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Obamacare won’t be shut down: Lynn Sweet

President Barack Obamspeaks James Brady Briefing room White House WashingtMonday Sept. 30 2013. Obamsaid government shutdown would throw wrench ingears

President Barack Obama speaks in the James Brady Briefing room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Sept. 30, 2013. Obama said a government shutdown would throw a wrench into the gears of U.S. economy. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

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Updated: March 28, 2014 11:51AM



WASHINGTON — House GOP opposition to Obamacare led to a partial federal government shutdown on Monday, but all the GOP pyrotechnics could not stop the Tuesday launch of one of the most significant parts of Obamacare.

New online health marketplaces are opening for business on Tuesday, as long scheduled, selling private insurance to consumers.

Gov. Pat Quinn kicks off “Get Covered Illinois” — the name of the Illinois online insurance market — Tuesday morning at the Thompson Center in the Loop. Democrats here, from President Barack Obama on down, will hold a series of events Tuesday to mark the first day a person could enroll in an insurance plan under Obamacare.

Ironic, isn’t it: The health insurance markets open as federal agencies and departments were executing shutdown plans. The shutdown came after House Republicans — pressured by the Tea Party wing — made repeated runs at derailing Obama’s signature health care law.

“So let me be clear about this,” Obama said Monday afternoon, when all signs pointed to a shutdown. “An important part of the Affordable Care Act takes effect tomorrow no matter what Congress decides to do today. The Affordable Care Act is moving forward. That funding is already in place. You can’t shut it down.”

Congress worked overtime on Monday in a push at passing a stopgap resolution to fund the federal government beyond the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year. As the clock pushed toward midnight, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle I talked to in the Capitol had no idea how this self-inflicted crisis could be resolved.

“I don’t think anyone knows right now what the end game is,” Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) told me as he was walking onto the House floor.

Since Friday, the Democratic-controlled Senate rejected three provisions — two of them on Monday — by the Republican-run House to fund the government through mid-December because each included language to either defund, delay or weaken Obamacare. The votes in each chamber have all been along party lines.

Another irony is that the money will continue to flow to pay for the launch of the health insurance markets across the nation even with the shutdown.

Last April, the Department of Health and Human Services awarded Illinois a $115.8 million grant to bankroll the development of the Illinois program. Of that, $33 million is allocated for a statewide marketing campaign and $27 million to groups that are helping consumers learn about various insurance options through individuals hired to be “navigators.”

In Illinois, insurance will be sold through eight private companies offering about 160 plan options.

Jennifer Koehler, the director of the Illinois Health Insurance Marketplace Exchange, told me “the consumer is not going to notice an impact in the marketplace because of the shutdown.”

Illinois residents will ultimately purchase policies through a federal website, and Koehler said a shutdown will not impact this back-office assistance.

A spokesman for HHS said that most of the money for the Obamacare market places will not be impacted by the shutdown and “we expect minimal, if any impact” as call centers and websites get up and running.

There are likely to be glitches along the way — but not because of the congressional stalemate that led to the first shutdown since 1966.

Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.), an Obamacare foe, told me outside of the House chamber that he nevertheless wanted to be helpful to his constitutients. He said he tried to meet his “navigators” and was told “they are not ready.” “Even the navigators in my area are not ready to talk about this,” he said.

The juxtaposition of government being closed as Obamacare opens becomes part of the marketing challenge the Obama and Quinn administrations face.

If Quinn stumbles in the execution of “Get Illinois Covered,” it will become an issue in the 2014 governors race.

“I’m not sure,” Lipinski said, that the shutdown “will add to the confusion. There is a lot of information people still need to get about what’s going on and what is available.”

Email: lsweet@suntimes.com

Twitter: @lynnsweet



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