WASHINGTON — The rocky rollout of the health care law is giving hope to opponents on Capitol Hill that the entire initiative might yet be scrapped, while frustrated supporters are urging patience.
“I just think the wheels are coming off a disastrous policy,” Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., said Thursday. “This thing might not hold together for another year.”
But Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said the health care initiative only needs to be tweaked, not thrown completely overboard.
While Harkin said he was disappointed with the problems, he added that some bumps were inevitable in transitioning from an outdated, inefficient system to a new way of doing things.
“Change isn't always smooth,” Harkin said.
As chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Harkin has called a hearing for next week on the problems with the online health insurance marketplaces.
“I'm as upset as anyone about the glitches in the system in terms of people signing on,” he said. “They should have had that tested a lot better than they did.”
The most important thing, he said, will be delving into what the administration is doing now to fix the problems.
Johanns said the dire predictions he and other Republicans have been making for years are coming true.
Besides the problems with the online marketplaces, Johanns noted that some people have had their existing health insurance policies canceled as a result of the law.
“The unexpected glitches, the unanswered questions and the outright fabrications surrounding Obamacare are absolutely staggering,” Johanns said during his weekly conference call with reporters.
Johanns said the problems are mounting to the point where Democrats in Congress could start defecting, which might provide an opening for significant changes to the law.
Johanns said he supports legislation that would allow people to hold onto their old insurance plans and another proposal to extend the deadline for people to obtain health insurance.
Ultimately, however, Republicans will continue pushing for a full repeal, Johanns said.
Harkin, who helped write the health care law, has long compared that initial legislation to a “starter home” that would need to be renovated and upgraded over time.
But the foundation of the law, he said, remains strong.
As for those losing their existing policies, Harkin said that the issue affects only a small percentage of people who carry outdated, inadequate policies.
Meanwhile, he said, other Americans are reaping the benefits of the new law.
“These people are counting on us to not back down,” Harkin said.
Earlier this week, Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., cited the health care law as another challenge for young Americans, many of whom remain unemployed or underemployed because of the weak economy.
She said the health care law places new burdens on young people by requiring them to purchase health insurance that in some cases is more expensive than what they had previously, particularly for those who do not qualify for subsidies in the new insurance marketplaces.
“We have record numbers of unemployed young Americans now being forced to purchase health plans they do not want, and in some cases, with coverage that they don't even need,” Fischer said. “We need to empower, not burden, young Americans.”