The Obamacare Fix-It Frenzy: Congress Seizes on Rollout Flop
Other lawmakers are offering proposals postponing the implementation of some of the law’s key provisions because of the ongoing wrestling match to fix healthcare.gov.
Under the Affordable Care Act, every American is required to obtain health insurance coverage by March 31, 2014, or face a penalty when they utilize medical services. Healthcare.gov was created to provide consumers with a side-by-side comparison of various policies, offer information on costs and permit those seeking coverage to apply. But the site has been plagued with problems like an inability to create an account or log in. Some consumers have received confusing error messages or have had to wait for slow page loads or forms that failed to respond in a timely fashion.
Those problems have foiled some from obtaining the required coverage, leading some lawmakers to seek a delay in implementing the Jan. 1 deadline.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) was one of the first out of the gate, offering the Obamacare Choice Act which delays the health insurance deadline for a year, until Jan. 1, 2015.
“This bill simply suspends the tax if you do not sign up,” Barton said. “All of us up here have voted to repeal it. We don’t like it. But we’re going to take a step back and let it go into place, but give people the option whether to enroll.”
Barton isn’t alone. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) is offering the Fairness in Failed Federal Exchange Act, which exempts individuals from paying the Obamacare noncompliance fine if they attest that they’ve been unable to enroll in an exchange as a result of technical problems.
Ellmers said she wanted to “provide a way out of this mess and offer some sanity to the pathetic rollout of this terrible law.”
"The American people deserve a reprieve from the failures of the Obama administration and should not be penalized because the White House can't build a functioning website,” Ellmers said.
Along those same lines, Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.) is offering the Health Care Access Fairness and Penalty Delay Act, which would give consumers 90 days to enroll in a healthcare plan after the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services certifies that the website is fully operational.
“I am angry that this website is not functioning – and until it is completely fixed, it is simply unfair to threaten people with fines,” Barber said.
The Senate is kicking ideas around about delaying the deadline. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has a bill that would delay the individual mandate until the Obamacare exchange website and all its enrollment processes have been fixed and are certified to be fully functional. Once that certification takes place, Americans would have an additional six months before being subject to taxes and penalties. Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) has filed companion legislation in the House.
"It is unacceptable that Americans will soon be forced to pay a fine for not purchasing insurance when the very websites they are supposed to use for purchasing it have been rendered useless from numerous glitches and technical errors,” Rubio said. “Americans already have too many financial burdens for Washington to go adding another useless and unjust tax, especially when that tax punishes the American people for the government’s own errors. I believe Obamacare must eventually be entirely repealed and replaced, but until that becomes possible we must continue to focus on protecting Americans from the law’s ongoing problems."
Some Democrats are equally sympathetic to extending the deadline. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) has sent a letter to the White House, signed by 10 Democrats, seeking an extension of the March 31 deadline. And Manchin is working with Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) on legislation that would extend the deadline although the details have not been firmed up.