Democrats want 'Obamacare' deadlines moved back
Posted October 24, 2013
WASHINGTON — After uniting against Republican efforts earlier this month to delay President Barack Obama's health care law, a growing number Democrats in Congress now want to extend the enrollment deadline, and one senator wants to delay the penalty for not complying.
Six Senate Democrats up for re-election next year, including Kay Hagan of North Carolina, have proposed delaying the new March 31 deadline for applying for coverage while the program's problems are ironed out. A seventh, West Virginia's Joe Manchin, is co-authoring a bill to postpone the $95 penalty for people who fail to meet the deadline for acquiring insurance.
While their proposals are short on details, all argue that it's not fair to hold millions of Americans accountable for buying insurance when the primary instrument for enrollment – the HealthCare.gov website – has prevented many people from doing it.
Even the biggest boosters of the Affordable Care Act are aggravated that enrollment process for the national health care law they had hoped to tout on the 2014 campaign trail has gotten off to such a bad start.
"If we want this law to work, we've got to make it right, we've got to fix it," Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., one of the law's leading authors, said at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing Thursday on the sign-up problems.
Contractors for the health insurance website told the committee the government failed to thoroughly test the complex enrollment system before its Oct. 1 launch. The system crashed as soon as consumers tried to use it. A web of confusing deadlines and penalties for not obtaining health insurance persists.
As Democrats began to fret about the political consequences ahead of the 2014 midterm elections, the administration late Wednesday said it was granting what amounts to a six-week filing extension. The March 31 deadline for having insurance became the new deadline for applying for it.
But that's not enough for a growing number of Senate Democrats.
Hagan called for an eight-week extension, calling the website problems frustrating and unacceptable. She said the clock shouldn't start ticking until the website is running properly, so everyone has time to choose the right coverage.
"I'm certainly open to looking at further extensions and what needs to take place – what will be fair for the American public – and to be sure that the Affordable Care Act can be implemented in a proper fashion come next year," she said.
Manchin is teaming with Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia on a bill that would waive for one year the $95 penalty for not enrolling in the program.
"It should be a transition year. For one year, there should be no fines," Manchin said Wednesday on Fox's "The O'Reilly Factor."
The six Senate Democrats seeking re-election next year urged the Obama administration to postpone the March 31 deadline.
"As you continue to fix problems with the website and the enrollment process, it is critical that the administration be open to modifications that provide greater flexibility for the American people seeking to access health insurance," Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, wrote to Obama on Tuesday.
Extending the open enrollment period and clarifying other parts of the law, she added, "would be a great start."
Also supporting Shaheen's effort are Democratic Sens. Tom Udall of New Mexico, Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Udall of Colorado and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, aides to the lawmakers said.
All of the Senate Democrats earlier this month joined in rejecting legislation passed by the House to delay for a year the law's requirement that people buy health insurance as well as the tax subsidies for helping them do it, as a condition for ending the partial government shutdown.
Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, a longtime opponent of the health law, continues to back a repeal of the law, spokesman Robert Reid said.
"It is a disaster of a law, and the only relief is to repeal it entirely and replace it with real reforms that make coverage more affordable while not putting the government in between you and your health care," Reid said in an email to WRAL News. "The failure of the website, while spectacular, is only the tip of the iceberg."
Republican 2nd District Congresswoman Renee Ellmers introduced legislation Thursday to exempt people from the penalty if they attest that they weren't able to enroll for health coverage through an online exchange.
"The American people deserve a reprieve from the failures of the Obama administration and should not be penalized because the White House can't build a functioning website," Ellmers said in a statement.
Republican House members Walter Jones, Robert Pittenger and Patrick McHenry also called for a one-year delay in assessing penalties, while Democratic 1st District Congressman G.K. Butterfield said he agrees with the Obama administration that a six-week extension is enough.