VIDEO: Today's Headline News from Associated Press

HEALTH CARE SIGN-UP SNAGS, FIX-IT EFFORTS DETAILED

 

WASHINGTON (AP) -- On the defensive, the Obama administration acknowledged Wednesday its problem-plagued health insurance website didn't get enough testing before going live. It said technicians were deep into the job of fixing major computer snags but provided no timetable.

 

Democratic unhappiness with the situation began growing louder - including one call for President Barack Obama to "man up" and fire someone - as the president's allies began to fret about the political fallout. Democrats had hoped to run for re-election touting the benefits of the health care law for millions of uninsured Americans, but the computer problems are keeping many people from signing up.

 

The White House also signaled a change underway in the timeline for signing up for coverage. Consumers have until Dec. 15 to apply for coverage that's effective Jan. 1. Even though open enrollment lasts until March 31, people would face a penalty if they postpone buying coverage beyond mid-February. Calling that a "disconnect," the White House said officials will soon issue policy guidance so that if consumers sign up by the end of March they will not face a penalty. No action from Congress is needed to make that happen, the White House said.

 

Republican sniping about the website's flaws continued unabated, with House Speaker John Boehner declaring, "We've got the whole threat of Obamacare continuing to hang over our economy like a wet blanket."

 

Obama himself, though strongly defending the health care overhaul, has been increasingly willing to acknowledge extensive problems with the sign-up through online markets. Amid all that, the Health and Human Services Department on Wednesday provided its most specific accounting yet of the troubles with HealthCare.gov - an issue that is also about to get a lengthy, even-less-forgiving airing on Capitol Hill.

 

The first of several hearings is set for Thursday in the Republican-led House, with lawmakers ready to pounce on the contractors who built the balky online enrollment system.

 

TESTS SUGGEST BABY BORN WITH HIV MAY BE CURED

 

Doctors now have convincing evidence that they put HIV into remission, hopefully for good, in a Mississippi baby born with the AIDS virus - a medical first that is prompting a new look at how hard and fast such cases should be treated.

 

The case was reported earlier this year but some doctors were skeptical that the baby was really infected rather than testing positive because of exposure to virus in the mom's blood.

 

The new report, published online Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine, makes clear that the girl, now 3, was infected in the womb. She was treated unusually aggressively and shows no active infection despite stopping AIDS medicines 18 months ago.

 

Doctors won't call it a cure because they don't know what proof or how much time is needed to declare someone free of HIV infection, long feared to be permanent.

 

"We want to be very cautious here. We're calling it remission because we'd like to observe the child for a longer time and be absolutely sure there's no rebound," said Dr. Katherine Luzuriaga, a University of Massachusetts AIDS expert involved in the baby's care.

 

SOUTHERN OZONE HOLE SLIGHTLY SMALLER THIS YEAR

 

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Warm air at high altitudes this September and October helped shrink the man-made ozone hole near the South Pole ever so slightly, scientists say.

 

The hole is an area in the atmosphere with low ozone concentrations. It is normally is at its biggest this time of year. NASA says on average it covered 8.1 million square miles this season. That's 6 percent smaller than the average since 1990.

 

The ozone hole is of concern because high-altitude ozone shields Earth from ultraviolet radiation.

 

NASA chief atmospheric scientist Paul A. Newman says the main reason for this year's result is local weather. The upper air has been almost 2 degrees warmer than normal in the globe's southernmost region. That has led to fewer polar stratospheric clouds. These clouds are where chlorine and bromine, which come from man-made products, nibble away at ozone.

 

"It's just like watching the Pac-Man eating cookies, where cookies are ozone. The chlorine atoms are the Pac-Man," Newman said.

 

James Butler, director of the global monitoring division at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Earth System Research Lab, said Wednesday that the new figures are "sort of encouraging news."

 

"It's not getting worse," Butler said. "That's a good sign."

 

Butler said it stopped getting worse around the late 1990s. But he added, "We can't say yet that it's a recovery."

 

Newman and Butler said they can't tell if the ozone hole changes are related to man-made global warming.

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