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At the same time, the federal official closest to the website apologized for its dysfunction in new sign-ups and asserted things are getting better by the day.

Medicare chief Marilyn Tavenner said it's not the administration but insurers who are responsible for cancellation letters now reaching many of the estimated 14 million people who buy individual policies. And, officials said, people who get cancellation notices will be able to find better replacement plans, in some cases for less.

The Associated Press, citing the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, reported in May that many carriers would opt to cancel policies this fall and issue new ones. Administratively that was seen as easier than changing existing plans to comply with the new law, which mandates coverage of more services and provides better financial protection against catastrophic illnesses.

___

Outside drop in autos, US retail spending rises

WASHINGTON (AP) a¿¿ A sharp drop in auto sales caused largely by a calendar quirk lowered U.S. retail spending in September. But Americans spent more on most other goods, showing some confidence in the economy before much of the government shut down.

Overall retail sales dipped 0.1 percent, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. That was the weakest showing since March.

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Wholesale prices dipped 0.1 percent in September

WASHINGTON (AP) a¿¿ A big decline in food costs helped hold down wholesale prices in September, contributing to a 0.1 percent decline, the first drop since April.

The Labor Department says the slight dip followed a 0.3 percent rise in prices in August. Wholesale food prices fell 1 percent, led by a plunge in vegetable prices.

The lower food costs helped offset a 0.5 percent rise in energy prices. That increase reflected higher prices for home heating oil, diesel fuel and natural gas. Gasoline prices, which had shot up 2.6 percent in August, dipped 0.1 percent in September.

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