HHS Secretary discusses Obamacare ahead of approaching deadline, - Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com

HHS Secretary discusses Obamacare ahead of approaching deadline, navigator issues

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President Obama and his Health and Human Services Secretary put together an end-of-year sales pitch Friday as a crucial deadline for the Affordable Care Act approaches.

Both say that despite the botched rollout of healthcare.gov, Americans are lining up to get the coverage.

In Dallas County, 500,000 people qualify for a federal health insurance subsidy, but haven't signed up for a plan.

The deadline to enroll for coverage, starting Jan. 1, is Monday night. However, the premium for that plan must be paid by the last day of this year.

"I would just suggest people check it out for themselves," Kathleen Sebelius, Health and Human Services Secretary, said Friday. "Coverage is affordable."

But the Affordable Care Act had a rough start with website issues, coverage confusion and navigator fraud.

"We screwed it up," President Obama said during his speech Friday.

Despite that blunt admission, the president asserts 500,000 people signed up for health insurance during the first three weeks of December, bringing the total to more than 1 million since the Oct. 1 rollout.

Dallas resident Misty Parker says she waited out the technical issues to get a better rate.

"Once I found out I was eligible for the subsidy, I pay $38 a month for healthcare now," she said. "It's a great plan. It's PPO."

The Health and Human Services Secretary says the uninsured in Dallas have 46 plans to choose from.

Many of those interested in signing up have gone to community health centers to ask Obamacare navigators questions about the plans.

In October, an undercover videographer working for activist group Project Veritas showed Dallas Urban League navigators suggesting applicants lie to get better insurance rates.

One woman, who was not a navigator, was fired, and three others were suspended.

"We definitely use that incident, which was unfortunate and unacceptable, to remind all of the organizations throughout the country of what their obligations were: to screen the individuals they hire, to make sure they are all tested and have passed the various tests; to make sure these folks meet the highest ethical standards," said Sebelius.

Sebelius says the 20,000 navigators undergo 20 hours of training on privacy, security and the health care law itself, but cannot ask for personal health or financial information.

"If anybody asks for personally-identifiable health information, they don't give it, and secondly, turn that person in," said Sebelius.

Secretary Sebelius would not say if the program is changing or getting more oversight, which is something the House of Representatives Ethics Committee discussed in a hearing in Richardson on Monday.

At that meeting, Republican Texas Rep. Pete Sessions said, "The navigators are not trained professionally, cannot offer products and services, and it's a terrible disservice to the people of North Texas."

If Americans miss the December deadlines, open enrollment continues through March 31 with coverage beginning weeks later.

After that, if they don't have coverage, they face a fine starting at $95.

Thursday, the Obama administration made some changes for folks with specific situations. It's called the hardship extension.

People who are homeless, recently evicted, victims of domestic violence and more don't have to pay the fine for not having insurance.

They can also buy catastrophic coverage, which is the lowest-cost, bare-bones plan, which insurance companies are not happy about.

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