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White House won’t extend deadline for health care insurance mandate

WASHINGTON — Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said Wednesday that the Obama administration will not extend the deadline for people to sign up for health insurance or delay the requirement for most Americans to have coverage.

And Sebelius declined to say whether the administration was still committed to its original goal of enrolling 7 million people in private coverage through federal and state exchanges by March 31.

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Testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee, Sebelius said the administration will not delay the individual mandate, under which most Americans must have insurance or pay a tax penalty. In addition, she said that officials will not extend the six-month open enrollment period, scheduled to end March 31.

Sebelius reported Tuesday that 4.2 million people selected health plans through the federal and state exchanges from October through February.

Representative James. B. Renacci, Republican of Ohio, noted that the number of sign-ups was well short of the administration’s original goal and asked, “What do you now call success?”

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Sebelius declined to reaffirm the goal of 7 million and said she would define success as “millions of people having affordable coverage” from private insurers and from Medicaid.

The Affordable Care Act is already a success, she said, because the range of private health plans available to consumers is “more robust than ever.”

However, a few Democrats expressed disappointment and dismay at the way the health law was being carried out.

“So much of the original promise of the Affordable Care Act has been undermined by faulty implementation,” said Representative Lloyd Doggett, Democrat of Texas.

In Texas, Doggett said, “more than 90 percent of the people for whom we wrote this law have not been covered.” In parts of the state, he said, it is nearly impossible to obtain “in-person assistance” in selecting a health plan.

According to the latest data from the federal government, 295,000 people in Texas have selected private plans through the federal marketplace.

Sebelius said that state laws and other barriers had made it difficult for some Texans to take advantage of the new insurance options. State officials in Texas, which has the highest uninsured rate of any state, rejected the expansion of Medicaid and declined to establish its own health insurance marketplace.

Representative Tom Reed, Republican of New York, noted that in a special congressional election in Florida this week, the Democratic candidate defended the health care law but said it should be fixed.

Sebelius said she was open to possible changes but had not sent draft legislation to Congress. However, she said, “We have implemented a number of changes in the way the law was written to ease the transition” for consumers, insurers, and employers.

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