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More reactions to Obama’s health insurance delay

We’ll be posting a full story about reactions to President Obama’s plan to delay cancellation of some individual health insurance plans that don’t meet standards set by the nation’s new law, but here are a few pols for whom we didn’t have space in that article.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., called the president’s proposal a “good step” that’s “very helpful in the implementation of the law.” She also spoke on the Senate floor Thursday about Republicans’ constant opposition to this law.

“This is typical of Republicans through the generations. Every time we’ve tried to expand health care, they’ve opposed it and opposed it and tried to derail it,” she said, adding that the new insurance law can be fixed “but that’s not good enough for my Republican friends. They just want to tear it down, just like they wanted to tear down Medicare.”

Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, said in an email that he supports the president’s fix, which “continues to provide more choices without undermining the strengths of the new health care law. Implementing any new law creates a few bumps. We should be look for minor tweaks that strengthen the law rather than return to the old system that left millions of Americans without quality coverage.”

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, issued a statement calling Obama’s proposal “a step in the right direction towards fixing issues with the health care law. This was a promise that was made and it is a promise that should be kept.”

“I’ve said from the beginning that the health care reform law isn’t perfect,” Thompson said. “But instead of engaging in partisan bickering and playing blame games, I want to work to make health care reform better. … If we quit the partisan games, we can build on the reforms made in Obamacare, work out the imperfections, and make sure every American can get quality, affordable health insurance. That is a goal worth fighting for.”

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California files health-care law amicus brief

California Attorney General Kamala Harris on Monday filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review whether for-profit businesses may claim religious exemptions from the national health-care law’s requirement that employee health plans cover birth control.

The brief urges the high court to hear Kathleen Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., and to overturn a lower court’s ruling that would allow two for-profit corporations to avoid full compliance with the law. The Obama Administration sought the court’s review last month.

“Access to contraceptive services is critical to the health of women and infants; women’s economic and social wellbeing; and women’s opportunities to participate fully in society,” the brief says. It also argues that a lower court’s determination that for-profit corporations may assert religious exemptions to certain laws could interfere with enforcement of other important regulations that protect public safety, civil rights, social welfare, housing, employment and public health.

“The freedom of individuals to exercise the religion of their choosing is one of the most important values in our society, as reflected by its enshrinement in the federal Constitution,” the brief says. “The federal government’s contraceptive coverage regulations under ACA respect that freedom through inclusion of appropriate exemptions, while also advancing the similarly compelling interests in public health and gender equality in access to health care. The court of appeals’ decision would upset that balance and threaten far-reaching impacts on the States beyond the issues presented by this action.”

Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington all joined in California’s brief, which addresses a ruling issued in June by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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I’d hate to be the White House aide who…

President Barack Obama, preparing to discuss Obamacare and his administration’s controversial intelligence-gathering programs, strode to the podium at San Jose’s Fairmont Hotel this morning, greeted the crowd of reporters – and paused.

“I think there’s only one problem, and that is that my remarks are not sitting here,” he said, smiling and gesturing to the podium before calling offstage, “People!”

“By Friday afternoon, things get a little challenged,” he said, drawing laughter; a moment later, an aide handed him his notes. “Oh, somebody is tripping. Folks are sweating back there right now.”

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$122.3 mil in grants to California health centers

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services today announced almost $122.3 million in grants awarded to California community health centers – including about $24.9 million in the greater Bay Area – under the Affordable Care Act health care reform law.

Grantees estimate these awards will help them serve approximately 166,504 new patients. But it’s also a potent crowd-pleaser in a presidential campaign year.

“President Obama’s health care law is making community health centers in California stronger,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a news release. “For many Americans, community health centers are the major source of care that ranges from prevention to treatment of chronic diseases. This investment will expand our ability to provide high-quality care to millions of people while supporting good paying jobs in communities across the country.”

Funding totaling more than $728 million across the nation will support renovation and construction projects, boosting health centers’ patient capacity and creating jobs. The Affordable Care Act provides $9.5 billion to expand services over five years and $1.5 billion to support major construction and renovation projects at community health centers. A new report released today shows the law already has supported construction or renovation of 190 health center sites and creation of 67 new sites across the nation. Employment at community health centers nationwide has increased by 15 percent since the start of 2009, and such centers now serve almost three million more patients.

The grants announced today are from two capital programs: One will provide about $629 million to 171 existing health centers across the country for longer-term projects to expand their facilities, improve existing services, and serve more patients. The other will provide about $99.3 million to 227 existing health centers to address pressing facility and equipment needs.

