CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., continued to express opposition to implementing a federal mandate requiring all Americans to get health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act -- even though advocates of the health-care law say removing the "individual mandate" would be catastrophic for health-care reform efforts.
As part of the effort to enforce the "individual mandate" -- which requires people to purchase health insurance, whether it's through their employers, Medicare, state-run health-care exchanges or somewhere else -- the ACA penalizes people who don't have insurance. People who don't have health coverage will be required to pay a penalty of $95 a year or 1 percent of their annual income, whichever is higher.
Manchin said Thursday that he wants to delay those penalties for a year, which would allow people to not have health insurance for another year.
"The only thing I am saying is that we don't believe there should be any penalties or fines," Manchin said. "It should be a transition year for us to see all the problems rolling out of this. People shouldn't be facing fines."
Obama administration officials said Wednesday that March 31, which had been the deadline to have insurance, would now be the deadline to apply for it.
Some people, Manchin said, might also "have to buy [health coverage] that is not of the same quality and at a higher price" than coverage they have now.
"All these things have to be worked out . . . at the end of the day -- a year from now," Manchin said. "Whatever survives between now and then will be the law of the land."
Fred Earley, president of Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield West Virginia, said Thursday that the failure to require everyone to buy insurance coverage "would have very significant impacts on health insurance premiums. The model [the ACA] put in place has very significant reforms, particularly on individual and small group markets."
The new law guarantees individuals insurance "without any medical screening" and with only some small differences in costs "based on age and geographical location. It was a tradeoff to get everyone into the system."
The ACA, Earley said, also has key "subsidies to help the affordability" of new health insurance.
Brandon Merritt of the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy wrote, "Delaying the individual mandate would undermine the goal of health reform, which is to allow uninsured Americans the opportunity to find affordable coverage."
Such a delay would see a much higher percentage of sick patients signing up for new coverage, he stated, causing major problems for hospitals and insurance providers.
"Hospitals would see a significant increase in uncompensated care, placing them at serious financial risk, especially the smaller, more rural hospitals like we have here in West Virginia," Merritt wrote.