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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's announcement Thursday night that it would exempt people whose policies have been canceled because of Obamacare from the law's individual mandate was an unexpected move.

The White House had been under fire for months over the widespread reports of canceled policies, but rather than assuage those concerns with the new exemption, it runs the risk of opening one of the law's most important (and most unpopular) features to more political meddling.

Congressional Republicans have already used it as an excuse to call for a blanket delay of the individual mandate, and some of the law's most ardent supporters acknowledge that the administration seems to have cracked open a door that could be difficult to close.

"I think by itself this is a not a huge problem. This group should be relatively small," Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economist who helped craft Obamacare, told TPM. "But I think that the administration has to hold the line here. More widespread cracks in the mandate could start to cause enormous problems for insurers."

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After the Obama administration announced Thursday that it would exempt Americans whose health plans had been canceled from Obamacare's individual mandate, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said Friday morning that the mandate should be delayed for everybody for one year.

"Our entire health care system can't be fundamentally changed at any given time subject to the random impulses of President Obama. How can anyone make health care decisions today knowing that the law may be unilaterally changed again tomorrow?" Cantor said in a statement. "Republicans have consistently asked for a one year delay of the mandates for all Americans, and put forward a proposal to allow American families to keep their health plans. The White House actions clearly prove ObamaCare can't work as designed. It's time for ObamaCare to be delayed for all."

There are growing signs at the state level that key health care industry players in the push to expand Medicaid under Obamacare are calling it quits for now, pessimistic about getting new legislation passed in the current political environment.

Support for Medicaid expansion from within the health care industry -- in particular from providers like hospitals, doctors and nursing homes -- is a key part of the coalition that Obamacare advocates have hoped will help eventually turn the tide in the non-expanding Republican-dominated states.

But top officials for powerful trade organizations in three of the largest states not expanding Medicaid under Obamacare told TPM that they have effectively given up that fight until political conditions change, setting their sights on 2015 at the earliest.

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Nearly three-fourths of those who have purchased health insurance on HealthCare.gov since early December were people returning to the site after visiting in October and November, according to senior administration officials.

A survey on the federal website found that 73 percent of those who had completed enrollment in recent weeks said they had first come to the site in the previous two months, officials said. The Obama administration did not declare the site fully fixed until Dec. 1.

The officials touted the figure as evidence that people were giving HealthCare.gov a second chance after its disastrous launch, which had raised questions about whether frustrated consumers would abandon the sign-up process.

"I think we can definitively say that we just haven't seen that," one official said. "Folks have come back, and they're coming back in droves."

The White House wants to tell people in Alabama, Kansas, and Montana in very specific terms what repealing the Affordable Care Act would mean for them.

For example: 141,000 people in Alabama received free preventive care in 2011 and 2012 because of the law; 1.2 million people in Kansas who have pre-existing conditions no longer have to worry about being denied coverage; and more than 13,000 Montanans have received rebates from their insurance company through Obamacare's new rules.

The administration has always based its argument against repeal on those tangible benefits that people have and will receive, but Thursday's 50-state report (below) is an attempt to make that argument hit a little closer to home.

"It’s time for Republicans in Congress to stop refighting old political battles over health care, because the real cost of repeal will hit home for many hardworking American families," the White House said in a statement accompanying the new report.

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When the budget deal cleared the House last week, some might have mistakenly believed that the GOP's fever over Obamacare had at least slightly subsided. Implicit in its passage was a pledge that Republicans would not shut down the government -- again -- over the health care reform law.

And they (probably) won't. But that doesn't mean Congress has arrived at a kumbayah moment after which both sides will work to refine the law with fixes that might appeal to both sides.

No, the Republican repeal crusade isn't over. It's just taken another form.

"Legislating is certainly possible, but we don’t believe the law can be truly 'fixed' -- only scrapped entirely," Brendan Buck, the top spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told TPM. "Our focus will be on building the case for repeal through proper oversight."

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Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said Wednesday that he would introduce a bill to repeal Obamacare and replace it with his own set of reforms.

It appears to be the first comprehensive health care reform legislation that McCain has introduced during his three decades in Congress. It is composed of conservative pet policies, such as tax credits for individuals and tort reform to stem medical malpractice lawsuits. The bill comes as Republicans attempt to beat back criticism that they don't have a viable alternative to the Affordable Care Act.

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California's Obamacare marketplace is enrolling 15,000 people a day, the Washington Post reported -- double the rate that the website was seeing in early December.

It's an indication of the burgeoning interest that Obamacare advocates were hoping for ahead of the Dec. 23 deadline to sign up for coverage that starts on Jan. 1. New York is enrolling 4,500 people per day, according to the Post, and Connecticut reported 1,400 enrollments daily.

No figures are available for HealthCare.gov and its 36 states, but the Obama administration did leak reports of nearly 30,000 enrollments in the first two days of December, more than the troubled federal site saw in all of October.

Health insurance companies will give people who have purchased a health plan through HealthCare.gov and its state counterparts until Jan. 10 to pay their first premium for coverage that starts on Jan. 1.

The extension gives consumers an additional 10 days to pay their first premiums and still have coverage with an effective date of Jan. 1.

America's Health Insurance Plans, the insurance industry's lobbying group, announced Wednesday that its members would voluntarily offer the extension. The Obama administration had previously asked insurers to consider offering an extension beyond the current Dec. 31 deadline to ensure that people's coverage would start on time despite problems with HealthCare.gov.

“Our community is taking an important step to give consumers greater peace of mind about their health care coverage,” AHIP President and CEO Karen Ignagni said in a statement.

AHIP also said in the release that while there have been improvements to HealthCare.gov's back-end, more work needed to be done to prevent insurers from receiving missing or incomplete enrollment information.

Asked to explain a Republican alternative to Obamacare in an interview with CNBC on Tuesday, Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) managed to contradict himself within a span of about 90 seconds.

Wenstrup began by describing the House Republican Study Committee's bill, which he co-sponsored. That bill would give people tax deductions to purchase health insurance on their own rather than relying on employer-provider coverage, which accounts for the largest share of the market (48 percent). It also lacks support from House GOP leadership, which hasn't allowed it to come to a vote.

"We would like individuals to be able to get a tax deduction by purchasing insurance on their own," Wenstrup said. "That way it gives them much more portability. They can go from job to job and keep their insurance."

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