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Carney hedges on whether ObamaCare mandate could be delayed


White House press secretary Jay Carney hedged Monday on whether ObamaCare’s individual mandate could be delayed because of problems with the healthcare law’s enrollment web site.

Carney did not directly say the individual mandate could be delayed, but he did say that if people could not get access to ObamaCare, they would not be penalized.

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Under the healthcare law, uninsured Americans are required to sign up for health insurance. If they don’t, they could be hit with a fine.

Carney was asked Monday if people would have to pay a fine if they couldn’t enroll in ObamaCare because of a glitchy website that the administration has struggled to fix.

Carney said that those “without access to affordable care due to a state not expanding Medicaid or other factors” would not be penalized. A number of states have decided against accepting federal money to expand Medicaid under ObamaCare.

Carney then dodged a question about whether the website could be one of those factors.

“We are focused on implementing the law and ensuring that people have the information they need,” Carney said.

In an interview later Monday on MSNBC, White House communications director Jen Palmieri said the administration doesn't think it will have to make the decision because it expects to fix the healthcare law's problems. 

"If we don't have it fixed in time is a hypothetical that we don't expect to encounter," Palmieri said. "We're taking this day by day and we're making progress every day. And we're going to keep at it and in the meantime, we're going to find these options of other ways for people to enroll."

Republicans have said Obama should delay the tax penalty because of the website’s technical problems. “Does the president think Americans should be taxed for not buying a product from a website that doesn’t work – and may not for some time?” Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said Monday.

Carney didn’t give a direct answer on whether the administration could delay the requirement to buy insurance because of website problems.

“The law is clear that if you do not have access to affordable health insurance, then you will not be asked to pay a penalty because you haven't purchased affordable health insurance,” Carney said.

Separately, Carney also said there existed “a disconnect” between the enrollment period for the healthcare law, and the time frame for when people must have health insurance.

Under the law, Americans must be covered by March 31, 2014 in order to avoid paying a penalty. But that means that they would likely need to purchase insurance by Feb. 15, because coverage typically starts on the first day of a given month and takes up to 15 days to process.

The Department of Health and Human Services may change the requirement so that uninsured Americans need only to have attempted to purchase coverage — rather than actually be insured — by the March 31 deadline.