Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
August 22, 2014

10 Senate Democrats Push to Extend Obamacare Enrollment Window

Ten Democratic senators have signed a letter calling for an extension of  open enrollment for the exchanges created by the new health care law if the website remains so problematic.

“Given the existing problems with healthcare.gov and other state-run marketplace websites that depend on the federally-administered website, we urge you to consider extending open enrollment beyond the current end date of March 31, 2014. Extending this period will give consumers critical time in which to become familiar with the website and choose a plan that is best for them,” the senators wrote in a Friday letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “Individuals should not be penalized for lack of coverage if they are unable to purchase health insurance due to technical problems.”

The letter stops well short of the effort being pushed by West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin III to delay the individual mandate to purchase insurance for a year. However, not penalizing people who cannot get insurance until after the current deadlines would seem to require waiving the tax penalty for at least some folks.

Manchin said earlier this week that he’s working on a one-year delay measure with Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. — a move that could lead to politically vulnerable Democrats facing a difficult choice.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire led the letter, joined by Democrats from across the country: Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Dianne Feinstein of California, Mark Udall of Colorado, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico.

Shaheen first floated the idea of extending the enrollment period in a letter earlier this week.

A number of these senators, including Shaheen, are up for re-election in 2014, but that’s not universally true of the signatories.

The text of the letter to Sebelius appears below:

When fully implemented, the Affordable Care Act represents a bold step forward in reforming our nation’s health care system. It has the potential to improve the quality of care we all receive and provides the opportunity for millions of Americans to purchase quality, affordable health insurance.

The newly created federal and state health insurance marketplaces are intended to allow consumers the opportunity to compare health insurance options and find a plan that fits their needs and their budgets. For three years, we have been eagerly waiting for the launch of these marketplaces. However, now that the marketplaces are open, we have become discouraged and frustrated with the problems and interactions that are occurring with the Affordable Care Act’s federally-administered website, healthcare.gov.

As long as these substantial technology glitches persist, we are losing valuable time to educate and enroll people in insurance plans. Our constituents are frustrated, and we fear that the longer the website is not functional, opportunities for people to log on, learn about their insurance choices, and enroll will be lost.

Given the existing problems with healthcare.gov and other state-run marketplace websites that depend on the federally-administered website, we urge you to consider extending open enrollment beyond the current end date of March 31, 2014. Extending this period will give consumers critical time in which to become familiar with the website and choose a plan that is best for them. Individuals should not be penalized for lack of coverage if they are unable to purchase health insurance due to technical problems.

The Affordable Care Act has already had a significant impact on the lives of millions of Americans; seniors are now paying less for their prescription drugs, critical preventive care services are available for free and important work is being done to improve the quality of care we receive. Americans will now have the opportunity to receive tax credits to purchase quality health insurance, and starting in January 2014, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny health coverage because of a pre-existing condition or drop coverage if someone is sick.

We appreciate your efforts to fully implement this law and look forward to working with you to accomplish that goal. Thank you for considering our requests to extend the open enrollment period if the healthcare.gov substantial technology glitches continue.

  • ajr86

    These democrat red state senators think that all of a sudden their conservative constituents will forget their health care vote? Too late. They all need to be thrown out of office.

    • Layla

      I believe the American people are going to have the last word on this and they will be. Lots of surprises coming up in the 2014 elections.

  • rlfast

    What is the purpose of restricting enrollment to only a part of the year? I never heard of “open enrollment” before moving to this country, and frankly I just don’t understand the concept at all. Someone help me out here, please.

    • Theo

      with most insurance plans, you only have a certain time of the year where you can sign up-usually from October to the end of the year; it’s pretty stupid but that’s the way it is; no idea what to do about it

  • susierosie

    Well the democrats in name only are coming out of the woodwork. Nice to know who has President Obama’s back and who doesn’t.

    • BIK

      I am an Independent…but President Obama has a bigger problem then enrolling all those not insured at present. Blue Cross, Blue Shield, Highmark and other insurers are dropping their policy holders and telling them to get their new policies on the ACA exchange. I have seen the letters myself. These people have had their current policy for years and one friend said that if he spends the same amount of money for a policy on the exchange he gets a policy with larger deductibles and co-pays than his current policy (he does not qualify for those “tax breaks”). So their will be many more (unhappy) people going up on the Federal Exchange than the current uninsured. I am afraid the President has handed this country over to the Health Insurance Industry….an industry that once was “not for profit” but has become a bottom line seeking industry.
      By the way I worked in HealthCare IT for over 30 years before I retired so I have seen all the changes..

  • qariwa55

    I am a big Affordable Care Act supporter and I agree with the letter by these 10 Senators, not all of whom are at the conservative end of the party, such as the Udalls and Bennet. The basic principles of the Act are sound, despite the serious implementation issues. Some, but not all, of the problems are: (1) it is obvious that too much of the work was outsourced, and the communication between the government agency and the private contractors has been poor. (2) Some states waited up until the last minute to decide whether to have their own exchanges or let the federal government do it for them. And (3), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has been unrealistic about how much work needed to be done, or unwilling to admit that publicly. These are all problems that can be fixed with relative ease, but it will take time and no citizen should be punished because of the mismanagement.

    In general I like Nancy Pelosi, but this time she is in denial and will be embarrassed about it later.

    • Layla

      Embarrassed? How about an AUDIT?

      Pelosi and Reid deserve to be voted out of office for this. We’ll see how stupid their constituents are.

