People who got off to a rough start with Obamacare or haven't picked a plan still have options. But they better hop to it. The open enrollment period ends March 31.
Those who were unable to sign up for a marketplace plan because of the glitches with federal or state websites can receive coverage retroactive to the date they originally applied. There are also retroactive premium tax credits and subsidies, the federal government said in late February.
In addition, some people who gave up on enrolling through their state's balky marketplace and instead bought a plan outside the exchange may be able to switch to a marketplace plan and qualify for retroactive subsidies.
The federal guidance leaves it up to individual states to decide whether they want to offer these options. The federal marketplace has its own process in place to bump back the effective coverage date for people who encountered those problems, says an official at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
"This [guidance] raises more questions than it answers," says Sabrina Corlette, project director at Georgetown University's Center on Health Insurance Reforms. "From a consumer perspective, it says nothing about what difficulties you have to have had to qualify or what documentation you have to show."
In addition to difficulties enrolling, some consumers have been tripped up by inaccurate or incomplete information posted online about the benefits or providers available in a particular plan. They, too, may get some relief.
According to the federal guidance, if enrollees encounter "benefit display errors," such as inaccurate information about deductibles or coverage, insurers are encouraged to honor the information they displayed.
If the insurer fails to do so, and the misinformation might have affected a consumer's choice of plan, that person will generally be allowed to pick another plan at the same coverage level, offered by the same insurer. If consumers can't find a good substitute with that insurer, they'll have 60 days to select a new marketplace plan, the guidance says.
Similarly, if people have enrolled in a marketplace plan and then discovered that it doesn't include doctors, hospitals or other providers they need, they may switch to another plan at the same level offered by the same insurer, according to the federal rules. However, changes due to provider network issues must be made by March 31.
By the end of February, roughly 4 million people had signed up for a marketplace plan on the federal or state-based exchanges.
Picking a plan is only part of the process of getting coverage. Benefits only take effect when you pay your premium, says Sarah Lueck, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "If you've never paid your premium, your insurer doesn't consider you're covered," she says.
People who haven't enrolled by Mar. 31 may owe a penalty for not having health insurance in 2014.
In the past, people buying coverage directly from an insurer could generally sign up any time during the year as long as they got through the medical underwriting process that insurers used to evaluate applicants.
Not anymore. Consumers who don't sign up during the open enrollment period will generally have to wait until enrollment begins again next fall to sign up or change plans — unless their circumstances change, for instance, if they move, marry, or lose a job, among some of the more common examples.
There are a number of circumstances that may exempt people from penalties for not having insurance. The long list of exemptions covers things like affordability, incarceration and hardships such as being evicted or filing for bankruptcy.
Dallas Seavey was the first musher to slip under the famed burled arch finish line in Nome, Alaska, winning his second Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race after a 1,000-mile slog from Willow.
Seavey, 27, "ran a blistering pace the last 77 miles" with his seven-dog team to win the iconic race Tuesday, according to The Associated Press. He swept past four-time champion Jeff King, who was derailed by bad weather, and rival Aliy Zirkle, who finished in second 2 minutes and 22 seconds after Seavey, Alaska Public Media reports.
Seavey was the youngest-ever champion when he won the race for the first time in 2012. On Tuesday, his father, two-time champion Dan Seavey, was a few places behind him.
Emily Schwing of NPR member station KUAC reports from Nome: "This year's race has been dominated by rough trail, dramatic injuries and tough weather. There are still more than 50 dog teams spread out along the West coast of Alaska."
"King cited severe winds near Safety, the last checkpoint along the nearly 1,000-mile trail, and told officials he had trouble navigating the trail.
"On Monday, he left the checkpoint in White Mountain with an hour's lead over Zirkle. But the Iditarod website said a gust of wind blew King and his dog team into driftwood. He was able to untangle the team but couldn't get them moving again.
"Winds were gusting about 40 mph and there was blowing snow near Safety. ...
"A warmer-than-average winter in Nome has left a shortage of snow. As a result, crews have been stockpiling snow and dumped it on the dry ground near the finish line during the final preparations for the race's end."
In approaching the finish line, the Anchorage Daily News reports that Seavey "jogged beside his sled down Nome's Front Street to help his dogs, one hand on the sled and the other on a ski pole."
The newspaper adds:
"After crossing the finish line he sat down on the back of his sled and leaned his head on his handlebar, exhausted.
" 'How did you do it?' an Iditarod Insider videographer asked.
" 'What'd I do?'
" 'You just won the Iditarod.'
" 'What? I thought that was my dad behind me. Where's Jeff and Aliy?'
"Seavey and his team broke the race speed record, finishing ... in 8 days, 13 hours, 4 minutes, 19 seconds. He shaved more than five hours off John Baker's 2011 record of 8 days, 18 hours, 46 minutes, 39 seconds."
