Obama official blames insurers for policy cancellations, apologizes for website woes
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Move over, website woes. Lawmakers confronted the Obama administration Tuesday with a difficult new health care problem -- a wave of cancellation notices hitting individuals and small business who buy their own insurance.
At the same time, the federal official closest to the website apologized for its dysfunction in new sign-ups and asserted things are getting better by the day.
Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner said it’s not the administration but insurers who are responsible for cancellation letters now reaching many of the estimated 14 million people who buy individual policies. And, officials said, people who get cancellation notices will be able to find better replacement plans, in some cases for less.
The Associated Press, citing the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, reported in May that many carriers would opt to cancel policies this fall and issue new ones. Administratively that was seen as easier than changing existing plans to comply with the new law, which mandates coverage of more services and provides better financial protection against catastrophic illnesses.
While the administration had ample warning of the cancellations, they could become another public relations debacle for President Barack Obama’s signature legislation. This problem goes to the credibility of one of the president’s earliest promises about the health care overhaul: You can keep your plan if you like it.
UN officials confirm polio outbreak in northern Syria, warn of potential spread
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- The U.N. confirmed an outbreak of polio in Syria for the first time in over a decade on Tuesday, warning the disease threatens to spread among an estimated half-million children who have never been immunized because of the civil war.
The grim finding added another layer of misery to a brutal conflict that has already killed more than 100,000 people and uprooted millions. The aid group Save the Children urged a "vaccination cease-fire" to try to prevent an epidemic of the highly contagious disease.
Meanwhile, hopes for a negotiated settlement to the three-year conflict appeared ever more distant as Syria’s President Bashar Assad sacked a deputy prime minister for meeting Western officials to discuss the possibility of holding a peace conference -- the latest blow to diplomatic efforts to bring the country’s warring parties to the negotiating table.
At least 10 cases of polio among babies and toddlers were confirmed in northeastern Syria, the World Health Organization said -- the first outbreak of the crippling disease in 14 years. Nearly all Syrian children were vaccinated against polio before the civil war began.
WHO spokesman Oliver Rosenbauer said the U.N. agency was awaiting lab results on another 12 suspected cases, mostly children under 2.
mark anniversary of storm with thanks, remembrance
NEW YORK (AP) -- A year after Superstorm Sandy deluged coastal communities with seawater, many people still can’t believe they’re not back in their homes. Others are thankful for small victories in the long, arduous recovery process.
Devastated residents on Tuesday recalled the help they got from strangers in the days and months after Sandy. Some have mostly recovered from the storm, while others are still homeless or living without heat. In one touching moment, mothers sang "Happy birthday" to their 1-year-old babies who were rescued from darkened hospitals at Sandy’s peak.
Sandy came ashore on Oct. 29, 2012, sending floodwaters pouring across the densely populated barrier islands of Long Island and the Jersey shore. In New York City, the storm surge hit nearly 14 feet, swamping the city’s subway and commuter rail tunnels and knocking out power to the southern third of Manhattan.
The storm was blamed for at least 182 deaths in the U.S. -- including 68 in New York and 71 in New Jersey -- and property damage estimated at $65 billion.
Trash dump in water protection zone breaks Russia’s ‘Zero Waste’ Olympics pledge
AKHSHTYR, Russia (AP) -- Trucks rumble to the edge of a gigantic pit filled with spray cans, tires and foam sheets and dump a stream of concrete slabs that send up a cloud of limestone dust. Other trucks pile clay on top and a bulldozer mixes everything together in a rudimentary effort to hide the mess. This landfill outside Sochi, which will host the Winter Olympics in 100 days, is smack in the middle of a water protection zone where dumping industrial waste is banned.
As a centerpiece of its Olympic bid, Russia trumpeted a "Zero Waste" program that promised the cleanest games ever, saying it would refrain from dumping construction waste and rely on reusable materials. But on a visit last week to Akhshtyr, just north of Sochi, The Associated Press found that Russia’s state-owned rail monopoly is dumping tons of construction waste into what authorities call an illegal landfill, raising concerns of possible contamination in the water that directly supplies Sochi.
The finding shows how little Russia has done to fulfill its ambitious green pledges. Its $51 billion budget for the Olympics contains no provisions for treating construction waste.
In a letter obtained by the AP, the Environmental Protection Agency in the area where Sochi is located told the Black Sea resort’s environment council in late August that it had inspected the Akhshtyr landfill and found "unauthorized dumping of construction waste as well as soil from excavation works." The agency said it fined Russian Railways, whose Sochi project costs billions of dollars, $3,000 for the dumping. It didn’t order the dump closed.
The EPA’s Sochi representative visited the site earlier this month and insisted it was being cleaned up, villagers and activists who were present at that meeting said.
The agency was unavailable for comment this week.
Texas attorney general asks federal appeals court for quick ruling on new clinic abortion rule
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- A federal appeals court weighed whether to grant an emergency motion Tuesday that would allow some new Texas abortion restrictions to take effect, the latest step in a lengthy battle activists on both sides predicted would end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Texas leaders urged the panel to quickly hear their appeal of a judge’s ruling Monday striking down a requirement that doctors performing abortions must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic.
He agreed with abortion-rights activists that the restriction, which was to be enforced starting Tuesday, placed an unconstitutional burden on women seeking an abortion and didn’t make the process safer, as state officials had argued.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott immediately appealed the ruling to the conservative 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. The first order of business for the court was to decide whether to grant an emergency motion to allow that and another part of the new law to take effect Tuesday as scheduled.
The provision, part of a large package of abortion limits the Legislature approved in July, would effectively force the closure of about a third of the state’s 32 abortion clinics -- some the only facility within hundreds of miles where women can get an abortion. Abortion rights supporters argued most hospitals will not grant abortion doctors admitting privileges for religious, business or competitive reasons.
Kansas man trapped for days in crash wreckage in Utah penned letters to family before death
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A missing Kansas man spent his final days trapped in the wreckage of his van in a rural Utah ravine -- writing goodbye letters to the family he unexpectedly left in early September.
David Welch, 54, was found on Oct. 18 by a hitchhiker who spotted the crash in a desolate stretch of eastern Utah more than 50 miles from any town, said Utah Highway Patrol trooper Gary Riches.
They found Welch trapped inside his mangled minivan at the bottom of a 50-foot ravine -- with hand-written notes to his wife and four adult sons.
What’s in those letters, though, is not being made public. The Welch family declined comment for this story and the Utah Highway Patrol isn’t sharing what they call very personal.
The discovery brought a tragic end to a difficult several weeks for Welch’s family that began on Sept. 2 when they reported him missing from his home in Manhattan, Kan. The family said Welch, a retired salesman, left in a 2000 Pontiac Montana without telling anyone where he was going, said Riley County Police spokesman Matt Droge.