      • qariwa55

        Voting Pelosi and Reid out for this? Don’t be ridiculous! The problem with technology in government is endemic, and goes way back (see http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/25/opinion/getting-to-the-bottom-of-healthcaregovs-flop.html). It is a problem the executive branch needs to take the lead on.

        As for an audit, isn’t that standard in any case? I suspect the problem is far more the outdated system for buying services than it is actual impropriety. I hope we find out soon.

        • Layla

          Ridiculous? I don’t think so. There have been signs of problems along the way and these problems were covered up. And no, audits are not necessarily always standard.

          And now we have a situation where hundreds of thousands are losing what coverage they had and being reduced to parttime hours.

          It is the job of Congress to perform oversight. In the case of the ACA, requests for information were ignored. In my view, that’s criminal. This is the biggest fraud ever perpetrated upon the American people. You deserve much worse than being voted out of office.

          • qariwa55

            You obviously did not read the article I provided a link to, or you would see there is a lot more to the story than possible “fraud” (none of which has yet been documented). And if you think that “this is the biggest fraud ever perpetrated upon the American people,” but are unwilling to read informed accounts that explain what is happening, then you have lost your marbles. “Requests for information ignored”? Boo-hoo! That has been the case with all administrations, and always will be (cf: WMD). The hysterical level of exaggeration you display is pathological.

          • Chrisanne

            The link to article didn’t work .. I would like to read it

          • qariwa55

            See if this works: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/25/opinion/getting-to-the-bottom-of-healthcaregovs-flop.html?_r=0 . Perhaps the other link expired. Here is the name of the article, in case it ” moves”:

            Why the Government Never Gets Tech Right
            Getting to the Bottom of HealthCare.gov’s Flop

      • JosephDygas

        Do you mean like qariwa55?

        • qariwa55

          Do you care to find a single stupid sentence in anything I wrote, Mr. Articulate?

    • VRaleigh

      Quari, what would you say to this individual; http://www.suntimes.com/news/marin/23352031-452/obamacare-jacks-up-her-insurance.html

      No disrepect meant to you in this, but I think you will be changing your tune just like she did before long–unless you work in Government

      • qariwa55

        Thanks for the honest query. It is conceivable I will change my tune, but I doubt it. The article you linked is pretty good, but it leaves out several important things: (1) what is important about an insurance plan is not just the premium and the deductible, but also upper limits, copayments, exclusions, etc. For example, most individual plans have excluded mental health. The article does not mention those. If Blue Cross had to cancel the lady’s plan, it was because coverage was too limited. It was “junk” as many experts say now. (2) It mentions the total prices of new policies but does not mention the subsidies the lady is probably entitled to. (3) Blue Cross told her only about THEIR new plans on the exchange, not those of their many competitors. In Illinois, there are 150+ plans, and Blue Cross has only a few of those. New smaller more efficient companies are offering many new plans. My guess is that Blue Cross is not that competitive on the exchange. (4) The big insurance companies such as Anthem (Blue Cross) are deliberately scaring people into being against ObamaCare, because they are at a disadvantage compared to the newer, more innovative companies.

        Our government has done a really, really crappy job explaining the ACA to the public. Even an excellent reporter like Carol Marin and an ex-ACA supporter have been snookered by the big insurance companies. It will take time, but eventually most Americans will see that the ACA is a good idea, despite all of its flaws.

        • VRaleigh

          “…eventually most American will see that the ACA Is a good idea, despite all it flaws”

          I sincerely hope you are right in this my friend. The fabrications have run wide, deep, and long on this issue making it extremely hard for me to trust anything coming from the White House (or the Senate). I know for a fact that if ithe ACA is to get better and gain the appreciation you speak of via a valid healthcare platform, there are more birth pains to come and millions of Americans will pay the price in the intrim.
          Best o luck to you though
          Sincerely,

          • qariwa55

            I take the White House and the Senate much less seriously on the ACA than I do the policy wonks and health policy professors who study this stuff for a living.

          • VRaleigh

            That is actually the point that disturbs me the most. I have seen “some” studies from the professionals you referenced and it appears their outcome depends upon what thier worldview is. Well, that is absurd!! It does appear to me that Dr’s have the most to loose from the ACA (yes I heard that on a conservative talk show), but it makes sense that we will have fewer dr’s (thinking of Canada).
            Or, am I a victim of not seeing the truth because of my presuppositioins? Perhaps we all have became so polarized we just want see the truth and eventhough no shot has been fired we are a country at war with itself. The Authoritarians against all opposed.
            Here is hoping we all get our heads out of our politics and start thinking “what kind of Country do I want my kids to inherit and then thers?”
            Apologies–didnt mean to get off topic. I am sure I am merely preaching to the Choir anyway.

  • Layla

    Shame on the United States Democrat Senate for not allowing this a couple of weeks ago when the Republicans asked them to do it.

    This is a disaster and it is doing real harm to people. If you think that’s a recipe for reelection, better think again. People vote with their wallets.

  • JosephDygas

    I don’t think anything should be done to delay or defund obamacare because the longer this titanic of a fiasco goes on the more ticked off America’s voters will get and hopefully elect alternatives to the senate democrats in 2014. Dirty Harry and his band of moronic senators need to be voted out of office for sheer incompetence and political malfeasance. They no longer deserve to be in any elected office.
    Remember your lost health insurance and vote for NO democrats in 2014.

  • givonudnt

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