Red state Democrats propose changes to Obamacare
By: Burgess Everett and Seung Min Kim
October 23, 2013 07:03 PM EDT
The Obama administration’s day ended much as it began, with Democrats frustrated over Obamacare’s rollout.
After the administration briefed House Democrats on the myriad remaining issues with HealthCare.gov, red and swing-state Democratic senators began to call for further changes to Obamacare.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is taking the strongest tack among Senate Democrats, writing legislation with Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) to delay for a year the individual mandate’s enforcement mechanism — a $95 fine for anyone who doesn’t enroll in health insurance by March 31. Manchin is even taking the full rollout and explanation of his legislation to an unusual venue for a Democrat: Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News on Wednesday night.
Manchin is searching for more co-sponsors — and if recent sentiment among his colleagues is any indication, he may find some.
Democrats facing difficult reelection campaigns in 2014 — Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Begich of Alaska — came out on Wednesday evening in support of extending the open enrollment period of the law, as first proposed by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, who is also up for reelection in 2014.
Senate Republicans — and their campaign arm — are seeking to do anything and everything to tie Democrats like Pryor, Begich and Landrieu to Obamacare, betting they are on the wrong side of public opinion regarding the health care law. With web issues continuing to plague people’s abilities to sign up on the federal exchange, these Democrats are seeking to get ahead of GOP attacks.
Shaheen called the experience of trying to sign up for the insurance marketplaces “incredibly frustrating and disappointing” and said the system is “riddled with problems.” In that light, Shaheen wrote a letter to President Barack Obama saying that the open enrollment period should be pushed past March 31, given that the exchanges remain weighed down by problems more than three weeks after their rollout.
“I support extending the enrollment period to give people who haven’t had access or who want more choice enough time to shop from the 40 competitively priced plans in Louisiana’s marketplace. The administration should consider this common sense suggestion,” Landrieu said.
Both Begich and Pryor also indicated worry that people would get unfairly dinged by the $95 penalty if the website problems persist — a scenario that Manchin and Isakson are drafting legislation to avoid.
“I have repeatedly said this law is not perfect,” Begich said. “Given the recent website issues, I also support extending open enrollment season. I want to work with the administration to ensure that individuals are not unfairly penalized if technical issues with the website continue.”
“I believe, given the technical issues, it makes sense to extend the time for people to sign up. In addition, the Administration should state clearly how the enforcement mechanism will work if people can’t sign up in time,” Pryor said.