WHEELING - As computer glitches continue to stymie many seeking to obtain insurance under the new national health care law, Sen. Joe Manchin wants to delay penalties against the uninsured until Jan. 1, 2015.
Manchin, D-W.Va., is partnering with Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican, to craft legislation that would give Americans additional time to purchase coverage as required by the Affordable Care Act - providing government the opportunity to fix a system fraught with problems and the public a chance to decide what type of coverage is best for them, he said.
The insurance marketplace rollout is, "going to have some problems, and they're going to have to work through that," Manchin said Thursday. "You shouldn't have to pay a fine because you can't log in."
President Barack Obama has acknowledged the website, www.healthcare.gov, wasn't tested well enough before going live Oct. 1, but Health and Human Services Director Kathleen Sebelius has assured the public there's plenty of time to sign up in time to comply with the so-called "individual mandate" in the health care law. Administration officials said Wednesday Americans won't be assessed the penalties as long as they obtain suitable coverage by March 31.
The penalties, to be assessed on income tax returns, amount to $95 or 1 percent of an individual's income - whichever is greater - and escalate to $325 or 2 percent of income in 2015 and $695 or 2.5 percent of income in 2016 and beyond.
Manchin said delaying the penalties is a matter of fairness. He pointed to the Obama administration's decision to delay enforcing the provision of the law requiring companies with more than 50 workers to offer their employees coverage until the start of 2015.
"Shouldn't the same consideration be given to the individual mandate? ... That's an honest approach, and that's what we're advocating for," he said.
Manchin said his legislation isn't intended to eliminate the individual mandate - seen by many as the linchpin of the health care law - altogether. And he believes Obama would sign the measure if enough lawmakers on both sides of the aisle support it.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said Americans "need to give health care reform time to work."
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said he supports delaying the individual mandate, but believes lawmakers should go further.
Meanwhile, Sen. Sherrod Brown acknowledged the issues with the health care rollout, but said the setbacks are temporary.