Much to GOP dismay, the government shutdown didn’t delay Obamacare. But a glitchy website just might – and at least one Democrat agrees.
New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is adding her name to the growing list of Republicans asking President Obama to extend open enrollment for the new online insurance market, citing technical problems associated with HealthCare.gov.
The Democrat sent a letter to the commander in chief on Tuesday. While Shaheen, unlike many Republicans, said the Affordable Care Act has “great promise” and has “already positively impacted the lives of millions of Americans,” she also argued the open enrollment should extend beyond March 31, 2014. Those Americans who do not have insurance after the deadline could be fined by the Internal Revenue Service.
“Given the existing problems with the website, I urge you to consider extending open enrollment….Allowing extra time for consumers is critically important so they have the opportunity to become familiar with the website, survey their options and enroll,” Shaheen wrote.
The senator also sought clarification if Americans will be fined if they run into technical problems on the website, arguing “they should not be penalized.”
Since the rollout of the website on Oct 1, Americans have run into several glitches, including delays, receiving error messages, and getting the Spanish-language version of the site. Obama admitted during a Rose Garden speech on Monday that the website for his signature Affordable Care Act has “been too slow” and that “people have been getting stuck.” The president promised to fix the issues, pointed out Americans could sign up the old-fashioned way, via phone or in person, and insisted the problem was a technical one, and not with the law itself.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who has come under fire for the glitches and is expected to testify in front of Congress as early as next week on the program, told CNN on Tuesday that Obama was unaware of the technical problems until the website launched.
“We have a six-month open enrollment period and I’m confident that millions of Americans at the end of open enrollment, March 31, will have affordable coverage for the first time in their lives,” Sebelius said.
When asked on Monday if the tech problems could lead the White House to withdraw penalties, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney did not give a straight answer, saying “Americans who have access to affordable insurance would need to have insurance by March 31. People who do not have access to affordable care due to a state not expanding Medicaid, for example, or due to other factors will not be penalized.”
When pressed further, Carney noted, “We’re way still early in the process.”
Several Republicans, bruised by the government shutdown showdown, in which conservatives unsuccessfully tried to tie any spending plan to defunding or delaying Obamacare—have already pounced on the technical glitches.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said earlier this week that he’ll introduce legislation to postpone the Obamacare individual insurance mandate until the website is fixed.
“It’s not fair to punish people for not buying something that’s not available,” he told CBS, calling his plan a “prudent approach”
Rep. Trey Radel of Florida also announced he is sponsoring legislation to delay the Obamacare fine until the website is glitch-free. Radel called the site “completely unusable.”