WASHINGTON (AP) — Senators from President Barack Obama’s own party pressed him in person Wednesday to extend the enrollment deadline for Americans to sign up for health insurance because of the malfunctioning HealthCare.gov website.
Obama invited Senate Democrats facing re-election next year to the White House to discuss the problem-plagued health care rollout that could affect their races. The White House confirmed Obama and Vice President Joe Biden met with 16 senators to describe fixes that are being made to the website for Americans to sign up for insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).
“The rollout of HealthCare.gov has not been smooth — to say the least — and I shared the concerns of Coloradans directly with the president,” Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado said in a statement. “Consumers should have the time they need to shop for a plan and enroll after the widespread problems with the website are fixed.”
But White House press secretary Jay Carney rejected the idea of an extension of the March 31 deadline for Americans to get insurance or face a fine. “We still believe that there is time available to make the necessary improvements to the website and to use all the other means that we can to get the information to the American people who want to enroll in time for them to do it,” Carney told reporters.
Another Democrat, Sen. Mark Pryor, said he told Obama and Biden to “fix the website immediately,” address problems with the law and hold accountable those at fault for the mistakes.
“I won’t let up until these problems are fixed,” said Pryor, who faces a difficult re-election next year in conservative-leaning Arkansas.
The meeting with Democratic senators, which was not listed on the president’s public schedule, lasted about two hours and also included White House chief of staff Denis McDonough and Jeff Zients, the president’s troubleshooter for the website. Such a dedication of time by so many top-level officials reflects concern for the political fallout the problems could inflict.
“Nobody in the room, including the president, thinks this rollout has gone well and he expressed that sentiment several times,” Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico told The Associated Press. Udall said senators were “respectful but concerned” about how the many problems they are hearing from constituents are going to be solved.
“The two messages delivered to the White House are we must ensure no one is punished for problems with HealthCare.gov and we need to make sure the enrollment deadline gives everyone enough time.”