VA Lawmakers Weigh in on ACA Developments

Nov 7, 2013

Some Democrats are now asking the White House to delay the signup period on Healthcare dot Gov for uninsured individuals.

Virginia Democrats disagree…even as the website continues to suffer major glitches.

The nearly one million uninsured in Virginia are dependent on the federal health exchange, because local leaders decided to cede that control instead of running their own program. With all the problems facing Healthcare dot Gov, Virginia Democrats, like Senator Tim Kaine, are bemoaning the decision to have bureaucrats in Washington run the program.  “I wish the state had gone ahead and done what we do very well. We tend to do things like this very well.”

It’s no secret that every congressional Republican opposes the health law. In the House they’ve cast more than forty votes to repeal, defund or delay it. Virginia Congressman Morgan Griffith says the law is even worse than the website. “I don’t think it’s ever going to function the way it was promised.”

In one of their last efforts to tweak the law, Republicans demanded a one year delay to the law. President Obama and Senate Democrats refused to accept that and it led to the government shutdown. But now that the website is inundated with glitches ten Senate Democrats are asking for an unspecified delay so people who can't get on the site aren't hit with a fine next April. New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen is leading the call for the delay.“The rollout has been a disaster, and so what I’m proposing is that we extend the period in which people can enroll so that we can make sure we get as many people who want health insurance able to enroll and be able to be covered.” 

Even with the growing call for a partial delay from within their own party, Virginia Democrats, like Senator Kaine, aren't budging. “There’s significant problems and we’ve got to fix them, but I think that is premature.”

Virginia's senior Democratic Senator Mark Warner says the Affordable Care Act is like a house of cards and getting people enrolled in health exchanges remains foundational.  “The structure of this has to hang together so that if you start unraveling pieces of it you can pull on the string and it can lead to other problems.”

The White House is bringing in new web developers and is promising the site will be adequately functioning by the end of the month. Warner and more than a dozen Democratic senators met with the president this week and frankly laid out their concerns with the poorly functioning site. But as frustration grows, Warner says he remains optimistic.  “I’m asking folks, can this be patched? Does there need to be a restart? I think it can be patched. At least that’s what I’m hearing.”

Warner says it's premature to start moving deadlines back.  “Let’s see what happens as we get closer to a re-launch at the end of the month and then as we look at the numbers into December.”

Virginia Democrat Bobby Scott says if the website is up and running properly by the end of the month, many people can still meet the December deadline to get enrolled ahead of the New Year, while others will have a few months to avoid the fine. “That gives people two weeks to sign up for insurance for January first. It gives them another three months to sign up for health insurance during the open enrollment period that doesn’t end until the end of March. So there is still plenty of time to sign up.”

Senator Warner recognizes that if the site is fixed there's still a chance people who already tried to use it once won't come back. He says lawmakers may have to revisit the issue later. “The question will be, ‘Can there be a re-launch in a way that really gets folks back to look at the site where they get a user-friendly experience?’ And I think the jury is out on that. So before I start signing on to delays, let’s give them a chance to operate on this timeline, but it’s a very tight timetable.”

There is bipartisan agreement on one thing, which Virginia Republican Scott Rigell sums up this way. “That’s been an embarrassment for the administration and really our country that we can’t get this website right.”

The White House is bracing skeptics and supporters alike for low enrollment numbers when they release data on how many people have signed up next week. While Virginia Republicans are growing more skeptical of the law and the website, for now, Virginia’s Democrats are sticking with the White House.