Shaheen attracting Democratic Senate allies in urging ACA open enrollment extension
The Shaheen-led coalition issued a letter Friday to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asking for the delay. It reiterated a call Shaheen made earlier this week in an open letter to President Barack Obama.
Joining Shaheen in the new letter are Democratic U.S. Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Dianne Feinstein of California, Mark Udall and Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico.
The letter voices support for the ACA but says, "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.
"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."
(Earlier reports on this issue follow.)
(Thursday afternoon update:)
Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, meanwhile, welcomed the bipartisan effort by Manchin and Republican Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson.
Shaheen does not support that specific delay at this time, said her spokesman, Shripal Shah, on Thursday. But he did not rule out the possibility of a change in her position as developments continue in Washington.
Shaheen, said Shah, has called for a delay in the open enrollment sign-up period under the ACA until "technical problems" with the plan's web site, HealthCare.gov, are resolved. She also said in an open letter to President Barack Obama earlier this week that there should be a corresponding delay in fines until the site is running smoothly.
But Shah clarified that unlike the Manchin plan, with a specific call for a year-long delay, as it is being reported, Shaheen's call for a penalty delay is more open-ended and is related to improvements being made on ACA web site.
Shaheen's call on Tuesday for a delay in the enrollment period gathered momentum among Democratic senators.
On Wednesday, she picked up support from Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Begich of Alaska, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina.
Republican Ayotte voiced support for the bipartisan individual mandate delay effort.
"I welcome the new Manchin-Isakson bipartisan proposal that would give American families the same relief that big businesses received when the administration delayed the law's employer mandate," she said. "Americans shouldn't have to face new tax penalties while so many are still having difficulty accessing the exchange web site and signing up for an insurance plan."
The conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity-New Hampshire on Wednesday called on Shaheen to support an individual mandate delay, and the state Republican Party on Thursday followed with a call for her to specifically back the Manchin plan.
State GOP chair Jennifer Horn said, "If Senator Shaheen was actually serious about standing up for New Hampshire she would -- at a minimum -- join Democrat Senator Joe Manchin's bipartisan effort to delay the individual mandate tax for one year," Horn said.
"Senator Shaheen believes that the White House should consider extending open enrollment because of ongoing problems with HealthCare.gov," said the spokesman, Shripal Shah.
Shaheen's position in favor of extending open enrollment put her at odds with a prominent fellow Capitol Hill Democrat. U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday reportedly said she "respectfully" disagreed with Shaheen and did not support an extension.
Rep. Carol Shea-Porter said extending the deadline is "a matter of fairness for New Hampshire families."
Shaheen coupled her request to the President with a strong overall endorsement of the ACA, saying it "has already had a significant impact on the lives of millions of Americans.
Shaheen also asked that the White House, "in light of the difficulties individuals may be having with enrolling through HealthCare.gov," clarify "how the individual responsibility penalty will be administered and enforced.
"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," Shaheen wrote. "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 don't support that," she told reporters, according to Politico.com.
Shaheen's spokesman made clear her opposition to an overall delay in the individual mandate as a report surfaced that West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin has begun working on legislation to delay for a year the penalty for not signing up for health coverage.
"If Senator Shaheen was serious about standing up for New Hampshire, she would immediately demand that President Obama delay the law for individuals as he has for big businesses," Horn said.
To follow developments of the Affordable Care Act, go to unionleader.com/aca
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