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Editorial: Health-signup problems warrant a delay in deadlines

Oct. 29, 2013 @ 11:42 AM

Implementation of the key com­ponent of the Affordable Care Act has gotten off to a roaring ... fizzle. As things are playing out cur­rently, perhaps it would be wise to slow down that pace even further.

More than three-and-a-half years after President Obama signed the health care overhaul legislation into law, individuals without insurance coverage through their jobs or Med­icaid were to begin signing up Oct.

1 for coverage by choosing a health insurance plan through the federal government’s Health Insurance Marketplace website.

But that website has been beset with problems, frustrating mil­lions of people who have gone to it and apparently slowing successful enrollments to a crawl. Just how meager the enrollment pace has been is unknown, because the gov­ernment is sharing little information at this point. That lack of account­ability is a frustration in itself.

Because of an apparent clampdown on sharing information, it’s not known how many West Virginians have signed up for private insurance because the bulk of the signups were to be handled by the federal portal.

The enrollment difficulties aren’t so urgent for lower-income people who are newly eligible for Medicaid coverage under Obamacare because participating states are in a posi­tion to enroll them with much fewer problems. For example, by last week West Virginia had enrolled about 60,000 new recipients into the Med­icaid expansion, officials said, and Kentucky had added 21,000.

But the program’s troubled roll­out is a concern for Americans who don’t have insurance and don’t qualify for Medicaid coverage. One of course is that many are eager to learn about their options, whether they will qualify for a tax credit under the program and to simply ensure that they will have coverage.

Another is that they face a tax pen­alty if they aren’t signed up.

Until this week, the deadline for enrolling without facing a penalty was mid-February, but that since has been extended to March 31, when open enrollment is supposed to end. But a few weeks leeway may not be enough, considering that nearly a month has passed and the government website still seems plagued by troubles.

Now various lawmakers, including West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and several other Democrats, are urging the Obama administration to push back the enrollment dead­line and penalty phase even fur­ther. Under the circumstances, that would be a prudent move.

No matter the reasons for the gov­ernment’s inability to have its health insurance exchange ready, the fact is that it wasn’t ready and continues to be troublesome for people to use.

People shouldn’t be penalized for factors beyond their control. And they should be allowed adequate time to consider their options before making such an important decision.

Just how long it will take for the government to make enrollment a smooth-running operation remains to be seen. But however long that is, the American people should be giv­en the same amount of time before they have to complete this task, and without fear of penalty.

That only seems fair.

 

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