If the technical problems with federal Obamacare exchange, Healthcare.gov, aren’t worked out before the end of November, as the White House and Obama Administration officials promised, then enforcement of the individual mandate may have to be delayed, says Sen. Al Franken (D-MN):
“I think then we have to consider extending the deadline for the mandate, but let’s hope that doesn’t happen,” Franken told MPR.
Franken has so far been relatively quiet about potential changes to the health-care law, but he now joins a growing group of Senate Democrats in seats that could be targeted by the GOP in 2014 who are speaking up on the issue.
While the GOP is mostly focused on winning a half dozen red states held by Democrats, there are another group of Democratic-controlled swing states and nominally blue states that have formed the second tier of GOP targets. Democrats facing reelection in these states in 2014 — Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Jeff Merkley (R-Ore.) — have pushed for changes ranging from allowing people to keep their current insurance plans to extending the open enrollment period.
Two House Democrats running for open seats — Iowa’s Bruce Braley and Michigan’s Gary Peters — also voted for a House GOP bill that would achieve the former goal.
The disaster that is Healthcare.gov has prevented many Americans who have gone to the website from being able to purchase coverage, which is partly responsible depressed enrollment numbers in October.
It’s increasingly unlikely that the administration will meet the self-imposed November 30 deadline, though, the White House hopes that the website will able to enroll 80% of users by the end of the month. That estimate has been presented as a “best case scenario.”
In recent days, it was revealed that as much as 40% of the back-end for the system had yet to be built or completed. The administration has also extended the enrollment deadline for coverage to be effective at the beginning of the year to December 23, from December 15.
Keep in mind that people really have no choice in the matter. The individual mandate coerces them to purchase coverage or face a punitive tax. Those who fail to purchase health insurance by March 31, 2014, either on the private market or through Medicaid, face a tax of $95 or 1% of their gross taxable income, which ever is greater. The individual mandate tax will increase to $695 or 2.5% of gross income by 2016.
Republicans have pushed delay of the provision, but have been rebuffed by the White House and Senate Democrats. Because of the website problems, some vulnerable Democrats, as well as Obamacare’s chief author, have, tepidly, embraced delay of the provision.