POLITICS
10/25/2013 11:50 am ET Updated Oct 25, 2013

Senate Democrats Pen Letter Calling For Obamacare Open Enrollment Extension

Three days after Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) became the first Senate Democrat to call for an extension of Obamacare's open enrollment period, nine of her colleagues have followed suit.

The group of ten Democrats sent the letter Friday, urging Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to move the deadline past March 31, 2014. Joining Shaheen were Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), 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.). The letter does not specify a preference on how long any extension should be.

“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," the senators wrote.

Not included in that list of signees was Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who advocated on Wednesday for an individual mandate "transition year" with no fines. The White House hinted Monday that there are ways around the Healthcare.gov glitches., as the Affordable Care Act includes language providing the administration with broad authority over any associated penalties.

"We've got a lot of problems, they have been identified," Manchin said in an interview with Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor." "I think everybody has recognized them. Let's fix it. Let's get together and fix things."

Read the full text of the letter below, via Shaheen's website:

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.

Signatories:

Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH); Mark Begich (D-AK); Mark Pryor (D-AR); Mary Landrieu (D-LA); Kay Hagan (D-NC); Dianne Feinstein (D-CA); Mark Udall (D-CO); Tom Udall (D-NM); Michael Bennet (D-CO); Martin Heinrich (D-NM).

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