New Hampshire’s Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen has broken ranks with the party by calling for an extension of the Affordable Care Act enrollment deadline. In her letter to the White House obtained by Politico (and reprinted in Buzzfeed; see first link), Shaheen explained:
… As website glitches persist, we are losing valuable time … Given the existing problems with the website, I urge you to consider extending open enrollment beyond the current end date of March 31, 2014. …
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. …
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.
To a certain extent, Shaheen appears to agree with Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who is planning to put forward legislation to delay the individual responsibility penalty — since people may be penalized for failing to purchase something they can’t even access. New Hampshire is one of the states that did not set up its own exchange, so Shaheen’s constituents have to go through the disastrous HealthCare.gov site. The enrollment deadline isn’t until March, but given the month-long series of what can generously be described as “hiccups,” the current estimate is that the website may not be totally ready to go until Thanksgiving. Shaheen is certainly not the only Democrat upset about the debacle.
Perhaps the Democrats will offer some more flexibility with delaying the individual mandate. In the face of these logistical obstacles, Shaheen and fellow Democrats’ concerns lend more credence to the notion that the enrollment deadline may be extended. It’s going to be difficult for the Democrats who oppose the deadline extension to look reasonable in these circumstances, especially if the website’s problems aren’t resolved soon.
By any reasonable assessment, it does not seem to be in the interest of “fairness” to penalize individuals who don’t purchase an unavailable product.
Hope yet remains. Obviously the Democrats are gung ho on the long-term viability of the Affordable Care Act, but there may be an opening here for Rubio and the Republican leadership to get Democrats on board with delaying the mandate’s penalty. Depending on what else is included in the legislation, perhaps the Republicans will get a small win here after all.
Is it a huge step towards real reforms to the ACA? No. But more people agreeing with a little tweaking along the way can’t hurt — it might even help.