Bipartisan Support Grows in DC for Extending Obamacare Deadline

Friday, 25 Oct 2013 05:29 PM

By Cathy Burke

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Support is solidifying in the Senate and House – on both sides of the aisle – for extending the enrollment period for Obamacare’s flawed healthcare insurance exchanges.

On Friday, 10 Senate Democrats signed a letter to embattled Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius urging an extension, The Washington Post reported.

In the House, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., told C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” the idea has traction on both sides of the aisle, Politico said.

"There’s a number of members – Republican and Democrat – that are calling for a further delay in terms of signing things up,” Upton said.

"We’re going to take a good look at that, and we’ll see where we are, maybe having some announcement next week or so, maybe a little longer than that."

The Senate lawmakers lent their support in a letter crafted by Democratic New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who earlier in the week cited myriad problems with the newly launched HealthCare.gov website.

The current deadline to obtain health insurance on the federal or state exchanges is March 31, or face a penalty under the individual mandate.

"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 letter states. "Individuals should not be penalized for lack of coverage if they are unable to purchase health insurance due to technical problems."

The letter doesn’t say how long the senators would like to extend open enrollment.

One of the signers, Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., called for a two-month delay in remarks Thursday.  On Wednesday, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said he’s working on a bill to delay Obamacare's individual mandate penalty for a year.

The West Virginia Republican also told “The O’Reilly Factor” he’d be happy to get together with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who said he also has a bill that would extend open enrollment until after the flawed HealthCare.gov website has been running properly for six months.

Signers of the Senate letter along with Shaheen and Hagan are Mark Begich, D-Alaska, Mark Pryor, D-Ark., Mary Landrieu, D-La., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Mark Udall, D-Colo., Tom Udall, D-N.M., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.

Begich, Pryor, Landrieu and Hagan are all top GOP targets in red states in 2014, and Bennet is likely to be targeted in 2016, the Post pointed out, adding that although Shaheen and Udall face reelection in swing states in 2014, they aren’t considered among Republicans' top targets.

The momentum for delaying the deadline for signing up on the insurance exchanges comes as prospective customers continue to experience problems enrolling through the glitch HealthCare.gov website.

The system debuted with serious technical problems Oct. 1, the start date of a six-month open enrollment period under ObamaCare.

The wrinkle in extending the enrollment period, The Hill reported Friday, is that it would not change penalties under the individual mandate, which will hit anyone not carrying coverage on April 1.

It is also possible that conservative lawmakers and outside groups would oppose a bill to ease pressure created by Obamacare.

Last April, a similar effort to strengthen the law's temporary insurance program for sick patients was pulled under pressure from the House GOP’s conservative wing.

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