Dems: Fixes not enough on O-Care

Senate Democrats facing tough reelections say President Obama has not done enough to fix the botched rollout of his healthcare law and are vowing to repair it themselves.

The Senate Democratic leadership is not on board with lawmaker plans to begin rewriting ObamaCare and have urged for more time to assess the changes made by Obama and his team, lawmakers say.

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Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Mark Udall (Colo.) and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) are discussing a multi-faceted plan to rework parts of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Landrieu, Shaheen and Udall face reelection next year.

“The [ObamaCare implementation] upgrade has been significant, but there’s more work to be done,” said Udall.

“Sen. Landrieu, Sen. Heitkamp, Sen. Shaheen and I are all working on a package that would incorporate our ideas,” he added.

Shaheen wants to extend the enrollment period for the ACA; Landrieu wants to mandate that insurance companies continue to offer plans that people like, even if they don’t meet the law’s requirements; and Udall wants to expand the pool of people included in the individual insurance marketplace.

“I’m not satisfied yet,” said Shaheen. “I’m still talking to people in New Hampshire to see what challenges we’re facing.”

“We have had a conversation about possibly introducing a package of fixes at the appropriate time,” she added in a later conversation.   

The anxious centrists have an influential ally in Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.), whom Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) recruited to serve as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Bennet said his colleagues facing challenging elections in 2014 should get a chance to vote on their bill, and said he would bring the issue up with Reid.

Senators are hearing a lot about ObamaCareare back home.

“In my home state, we have our own exchange. Unfortunately it’s not functioning well and the crisis remains unresolved,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who added that he’s glad some progress has been made.

Merkley, who is also up for reelection in 2014, said he would like to get a chance to vote on Landrieu’s proposal to allow people to keep their policies.

The topic came up briefly at a Tuesday lunch meeting, but Reid has urged the group of centrists to be patient and put off action until after Jan. 1.

“We talked about coming back after the holidays and reassessing where we are,” said a lawmaker who requested anonymity.

 Bennet met quietly with White House chief of staff Denis McDonough in late November to discuss how the White House could help vulnerable Senate incumbents in the wake of the disastrous ObamaCare rollout.

The administration gave itself a deadline of Dec. 1 to fix the technical glitches that had made it very difficult to sign up for insurance plans through HealthCare.gov, the portal for the federal exchange.

Democratic lawmakers are worried other potential problems could crop up.

“I wouldn’t describe it as solved. I think the implementation really is just beginning,” said Bennet. “They’ve made progress, which is good, but we need to keep working.”

Bennet and other Democrats have expressed concerns about what many expect to be a wave of new ObamaCare regulations.

“I’m concerned about the regulations which have yet to be issued,” said Angus King (Maine), an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.

He expressed concern that businesses providing healthcare coverage could be hit by excessive paperwork demands.

“This town seems to like issuing regulations,” he added. “I think the administration should be exceedingly careful about the onerousness of the regulations that are issued.”

Bennet said there should be an easier process to repeal ill-conceived rules related to healthcare and other issues.

“People who are hearing from their constituents about parts of the healthcare law that need to be changed — or in their view, need to be changed — they need to be listened to and heard from,” he said. “There’s nothing about this [law] that’s etched in stone, so I expect there to be modifications, both administrative and legislative.”

Asked whether he was satisfied with the fixes made by the administration so far, Bennet responded, “No.”

In October, the administration announced it would delay penalties for people who fail to sign up for healthcare coverage.

Last month, Obama issued an order to allow insurance companies to continue offering health plans that failed to meet the requirements of the ACA.

The administration also delayed the enrollment deadline for plans beginning on Jan. 1 and pushed back the enrollment period for plans covering 2015 until after next year’s election.

Democrats facing reelection say legislation is needed to require insurance companies to continue offering plans that people like but fall short of Obama-Care’s standards.

They also have called for additional extensions of the enrollment periods and delays in penalties.

“For every day in delay in being able to utilize the website, there should be a day added to the back end so people do not feel they are not up against a wall and have appropriate time to make the transition as originally envisioned in the bill,” said Merkley.

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