In an open letter to President Barack Obama, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Wednesday called on the administration to change the deadline by which individuals must purchase health insurance and waive the fine for those who are unable to secure coverage because of the Affordable Care Act's problem-filled rollout.
"Allowing extra time for consumers is critically important so they have the opportunity to become familiar with the website, survey their options and enroll," wrote Shaheen in the letter, which was obtained by Politico. "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."
"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," she added.
Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., agreed, issuing a statement late Wednesday that said: "I believe, given the technical issues, it makes sense to extend the time for people to sign up."
Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, also released a statement calling for new deadlines. "I have repeatedly said this law is not perfect and have proposed changes to make it work for Alaska families and small businesses," he wrote. "Given the recent website issues, I also support extending open enrollment season. I want to work with the administration to ensure that individuals are not unfairly penalized if technical issues with the website continue."
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., also spoke in support of Shaheen, Fox News reported, and on the House floor, Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., called delaying the individual mandate "the only practical thing to do."
"This isn't about pointing fingers," he said. "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 not ready."
Other Democrats, like Rep. Rick Nolan, D.-Minn., and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., called on the administration to find and fire the people responsible for the ACA's glitch-filled rollout. And a spokesman for Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., told NBC News that the senator was already drafting a bill to delay the Affordable Care Act's controversial individual mandate by a year. But House leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., urged the White House to somehow fix the problems while sticking to existing deadlines.
Wednesday evening, NBC News reported that the White House "intends to slide the deadline" by as much as six weeks. Administration officials, however, were quick to point out that the end-date for open enrollment had not changed.
"NBC is wrong again," Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest tweeted. "Individual mandate timing hasn't changed. Deadline for having insurance is March 31. Was true this a.m. Is true tonight."
"In the Marketplaces, you have to sign up by the 15th of a given month in order for health insurance to start on the first day of the next month," the White House said in a statement released late Wednesday. "As a result, some have asked whether consumers could face a tax penalty if they don't enroll in coverage by Feb. 15th of next year. This is not the case. If you sign up for insurance by the end of March, you will not face a penalty."
Though Shaheen joins several Republican lawmakers in calling for a deadline change – Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is drafting a bill that would delay penalties until the system has been working for a full six months -- she insists that she remains a strong supporter of the health care law. In fact, her letter lauded the positive aspects of the Affordable Care Act before ending with more mild criticism.
"Ultimately, however, we must do better," she writes. "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."