CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sen. Joe Manchin is working on a bill that would delay the penalty for not having health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, his spokesman said Wednesday.Manchin's bill, which is not completed, would delay the penalty until Jan. 1, 2015, Jonathan Kott, Manchin's communications director, said."This should be a transition year," Kott said.As the law is currently written, most people must be insured by April 1, or face a penalty of $95 or 1 percent of taxable income, whichever is larger.
The website that the federal government set up to sell private health insurance in 36 states, Healthcare.gov, has been plagued with problems since its launch on Oct. 1.Manchin has long been an opponent of the individual mandate, a key feature of the Affordable Care Act.In September, when Republicans were demanding changes to the Affordable Care Act in exchange for passing a bill that funded the government, Manchin told reporters that he would vote for a bill that funded the government but delayed the individual mandate, a position that put him at odds with the vast majority of other Democrats."I have always opposed the individual mandate," Manchin said in an email clarifying those September remarks. "That being said, I do not believe that this issue should be used to shut down the government, and I will not vote to shut down the government."On Wednesday evening, the White House clarified that anyone who buys insurance through the health exchanges before April 1 will not be subject to a penalty for violating the individual mandate.In 2011 Manchin told ABC News that he was looking at everything "humanly possible" to address the mandate."I've always had a concern and a problem with the mandate, that we were forcing it," Manchin said at the time. "But on the other hand, I know that's been the linchpin. I'm looking for flexibility any way I can."The individual mandate is a crucial part of the Affordable Care Act. Without it, supporters argue, healthy people could go without insurance and then just sign up when they get sick, something that would be possible now that insurers can no longer deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions.Reach David Gutman at email@example.com or 304-348-5119.