Blog Posts by Liz Goodwin

  • Obamacare court challenge: Do corporations have religious freedom rights?

    A major legal challenge to Obamacare making its way to the Supreme Court could allow for-profit corporations to opt out of a key piece of the law by asserting freedom of religion.

    Hobby Lobby, a “biblically founded” crafts store chain based in Oklahoma, is one of 39 for-profit companies suing the federal government over the law’s contraceptive mandate. The company argues that the federal government cannot infringe upon its religious rights by forcing it to provide contraceptive coverage in its health plan.

    The case asks whether Hobby Lobby can refuse to comply with Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate on the grounds that allowing its 13,000 employees access to birth control — specifically the morning-after pill and intrauterine devices, or IUDs — would violate the company’s freedom of religion.

    The case is novel because religious freedom typically has been thought to apply to individuals, churches and other religious nonprofits, not corporations. Lower courts have split on the issue, and

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  • Obama to stress Massachusetts’s health care example in Boston speech

    Following another week of tech problems marring the rollout of his signature health law, President Barack Obama will tout Massachusetts’ 8-year-old health care overhaul in a speech in Boston on Wednesday.

    Obama will argue in his speech at Faneuil Hall — where then-Gov. Mitt Romney signed the state’s health care reform bill in 2006 — that uninsured people were slow to enroll in Massachusetts’ exchanges when they first opened, before a flood of applicants rolled in at the last minute.

    The White House is expecting a similar show of procrastination to give way to a surge of applications to the Obamacare exchanges shortly before Dec. 15 — the deadline to sign up for coverage to start Jan. 1. The open enrollment period ends on March 31, and uninsured people who don’t purchase coverage by that date will have to pay a fine on their 2014 taxes.

    Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economics professor and an architect of the Massachusetts health care law, told reporters on a conference call organized by the

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  • White House: Half of young adults can get coverage for $50

    The Obama administration released a report Monday evening saying that half of single, uninsured adults will be able to purchase coverage for under $50 a month under Obamacare.

    More than 1 million single adults between the ages of 18 and 35 will be able to purchase the lowest cost bronze plan on the new insurance exchanges for under $50, the report from the Health and Human Services agency says. That’s about 46 percent of uninsured young adults in the 34 states that provided information to the agency. An additional 1 million single, uninsured young adults would qualify for Medicaid in these states, due to the expansion of the program.

    The Obama administration released the findings the same day NBC News reported that 50 to 75 percent of people who currently buy health insurance on individual markets will receive a cancellation letter within the year because their plans do not meet new standards in the health care reform law. Some of those consumers will face higher costs when they

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  • Are glitches scaring off young people from Obamacare?

    The White House is organizing an aggressive outreach push to make sure uninsured young people purchase coverage on the federal health insurance exchange, which cannot survive without young customers to offset the costs of older, sicker people.

    The law’s supporters hope that 18- to 35-year olds will be patient with the site’s many glitches and are banking on the fact that many younger people are planning to wait until the last possible minute to sign up in the first place, when the site will theoretically be fixed.

    On Friday, Jeff Zients, who’s been tapped to lead the “tech surge” to fix, told reporters that the glitch-plagued health insurance exchange website will be working smoothly by the end of November. That means consumers will have just a couple of weeks after the website becomes fully functional to apply by the Dec. 15 deadline for insurance that begins Jan. 1. Uninsured people who don’t apply by March 31 will have to pay a fine on their taxes next year.

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  • After criticism, the Red Cross releases additional $6 million to Sandy victims

    After negotiations with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the Red Cross and three other charities have agreed to release millions of dollars in donations to the victims of Superstorm Sandy.

    Schneiderman announced the agreement on Thursday in a press conference on Long Beach, a coastal Long Island community that is still struggling to rebuild a year after Superstorm Sandy swept through New York and New Jersey and crippled the region.

