Articles on the implementation of ObamaCare.

The U.S. government is seeking to further protect the “conscience and religious freedom” of health workers whose beliefs prevent them from carrying out abortions and other procedures, in an effort likely to please conservative Christian activists and other supporters of President Donald Trump.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said on Thursday it will create a division within its Office of Civil Rights to give it “the focus it needs to more vigorously and effectively enforce existing laws protecting the rights of conscience and religious freedom.”

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The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday afternoon advanced the nomination of Alex Azar to run HHS, putting him one step closer to heading a department that’s been in turmoil in the Trump administration’s first year.

The 15-12 vote, which fell largely along party lines, clears the way for a vote on the Senate floor to install Azar atop the sprawling health agency, which has been without a permanent leader since Tom Price’s resignation in September amid scrutiny of his use of charter jets.

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“The Trump administration’s action today is cruel,” said Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey. The new policy is “the latest salvo of the Trump administration’s war on health care,” according to a health-care advocacy group. “The pain is the point” of the policy, wrote columnist and economist Paul Krugman.

They were attacking the Trump administration’s decision last week to allow states to impose work requirements on Medicaid beneficiaries. But far from being a “cruel” action designed to inflict “pain” on the vulnerable, the administration’s decision is completely reasonable.

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Sen. Lamar Alexander said he wants to add legislation to try to stabilize Obamacare’s insurance exchanges in a long-term spending deal, which Congress could pass as early as next month.

The comments from the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee come as Congress is nearing a government shutdown Friday, with no deal for a short-term spending deal. Senate GOP leadership and President Trump have committed to the Obamacare bills, but House GOP leadership has not.

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A battle is brewing in the courts over the Trump administration’s move to let states impose work requirements for recipients of Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor. Advocacy groups are gearing up to sue the administration, arguing that it doesn’t have the power to allow work requirements and other rules for Medicaid without action from Congress.

But the administration is defending the legality of the shift. When unveiling guidance Thursday on the work requirements, top Medicaid official Seema Verma said the administration has “broad authority” under current law to allow states to make changes through waivers.

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A day after the Trump administration announced that it would allow states to compel poor people on Medicaid to work or get ready for jobs, federal health officials on Friday granted Kentucky permission to impose those requirements.

Becoming the first-in-the-nation state to move forward with the profound change to the safety-net health insurance program is a victory for Kentucky’s Republican governor, Matt Bevin, who during his 2015 campaign for office vowed to reverse the strong embrace of the Affordable Care Act by his Democratic predecessor.

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The Trump Administration is on a mission to rescue health-care markets and consumers from ObamaCare’s shrinking choices and higher prices. Witness the Labor Department’s proposal to allow small businesses to band together to provide insurance on equal footing with corporations and unions.

The share of workers at small businesses with employer-sponsored health benefits has dropped by a quarter since 2010 as insurance costs have ballooned in part due to government mandates. About 11 million workers employed by small businesses are uninsured. Some businesses have dropped their workers onto state insurance exchanges where premiums are subsidized by taxpayers.

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The skyrocketing cost of insurance and diminishing plan choices have driven Americans away from the marketplaces — not presidential malfeasance.

Even before open enrollment started November 1, Obamacare’s proponents tried to lower the public’s expectations and shift blame for the coming drop in enrollees. They predicted that President Trump’s decision to cut Obamacare’s advertising and outreach budget from $100 million to $10 million — as well as his decision to shorten the open enrollment period from 12 to six weeks — would lead to lower enrollment.

The truth is, the administration’s gymnastics have little impact on whether people purchase coverage. Those decisions are dictated by simple things like the price of a plan and how much they value the benefits it provides.

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State lawmakers in Maryland are looking to replace ObamaCare’s individual mandate, which was repealed by Republicans in Congress last month.

A proposal in Maryland would require people to pay a penalty for not having insurance. The money, though, could be used as a down payment for a health insurance plan.

People would also have the option to pay the penalty and get nothing in return.

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The Trump administration is estimating there are now only 700 issuers in the individual and small group markets, which is down from 2,400 in an earlier estimate.

The CMS cited the updated figure in an information collection notice posted Jan. 8. The agency is seeking permission from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to continue collecting data annually from exchange plans about their enrollees’ risk profiles.

In an earlier version of the request submitted to the executive branch last month, the agency estimated there were 2,400 issuers in the individual and small group markets.

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