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October 23. 2013 11:49PM

Shaheen attracting Democratic Senate allies in urging ACA open enrollment extension

(Friday morning update)
Nine Democratic U.S. senators have joined New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's effort to extend open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act until technical problem with the HealthCare.gov web site are resolved.

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.
 
Shaheen will discuss the issue on the CBS news talk show "Face the Nation" on Sunday, a spokesman said.


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:)
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is not on board with a plan by fellow Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia to delay by a year the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate and related penalties for not signing up for an insurance plan.

Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, meanwhile, welcomed the bipartisan effort by Manchin and Republican Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson.
Manchin announced Wednesday night that he was working with Isakson on a bill that would delay fines under the ACA until Jan. 1, 2015, calling it a "transition year."

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 have co-sponsored legislation that would delay both the individual and employer mandates for one year, as well as a bill to delay all of Obamacare for one year, including the law's $1 trillion in new taxes," Ayotte said.


"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.
"We applaud Senator Shaheen for acknowledging that the rollout of ObamaCare has been a disaster and that New Hampshire residents are wasting considerable time and energy attempting to enroll in a broken website," said Greg Moore, state director for AFP-NH. "However, if she is serious about offering relief to Granite Staters who will be faced with a penalty because of the incompetence of the Obama administration, she will file legislation to delay the individual mandate for all of 2014."


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.


(An earlier report follows.)
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen this week became the first Senate Democrat to urge President Barack Obama to extend the open enrollment period for Affordable Care Act sign-ups due to what she called its "technical problems."

A spokesman for the senator said, however, she does not support a delay in the health care law's overall individual mandate.

"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, in a letter to Obama Tuesday, also wrote that individuals should not be penalized if "technical problems" with enrollment prevents them from obtaining coverage by the March 31, 2014 deadline.

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.

New Hampshire's two Democratic U.S. House members agreed with Shaheen on an enrollment extension, rather than their House leader.

Rep. Carol Shea-Porter said extending the deadline is "a matter of fairness for New Hampshire families."

Rep. Ann Kuster said she is frustrated by the website's technical problems and as the Obama administration works to fix it, "I agree with Senator Shaheen that the President should extend open enrollment so that Granite Staters have sufficient time to study and shop for coverage.

"I also urge him to ensure that no Granite Staters are penalized for failing to purchase insurance as a result of the ongoing technical problems," Kuster said.

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.

"Seniors are now paying less for their prescription drugs," Shaheen wrote, "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."

But Shaheen wrote that due to the HealthCare.gov website's "difficulties," open enrollment should be extended past March 31 to give people more time to obtain coverage before facing penalties.

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.

"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," Shaheen wrote.

"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.

New Hampshire does not have its own state exchange, due to a state law passed in 2012 by what was then a Republican-dominated state Legislature, so Granite Staters must sign up through the federal exchange.

Shaheen wrote Obama that "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."

Pelosi briefly addressed the Shaheen request after a Capitol Hill meeting between members of the House Democratic caucus and federal officials involved in administering the ACA.

"I don't support that," she told reporters, according to Politico.com.

"I think we should be able to go forward," Pelosi was quoted as saying. "There are glitches, but there are solutions as well."

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.

State Republican Party Chairman Jennifer Horn, in a statement Wednesday, said Shaheen's request for an open enrollment extension "is too little, too late.

"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.

jdistaso@unionleader.com.

To follow developments of the Affordable Care Act, go to unionleader.com/aca


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