    The Red Cross, which has spent about 90 percent of the $308 million it raised for Sandy survivors so far, agreed to spend an additional $6 million for housing-related needs, as well as increase transparency on its website for online donors. Half of that will go to a renters' assistance program, $1 million will help families living in hotels after federal and local assistance dried up, and $2 million will be spent on other housing projects in partnership with the attorney general's office, according to a Red Cross spokeswoman.

    The Brees Dream

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  • A year after Sandy, Red Cross still dogged by criticism


    STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — A year after Superstorm Sandy tore through New York and New Jersey, displacing tens of thousands of people and racking up billions in property damage, the Red Cross is still facing criticism for its relief efforts.

    Many storm victims and their elected officials slammed the nation’s leading relief agency just after Sandy’s landfall last Oct. 29 for being too slow to get volunteers and supplies out to the hardest-hit areas. Now, nearly 200 Sandy survivors say the Red Cross is denying funds they were promised last year to help them fix their homes.

    The 132-year-old agency had raised $308 million for Sandy relief as of last month, and a spokeswoman says it has spent 90 percent of it so far, most in direct donations to victims and community organizations. While that figure pales in comparison to the more than $60 billion in federal funds approved for Sandy relief, the Red Cross is by far the biggest nongovernment player in relief efforts and is where most people go to

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  • Gay couple uses tribal law to marry in Oklahoma

    A same-sex couple successfully applied for a marriage license in Oklahoma despite the state’s strict rules against gay marriage. The pair used a legal loophole to get the license last Friday under tribal law, which doesn't fall under the state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as occurring only between a man and a woman. They plan to wed Oct. 31.

    Darren Black Bear, a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, was able to get a marriage license to wed his partner of nine years, Jason Pickel, because the tribe’s legal system does not specify two people must be of different genders to be wed.

    Rosemary Stephens, the editor in chief of the tribes’ Tribal Tribune, told Yahoo News another gay couple in the tribe wed in December 2012 under the law, but did not make their union public. At least one person in the couple must be an enrolled member of the tribe in order to get a marriage license, however. 

    Stephens said no one in the tribe has raised any objections to the practice of

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  • Many Sandy victims hit with steep flood insurance bills

    STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. - Jean Laurie isn’t taking any more chances.

    Nearly a year after Superstorm Sandy swept through her close-knit neighborhood, destroying 22 houses and killing two of her neighbors, she’s finally getting ready to rebuild the home where she lived for years with her husband and their rescue dog.

    The Lauries got about $30,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to rebuild their waterlogged home. But they decided to knock it down and build a new one, rather than try to repair what looked unfixable.

    Jean Laurie holds a photo of a rendering of what her new home will look like in Staten Island. (Photo by Gordon Donovan/Yahoo News)

    But that rebuilding comes with a catch. New flood maps drawn up by FEMA, along with reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) enacted in 2012, meant that many residents, including the Lauries, must lift up their homes or face dramatically higher flood insurance rates.

    So the Lauries hoisted their house 13 feet off the ground, so they never have to worry about flooding — or the skyrocketing insurance rates — again.

    Few homes on Staten Island — one of the

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  • Activists chain themselves to ‘deportation bus’ in Tucson, ask Obama to halt all deportations

    More than 20 people were arrested in Tucson, Ariz., on Friday after they chained themselves to buses holding immigration detainees at a federal courthouse.

    Those arrested were among about 100 activists protesting Operation Streamline, a program run by the Department of Homeland Security that prosecutes people suspected of illegally crossing the border into the U.S. from Mexico. Activists say they succeeded in delaying the court proceedings for the day, meaning the approximately 70 detainees on the buses the activists chained themselves to were not prosecuted.

    “We delivered a very strong message both to Operation Streamline and also to the president,” said Marisa Franco, an organizer of the protest.

    Protesters frustrated by the lack of progress on immigration reform have sometimes resorted to more drastic tactics, such as Friday's protest and another incident in Tucson earlier this week when activists surrounded Border Patrol agents who were attempting to arrest two men stopped for a

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