Amid Signup Glitches, Mark Pryor Says Extend Application Deadline for Health Insurance

LITTLE ROCK - Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor on Wednesday said he supports extending the time to sign up for insurance under the federal health care law, citing the computer glitches that have frustrated many Americans trying to apply for coverage online.

The two-term senator from Arkansas said he backed the suggestion that Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen made in a letter to the White House earlier that day to delay the end of open enrollment past March 31 because of problems with the exchange site. Pryor didn't say how long of an extension he'd support and Shaheen didn't offer a date in her letter to administration officials.

Pryor didn't specifically call for delaying the requirement that individuals have insurance or face a tax penalty, but he said the administration should clarify the enforcement of the individual mandate if people can't sign up in time.

"I believe, given the technical issues, it makes sense to extend the time for people to sign up," Pryor said in a statement released by his office. "In addition, the administration should state clearly how the enforcement mechanism will work if people can't sign up in time. We all want to see the law work, and I hope the administration will take a hard look at this reasonable suggestion."

Pryor is locked in a tight re-election race against Republican U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, who has regularly targeted Pryor over his vote for the health overhaul in 2010. Republicans have identified Pryor as the most vulnerable Senate incumbent running next year and have said unseating him is a priority.

Republicans criticized Pryor as reports of his support for an extension first surfaced Wednesday. Cotton and his campaign painted it as a flip-flop from Pryor's prior opposition to delaying the individual mandate.

"I think he has a lot of explaining to do," Cotton told The Associated Press in an interview.

Pryor's campaign manager Jeff Weaver responded later in a statement: "No Arkansan should have to pay a penalty because of a website glitch. This isn't a political issue, it's common sense and Tom Cotton should know better."

The announcement comes at the same time Pryor has been going after Cotton over the 16-day government shutdown. Cotton backed House Republicans' efforts to tie spending bills to defunding or scaling back the health law, which led to the budget standoff.

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