Republican Ayotte seeks 'time out' on Obamacare as anxieties grow

Reuters

By Lisa Lambert

WASHINGTON, Nov 3 (Reuters) - Republican Senator KellyAyotte wants to press "pause" on rolling out the U.S. healthcarereform law as anxiety grows about troubles with the federalwebsite for buying insurance and possibly low numbers of peoplesigning up for coverage.

"I'm calling on the president now to say, 'Let's have atime-out on this.' Mr. President, you call a time-out on this,"said Ayotte in an appearance on CNN on Sunday. "Convene a groupof bipartisan leaders to address healthcare concerns in thiscountry because this is not working."

Ayotte said the pause would not be a replay of an Octoberstandoff over fiscal issues, when an impasse between Democratsand Republicans resulted in a partial shutdown of the federalgovernment as Republicans sought to defund the healthcare law,known as Obamacare.

"Why not convene a group to see how we can work together, onissues like the 29-hour workweek ... people being denied theircurrent plans, issues like rising healthcare costs?" saidAyotte. "The administration, in the way this is being rolledout, is a mess."

On Wednesday Health and Human Services Secretary KathleenSebelius will face angry Republicans such as Ayotte when shetestifies before the Senate Finance Committee about the onlinefederal insurance exchange.

The site, where individuals from 36 states can purchasehealth insurance, is a key component of the law passed more thanthree years ago. Some states operate their own exchanges.

Within hours of the state and federal exchanges going liveon Oct. 1, the federal site hit snags. The problems havepersisted. From late Saturday through early Sunday, theDepartment of Health and Human Services took the site offlinefor "extended maintenance." {ID:nL1N0IN0AX]

As members of Obama's administration rushed to apologize andpromise improvements by the end of November, new complaints haveemerged that there are no conclusive measures of how many peopleused the site and that insurance companies have canceledpolicies, forcing people into the exchanges.

The Washington Post reported on Sunday that in 2010administration aides such as healthcare adviser Zeke Emanuel andLarry Summers, then director of the National Economic Council,warned no one was "up to the task" of constructing the exchangesand carrying out the law. Fear of Republican opposition causedagencies to slow down or keep secret their on-the-ground work,according to the newspaper.

Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer said enrollment was likely low inOctober, citing the small percentage of people who signed up forhealth insurance in Massachusetts during the first month of thatstate's reform plan, which was used as a model for Obamacare.

"I can promise you that the first enrollment numbers, which(will be) released later this month, are not going to be what wewant them to be. There's no question about that," Pfeiffer told"This Week" on ABC on Sunday.

ENROLLMENT NUMBERS

Administration papers recently released by a congressionalcommittee showed that only 248 people were able to enroll in thefirst two days of the website's operation. The government saidit expects about 7 million people to enroll for individualinsurance in 2014.

Pfeiffer also said he did not recall a fight within theadministration about Obama's promise that people who liked theirhealth insurance plans could keep them - a pledge now helpingstoke anger about the spate of policy cancellations. The WallStreet Journal reported some White House officials questionedthe breadth of his promise.

"Look, I can't go back in time on this. And like I said, Idon't recall this debate the Wall Street Journal talks about inany way, shape or form," Pfeiffer said.

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