1. Opinion

Rubio: Delay Obamacare mandate until computer problems are fixed

Published Oct. 23, 2013

From long-term unemployment to being stuck in jobs that do not pay enough to live on, many Americans today are already facing unprecedented worries. Now, adding to their daily concerns is a new requirement under Obamacare that forces all Americans to sign up for health insurance or else the Internal Revenue Service will come after them to collect a tax penalty.

In recent weeks, concern over this mandate has grown because of the federal government's failure to provide a functional website where people were supposed to buy insurance. Visitors to the Obamacare website have encountered numerous technical problems, errors and crashes. For some who have managed to get through these technical snares, they have been erroneously registered into the system multiple times, leading to the threat of double billings. And the Spanish-language website, where many Hispanics intended to buy health insurance, has yet to even be launched.

All of this has eroded the public's confidence in the federal government's ability to deliver on basic promises. And it has demonstrated how easily a government rapidly growing beyond its means can outpace people's ability to deal with the burdens that come with it.

Recently, I visited the website myself and encountered many of the same problems that others have reported, including lagging response times and crashes resulting in dead-ends. In fact, the problems have become so widespread that Consumer Reports has advised Americans to stay away from the site until the problems are resolved.

It has come to light that even before the site was launched, the Obama administration was warned that the system wasn't ready, yet they proceeded anyway. And the response to this chaotic rollout has left much to be desired. They have chalked up many of the site's problems to unexpected high traffic, even though doesn't come close to having the number of unique visitors that access scores of popular, privately run sites every day. This week, they promoted a 1-800 help line for people to sign up for insurance, asking Americans to revert to a 1980s-style enrollment process.

And yet, despite all these problems, people are still expected to comply with the mandate as scheduled, even though a "technology dream team" is now being afforded more time to fix the problems. It's unfair and unacceptable that Obamacare's web developers are getting more time to deliver a functional website, while the American people are being denied an extension that would help them avoid tax penalties and an IRS problem.

While I believe Obamacare needs to be fully repealed and replaced, common sense dictates that our people have some short-term relief and protection now.

This is why I am introducing legislation to delay the individual mandate to buy insurance until the Obamacare exchange websites and all its enrollment processes have been fixed and are certified to be fully functional. Once that certification takes place, Americans will have an additional six months before being subject to taxes and penalties of the individual mandate.

In addition, this measure will exempt Americans from having to pay the mandate fines if they can prove they have tried to sign up but could not because of technical difficulties. In order to make this work, it is important that all consumers start protecting themselves now by documenting the Obamacare website's problems through printouts of error pages, screen shots and photographs, among other ways.

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It's unfortunate that none of the advance warnings about Obamacare's problems were heeded. It's unfortunate that, in order to protect ourselves from Obamacare's disastrous rollout, Americans have to take careful and cautious steps to document the incompetence of this government-run website. Setting up a working health insurance exchange website was, after all, supposed to be the easiest part of Obamacare's implementation.

Even though differences of opinion persist about Obamacare's future, at a minimum everyone should agree that the American people deserve more time to help them avoid Obamacare's punishing tax penalties.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., wrote this article exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.


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