A growing number of panicky Senate Democrats are urging President Obama to extend the enrollment period for the star-crossed Affordable Care Act and even postpone for a year a requirement that uninsured Americans sign up for Obamacare or pay a penalty.
For months, the president has been fending off aggressive efforts by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and other Republicans to postpone and defund his signature health insurance law – including a 16-day government shutdown aimed at blocking the signup effort that began Oct. 1.
But now the president is faced with an equally daunting task of defusing a simmering revolt among key allies in the Senate and the House who are worried about their reelection prospects next year.
Embattled HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius signaled during Senate testimony on Wednesday that the numbers are likely to be very low because of all the technical problems besetting the website.
“Our early numbers are going to be very low,” said Sebelius. She explained that the “struggles that people have had getting access to the site and getting information” prevented many from signing up. “Until the site is really improved … we’re going to have a struggle getting significant numbers to sign up,” she told Senate Finance Committee members.
On the same day, 16 Senate Democrats met with the president and warned of a “crisis of confidence,” unless the administration quickly corrects hundreds of technical problems that have thwarted millions of Americans enrolling in health insurance programs offered on new insurance exchanges across the country.
Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) expressed his frustration at that meeting and told reporters later, "It's absolutely unacceptable in this day and age that the administration can't deliver on the promises it made to all Americans because of technical problems with a website. Alaskans should be appreciating the critical benefits of the Affordable Care Act, but there is an understandable crisis in confidence because the administration has yet to get it off the ground."
Meanwhile, 10 Senate Democrats signed a letter drafted by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) urging the Obama administration to extend the open enrollment period for an unspecified period of time.
For now, Americans are required to obtain health insurance by March 31 or face a penalty under the individual mandate. Some have suggested the penalty could be delayed in light of the problems people are having in signing up for coverage.
“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 Fiscal Times’ Brianna Ehley contributed to this report.
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