Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
August 1, 2015

Democrat Tells Obama People Shouldn’t Be Penalized For Problematic Health Insurance Website

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen on Tuesday called for the Obama administration to consider extending the open enrollment period for the first year of the health care law’s implementation — and delaying the individual mandate tax — if the problems plaguing the website persist.

New Hampshire is one of the states that did not set up its own exchange, meaning Granite State residents are facing the full brunt of the “glitches.”

“Given the existing problems with the website, I urge you to consider extending open enrollment beyond the current end date of March 31, 2014. Allowing extra time for consumers is critically important so they have the opportunity to become familiar with the website, survey their options and enroll,” the Democrat wrote in a Tuesday letter to President Barack Obama.

Shaheen then went further to suggest a delay in enforcement of the individual mandate tax penalty if issues persist.

“Further, in light of the difficulties individuals may be having with enrolling through, I ask that you clarify how the individual responsibility penalty will be administered and enforced,” she wrote. “If an individual is unable to purchase health insurance due to technical problems with enrollment, they should not be penalized because of lack of coverage.”

The administration has already delayed the employer mandate for a year but has refused to consider doing the same for individuals, arguing that it would strike at the core of the law.

Shaheen is up for re-election in 2014. She continues to enjoy strong favorability from her New Hampshire constituents, as highlighted in the latest WMUR Granite State Poll from the University of New Hampshire.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that former Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Jeffrey Zients would be brought in to help manage the process of fixing the problems with the federal website that have made it extremely difficult for many users to complete the enrollment process.

“In addition to our efforts to ramp up capacity and expertise with the country’s leading innovators and problem solvers, we have secured additional staff and commitments from our contractors, including CGI, the lead firm responsible for the federally facilitated marketplace technology,” Sebelius wrote on an HHS blog. “They are providing and directing the additional resources needed for this project within the provisions of their existing contract.”

There’s been no shortage of criticism for Sebelius and HHS during the website rollout, with House Republicans particularly criticizing Sebelius for not testifying this week on the issues. She’s expected to testify next week at the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The full text of the letter from Shaheen to Obama, first obtained by Politico, appears below:

The Affordable Care Act has already positively impacted the lives of millions of Americans and once fully implemented, this law has great promise. However, I am concerned about the problems that people are experiencing with the Affordable Care Act’s website, As website glitches persist, we are losing valuable time to educate and enroll people in insurance plans. I also fear that people that have tried, and failed, to enroll online may become frustrated and not return to the website to try again at a later date.

Given the existing problems with the website, I urge you to consider extending open enrollment beyond the current end date of March 31, 2014. Allowing extra time for consumers is critically important so they have the opportunity to become familiar with the website, survey their options and enroll.

Further, in light of the difficulties individuals may be having with enrolling through, I ask that you clarify how the individual responsibility penalty will be administered and enforced. If an individual is unable to purchase health insurance due to technical problems with enrollment, they should not be penalized because of lack of coverage.

The difficulty that people in New Hampshire and in other states that are relying on the federally facilitated marketplaces are experiencing is incredibly frustrating and disappointing. For over three years, we have been waiting for the creation of the health insurance exchanges, which now in their fourth week of existence, are riddled with problems.

I know that the White House is working diligently to address the website issues, and I know that you share my interest in making this law work successfully. And I fully understand that the healthcare law has already had a significant impact on the lives of millions of Americans; seniors are now paying less for their prescription drugs, important preventive care services, such as some cancer screenings and immunizations, are available for free and important work is being done to improve the quality of care we receive. Americans 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.

Ultimately, however, we must do better. 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 – extending the open enrollment period and clarification on the enforcement and administration of the individual responsibility penalty would be a great start.

I look forward to continuing to work with you to implement the law.

Comments (58)

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  1. Grumpy

    Oct. 22, 2013
    11:03 p.m.

    The Washington Post is reporting that just a few days before the launch they tested the site, it crashed under the equivalent of 200 people trying to sign up at the same time.. That means when the site was launched the Administration knew it would fail..

    But launched it anyway-

    A couple days later, Boehner inadvertently gave Obama chance to cover his butt when he proposed the 1 delay on the mandate,, Obama would have had a year to “improve the website with no one knowing how severe the issues were..

