ST. PAUL, Minn. — U.S. Sen. Al Franken, a strong supporter of President Obama's health care overhaul, said Thursday that it's too early to extend enrollment deadlines or delay insurance mandates despite ongoing problems with the federal exchange.
Speaking to the media after meeting in St. Paul with medical device company officials, the Minnesota Democrat said ongoing technical problems with the federal health insurance website are "inexcusable." But Franken said he thinks they're getting better.
"Hopefully the federal website will improve," Franken said. He said the health insurance exchange in Massachusetts, which was an inspiration for the federal site, initially prompted multiple visits by struggling users when it debuted — but has since helped extend coverage to 99 percent of state residents.
In recent days, several of Franken's fellow U.S. Senate Democrats have asked the Obama administration to extend a March 31 deadline for enrollment in insurance under the new law. That would likely also force a delay in the law's individual mandate, the provision by which Americans face tax penalties if they don't have health insurance.
Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, David Pryor of Arkansas and Kay Hagan of North Carolina advocated an extension. Like Franken, both Pryor and Hagan are up for re-election next year and are likely to be judged by voters for the success or failure of the law at that point.
Franken wasn't ready to join their chorus, though he didn't rule out eventual delay.
"We'll have to see how long this takes to get fixed and how much improved this is," Franken said. "I'd be open to that if this continues, of course, but my understanding is this is improving every day."
Franken said he's pleased with the progress so far of Minnesota's health insurance exchange, which is being run by the state.
Franken continued to call for the repeal of a tax on medical device makers that is helping to fund Obama's Affordable Care Act. A number of Minnesota's members of Congress, from both parties, have pushed to repeal the tax; Minnesota's medical device industry is the nation's largest per capita in the country.
The tax is estimated to raise $30 billion in revenue for the health overhaul, but Franken said he believed money to replace that could be found as part of a larger congressional budget deal.