Contractors: Obama admin. left little time for testing health care site and made late changes
WASHINGTON (AP) — Contractors who built the web portal for the Obama administration's health insurance marketplace said Thursday the site's crippling problems trace back to insufficient testing and changes that government officials made just prior to going live.
Who's to blame? The first congressional hearing into what went wrong dug into issues of website architecture and testing protocols — but also re-stoked the partisan battle over President Barack Obama's signature expansion of health coverage for millions of uninsured Americans. Republicans who've been trying to kill the program the past three years sounded outraged that it is being poorly carried out, while Democrats jeered them as political hypocrites.
What was clear after more than four hours of testimony was that the contractors had only partial answers, and only the Obama administration can eventually put the entire picture together to explain the botched rollout.
Better times are coming, said executives from CGI Federal, which built the HealthCare.gov website serving 36 states, and from QSSI, which created a component that helps verify applicants' incomes and other personal details. They said problems are being fixed daily and expressed optimism that anybody who wants coverage will able to get it by Jan. 1.
"The system is working, people are enrolling," said CGI vice president Cheryl Campbell. "But people will be able to enroll at a faster pace."
Growing number of Democrats want 'Obamacare' enrollment deadlines, penalties delayed
WASHINGTON (AP) — After uniting against Republican efforts earlier this month to delay President Barack Obama's health care law, a growing number Democrats in Congress now want to extend the enrollment deadline, and one senator wants to delay the penalty for not complying.
Six Senate Democrats up for re-election next year have proposed delaying the new March 31 deadline for applying for coverage while the program's problems are ironed out. A seventh, West Virginia's Joe Manchin, is co-authoring a bill to postpone the $95 penalty for people who fail to meet the deadline for acquiring insurance.
While their proposals are short on details, all argue that it's not fair to hold millions of Americans accountable for buying insurance when the primary instrument for enrollment — the HealthCare.gov website — has prevented many people from doing it.
Even the law's biggest boosters are aggravated that enrollment process for the national health care law they had hoped to tout on the 2014 campaign trail has gotten off to such a bad start.
"If we want this law to work, we've got to make it right, we've got to fix it," Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., one of the law's leading authors, said at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing Thursday on the sign-up problems.
European leaders denounce alleged US spying on EU allies; Merkel says it has shattered trust
BRUSSELS (AP) — European leaders united in anger as they attended a summit overshadowed by reports of widespread U.S. spying on its allies — allegations German Chancellor Angela Merkel said had shattered trust in the Obama administration and undermined the crucial trans-Atlantic relationship.
The latest revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency swept up more than 70 million phone records in France and may have tapped Merkel's own cellphone brought denunciations from the French and German governments.
Merkel's unusually stern remarks Thursday as she arrived at the European Union gathering indicated she wasn't placated by a phone conversation she had Wednesday with President Barack Obama, or his personal assurances that the U.S. is not listening in on her calls now.
"We need trust among allies and partners," Merkel told reporters in Brussels. "Such trust now has to be built anew. This is what we have to think about."
"The United States of America and Europe face common challenges. We are allies," the German leader said. "But such an alliance can only be built on trust. That's why I repeat again: spying among friends, that cannot be."
FDA backs tighter controls on painkiller hydrocodone in wake of addiction epidemic
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Food and Drug Administration is recommending new restrictions on prescription medicines containing hydrocodone, the highly addictive painkiller that has grown into the most widely prescribed drug in the U.S.
In a major policy shift, the agency said in an online notice Thursday that hydrocodone-containing drugs should be subject to the same restrictions as other narcotic drugs like oxycodone and morphine.
The move comes more than a decade after the Drug Enforcement Administration first asked the FDA to reclassify hydrocodone so that it would be subject to the same restrictions as other addictive painkilling drugs. The FDA did not issue a formal announcement about its decision, which has long been sought by many patient advocates, doctors and state and federal lawmakers.
For decades, hydrocodone has been easier to prescribe, in part because it is only sold in combination pills and formulas with other non-addictive ingredients like aspirin and acetaminophen.
That ease of access has made it many health care professionals' top choice for treating chronic pain, everything from back pain to arthritis to toothaches.
Obama calls on Congress to pass immigration legislation by the end of the year
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama made a plea for Republican cooperation on immigration Thursday, seeking common ground by year's end in the aftermath of the divisive partial government shutdown. Yet prospects for success this year remain a long shot even as a handful of House GOP lawmakers push for more limited measures.
Obama's renewed focus on immigration comes amid mounting criticism of the White House over computer problems that have plagued insurance enrollment under the 3-year-old health care law. It also comes nearly four months since a bipartisan majority in the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill that would tighten border security and provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living here illegally.
"Rather than create problems, let's prove to the American people that Washington can actually solve some problems," Obama said during an event devoted to immigration at the White House.
The Senate measure has stalled in the House, where most Republicans reject a comprehensive approach and many question offering citizenship to people who broke U.S. immigration laws to be in this country.