Already heartbreaking images of grieving family and friends only become more poignant when you hear this:
Some family members and friends of the 239 people who haven't been heard from since Malaysia Airlines flight 370 disappeared Saturday say they've been calling their loved ones' cellphones and hearing rings — though no one picked up the calls.
Could those rings be a sign, they wonder, that the phones are still working — which in turn could mean that the people they belong to are safe?
Sadly, the rings are not evidence that the worst hasn't happened.
Technology industry analyst Jeff Kagan talked to us this morning about what happens when cellphone calls are made.
"When a customer calls another number," he said, "the carrier has to decide what to do next."
Basically, it starts searching for the phone that's being called.
While the phone company's doing that, it sends a ring — or two, or three, or more — to the person who initiated the call. The phone company does that, Kagan said, "so that the customer doesn't hang up" while the search for that other phone is underway.
This happens to him quite frequently, Kagan told us. "My wife will call me and say she heard it ring two or three times. But I picked it up on the first ring [that he heard]." She was hearing the "rings" that the cellphone carrier sent while it was searching for his phone.
How long it takes to either find the other phone or determine that it can't be reached depends on many factors. They include whether the person making the call is trying to reach someone whose phone is part of a different network and whether the person being called is in a different country. Such variables can add to the time it takes to either complete the call or disconnect.
When a carrier can't find the phone that's being called, any one of several things may happen:
— The call might be dropped.
— The call might go to the person's voicemail.
— The call might go to a recorded message saying it couldn't be completed.
"There's not a standard way" that such uncompleted calls are handled, Kagan said.
Flight 370 was on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when it disappeared. The airline says 154 of those on board were from mainland China or Taiwan. "According to Chinese media," the Mirror writes, "19 [Chinese] families have signed a joint statement confirming they made calls which connected to the missing passengers but without an answer."
Kagan says he understands why grieving families might get some comfort from or be confused by the "rings" they've heard. But he wishes their expectations weren't apparently raised needlessly. "I hate that they have hope" because of this bit of technology, he said.
Every reality show is an entirely true story.
It is not the story that it claims to be - the story of two tribes building a new civilization, the story of America's search for its next superstar - but it is a true story nevertheless. It is, or at least it contains, the true story of the conception, creation, marketing, viewing, analyzing, and evolution over time of a piece of entertainment that lives in the swampy, foggy, half-real version of the truth that it creates.
There are people who have met on The Bachelor or The Bachelorette (as well as on other shows) who have actually gotten married and had children and stayed together. That's the more-or-less kind-of-true plus-or-minus part when it comes to the on-screen story. It's popular to say everything is scripted, nothing is real, but that's far too simplistic. There are moments of authenticity, believe it or not, in many of these productions.
But the on-screen story of The Bachelor is, for the most part, a goony, tacky, stupid con. To repeat a statistic that's well-known by now, and one that's repeated as it becomes gaudier and gaudier: of 17 bachelors before Juan Pablo Galavis (whose season ended Monday night), exactly one — the most recent, Sean Lowe — had the experience the show sells with its diamonds-and-roses come-on: meet a woman, choose her in the finale, get married. Women on The Bachelorette have fared a little better for some reason: fully two out of the first eight Bachelorettes married their final picks, and the ninth is still engaged.
There are perhaps those viewers who still watch it straight-on, for the romance, who still thrill in the way the show overtly asks them to and who swoon when someone "finds" "love." But particularly with the help of Twitter, The Bachelor now has an entirely different following: people who find it amusing to watch and dissect the con and to treat the entire thing as a partially felt, entertainingly unctuous performance of what television has decided is "romantic."
Monday night's finale was catnip to this demographic, because more than it ever has before, the con came apart on screen.
As shattering as the light that fell from the sky in 1998's prescient The Truman Show, this particular finale capped a season that has gurgled and choked on its own chosen star as a series of women seemed to suddenly widen their eyes, straighten their spines and say, "Uhhhh ... bye." This isn't unprecedented - there have been people in the past who have still been in the running and said of the central figure that they are not, shall we say, feeling it. But generally, the show preserves the idea that this is either nobody's fault or the departing person's fault. Generally, the near-universal desirability of the Bachelor/ette is sacrosanct.
This season, of the last six women in the running, who are presumably the ones who got to know Galavis the best, two of them walked and another one almost did. And they didn't really leave because there was no spark, and they didn't really leave because they weren't "feeling it." The first, an opera singer named Sharleen, left after making a long series of comments amounting to variations on, "He has nothing to say and isn't very smart." The second, an Assistant District Attorney named Andi, left after spending a long night with him in which he apparently talked exclusively about himself and turned her off entirely.