For a list of the California recipients, read after the jump:
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Obama 2012 defends, touts health care reform

As the Affordable Care Act‘s second anniversary looms this week, the war of words over its worth is becoming deafening. It’s a fascinating phenomenon, in that both sides truly seem to believe they have a winning issue here.

Here in Oakland, Democratic activist Christine Pelosi of San Francisco – daughter of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi – and Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson rallied about 30 volunteers today at the campaign headquarters on Telegraph Avenue, briefing them on the reform law’s effects to prepare them for an afternoon of phone-banking.

Christine Pelosi @ OFA HQ 3-19-12Just as Medicare and Social Security were “an intergenerational compact,” so too is health care reform “a societal compact” from a president who believes “health care is a right, not a privilege,” Pelosi said.

By forcing insurers to spend most of their premiums revenue on health care, not administration; by requiring them to insure people with pre-existing conditions; by reducing prescription costs for seniors; and by advancing patients’ rights, including the right to wellness visits, the law has improved the lives of millions of Americans, she said.

As the U.S. Supreme Court takes up the question of its constitutionality and as Republicans run on platforms of repeal, “our response has to be, ‘we’re not going back,’” Pelosi told the volunteers. “And each of you is taking personal responsibility to make sure that we’re going forward.”

Carson noted about 356,000 young adults in California – out of 2.5 million nationwide – have benefitted from the reform law by being allowed to remain on their parents’ health insurance until age 26. Almost an equal number of Californians on Medicare got a $250 rebate in 2010 to help cover the cost of their prescriptions when they hit the “donut hole” in their coverage, and almost 320,000 got a 50 percent discount in 2011 on their covered, brand-name prescriptions when they hit the donut hole; the law will close the hole by 2020.

Carson also said 12 million Californians no longer need worry about lifetime limits on their coverage; almost 3 million Californians on Medicare received free preventative services (such as mammograms and colonoscopies) or a free wellness visit with their doctor last year; and almost 6.2 million Californians with private insurance gained preventative service coverage with no cost-sharing.

He told the campaign volunteers that this is what they must convey to the people they call, in order to ensure they’re not swayed by “those who are critical, those who are fearful, those who are financed by the insurance companies.”

Lots more, after the jump…
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State health exchange taps 1st executive director

An Obama Administration official who has been working to shore up federal health programs will come to California later this year to run the state’s new Health Benefit Exchange.

Peter Lee in October will become the HBE’s first executive director. The exchange – created pursuant to last year’s national health care reforms, and set to open in 2014 – will aim to make it easier for individuals and small businesses to compare plans and buy health insurance on the private market through a more stable risk pool, greater purchasing power, more competition among insurers and detailed information regarding about the price, quality and service of health coverage.

Lee currently is deputy director for policy and programs at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, an agency created by the Affordable Care Act to revitalize and sustain Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Exchange chairwoman and California Health and Human Services Secretary Diana Dooley called Lee “a nationally respected leader in health care who has led innovative projects aimed at promoting health, improving care quality and reducing cost in the health care delivery system.”

“His more than 25 years of health policy experience and deep understanding of California’s challenges and opportunities make him the right leader to ensure the success of our new health insurance marketplace,” she said.

Before his current job, Lee was director of delivery system reform at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Health Reform, supporting implementation of parts of the Affordable Care Act dealing with delivering higher quality, more affordable healthcare.

Earlier yet, Lee was CEO and then executive director for national health policy of the San Francisco-based Pacific Business Group on Health, a coalition of private and public purchasers. Before that, he was executive director of the Center for Health Care Rights, a Los Angeles-based consumer advocacy group. In the 1980s, he worked on healthcare issues in Washington, D.C., including a stint as director of programs for the National AIDS Network. He holds a law degree from the University of Southern California and his undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

“Congratulations to Peter in his new role creating a new consumer-friendly marketplace of the future, to dramatically help Californians to get affordable health coverage,” Health Access California Executive Director Anthony Wright said in a news release. “Peter has been a longtime champion of large purchasers using their bargaining power to get the best value in coverage and care. It’s appropriate he will lead the effort to allow millions of Californians to pool together to bargain for the best price and value with the insurance industry.”

Wright said picking Lee shows the exchange not only has authority to negotiate with insurers for the best value, but plans to actively use it. “Peter Lee will have the opportunity to structure a market where insurers compete based on cost and quality, customer service and wellness, rather than how effectively they avoid people who need care, and confuse the rest of us with the complexity of their benefits.”