Manchin, Rockefeller voice differences on health care reform fine
10/25/2013 - The Charleston Daily Mail. By Dave Boucher.
WASHINGTON, DC - West Virginia's two U.S. senators are at odds when it comes to delaying a penalty in the massive national health care reform law.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., wants to pull the fine associated with the individual mandate during the first year the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare," is in effect.
That's not a good idea, said fellow West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller.
"We need to give health care reform time to work, not prematurely take pieces out of it," Rockefeller said in a statement emailed by a spokesman.
"The individual mandate is an important part of reform. No one has come up with a way to give people who don't have health insurance -- or who have lousy health insurance -- a fighting chance without it."
Under the Affordable Care Act, everyone is required to have health insurance. Anyone who does not must pay a fine. The deadline to sign up is March 31, according to a statement President Barack Obama's administration made Wednesday.
Obama and the Affordable Care Act don't poll well in West Virginia. Nationally, the individual mandate is a lightning rod for political debate.
Critics hate the idea of the government forcing someone to have health care. Supporters say it's the best way to ensure healthy young people sign up for the program, bringing down costs.
Manchin's not shy about stating his dislike of the mandate, and has done so repeatedly in recent years. His measure is not an attempt to cripple the entire law though, he said.
"This is not trying to kill anything. It's trying to improve or fix it," Manchin said Thursday afternoon in a conference call with reporters.
The fine for not having health insurance during the first year of the law is $95 or 1 percent of a person's taxable income, whichever is larger. During the second year, those totals jump to $325 and 2 percent, and continue to go up in subsequent years.
Manchin's measure -- created with Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. -- would eliminate the penalty in the first year. Starting Jan. 1, 2015, anyone without insurance would face the second-year penalty.
Issues with healthcare.gov, the federal government's website portal for purchasing coverage, and any other glitches should be fixed without "the threat of having a fine hanging over your head," Manchin said.
"This should be a transition year," Manchin said. "People shouldn't be facing a fine because they can't log in."
Manchin was not in the Senate in 2010 when lawmakers passed the Affordable Care Act. Rockefeller voted for the measure, and has been a staunch advocate for the law.
"I've always felt so strongly that every West Virginian should be able to see a doctor or nurse when they need to, and no one should get kicked off their insurance when they get sick," Rockefeller said in the statement.
"Changing our health care system for the better is not going to be easy -- at times it may even be frustrating -- but it's absolutely essential for hundreds of thousands of West Virginia families."
Manchin isn't the only Senate Democrat proposing changes to the law. Six others - all of whom face re-election next year -- support a measure that would push back the March 31 enrollment deadline, according to The Associated Press.
The Democrat-controlled Senate did not support a measure passed by the GOP-held House earlier this year that would have delayed the entire individual mandate for a year, according to the Associated Press.
Manchin, who opposed that bill along with every other Senate Democrat, said Thursday he didn't think he had changed his position.
"I think there are Democrats and a lot of Republicans wanting to fix this." Manchin said.
"The bottom line is, out of practicality, we've got to work through the problem."
Manchin said he's optimistic his measure will have more bipartisan support. He's looking for more sponsors, and said he expects to have an idea next week "if there are going to be takers or not."