Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Democratic Unease Grows on Health Law

At the Wall Street Journal, "Lawmakers Cite Website Woes in Call for Delay in Penalties for the Uninsured":
The hard line Democrats have drawn against delaying a core element of the federal health law has begun to crack, as problems with the new federal insurance website prompted calls for President Barack Obama to delay penalties on people who don't carry health coverage.

Democratic leaders in Congress and Mr. Obama have defended the minimum penalty of $95 in 2014 as crucial to inducing uninsured Americans to sign up for coverage, and the party held firm against Republican calls to delay or eliminate the coverage requirement that provoked this month's partial government shutdown.

Late Wednesday, the Obama administration said it would establish what amounts to a six-week extension in the time people have to obtain insurance coverage before incurring a penalty, responding to what some have called a lack of clarity in the law over the deadline.

Some Democrats say the flawed rollout of the law could mean bigger changes are needed. Sen. Mark Begich (D., Alaska), who is up for re-election in 2014, said Wednesday that individuals shouldn't be penalized if technical issues with the website aren't resolved.

The signs of growing Democratic unease came as the White House acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that the problems extend beyond sign-up logjams that kept thousands of people from being able to view insurance offerings online. Experts are working to "iron out the kinks" that have led insurers to receive flawed data, including duplicate enrollments and spouses reported as children, the White House said after a meeting among administration and insurance industry officials.

The debate over the botched launch will kick into higher gear Thursday at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing. In their prepared testimony, contractors responsible for the federal insurance portal pointed fingers at each other and the administration.

Cheryl Campbell, a senior vice president at CGI Group Inc.'s CGI Federal unit, the lead contractor for the website that launched Oct. 1, blamed the bottlenecks on a system designed by another contractor, UnitedHealth Group Inc.'s Optum unit, which verifies users' identities.

Optum group executive vice president Andrew Slavitt, in turn, said in his prepared testimony that a decision to disable anonymous shopping drove traffic to its system that was higher than "if consumers could 'window shop' anonymously." The administration has since reversed its decision to make people first register before shopping.

At least two more congressional hearings are scheduled next week, including one where Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is expected to be grilled.

The penalty for failure to carry insurance is at the heart of the Affordable Care Act. Insurers say individuals—particularly younger, healthier people—must be coaxed to buy insurance so that carriers aren't left with a risk pool of predominantly older and sicker people.
Massive finger-pointing.

And clearly, this so-called six-week delay for sign-up is a trial balloon launched in case the White House decides to delay the individual mandate --- which by now, obviously, is the least Demo-Rats could do to save some face from this utter political and policy debacle.

In any case, more at the click through.

Also at the Hill, "Manchin: Delay ObamaCare mandate."

And at AP, "Frustrated Dems lament damage from website bugs" (via Memeorandum.)