Obama: Government shutdown won't delay healthcare exchange launch

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 27, 2013 6:16 PM
Obama: Government shutdown won't delay healthcare exchange launch

By Lewis Krauskopf

(Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Friday that the new state insurance exchanges created by his healthcare reform law will launch as scheduled on Tuesday even if the federal government shuts down due to Republican efforts to defund Obamacare.

The new online health exchanges at the heart of Obama's Affordable Care Act are set to open for enrollment on October 1 after years of political attack, offering subsidized health coverage for millions of uninsured Americans. Conservative lawmakers in Congress are pushing to cut out spending for the healthcare law at the threat of shutting down the government on the same day.

"On Tuesday, about 40 million more Americans will be able to finally buy quality affordable healthcare just like anybody else," Obama said in a speech addressing the potential for a shutdown.

"Those marketplaces will be open for business on Tuesday, no matter what, even if there's a government shutdown. That's a done deal."

Obama's statement confirmed speculation that the exchanges would operate regardless of Congress' actions.

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department, the branch of the government overseeing the law's implementation, released its contingency plan on Friday in the event of a potential shutdown.

The department's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services branch "would continue large portions of ACA activities," according to a document on its Website.

That includes coordination between the Medicaid program for low-income Americans and the insurance marketplaces. Insurance rate reviews and assessments of what portion of premium revenue insurance companies spend on medical services would also continue.

The document said that certain funding for healthcare reform was mandatory and "not affected by a hiatus in annual appropriations," such as the ACA Mandatory Program Management and the ACA Implementation Fund.

The Medicare program for the elderly would also "continue largely without disruption," in the short term. States would also have funding for Medicaid.

Regarding other HHS agencies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would continue "minimal support" in the United States and abroad to respond to outbreak investigations, processing lab samples and maintaining an emergency operations center.

The Food and Drug Administration would continue activities to handle emergencies such as high-risk recalls, but "will be unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition, and cosmetics activities."

(Reporting by Lewis Krauskopf; Editing by Ken Wills)