Ten Senate Democrats have signed on to a letter crafted by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) urging the Obama administration to extend the open enrollment period for the recently launched health-care exchanges.
Shaheen called for the extension this week in light of myriad problems with the HealthCare.gov Web site.
As of now, Americans are required to obtain health insurance by March 31 or will face a penalty under the individual mandate. Some have suggested the penalty could be delayed, given the problems with the Web site might prevent people who otherwise want insurance from obtaining it.
The White House on Wednesday announced it would give Americans six weeks longer than previously thought – until March 31 – to enroll before facing a penalty, but also said the change had nothing to do with the Web site problems.
“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,” the letter states. “Individuals should not be penalized for lack of coverage if they are unable to purchase health insurance due to technical problems.”
The letter doesn’t state how long the senators would like to extend open enrollment, only that it should be beyond March 31. One of the signers, Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), called for a two-month delay in remarks on Thursday. Separately, another Democratic senator, Joe Manchin (W.Va.), has called for a one-year delay in the individual mandate.
The signatories to the letter are Shaheen and Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), 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.).
Begich, Pryor, Landrieu and Hagan are all top GOP targets in red states in 2014, and Bennet is likely to be targeted in 2016. (Shaheen and Mark Udall face reelection in swing states in 2014 but aren’t considered among Republicans’ top targets.)
Feinstein stands out as a long-time liberal senator from California. Tom Udall is considered largely safe for reelection in New Mexico next year and Heinrich was just elected in 2012 in the same state.
Here’s the text of Shaheen’s letter:
Dear Secretary Sebelius:
When fully implemented, the Affordable Care Act represents a bold step forward in reforming our nation’s health care system. It has the potential to improve the quality of care we all receive and provides the opportunity for millions of Americans to purchase quality, affordable health insurance.
The newly created federal and state health insurance marketplaces are intended to allow consumers the opportunity to compare health insurance options and find a plan that fits their needs and their budgets. For three years, we have been eagerly waiting for the launch of these marketplaces. However, now that the marketplaces are open, we have become discouraged and frustrated with the problems and interactions that are occurring with the Affordable Care Act’s federally-administered website, healthcare.gov.
As long as these substantial technology glitches persist, we are losing valuable time to educate and enroll people in insurance plans. Our constituents are frustrated, and we fear that the longer the website is not functional, opportunities for people to log on, learn about their insurance choices, and enroll will be lost.
Given the existing problems with healthcare.gov and other state-run marketplace websites that depend on the federally-administered website, we urge you to consider extending open enrollment beyond the current end date of March 31, 2014. 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.
The Affordable Care Act has already had a significant impact on the lives of millions of Americans; seniors are now paying less for their prescription drugs, critical preventive care services are available for free and important work is being done to improve the quality of care we receive. Americans will 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.
We appreciate your efforts to fully implement this law and look forward to working with you to accomplish that goal. Thank you for considering our requests to extend the open enrollment period if the healthcare.gov substantial technology glitches continue.
Health-care premiums in Wisconsin will almost double under Obamacare, compared with their current rates, according to a report from the MacIver Institute.
The state’s free-market think tank figured the average premiums of the insurance plans the Obamacare exchange offers for several categories of Wisconsinites: 27-year-olds, 50-year-olds, and a family of four from data found on a federal database. The institute then compared those rates with the average premiums on the private market, using figures from eHealthInsurance.com.
MacIver found that rates will jump significantly, especially for the young: A 27-year-old will see premiums more than double in one county in 2014, and see his rates go up by 93.6 percent in Madison, 91.2 percent in Milwaukee, and 72.6 percent in Eau Claire.
Fifty-year-olds will be paying more overall, too, but their premiums won’t go up quite as much, jumping by about half. Families will see their premiums rise at similar rates to young people: A family of four will see a spike of 97.2 percent in Brown County, and increases of just below 90 percent in Milwaukee and Dane counties.
Late Monday evening after visiting an Obamacare call center in Arizona, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius held a brief press conference during which she was peppered with questions. One reporter in particular asked Sebelius how she feels about those calling for her resignation. Sebelius responded by saying she “doesn’t work for them” and stressed that nobody has been fired.
“The majority of people calling for me to resign I would say are people who I don’t work for and who do not want this program to work in the first place. I have had frequent conversations with the president and I have committed to him that my role is to get the program up and running and we will do just that,” she said.
Apparently Sebelius thinks she only works for, and answers to, Barack Obama.
Nearly three dozen Republicans sent a letter to President Obama earlier this week demanding he fire Sebelius. Democrats have stated that “someone” should lose their job over the Obamacare website roll out.
An online (unscientific) CNBC poll shows 85 percent of people think Sebelius should be fired.
According to a Fox News poll, 60 percent of people think Obamacare implementation is a “joke.” Also as a reminder, Obamacare is still extremely unpopular among “the people” Sebelius claims she doesn’t work for.
A majority continues to dislike President Obama’s signature achievement: 51 percent of voters use negative terms to describe the health care law, saying it is either “a step backward” or “disastrous.”
Earline Davis, the Obamacare hotline operator who took a call from conservative radio host Sean Hannity on Monday, has apparently been fired over the conversation.
Because his decision to call the operator technically led to her firing, Hannity generously offered the mother of two a year’s tax-free salary of $26,000 and also vowed to help find her a new job.
“Earline did NOTHING wrong, she was kind, polite, helpful, honest and extremely patient,” Hannity told TheBlaze via email. “The president said we should call, and I did, and Earline did what she was hired to do. How sad she got fired and Kathleen Sebelius still has her job!”
Davis joined Hanniy on the radio again on Thursday afternoon, this time to discuss the details of her termination.
The morning after speaking with Hannity on the air, Davis was led into an HR meeting and told she would be let go because “contact with the media is not allowed.”
However, the mother told Hannity that she was not made aware of the rule during her initial operator training.
“I was just out here trying to help everybody,” Davis added.
Hannity then apologized for the entire situation and told her, “I don’t want you to have to pay a price just for taking our call… So I want to help you out here.”
After talking to his accountant, Hannity discovered he can “legally gift” Davis a tax-free sum – $13,000 for her and $13,000 for one of her kids. The gift covers what would have been her full-time annual salary.
“I want to try and get you a new job,” Hannity continued. “I’m sure you want to get back to a normal routine.”
Listen to the entire segment below:
Less than two-hours ago, I submitted a revised W-4 form to our payroll department. My goal is to avoid being in a position where at the end of next year I am owed a refund from the federal government. As an act of civil disobedience, I am refusing to purchase health insurance. This means that I am subject to a tax/fine of 1% of my income (2% the following year, 2.5% thereafter). But the beautiful thing is that unless I am owed a tax refund, the government will never get any of that money.
My decision to not purchase health insurance is a decision a lot of people – possibly millions – are going to make, either out of protest, or once the ObamaCare site is up and running and they finally get a look at the increased cost of their monthly premiums under the Orwellian-named Affordable Care Act. Purely by coincidence, during his radio show today, Rush Limbaugh went into great detail about all of this:
Anyway, [my accountant] said to me that, according to the law, the only way that the government can collect the fine or penalty for you not buying insurance is if you are owed a tax refund. If you do not owe a tax refund, they cannot go into your bank account or anywhere else and get that money. Now, the sad thing is that most people file their taxes to get a refund ’cause they think they’re screwing the government, and they’re not…
Therefore, the only way that they can collect the penalty or the fine is by taking money from your refund. If you are not owed a refund, they cannot get money from you. They can’t issue a lien. They can’t garnish your wages. They can’t use any of the normal procedures available to them if you owe them money, even though the Supreme Court has said it’s a tax. So for those of us – I mean, folks, I’m in fat city. I’m in fat city because I always structure to where I owe money. Well, not entirely. There have been years. But if you structure your taxes so that you do not get a refund, you do not have to buy insurance and you do not have to pay a fine ’cause they can’t collect it from you if you don’t have a refund due.
And that is just another nail in the coffin of Obamacare imploding on itself.
Limbaugh also points out that in order for ObamaCare to succeed, the program needs to coerce a few million young, healthy suckers into paying for something they do not need. Like me (a healthy 47-year-old), all we want and need is a catastrophic plan in case the unthinkable happens. But Obama has outlawed affordable catastrophic plans and is using the mandate/fine/tax as a way to force us into paying for services like maternity, vision, dental, mental health, and drug and alcohol treatment.
