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Federal shutdown won't stop Obamacare, Ky. insurance exchange

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By Molly Burchett, Kentucky Health News

 The federal government is on the brink of shutdown after House Republicans refused to pass a budget unless it involved a delay in the health reform law, and both Senate Democrats and the White House have said they will block any such budget resolution. In the event that Congress doesn't reach a compromise, which would lead to a shutdown on 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, enrollment for Kentucky's online health insurance exchange, Kynect, will still begin as scheduled.

The shutdown drama is heightened since Tuesday is both the start of the federal fiscal year and the first health insurance can be bought on the online exchanges created by the reform law, often called Obamacare. Kynect won't be affected because it is funded by a "permanent appropriation," that isn't subject to annual appropriation, Paul Van de Water, a policy analyst at theCenter on Budget and Policy Prioritiestold Sharon Begley of Reuters.

The Department of Health and Human Services' contingency plan for a government shutdown makes clear that Obamacare will continue, along with other mandatory programs like Medicaid and Medicare, programs that do not rely on annual appropriations and involve the human life and safety, Cunningham and Nather report. "And that means the staff that carry out mandatory programs like those in the health law can keep working — even if their positions are funded through the annual spending bills."

However, uncertainty about the shutdown could add more confusion to America's lack of understanding of the health law. Many may not realize they can sign up for coverage through the state exchanges even if the federal government is shut down.

The Kaiser Family Foundation's August 2013 Health Tracking Poll showed that roughly four in 10 Americans, 44 percent, either think the law has been repealed by Congress or overturned by the Supreme Court. A recent Pew Research Center poll last week found 53 percent of Americans disapprove of the law, and 42 percent approve.

But most Americans oppose defunding the new law if it means shutting down the government and defaulting on debt, saysCNBC's third quarter All-American Economic Survey.

President Obama has said he will not negotiate on his signature legislative accomplishment, and most Senate Republicans have disavowed the House Republican strategy of risking a government shutdown.

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky