Democratic Sen. Shaheen calls for White House to extend open enrollment

October 22, 2013

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) on Tuesday called on the White House to extend open enrollment for the new health insurance exchange after the Web site's glitch-ridden debut and ongoing tech issues.

"Given the existing problems with the website, I urge you to consider extending open enrollment beyond the current end date of March 31, 2014," Shaheen wrote in a letter to President Obama. "Allowing extra time for consumers is critically important so they have the opportunity to become familiar with the website, survey their options and enroll."

Shaheen also said she wants the White House to clarify whether people who run into problems while trying to enroll in at HealthCare.gov will still be assessed a penalty for failing to obtain health insurance -- known as the individual mandate -- by the deadline.

"Further, in light of the difficulties individuals may be having with enrolling through healthcare.gov, I ask that you clarify how the individual responsibility penalty will be administered and enforced," she wrote. "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."

On Monday, the White House declined to give a firm answer about whether the individual mandate would be enforced if problems with the site continue to hamper Americans' attempts to sign up.

Here's Shaheen's full letter:

 

October 22, 2013

 

President Barack Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, DC 20500

 

Dear Mr. President:

The Affordable Care Act has already positively impacted the lives of millions of Americans and once fully implemented, this law has great promise.  However, I am concerned about the problems that people are experiencing with the Affordable Care Act’s website, healthcare.gov. As website glitches persist, we are losing valuable time to educate and enroll people in insurance plans.  I also fear that people that have tried, and failed, to enroll online may become frustrated and not return to the website to try again at a later date.

Given the existing problems with the website, I urge you to consider extending open enrollment beyond the current end date of March 31, 2014.  Allowing extra time for consumers is critically important so they have the opportunity to become familiar with the website, survey their options and enroll. 

Further, in light of the difficulties individuals may be having with enrolling through healthcare.gov, I ask that you 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.

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.  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 know that the White House is working diligently to address the website issues, and I know that you share my interest in making this law work successfully.  And I fully understand that the healthcare law has already had a significant impact on the lives of millions of Americans; seniors are now paying less for their prescription drugs, 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.

Ultimately, however, 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.  

I look forward to continuing to work with you to implement the law.

                                                                                     Sincerely,

                                                                                     Jeanne Shaheen

                                                                                    US Senator

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix, the Post’s top political blog.
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