According to the CBO, up to 20 million people could lose their health insurance because the plan they are currently happy with (and Obama repeatedly promised they could keep) has been made illegal under ObamaCare. There is little doubt that these ObamaCare victims are going to face higher premium costs that they might not be able to afford, or just don’t think are worth the potential of a 50% to 150% premium increase with a higher deductible.
For those of you who – for whatever reason – will not be buying health insurance next year, remember that you legally do not have to pay that fine if you legally make sure that at the end of the year you are not owed a refund from the federal government.
Fight the Power.
Asians, Hispanics… They all look alike to the O-Care website designers.
The Obamacare Hispanic website features Asians – not Hispanics.
The Hispanic website was inoperative all month.
It looks like they finally got it going, featuring Asians.
Are you in jail and didn’t know it?
Don’t worry. Obamacare will tell you.
That’s the “circumstance” for a commenter to a government website taking responses to the problems with the failing Healthcare.gov website, which has been unable to provide reasonable access for Americans.
“Website said my wife and I were ineligible due to current incarceration,” wrote Fred in an acknowledgement by the left-leaning ProPublica of the website problems. “We have never been arrested in our lives, both 63!!!!!!!!!!!”
Charles Ornstein, in the ProPublica report, documented some of the responses on the federal site collecting comments.
“The Obama administration has not always been transparent about Healthcare.gov: A case in point is how HHS has withheld the number of people who have been able to successfully enroll. But in this instance, the administration allowed comments to the blog post to be seen by all.”
Ornstein wrote that the feedback largely has been negative.
“While some comments root for the site’s failure, many are from people who’ve tried to use the site without success,” his report said. “Some pose specific questions; others voice general frustrations. Because their identities and contact information isn’t listed (for understandable reasons), there was no way to verify their stories.”
Besides the couple told by Healthcare.gov that they were in jail, Joanna noted that the system was telling her that her daughter was added twice. So she now lists two daughters with the same name and Social Security number, and no deleting was allowed.
Also, she added, “I choose that my husband is the father of our daughter and that my daughter is a dependant (sic) to me and my husband. What it actually shows though is that my daughter is a stepdaughter to her father and that my daughter is now both my husband and I’s parent (sic).”
Rhonda added that she could sign in, but was told her identity “has been compromised.”
Another, Francine, said she was told she could only submit one application per state, and now the system has her blocked.
The comment collection site optimistically labeled “Doing Better: Making Improvements to Healthcare.gov,” says that 19 million visits to the site show that “the American people are looking for quality, affordable health coverage, and want to find it online.”
They’re apparently not finding, however.
“Unfortunately, the experience on Healthcare.gov has been frustrating for many… some have had trouble creating accounts and logging in to the site, while others have received confusing error messages, or had to wait for slow page loads or forms that failed to respond in a timely fashion,” the government admits.
New code has been introduced to fix some problems, but “we know there’s still more work to be done,” the site explains.
The stories were not encouraging.
Julie, an insurance agent, reported: “My client and I spent three hours alone today trying to get her registered so she could look at plan info and find out what subsidy she would get, once again 24 days into this websites (sic) launch all we got were error messages… I am 24 days now without a sale and will NOT have a paycheck this month do to the lack of ability to access this site.”
Noted Greg: “Has anyone got insurance thru the gov program yet? If so who? I would like to talk with one that has this in place.”
Jeb asked, “I don’t understand why men have to pay for ‘women’s health care’ items.”
Noted Mel: “I’ve filled out and submitted the application at least 10 times… Have I inadvertently started 10 different files that will all need to be sorted out someday?”
Said Don, “Give me the private sector and free market system!”
“I continue to be unable to create my account,” said Elizabeth. “I have tried all month. My high risk insurance will terminate at the end of December so it is critical that I be able to get new insurance through the marketplace.”
Ryan wrote that his current premium of $208 per month is rising to $887 per month. “The affordable Care Act is a contradiction, and destined to implode and take our economy with it. Hold on friends – it aint’ gonna be pretty!”
