By Shelby Carignan
BU News Service

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.

WASHINGTON — Citing the widespread technical difficulties with accessing the Web site for signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., earlier this week wrote to President Obama requesting an extension of the enrollment period past the current March 31, 2014 deadline.

HealthCare.gov, the problem-plagued website designed to enable individuals to purchase health insurance under the provisions of so-called Obamacare, was launched on Oct. 1.

“Allowing extra time for consumers is critically important so they have the opportunity to become familiar with the website, survey their options and enroll,” Shaheen said in the letter to Obama. “The difficulty that people in New Hampshire and in other states that are relying on the federally facilitated marketplaces are experiencing is incredibly frustrating and disappointing.”

In the wake of Shaheen’s letter, Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Ann McLane Kuster, both D-N.H., also have expressed their support for extending the healthcare enrollment period. But Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, suggested more time is needed before a decision is made on a possible extension.

Said Shea-Porter in a statement: “I agree with Senator Shaheen’s call for an extension of ACA open enrollment. I think it’s a matter of fairness for New Hampshire families.”

Added Kuster, “While the administration works to fix the website, I agree with Senator Shaheen that the president should extend open enrollment so that Granite Staters have sufficient time to study and shop for coverage.”

But Pingree stopped short of calling for a delay.

“Consumers still have several more months to sign up, so I think it’s a little early to talk about extending the enrollment period, although if the website is still experiencing serious problems in a month it might be worth considering,” said Pingree in a statement.

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, did not respond requests for comment on Shaheen’s statement.

In addition to Shaheen, at least four other Democratic senators – Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas – have called for an extension of the enrollment period. Like Shaheen, the other four are up for re-election next year in competitive states.

In her letter, Shaheen also requested clarification from the Obama administration on whether individuals would be penalized if problems with the website make them unable to purchase a healthcare plan in time. The health care law requires most people to be covered by Jan. 1, 2014 of face a penalty, although the White House is reported to be preparing to delay enforcement of this mandate.

“If an individual is unable to purchase health insurance due to technical problems with enrollment, they should not be penalized because of lack of coverage,” said Shaheen in the letter

Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., did not respond for requests for comment on Shaheen’s call for an extension. In the past, both have supported repealing or reforming the Affordable Care Act, along with backing legislation delaying the Jan. 1 start of the individual mandate for uninsured Americans to enroll.

Prior to Shaheen’s call this week for an extension for signing up, Ayotte wrote to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services asking for the number of people in New Hampshire who were actually able to sign up for a health insurance plan online, and how long it would take to fix technical problems with the website.

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Honah Liles
Honah Liles is a recent graduate of BU's Broadcast Journalism program and former managing editor of the BU News Service. She currently works as a freelance writer in Boston at WCVB-TV. Honah previously earned a B.A. in biology from Barnard College but realized quickly that journalism was way more fun than working in a lab. She dabbled in radio at PRI's environmental news magazine program Living on Earth before heading to BU. Honah is often confused for a sports journalism major because of her small obsession with Boston teams. She is also a compulsive scrabble enthusiast, amateur baker and reluctant distance runner.
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