    By then issues were surfacing, a reasonable case could be make if the GOP Establishment hadn’t been so busy trying to hang Cruz by the short hairs, They could have jumped all over the meme they were saving people from healthcare,gov The system wasn’t working, experts were warning of major security missuses, why won’t Obama just delay it a year and fix it..

    It’s so bad Carney walked out on questions from the friendly media today

    Democrats would have had a hard time justifying continuing the just down so Obama could impose a program everyone on the planet knew wasn’t working

    A few more days and Obama’s Rose Garden speech might have been over long before the young woman fainted

    But caving and blaming Cruz was so much easier

  2. Th_Ph

    Oct. 22, 2013
    11:06 p.m.

    When the Dems beg for a delay of the Individual Mandate, the GOP-led House would be entirely justified in responding, “We offered a one-year delay in the Individual Mandate. But Harry Reid and the president preferred to shut down the Government sooner than consider it. If Harry Reid and the president are now so eager to delay the Individual Mandate — only weeks afterward — it should be obvious the shutdown nothing but a piece of cheap political theater in defense of nothing.”

  3. sukietawdry

    Oct. 22, 2013
    11:38 p.m.

    Um, Jeanne? That “individual responsibility penalty”? It’s not a penalty, it’s a tax, a non-activity tax. If you will recall, the constitutionality of the entire act rested on that distinction and as the Chief Justice informed us, “…it is abundantly clear that the Constitution does not guarantee that individuals may avoid taxation through inactivity.” Citizens will not be “penalized because of lack of coverage” whatever the reason for that lack may be. The absence of activity, however, will be taxed. And since a tax cannot be punitive, what is the legitimate argument for delaying it?

    This is the kind of absurdity we’re forced to live with now. Isn’t it time to delay the entire Affordable Care Act? Indefinitely??

  4. Defend Liberty

    Oct. 23, 2013
    9:59 a.m.

    In this related YouTube video, comedian Russell Brand notes that Hussein Obama’s messiah complex is a symptom of mental illness:

  5. Phil

    Oct. 24, 2013
    8:01 a.m.

    Repeal is the only compromise. Again. It’s all about them saving their seat. NO COMPROMISE ONLY FULL REPEAL!!

    DEMOCRAT CARE is a Trojan Horse they have unleashed on themselves. They alone have shoved it down our throats. Harry Reid and the rest have tried to destroy the conservative movement for good. We can do it to the progressives by NOT COMPROMOSING.

    The Republicans are going to blow it again. Obama is a Despot. 2014 we can throw them all out and ARREST him. Impeachment is reserved ONLY for citizens. Make him prove it before he gets that honor. School records etc. If Impeached all his damage stays. If we charge him as a usurper everything he did is nullified. REMEMBER.

    They are at war with US. The American people. RINOS are going to mess everything up AGAIN!

    Hardball. FULL REPEAL or NOTHING. The publics anger will only grow by the day and they will insist on repeal if the RINOS DON’T BACK STAB US! Hold tight. We have a chance to rid us of the progressive movement and never let it raise it’s ugly head again. Remember what they did to our vets just a few weeks ago? Benghazi?

    NSA building in Utah that they fired up this month? Sending the I.R.S. after us to meddle with the 2012 election? Gutting the Military to the point the top brass is saying how bad they are weakening us. Using State run Media (MSM) to propagate lies and try to DEMONIZE us!! WORK PLACE VIOLENCE! Punishing peoples success. Backing the Muslim Brotherhood. IMMIGRATION!! Union thuggery! ERIC HOLDER going after States rights!

    DHS putting snipers on the roof when the vets marched!! The war on GOD! The war on our Constitution and bill of rights. OBAMAS PRIVATE ARMY! Making conservatives the ENEMY of the STATE! NO COMPROMISE.

    Screw them. They only want their seats. Again. IT’S ALL ABOUT THEM>>>>>>>>>>>>>>NO!

    Make them own DEMOCRAT CARE. FULL REPEAL or NOTHING! DON’T BE STUPID! The whole country will turn on them. If they blow this one I’m all done. If we let them keep their seats they will turn back to their tyranny the very next day. NO! Don’t forget how they stood behind a DESPOT that wants to subjugate us to his servitude.

    They will get behind him as soon as they win. DON’T BE STUPID!

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