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

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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President Obama's nationally televised press conference Thursday -- in addition to announcing an attempted administrative fix for people whose health plans had been canceled under Obamacare -- was also a definitive mea culpa for the law's flawed rollout, which has helped send the president's approval rating plummeting.

On several occasions, Obama said that his administration had "fumbled" the implementation of his signature legislative achievement. The twin problems of people receiving cancellation letters and then being unable to access their new options under the law because of a dysfunctional website have driven the public's view and trust of the Obama White House to unprecedented lows.

So Thursday, the president owned up to that failure.

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The insurance industry's top lobbying group, America's Health Insurance Plans, warned Thursday that the administration's Obamacare fix could "destabilize the market and result in higher premiums for consumers."

“Making sure consumers have secure, affordable coverage is health plans' top priority. The only reason consumers are getting notices about their current coverage changing is because the ACA requires all policies to cover a broad range of benefits that go beyond what many people choose to purchase today," AHIP president and CEO Karen Ignagni said in a statement.

“Changing the rules after health plans have already met the requirements of the law could destabilize the market and result in higher premiums for consumers. Premiums have already been set for next year based on an assumption of when consumers will be transitioning to the new marketplace. If now fewer younger and healthier people choose to purchase coverage in the exchange, premiums will increase and there will be fewer choices for consumers. Additional steps must be taken to stabilize the marketplace and mitigate the adverse impact on consumers.”

TPM has obtained a copy of the letter that the Obama administration sent Thursday to state insurance commissioners, providing them with guidance on the administrative fix for people whose health plans have been canceled under Obamacare.

The fix allows health insurers to offer customers the option of renewing their existing coverage for an additional year. The administration will suspend any enforcement of the law's market reforms for these existing polices. The letter asks state authorities to do the same.

"State agencies responsible for enforcing the specified market reforms are encouraged to adopt the same transitional policy with respect to this coverage," the letter said.

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