- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 24, 2013

Republican lawmakers, agitated by even more tweaks to Obamacare’s timeline in the coming months and years, reissued their calls Sunday to replace President Obama’s health care law with new reforms.

“The best thing we can do now is to scrap it and start over with a step-by-step approach that focuses on lower cost and patient-centered solutions,” Rep. Michael C. Burgess, Texas Republican and a physician, said in the weekly Republican address.

Mr. Burgess and his GOP colleagues are toggling between long-standing disgust with the Affordable Care Act of 2010 and their criticism of the law’s disappointing performance since Oct. 1, when Web markets tied to the overhaul faltered out of the gate.

The glitches have suppressed sign-ups on HealthCare.gov, the federal portal that serves 36 states, although state-run markets have reported a November surge in enrollment.

Realizing they need to come up with solutions, too, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and GOP lawmakers asserted in recent days that Congress should have tried a laundry list of other things before Obamacare — from more transparent pricing on health services to see if it drives down costs to allowing consumers to purchase insurance plans across state lines.

“For now, though, we will continue to ask the tough questions, hold the president accountable for his broken promises on this self-inflicted disaster,” Mr. Burgess said.

Republicans particularly are upset with the Obama administration’s decision last week to push back the 2014 sign-up period from Oct. 15 to Nov. 15, or after the mid-term elections.

“That means that if premiums go through the roof in the first year of Obamacare, no one will know about it until after the election,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, said. “This is clearly a cynical political move by the Obama administration to use extra-regulatory, by-any-means-necessary tools to keep this program afloat and hide key information from voters.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, also said the new delay was made for “purely political reasons.”

“If Obamacare is so great, why are Democrats so scared of voters knowing its consequences?” he asked.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said the time frame was delayed to give insurers more time to assess the make-up of customers and set future premiums.

“This gives them more time to assess the pool of people who are getting insurance through the marketplaces and make decisions about what rates will look like in the coming year,” he said Friday.

Critics, including columnist George F. Will, blasted the move as “bad politics” and “silly” on the administration’s part, arguing insurance rates will be set well in advance of fall enrollment.

“If this is intended to tamp down the fire, it’s actually kerosene,” Mr. Will said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Earlier this year, the White House angered GOP lawmakers by delaying the enforcement of the employer mandate — which requires larger companies to provide health coverage for full-time employees or pay fines — from 2014 to 2015, also after the mid-term elections.

Republicans also derided the White House for announcing the decision in a blog post shortly before the Fourth of July holiday.

In another twist, the Obama administration said Friday that customers on state-run and federally facilitated insurance exchanges will have eight more days to sign up for health coverage in December and still be covered by Jan. 1.

Customers can shop and select a plan on an exchange up through Dec. 23, replacing a Dec. 15 deadline, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. They must make their first premium payment by Dec. 31.

CMS spokeswoman Julie Bataille said the agency realizes that early use of HealthCare.gov has been frustrating and that CMS wants to give consumers “as much time as possible” to get covered. She said insurers have been notified of the adjustment.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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