Penny wrote: “Can’t create account. Trying over and over again.”
Elizabeth was out of patience: “I give up!”
Occasionally, someone in support of the program turned up. This came from John: “The Repukes and the biased conservative main stream media need to stop lying about the Obamacare website. It works just fin (sic) if you follow the instructions. Unfortunately there are a lot of dummies out there so it may take awhile .. be patient. I also suspect TEA tard sabotage. Obama needs to take a hard line against the repuke saboteurs.”
The Obamacare wrecking ball is not only skyrocketing premiums, but destroying healthcare jobs as well:
President Obama and supporters of his health-care law have defended it by saying that the Affordable Care Act is “the law of the land.” However, the spending reductions in the 2011 Budget Control Act – the so-called sequester – also remain “the law of the land.”
In promoting the former, the Obama administration has failed to enforce the latter. As a result, people trying to buy health insurance on the new exchanges are getting incomplete and misleading information, and they may experience more sticker shock next year.
Some have claimed that the sequester “exempts” ObamaCare’s subsidies from spending reductions. That is only half true. The Budget Control Act does exempt from sequestration the premium subsidies for households with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty level ($94,200 for a family of four) and that meet other eligibility criteria.
But other ObamaCare subsidies, paid directly to insurance providers on behalf of eligible beneficiaries, are subject to the sequester – namely “cost-sharing subsidies.” These include subsidies for households with incomes below 250% of the federal poverty level ($58,875 for a family of four) to reduce copayments and deductibles. They also include subsidies to reduce out-of-pocket expenses for households with incomes up to 400% of the poverty level.
The Obama administration has acknowledged that the cost-sharing subsidies are subject to sequester reductions. A May report from the White House Office of Management and Budget estimated that the sequester would reduce the subsidies by 7.2% in fiscal year 2014. That amounts to a $286 million reduction through next September – the first nine months of ObamaCare.
However, the administration hasn’t issued guidance on how it will implement the required cuts. Appearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Aug. 1, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner declined repeated requests to explain how the cost-sharing subsidy reductions would be applied. She did, however, pledge that the administration would release more information before the Oct. 1 start of open enrollment in ObamaCare. But that deadline came and went without more information.
Clearly, someone will be left holding the bag, and the administration doesn’t want to address who that someone will be.
There are two possible outcomes. The first is that individuals who have managed to enroll in subsidized health insurance will find they’ve been misled about their copays and deductibles. Families who currently think their plan will charge a $20 copayment for doctor visits may instead face a $25 charge when the sequester kicks in. Individuals who now believe they face maximum out-of-pocket costs of $2,000 may end up paying hundreds more.
The other alternative is that insurers may be stuck with the sequester cuts. A May 31 Congressional Research Service report, noting that ObamaCare requires insurers to reduce cost-sharing for eligible individuals regardless of the sequester, concluded that “insurers presumably will still have to provide required coverage to qualifying enrollees but they will not receive the full subsidy to cover their increased costs.” In other words, the CRS, Congress’s own think tank, believes insurers may be forced to eat the costs of the sequester reductions – $286 million through September, and billions more through 2021.
Having first proposed the sequester two years ago, the Obama administration now finds itself on the horns of a self-imposed dilemma. It can tell the American people that the “good deal” President Obama promised isn’t as good as they thought – that those who spent hours and days signing up on Healthcare.gov bought coverage that will cost more than advertised. If full disclosure truly were to prevail, the administration would also admit that this classic bait and switch occurred solely due to its failure to account for its responsibilities under the Budget Control Act.
Or the administration can try to force insurers to bear the full costs of the sequester reductions—and watch them promptly drop out of the exchanges.
This is no mere “glitch” in the website, nor was it unforeseen. The administration has known for years that the cost-sharing subsidies were subject to sequester, but has failed to plan for its impact.
In her Aug. 1 appearance before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Ms. Tavenner testifed that it is the administration’s “strong preference that the issue of sequestration go away entirely.”
But neither Ms. Tavenner nor President Obama can pick and choose which laws they wish to enforce. And the administration’s rush to implement one law, while ignoring the requirements of another, means Americans could face a rude awakening when they discover what their ObamaCare coverage will cost them.