Penalties delayed for Affordable Care Act
The Obama administration announced Wednesday that it would delay imposing penalties for six weeks on some consumers who might have had difficulty enrolling for health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act.
The ACA’s computer system has been clogged with users and plagued with problems since the program was launched Oct. 1. The law requires people who do not have coverage to get it, and the administration’s Wednesday announcement gives people until March 31 to sign up.
The previous deadline to register was Feb. 15.
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican, and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, are planning to propose a law that would delay the mandate to have coverage.
Lauren Culbertson, Isakson’s press secretary, confirmed media reports about the across-the-aisle effort. “Sen. Isakson is working with Sen. Manchin on what would be a one-year delay of the individual mandate,” she said.
Culbertson said the bill has not yet been introduced, and the Senate is not in session this week. “The earliest they could introduce it is next week,” she said.
The ACA’s new insurance marketplaces, also known as exchanges, have come under intense scrutiny since opening on Oct. 1 because the technology has malfunctioned. The White House, however, is not linking this change of policy on penalties to website problems.
"There is a disconnect between the open enrollment and individual responsibility time frames in the first year only. The administration is working to align those policies and will issue guidance soon. This guidance will ensure that if you sign up for insurance by the end of March, you will not face a penalty," a Department of Health and Human Services official said Wednesday.
The law currently requires that by Jan. 1 most people must have health insurance. But the law also allows consumers to be without coverage for less than three consecutive months without a fine, meaning they have until March 31 to get coverage.
To have insurance by then, consumers would have to choose a policy by Feb. 15 to allow enough time for their enrollment to be processed so coverage would start March 1. Most insurance coverage begins on the first of the month.
In July, the administration announced it would delay — for one year — a requirement that businesses with 50 or more workers provide health insurance or pay a fine. Left in place was the requirement that most individuals have coverage.
For 2014 the penalty is $95 or 1 percent of income, whichever is greater. In 2016 the penalty rises to $695 or 2.5 percent of income, whichever is greater.
Administration officials say the individual mandate was added to the law to make sure that healthy individuals buy insurance so that it can be affordable for sicker beneficiaries. If only older consumers or those with medical problems were to enroll in the marketplace plans, they would quickly become too expensive.
Leading contractors on the troubled health insurance website told Congress Thursday that the government failed to thoroughly test the complicated system before it went live.
Executives of CGI Federal, which built the federal HealthCare.gov website serving 36 states, and QSSI, which designed the part that helps verify applicants' income and other personal details, testified under oath before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Contractors said they each tested their own components independently but that the Health and Human Services department was responsible for testing the whole system from end to end. That kind of testing did not happen until the last couple of weeks before the system's Oct. 1 launch — and quickly crashed once consumers tried to use it.