Obama administration delays mandate, contractors grilled over ACA website woes

The Obama administration has delayed the Affordable Care Act penalty for individuals who fail to purchase insurance by six weeks, but said the massive problems besieging the  federal website , HealthCare.gov, is not the reason for the delay.

Instead, administration officials say the postponement is linked to “confusion” about the last day Americans can remain uninsured without paying a penalty.

The ACA says individuals cannot be uninsured for three months or more in any year without paying the penalty. That means, beginning next year, an individual would have to have coverage by March 31 or pay a penalty to the Internal Revenue Service  Because of insurance industry practice, to be insured on March 31, an applicant  would have to purchase insurance by Feb. 15.

So the administration changed the enrollment deadlineby six weeks to March 31 to clear up confusion.

That means Americans can now remain uninsured without penalty through April.

The announced delay of the mandate occurred  after Sen.  Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., circulated a letter  on Wednesday urging President Obama to extend the enrollment period.

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., also said: “I believe, given the technical issues, it makes sense to extend the time for people to sign up.”

At least one Democrat has joined Republicans who are opposed to the ACA in saying a year-long delay is needed.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced Wednesday he will introduce a bill that would postpone the IRS penalty for one year for anyone who is not covered by insurance.

Meanwhile, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday grilled  contractors hired by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to set up and run HealthCare.gov, including CGI , a Virginia-based company  whose initial $97 million contract has ballooned to nearly $300 million.

Connecticut is not one of the 36 states using the federal website. It hired its onw IT team to set up the state exchange, AccessHealthCT, which has suffered fewer problems.

Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, called the rollout of the federal website “nothing short of a disaster.”  He also said contractors at the hearing previously “looked us in the eye and assured us repeatedly that everything was on track, except that it wasn’t.”

The contractors insisted they were blameless.

They said they operated separately from each other under the oversight of CMS. The result was a convoluted system that did not have enough “end-to-end” testing before launch-up, the contractors said.

Democrats on the panel defended the ACA voraciously, but even they said they are dismayed at the performance of HealthCare.gov.

“We’ve got to get this fixed right. And soon,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C.

 

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