.

“Are you kidding? I’m not going to waste an hour on that thing,” she said. “I’m waiting until they fix this thing. I’m not going to sit there and frustrate myself for hours and hours.”

But as Bachmann portrayed herself another victim of Obamacare, another American kicked off her health plan, she left out one important fact: She has her fellow Republicans to thank for her so-called predicament.

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The Obama administration threatened Thursday to veto the House Republican bill aimed at addressing the issue of canceled health plans that has taken over Washington in recent days.

"The Administration supports policies that allow people to keep the health plans that they have. But, policies that reverse the progress made to extend quality, affordable coverage to millions of uninsured, hardworking, middle class families are not the solution," read the official Statement of Administration Policy released by the Office of Management and Budget. "Rather than refighting old political battles to sabotage the health care law, the Congress should work with the Administration to improve the law and move forward."

The House bill would allow insurers to continue to sell existing policies outside the law's insurance marketplaces to anyone, including new customers, next year. A vote is expected Friday.

If the attempted Obamacare fix is going to work at all -- an already debatable proposition -- it needs to take hold in the biggest state in the Union: California.

But unfortunately for the White House, internal state politics could make it hard for that to happen. California has institutionalized the very practice that the Obamacare "fix" is supposed to address -- the only state marketplace to do so.

California has always been key to the health care reform law's success. Most importantly, of course, it's the biggest state. That means it's the biggest state to build its own insurance marketplace, expand Medicaid, etc. If you can make the law succeed in a state where one in eight Americans lives, that goes a long way toward making Obamacare work nationwide.

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Within hours of its public debut, the Obama administration's attempted 'fix' to help people whose health plans have been canceled under Obamacare had encountered an enormous roadblock: skepticism from the two groups, insurance companies and state regulators, responsible for putting it into action.

On top of that, it wasn't readily clear that the fix would do anything to alleviate the political pressure that spawned it in the first place. If the fix can't achieve its policy or political goals, what good is it?

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The National Association of Insurance Commissioners, which represents state regulators nationwide, said it was "concerned by" the Obamacare fix proposed Thursday by the White House.

NAIC's reaction is particularly notable because, as a letter sent by the administration to insurance commissioners indicates, the fix relies on state authorities implementing it.

"We... are concerned by the President’s announcement today that the federal government would use its 'enforcement discretion' to delay enforcement of the ACA’s market reforms in 2014 for plans that are currently in effect," NAIC President and Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said in a statement. "This decision continues different rules for different policies and threatens to undermine the new market, and may lead to higher premiums and market disruptions in 2014 and beyond."

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