WASHINGTON — The Obama administration moved Monday to ease some requirements on states to help them set up new insurance exchanges in 2014, a key feature of the health care law the president signed last year.
These state-based exchanges are intended to make buying a health plan comparable to shopping the Internet for an airline ticket or a hotel room.
By 2019, they are expected to serve as the main insurance resource for an estimated 24 million Americans who don’t get their health insurance from their employer, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
Small employers with fewer than 100 employees also will be able to use the exchanges, which will have to offer plans with a minimum level of coverage. No plans will be able to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
The administration’s action Monday drew praise from consumer groups, including Small Business Majority, an advocacy group for small employers.
But creating the exchanges has proven a major challenge in many statehouses nationwide, some controlled by Republican lawmakers and governors openly hostile to the new health care law.
Radiation found in hay for cattle near Japan nuclear plant
TOKYO — Authorities in northeastern Japan on Monday detected high levels of radioactive cesium in hay fed to cattle at a farm near the earthquake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.
The government of Fukushima prefecture found an average of 75,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium per kilogram, about 56 times the official limit, in the hay.
The plant, located 155 miles northeast of Tokyo, has leaked radioactive substances into the environment ever since it was crippled by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
In mid-March, the central government told farmers in areas around the plant not to give livestock feed that had been stored outside. But the farm did not follow the instructions, officials said.
The local government inspected the farm in Minamisoma near the plant Sunday after more than six times the official limit of radioactive cesium was found in the meat of 11 cows shipped from there to Tokyo.
The Tokyo metropolitan government said over the weekend that the meat contained high levels of radioactive cesium, ranging from 1,530 to 3,200 becquerels per kilogram, much higher than the official limit of 500 becquerels.
It asked Minamisoma on Saturday to voluntarily stop shipping beef.
Gunpowder blast at Cyprus naval base kills 12
MARI, Cyprus — Dozens of containers of gunpowder seized years ago from an Iranian cargo ship exploded on Cyprus’ main naval base Monday in a massive blast that killed 12 people, wounded 62 and wrecked a major power station, causing extensive blackouts.
The head of the island nation’s navy, Commodore Andreas Ioannides, was killed. Its defense minister and military chief resigned. Ioannides’ son claimed top officials had repeatedly ignored his father’s warnings that the gunpowder was stored unsafely. Defense ministry officials would not comment on the allegation.
A Cypriot official said right after the blast that a brush fire had ignited more than 90 containers confiscated in 2009 from a ship heading from Iran to Syria.
Shuttle delivers ton of groceries to space station
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The International Space Station got a year’s worth of groceries in a giant shopping cart Monday, courtesy of the astronauts on NASA’s final shuttle flight.
Astronauts Sandra Magnus and Douglas Hurley used the space station’s hulking robot arm to hoist the bus-size container out of Atlantis’ payload bay and attach it to the orbiting outpost.
The canister — 21 feet long and 15 feet across — is jammed with nearly 5 tons of household goods, enough to keep the 245-mile-high station and its inhabitants going for another year. Food alone accounted for more than 1 ton. Clothes also were stuffed inside the Italian-built cylinder, named Raffaello, as well as spare parts for the station.
The astronauts got a quadruple dose of good news Monday. Atlantis’ crew gets an extra day at the space station; the shuttle is in excellent shape; a piece of space junk is no longer a threat; and a critical computer is running normally after being knocked offline.
The shuttle has only a few spots of extremely minor launch damage, and the astronauts can forgo any further inspections until after next week’s undocking, mission managers decided Monday.