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California Dems Push For Changes To Obamacare


With all the glitches on Healthcare.gov a group of ten Democratic senators recently sent a letter to the president asking for a delay in the signup date. All of them were moderate Democrats from purplish states facing tough reelections. All except one: California Senator Dianne Feinstein also joined the chorus.

“Well that’s one thing that can be done,” Feinstein said.

Feinstein has become a thorn in the administration’s side when it comes to the Affordable Care Act. Besides calling for a delay in the signup for health exchanges, she was also one of the first Democrats to sign onto legislation allowing people to keep their canceled insurance plans. California’s insurance commissioner reports more than one million Californians have had plans canceled. Feinstein says she’s heard from quite a few. 

“I’ve had 33,000 calls and letters with huge concern from people who are losing their policies, and many of them having to pay much more," Feinstein said. "They have a certain income level and this isn’t the really high income level either.”

For weeks many Democrats have brushed aside concerns over the growing number of cancelations, saying many of the canceled plans were merely ‘junk policies.’ Feinstein rejects that notion.

“Well I don’t think they all are," Feinstein said. "Maybe some are, but I don’t know about every insurance policy in the individual market being a junk policy. I don’t think that’s correct.”

Republicans say growing defections by Democrats prove what they’ve been saying all along. House Republicans have voted to repeal, delay or defund the law more than forty times. Richvale’s Doug LaMalfa says the president’s announcement that people can keep their insurance policies for another year is a step in the right direction.

“People decide that on their own of what they can afford," LaMalfa said. "It’s really arrogant, I think, for the government to decide, ‘well, this is a junk plan.’ If I want to drive a Yugo, I’ll drive a Yugo.”

In the first month just over one hundred thousand people have signed up for insurance on exchanges nationwide. LaMalfa says threats of IRS fines against people who’ve been locked out of exchanges is unfair. The current deadline to avoid a penalty is March 31st

“I think moving the date will be an absolute necessity if we don’t just completely do it for a whole year. And you know Democrats are now joining the chorus that we’ve been well before October 1,” LaMalfa said.

Many California Democrats, including John Garamendi of Fairfield, say they’re holding out hope the national health exchange can be fixed by the end of the month. That’s the administration’s promise.

“There’s always time to consider the situation in another month, month and a half, two months," Garamendi said. "So there’s time.”

But frustration is growing among Democrats, like Elk Grove’s Ami Bera. 

“My message to the administration is: ‘You better get this thing fixed as fast as possible.'"

Bera says he has another problem with the law. He’s introduced legislation that would delay a new tax on health insurance companies for two years. Bera says the government can still provide subsidies even without the eight billion dollars in new revenue the tax is expected to collect.    

“Which is kind of a pass through to individuals, small business owners and seniors," Bera said. "Until you let the markets kind of normalize and so forth that two year delay is probably the right thing to do.”

Despite all its problems California Democrats still support the Affordable Care Act. Senator Feinstein is one of them.  

“For people who have nothing I think this is a very good bill,” she said.

Feinstein says lawmakers must continue to make changes to the new health law as its rollout continues. How many changes – or what they will be – is still unclear.   


Matt Laslo

Former Contributing Washington DC Reporter

Based on Capitol Hill, Matt Laslo is a reporter who has been covering Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court since 2006. He has filed stories for NPR and more than 40 of its affiliates, including Capital Public Radio.  Read Full Bio 

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