In Her Own Words: Extend Obamacare enrollment period
Former N.H. Gov. Jeanne Shaheen smiles after the unveiling of her portrait, in background, at the N.H. Historical Society in Concord, N.H. Thursday, May 17, 2007. The official portrait of New Hampshire's first elected female governor soon will hang in the Statehouse _ the only portrait of a woman among many portraits of male governors. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter) (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)
As website glitches continue to make it difficult for consumers to sign up for health insurance through Healthcare.gov, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen yesterday sent a letter urging President Obama to extend the open enrollment period past March 31 in order to give Americans more time to obtain coverage. Here’s what she wrote:
Dear Mr. President:
The Affordable Care Act has already positively impacted the lives of millions of Americans and once fully implemented, this law has great promise.
However, I am concerned about the problems that people are experiencing with the Affordable Care Act’s website, healthcare.gov. 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.
Given the existing problems with the website, I urge you to consider extending open enrollment beyond the current end date of March 31, 2014.
Allowing extra time for consumers is critically important so they have the opportunity to become familiar with the website, survey their options and enroll.
Further, in light of the difficulties individuals may be having with enrolling through healthcare.gov, I ask that you clarify how the individual responsibility penalty will be administered and enforced. 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.
The difficulty that people in New Hampshire and in other states that are relying on the federally facilitated marketplaces are experiencing is incredibly frustrating and disappointing. For over three years, we have been waiting for the creation of the health insurance exchanges, which now in their fourth week of existence, are riddled with problems.
I know that the White House is working diligently to address the website issues, and I know that you share my interest in making this law work successfully.
And I fully understand that the health care law has already had a significant impact on the lives of millions of Americans; seniors are now paying less for their prescription drugs, important preventive care services, such as some cancer screenings and immunizations, are available for free and important work is being done to improve the quality of care we receive.
Americans 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.
Ultimately, however, we must do better. 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.
I look forward to continuing to work with you to implement the law.
(Democrat Jeanne Shaheen is the senior U.S. senator from New Hampshire.)