This past week the insurance exchange website HealthCare.gov referred to as the Marketplace has been in the spotlight over major glitches; the website is part of the rollout of President Barack Obama’s new health care law, the Affordable Care Act. The technical problems are giving Republicans renewed reason to fight against the rest of the law’s implementation including the individual mandate. On Wednesday Oct. 23, 2013 Republican leadership in the House of Representatives announced a renewed push to delay the mandate. The continual problems are proving Republicans right about the new law, and causing Democrats to question their own unwavering support and join Republicans in calls to delay the mandate.
House Republican leadership are recommitted to delaying the healthcare law particularly the individual mandate, with House Speaker John Boehner, R-OH and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va delivering statements confirming the Republican House’s plans on Wednesday, Oct. 23. Cantor expressed; “We Republicans remain committed to delaying that mandate tax of Obamacare so that finally we can get the answers that so many people are seeking and we can try and reassure the millions of Americans who are growing in their fear about what this all means for their health care.”
Speaker Boehner stated; “We’ve got the whole threat of Obamacare continuing to hang over our economy like a wet blanket.” Speaking of the American public, Boehner explained; “They’re concerned about their own health insurance and how they’re going to be able to afford it and how they’re going to navigate through this bizarre plan that they now have to deal with.”
Republicans were also calling for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to be fired on Thursday, Oct. 24, because of the technical problems associated with the roll. Among those calling for Sebelius’ resignation include 32 Republican members of Congress who sent the President a letter with their request. Their letter dated Thursday, Oct. 24 told President Obama; “By calling for the resignation of Secretary Sebelius, you can send a powerful signal that the American people will not be held responsible for her department’s failures.”
The Republican National Committee also called for Sebelius’ resignation with Kirsten Kukowski their spokesperson stating; “It’s time for President Obama to do what he should have done weeks ago and fire Secretary Sebelius.” While Sen. John Barrasso, R-WY speaking on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, Oct. 27 said its time for Sebelius’ resignation; “She’s already, as of Saturday Night Live last night, the laughing stock of America. She’s lost considerable credibility.”
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. the Budget Committee Chairman and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli also both called for the secretary’s resignation on Tuesday, Oct. 22, in a conference call. Ryan is campaigning for Cuccinelli, who is running for Virginia Governor. They cited the website as only a symptom of “larger problems with the law.” Ryan explained the reason behind it; “It’s becoming more and more clear by the day that they knew the rollout wouldn’t go well.” Continuing he said; “That looks like a call she made along with people in the White House. And I do believe people should be held accountable.”
Senate Republicans are also ready to introduce legislation to both delay the individual mandate and require the Obama administration to provide weekly reports on the marketplace both on enrollments and the website repairs. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL, and Rep. Trey Radel, R-FL will introduce legislation that would delay the individual mandate until six months after the healthcare site is repaired. Sen. Rubio stated on Monday, Oct. 21; “It is not fair that next year Americans will be punished for not buying Obamacare when the website they are supposed to buy it on doesn’t work.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-TN intends to also introduce legislation that would require the administration to provide weekly status updates on the progress of the marketplace. Sen. Alexander announced his plans for the legislation on Tuesday, Oct. 22, saying; “This bill will require the administration to be honest and transparent with the public, governors overseeing state exchanges, state consumer protection regulators, and decision makers in Congress. No more hiding the damage of the train wreck. Americans are on this train.”
It is not only Republicans that finding fault with the website’s problems, so are Democrats. Congressional Democrats have also expressed that the individual mandate needs to be delayed as a result of the difficulties Americans are having in signing up the insurance required by the law.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. was the first Democrat to rebel, and sent a letter to President Obama on Tuesday, Oct. 22, asking him to extend the enrollment period beyond March 31, 2014 to accommodate those affected by the technical glitches. Shaheen wrote; “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 has the support of Democratic Senators Mark Pryor, D-Ark, and Mark Begich, D-AK. Sen. Pryor issued a statement on Wednesday, Oct. 23 saying; “I read Senator Shaheen’s letter today and support the common sense idea to extend the date for open enrollment. I believe, given the technical issues, it makes sense to extend the time for people to sign up.”
By Friday, Oct. 25 Sen. Shaheen was able to garner the support of ten Senate Democrats, and they wrote a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius requesting that the administration delay the individual mandate as result of the mess related to the Marketplace. The letter stated; “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. Individuals should not be penalized for lack of coverage if they are unable to purchase health insurance due to technical problems.” Besides Sens. Shaheen, Pryor and Begich, the letter was signed by “Mary Landrieu, D-La.; Kay Hagan, D-N.C.; Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Mark Udall, D-Colo.; Tom Udall, D-N.M.; Michael Bennet, D-Colo.; and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.”
While Rep. John Barrow, D-GA became the first Democrat from the House to request that the individual mandate should be delayed. Rep. Barrow stated on the House floor on Wednesday, Oct. 23; “This isn’t about pointing fingers. This is about providing some relief to the folks we represent who are facing serious uncertainty because they’re being forced to buy something that’s just not ready. I urge my colleagues and the Administration to delay the individual mandate. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the only practical thing to do.”
The Obama administration has been downplaying the technical problems associated with the signing up process on the new health care website and Marketplace, HealthCare.gov. The Marketplace is riddled with error messages, and is turning millions of Americans visiting away, and preventing others from completing the insurance sign up process. CEOs from Insurance companies met at the White House on Wednesday, Oct. 23, also revealed that the forms called 834s, that have been sent in through the website are filled with data errors.
The HealthCare.gov website is the main marketplace for 36 states; the remaining states have their websites developed. The website was supposed to be a portal to allow Americans to shop for health insurance that fits with the new law. There are two major technical problems with the site; it cannot withstand the traffic volume and its “platform design.” The problems have been attributed to delays in development during the 2012 Presidential campaign, and last minute testing, which only began two weeks before the site was to go live on Oct. 1, 2013.
Americans without insurance now have until March 31, 2014 to sign up for health insurance before the individual mandate takes effect imposing a tax penalty on Americans, who do not have insurance or do not have insurance that meets the standards of the new law. The mandate will be $95 or “up to one percent of income” for 2014, $325 if one does not insurance by 2015, and the penalty skyrockets to $695 for Americans who do not have insurance by 2016.
President Obama has now given Republicans fuel to fight healthcare law, and a perfect reason to demand the delay of the individual mandate. Republicans are also now having the support of some Democrats. The united front Obama had with Democrats over his sweeping health care law is breaking down. Unless the website problems are fixed and do not keep on with continuing new problems, the President will have to delay the individual mandate, and concede that the Republicans were right with the foresight that the implementation of such a law would be disastrous and impossible.
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.