And then a lady named Clare, when she was all the way down to the final two, found herself in a private moment with Juan Pablo outside the reach of cameras and microphones, hoping for a private avowal of warm feelings, at which point she later claimed (extrapolating from her bleeped retelling) that he instead said, "I loved [having sex with] you." With the brackets containing the part she wasn't so crazy about. She wound up staying, but he didn't pick her in the end, and she was immediately irate that he'd led her on. She told him she wouldn't want any child of hers to have him for a father — despite the fact that the show's favorite thing about him has been that he has a daughter. When she was gone, he chortled, "Hoo, I'm glad I didn't pick her."
So in the course of three departures, the show actually allowed their eligible bachelor, who represents the prize for which all these contestants are competing, to be portrayed as (1) not too bright, (2) kind of self-centered and boring, and (3) coarse and vulgar.
They'd had some PR issues with Galavis earlier in the season, when he was quoted saying that he didn't believe a show with a gay bachelor would be anything people would watch, would set a poor example for kids, and would be "too strong" because gay people are "more pervert in a sense." Galavis, a Venezuelan soccer player whose first language is not English, later claimed that when he said "pervert" he meant "more affectionate and intense."
But it certainly seems that at some point, whether because the PR was bad or because they couldn't avoid it, in showing all these interviews in which women dismissed him as kind of unappealing, the show decided to dump him. They steered into the skid, as it were, and the finale included lots of footage of the live audience frowning and booing and gasping with dismay at things he said and did - that's the true story part. The true story part is not Juan Pablo ultimately choosing a woman named Nikki. The true story is that somewhere, somebody who makes The Bachelor decided that they needed a different framing for the season - one in which their bachelor was kind of ... a jerk. They made a choice to cut him loose. To throw him, in reality show terms, under the bus.
And Galavis knows that's what happened, and while he was undoubtedly under all kinds of contractual obligations to come out on stage with Nikki and talk to host Chris Harrison, he made it as uncomfortable and awkward as possible and played along as little as he possibly could. Harrison had been teasing all along that Galavis had a big surprise; when it came time to reveal it on live TV, Juan Pablo basically said, "I don't know what you're talking about." It certainly appeared that he hosed the host on live television. That is, in this universe, Not Done. Live shows are choreographed; if there was supposed to be a bit there, pulling the plug on it would leave a hole. Indeed, Harrison seemed to be caught flat-footed, and settled for asking over and over and over again whether Juan Pablo would please just say he was in love with Nikki. (He wouldn't.)
It wasn't just that — Juan Pablo later darkly and coldly implied that he and Nikki had changed some of their plans for the future because of information he received in the last few weeks from the producers. Now what is that supposed to mean?
As things sputtered awkwardly, Harrison went to Sean and Catherine in the audience - that one bachelor who has ever married his final choice - and asked them to comment as Juan Pablo dug his heels in and didn't cooperate. And Catherine said the most fascinating thing to him: "Don't slap the hand that fed you." Now, the show played this as an exchange that was about Juan Pablo disrespecting the relationship he'd built on the show, but juuuuust barely concealed is what felt like it might be the real, true story: a woman who has derived a lot of financial benefit (including a splashy televised wedding) from staying on good terms with this franchise and playing along like she's supposed to, telling a guy who was in the process - the live process - of blowing off the producers that he might one day regret burning his bridges with them. They won't invite you back to do the thing I am doing right now and you'll have to get a job like a chump, you could easily imagine she might be saying.
It wasn't that the con fell apart because Juan Pablo came off like a cad. It was that the con fell apart because Juan Pablo was no shame-faced Brad Womack from a few seasons back, who allowed himself to be treated as a commitment-phobic punching bag because he chose nobody, and who in return for his cooperation got to come back and do another season. No, Juan Pablo sat on that couch, suddenly interested in his privacy, looking like every bit the self-involved, smug dude some of the women had come to believe he was. But he directed his smugness and his unpleasantness not at the women, but at the show.
In a sense, Chris Harrison and Juan Pablo Galavis were on a terrible, awkward fifth date: Harrison trying to make conversation, feeling resentful and entitled because his date wouldn't engage; Galavis glowering and bored and checked out, ticked off and ready to leave.
The con cracked in half because all of a sudden, you were watching the struggle between a network production trying to put together a neat narrative about a guy women could have fun gabbing about as a Bad Boyfriend and a guy who was not at all prepared to have that happen, regardless of whether he deserved it. There's a true story there somewhere, and it's a true story of what looks like a hugely tense taping in which everybody was genuinely, truly, really, non-pretend mad.
Now, you can go out in levels of complexity: maybe it's a true story about an entirely different con in which they persuaded the audience that they were at odds with their Bachelor; maybe that's what they wanted you to think. Or maybe "that's what they wanted you to think" is ... what they wanted you to think. But somewhere here, there is a true story of television and some substantial shifts in the planning and execution of one of the few long-running reality franchises that's been this resilient (particularly given its appalling track record). A franchise, it must be said, that makes a lot of money for a lot of folks.
And Monday night, that true story was a little ... fascinating.