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Democrats push for new changes to ObamaCare amid midterm fears

Several Democratic senators moved Thursday to "improve" parts of ObamaCare, proposing numerous changes to the law amid concerns that it could cost Democrats House seats and possibly the Senate in November. 

The proposals came from a half-dozen senators, some of whom are facing reelection in the fall and most of whom represent moderate-to-conservative states. Since Democrats currently control the Senate, the proposals will put Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in an uncomfortable position -- forcing him to decide whether to put the bills to a vote or sideline them, despite the political risks for his party's incumbents. 

"There is more to be done," the senators wrote in an op-ed in Politico, outlining the proposed changes. 

Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va.; Mark Begich, D-Alaska; Mary Landrieu, D-La.; Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.; Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; and Sen. Angus King, I., Maine, are behind the proposals. 

Among other ideas, they called for allowing "copper" plans on the government-run health exchanges. The new insurance plans would offer lower premiums and higher out-of-pocket costs than the "bronze," "silver" and "gold" options currently offered.

"I've always been a believer that the law was not perfect, but you should continue to work to improve it," Begich told The Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the proposals. "People are seeing that as it's implemented, there are tweaks you need to do and there's just nothing wrong with that." 

The senators, while defending the law itself, proposed numerous other fixes, including restoring startup funds for "consumer-driven health insurance cooperatives" and directing state regulators to look at allowing insurance to be sold across state lines. Plus, they called for sparing employers with fewer than 100 workers from being required to offer health insurance to their staff. 

Warner, who faces a formidable midterm challenge from former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, said on Fox News earlier this week that he supports allowing Americans to purchase health insurance across state lines.  

Earlier this month, Republican David Jolly defeated Democrat Alex Sink in a Florida special election largely seen as a referendum on ObamaCare. Democrats, however, downplayed the loss in the Republican-leaning congressional district.

Republicans must pick up six seats to win control of the Senate. Conservative groups such as Americans for Prosperity are reportedly pouring million into races in which Democratic incumbents have supported ObamaCare.

House Democrats must gain 17 seats to win a majority next fall. It looms as a very steep challenge in view of the traditional midterm headwinds facing a party in control of the White House and a generally sour public mood, now compounded by controversy surrounding the health care law.

It is unclear if Reid, D., Nev., would bring any of the bills aimed at fixing ObamaCare to the floor. Democratic aides told The Journal that the effort has sparked debate about whether making the changes would return public attention to the health law's flaws.

Democratic strategist Steve Murphy said the fixes could help vulnerable lawmakers more than changes from the Obama administration that are immediately criticized by Republicans.

"Democrats should fight back hard on what eliminating ObamaCare would mean, and they also should demonstrate a willingness to make ObamaCare better," Murphy told The Journal.

The Health and Human Services Department announced this week that those who've started an enrollment application, but weren't able to finish before the March 31 open enrollment deadline, would get a limited amount of time to sign up for coverage that would take effect May 1.

Additionally, people with 10 general categories of "special" circumstances would also get extra time to apply — up to 60 days. Categories include natural disasters, system errors related to immigration status, computer error messages due to technical difficulties, family situations involving domestic abuse, and other sorts of problems.

The latest administrative tweaks to health overhaul rules drew immediate scorn from Republicans committed to repealing the law. 

"The administration has now handed out so many waivers, special favors and exemptions to help Democrats out politically ... it's basically become the legal equivalent of Swiss cheese," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. 

Some Republicans have expressed reservations about helping Democrats improve a law believed to be central to the GOP's midterm strategy, The Journal reported.

"These folks have voted for that bad piece of legislation [are] now having remorse," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R., Ga., adding that Democrats "want to try to do something political to a very unpopular piece of legislation."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Click here for more from The Wall Street Journal.