By Roberta Rampton and Thomas Ferraro
WASHINGTON, Nov 12 (Reuters) - The growing pressure on
President Barack Obama to adjust his problem-plagued healthcare
law seemed to boil over on Tuesday, as leaders of Obama's
Democratic Party called on him to allow a change in the law so
that Americans who are happy with their health plans could keep
In what became the clearest sign yet of Democrats'
increasing anxiety over the troubled rollout of the healthcare
law, former President Bill Clinton told the web magazine
Ozymandias that Obama should support such a change to fulfill a
promise he and his administration have made to Americans for
"I personally believe, even if it takes a change to the law,
the president should honor the commitment the federal government
made to those people and let them keep what they got," Clinton
told the magazine.
The comments were significant coming from Clinton, perhaps
the most popular figure in the Democratic Party and a longtime
supporter of efforts to help millions of uninsured and
underinsured Americans obtain coverage for health care.
Since the 2010 Affordable Care Act went into effect on Oct.
1, millions of Americans have discovered their current plans
were being canceled because the plans did not meet minimum
coverage levels required by the new law, also known as
Amid criticism that he had broken his promise to those who
want to keep their old health plans, Obama apologized last week
for not being more clear in his statements about the law.
But the apology did not do much to tamp down a wave of
criticism of the president. That criticism - combined with the
ongoing problems of the HealthCare.gov that have kept untold
numbers of Americans from signing up for coverage under the new
law - appeared to push at least some Democrats to a breaking
point on Tuesday.
Hours after Clinton's comments, the U.S. Senate's No. 2
Democrat, Richard Durbin of Illinois, said that although the
White House has long resisted alterations to the Affordable Care
Act, Democrats should be open to "constructive changes" to
improve the law also known as Obamacare.
Another influential senator, California's Dianne Feinstein,
issued a statement shortly afterward, saying that she would join
Senator Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, in sponsoring a
bill that would allow Americans to keep their current insurance
plans, even if the plans do not meet the new law's standards for
"Too many Americans are struggling to make ends meet,"
Feinstein said in a statement. "We must ensure that in our
effort to reform the healthcare system, we do not allow
unintended consequences to go unaddressed."
For Republicans who opposed Obamacare and have long been
critical of virtually every aspect of the law and the
administration's promotion of it, Tuesday's message was: I told
Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said the
comments from Democrats signaled "a growing recognition that
Americans were misled when they were promised that they could
keep their coverage."
Republican House leaders have scheduled a vote for later
this week on a bill offered by Republican Fred Upton of Michigan
that is similar to the Senate bill co-sponsored by Landrieu and
Landrieu is among a dozen Democratic senators for whom
fixing Obamacare is politically urgent because they face tough
reelection campaigns next year.
'THROWING THE BABY OUT'
White House spokesman Jay Carney, commenting before
Feinstein's announcement, said Tuesday that Upton's House bill
would cause problems for insurers who were trying to sell plans
that met the basic standards of the new law.
"We do not see that as fixing the problem - we see that as
throwing the baby out with the bath water," Carney said. "That
would cause more problems and create more problems, and do more
harm than any good."
Carney also said the administration is searching for a way
to help those facing cancellations. He did not provide details.
The House vote - and the potential for a similar vote in the
Democrat-led Senate on the Landrieu/Feinstein plan - mean that
Democrats likely will have to cast another vote on the
healthcare law before next year's midterm elections, which will
decide the balance of power in Congress.
ENROLLMENT REPORT DUE
Beyond the flap over canceled coverage and the website's
problems, the administration has acknowledged that the first
report of enrollment in the healthcare program - due later this
week - will be underwhelming.
The Wall Street Journal has reported fewer than 50,000
Americans were able to sign up for new Obamacare health
insurance plans in 36 states in October through HealthCare.gov.
The administration would not confirm the number, but it has said
that enrollment data will be released this week.
The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires
that most Americans at least be enrolled for health insurance by
March 31 or pay a fine. Americans must enroll by Dec. 15 for
coverage that begins Jan. 1.
The paltry enrollments and doubts about whether
HealthCare.gov will be fixed by the end of November, as promised
by the White House, have intensified pressure to find
alternatives or extend the enrollment period beyond March 31.
Democratic Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina, who also
faces a tough re-election bid in 2014, told reporters she is
asking federal investigators to look into the design and
contracting for HealthCare.gov.
In recent weeks, Hagan announced her support for a two-month
extension of the open enrollment period for individuals seeking
health insurance on Obamacare's new market exchanges, along with
a similar delay in penalties for failing to sign up in time.
So far, the administration has rejected the idea of such
delays, even while conceding that fixing the website is a
(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Thomas Ferraro, Roberta
Rampton, Caroline Humer, John Whitesides; Editing by Karey Van
Hall, David Lindsey and Grant McCool)
© 2015 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.