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White House won't rule out delay of ObamaCare individual mandate

 

The White House appeared to leave the door open Monday to delaying the so-called individual mandate in the federal health care law, as President Obama acknowledged the main website for enrollment is not working as it should. 

Press Secretary Jay Carney addressed concerns over the mandate at a press briefing shortly after Obama, in the Rose Garden, personally acknowledged failures with the HealthCare.gov site and vowed that "these problems are getting fixed." 

Carney was peppered with questions on whether the administration would be open to delaying the requirement on individuals to buy health insurance, if the website continues to lock out would-be customers. Echoing Obama, Carney said repeatedly that the country is just three weeks into a six-month enrollment process and suggested it's too early to make any decisions of that magnitude. 

But he did not close the door on the option. 

Asked if the administration is looking for flexibility in applying the mandate, Carney said: "Whatever conclusions you draw about the way the law is written, I think you can draw. 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." 

He added that the administration is focused on providing that access. 

Carney was vague on what the administration's next move would be, aside from bringing in tech experts from the private sector to try and repair the website. Without offering further explanation, he said the Department of Health and Human Services is "looking to align the policies with the disconnect between the open enrollment period and the individual responsibility time frames, which exist on the first year only." 

Whether that signals the administration would consider even a short-term delay of the mandate is unclear. 

Technically, Americans are supposed to obtain health insurance by the end of March 2014 to avoid a fine. But analysts have since calculated that, considering the time it takes to process all the relevant documents, most would have to seek coverage by mid-February. 

Republicans have used the website failures to fuel their case that the individual mandate should be delayed. They've been pushing for the delay ever since the administration announced earlier this year it would offer some employers a one-year reprieve from a separate mandate to extend insurance to workers.   

The president's remarks in the Rose Garden did little to quell their complaints. 

"If the president is frustrated by the mounting failures of his health care law, it wasn't apparent today. Americans are looking for accountability, but what the president offered today was little more than self-congratulation," House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. "Either the president doesn't grasp the scale of the law's failures or he doesn't believe Americans deserve straight answers." 

Republicans have blasted the administration for not offering up Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for a House hearing scheduled for Thursday. 

But the House Energy and Commerce Committee confirmed late Monday that Sebelius would testify before the committee Oct. 30. 

"As the administration continues to withhold important details and enrollment figures, I hope Secretary Sebelius is ready to give answers and finally live up to the president's celebrated claims of transparency," Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said in a statement.