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Franken: Focus needs to be on fixing health-care exchange website

WASHINGTON — Franken said he’d be consider moving back the open enrollment deadline if healthcare.gov isn’t operational by Dec. 1.

WASHINGTON — After Thursday’s filibuster fireworks, the Senate adjourned for an extended Thanksgiving recess — senators won’t return to D.C. until Dec. 9.

That means they’ll be back in their states for perhaps one of the Affordable Care Act’s most important deadlines: The Obama administration’s Dec. 1 target for rolling out a repaired healthcare.gov.

After we’d exhausted our filibuster-related inquires for Sen. Al Franken on Thursday, another reporter and I threw out a couple of health-care questions. Here’s a summary:

Extending enrollment period

Franken has said for a while he’d be open to extending the insurance enrollment period if the exchange problems aren’t fixed. He said the progress made on healthcare.gov ahead of the Dec. 1 deadline will probably dictate whether he joins to the call to do just that, and whether the penalty for individuals without insurance should be delayed as well.

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If the website isn’t fixed by the end of the month, “I think then we have to consider extending the deadline for the mandate, but let’s hope that doesn’t happen,” he said.

Six Democrats have sponsored a bill to extend the enrollment period by two months, and even longer if the website isn’t operational in a few weeks. Franken said he’s heard the site is getting better, but there’s still some concern it won’t be fully operational by Obama’s deadline. The White House says the goal is to have the website functional for up to 80 percent of people looking for health insurance when December rolls around.

Reviewing cancellation proposal

Franken said last week he would review President Obama’s proposal to undo the insurance cancellation notices some individuals have received because their plans don’t meet new ACA requirements. Obama’s plan won’t take hold in Minnesota — Gov. Mark Dayton announced this week insurance providers won’t need to re-institute the substandard plans they’ve already cancelled — but Franken said at this point it’s a matter of making the exchanges more accessible than trying to pursue other potential fixes.

“My focus is on those people who had their policies dropped and making sure that they can find the absolute best policy,” he said. “I’ve been talking to some of the CEOs of the insurance companies to make sure that the insurance companies who did drop some of the old policies do everything they can in reaching out to those people, let them know what their alternatives are, not just necessarily in a policy that they have, but let them know they can go to MNsure, and let them know that there are tax subsidies there for them, or there may be.”

The GOP-controlled House passed a bill last week to extend the now-cancelled insurance plans for one year, and a group of Senate Democrats, many of whom are up for re-election in 2014, have introduced a similar plan.

Devin Henry can be reached at dhenry@minnpost.com.