Still, White House officials say they believe that the partial government shutdown, rather than poisoning the political atmosphere, may have created an opportunity for collaboration with Republicans seeking to repair their image, which polls show took a hit during the prolonged fight over financing the government and extending the nation's borrowing limit.
Portuguese prosecutors reopen search into Madeleine McCann's disappearance, citing new leads
LISBON, Portugal (AP) — More than six years after British girl Madeleine McCann vanished from her bedroom during a family vacation in Portugal and five years after Portuguese police gave up trying to find her, authorities reopened the case Thursday, citing new evidence.
Madeleine's parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, had long campaigned from their home in central England for the Portuguese investigation to resume. In a statement Thursday, they said they were "very pleased" at the development.
"We hope that this will finally lead to (Madeleine) being found and to the discovery of whoever is responsible for this crime," Kate and Gerry McCann said. The couple, both doctors, continue to care for Madeleine's younger siblings, twins Sean and Amelie.
Madeleine went missing shortly before her fourth birthday. Her disappearance sparked global interest as pictures of her and her grieving parents beamed around the world. Her parents briefly met with Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter's Square in June 2007, a month after Madeleine disappeared, and the pontiff held a picture of their daughter.
Then, in a stunning twist, Portuguese police briefly considered the parents suspects before they were cleared and returned home.
Roadblocks and milestones for Saudi women getting back behind the wheel against driving ban
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — It's been a little more than two years since the last time women in Saudi Arabia campaigned for the right to drive. Now activists are calling for women to get behind the wheel again Saturday, and they hope reforms made by the monarchy since then have readied the deeply conservative nation for change.
The reforms made by King Abdullah in recent years have been cautious, showing his wariness of pushing too hard against influential ultraconservatives. But given the overwhelming restrictions on women in the kingdom, where the strict interpretation of Islam known as Wahhabism is effectively the law of the land, even the tiny openings have had a resounding effect.
Perhaps one sign of the impact of the changes is the loudness of the backlash by conservatives against Saturday's driving campaign.
Around 150 clerics rallied outside one of the king's palaces this week, some accusing Abdullah's top ally the United States of being behind calls to let women drive. A prominent cleric caused a stir when he said last month that medical studies show that driving a car harms a woman's ovaries. Those opposed to the campaign have also used social media to attack women activists or have urged people to harass female drivers.
The government has given mixed signals about how it will deal with the campaign, illustrated by a statement put out this week by the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of police.
Former Ohio doctor pleads guilty in heroin death of expectant mom who answered Craigslist ad
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A former Ohio doctor accused of killing a pregnant woman last year by injecting her with heroin after she answered a Craigslist ad pleaded guilty Thursday in her death and that of her nearly full-term unborn child.
Ali Salim entered the pleas in Delaware County Court north of Columbus ahead of his trial scheduled for next week. He faces 37 years in prison at a December sentencing.
Salim, 44, pleaded guilty to two counts of involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of Deanna Ballman and her unborn daughter, who was to be named Mabel Lilly. Ballman, 23, was nine months pregnant when she died.
Salim also pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence and abuse of a corpse. He also entered a type of guilty plea to a charge of rape under which he maintains his innocence but acknowledges prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him.
The tampering with evidence charge alleges Salim erased photos and video of Ballman from his phone, though the images were later recovered by investigators, said Kyle Rohrer, assistant Delaware County Prosecutor.
Twitter sets $17 to $20 per share price range for IPO, could raise as much as $1.6 billion
NEW YORK (AP) — Twitter has set a price range of $17 to $20 per share for its initial public offering and says it could raise as much as $1.6 billion in the process. The pricing is relatively conservative considering that Twitter is poised to pull off the year's hottest IPO.
Twitter Inc. said in a regulatory filing Thursday that it will put forth 70 million shares in the offering. If all the shares are sold, the underwriters can buy another 10.5 million shares.
At the $20 share price, Twitter's market value would be around $12.5 billion, roughly one-tenth of Facebook's current valuation. Twitter's value is based on 625.2 million outstanding shares expected after the offering, including restricted stock units and stock options.
The San Francisco-based short-messaging service plans to list its stock under the ticker symbol "TWTR" on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares will likely start trading in early November. Twitter will begin its IPO "roadshow" as early as Friday, meeting with prospective investors to pitch its stock.
The company's valuation is conservative. Some analysts had expected the figure to be as high as $20 billion. Back in August Twitter priced some of its employee stock options at $20.62, based on an appraisal by an investment firm.
WORLD SERIES WATCH: Beltran back in Cards' lineup, Kozma out; Lester's glove draws closer look
BOSTON (AP) — A look at Game 2 of the World Series at Fenway Park on Thursday night as the St. Louis Cardinals take on the Boston Red Sox:
BELTRAN BACK: Star outfielder Carlos Beltran felt good enough to start for the Cardinals, a day after he bruised his ribs while banging into the short bullpen wall to take away a grand slam from David Ortiz.
Beltran was batting second and back in right field. He singled in his first at-bat in front of a diving Jonny Gomes in left field.
Beltran waited his whole career to play in the World Series. He then struck out in the first inning Wednesday night, got hurt in the second and left in the third. Not quite the debut he hoped for.