WASHINGTON - As the Obama administration tries to fix problems with its health insurance website, a second Democratic senator said Wednesday he believes open enrollment under the law should be extended.
Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., said he supports the "common-sense idea" for an extension beyond the March 31, 2014, deadline as suggested by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., in a letter to President Obama.
"I believe, given the technical issues, it makes sense to extend the time for people to sign up," Pryor said in a statement. "In addition, the administration should state clearly how the enforcement mechanism will work if people can't sign up in time."
The calls by Pryor and Shaheen are significant, in part because they both voted for the Affordable Care Act and are Democrats up for re-election in 2014.
Pryor is one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats next year, given Obama's unpopularity in Arkansas. His job approval rating among likely voters has dropped 19 percentage points since last year, according to a new poll by the University of Arkansas.
The mandate that individuals obtain health insurance is a key tenet of the law, which Obama signed in 2010. The IRS is supposed to fine people who don't get insurance by the March 31 deadline.
Shaheen said in her letter to Obama, sent Tuesday, that people who are uninsured should not be penalized because they were prevented from signing up by problems with the Healthcare.gov website. The plagued online health exchanges will be the subject of a House hearing Thursday.
"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 wrote.
"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," she said. "For over three years, we have been waiting for the creation of the health insurance exchanges, which now in their fourth week of existence, are riddled with problems."
Obama, who has been openly frustrated by the problems with the online health insurance exchanges, tapped Jeffrey Zients on Tuesday to lead the effort to fix Healthcare.gov.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in a CBS News interview that he will introduce legislation next week that would delay the law's mandate that individuals obtain health insurance and delay the penalty to be assessed on those people who do not comply.
In her letter, Shaheen was complimentary of the law's provisions and its intentions and made clear that she wants to help make it work.
"Ultimately, however, we must do better," she said, urging the Obama administration to be "open to modifications that provide greater flexibility for the American people seeking access to health insurance."