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Obamacare may suffer 'meltdown,' Manchin says, endanger Democrats' control of Senate in next election

| Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
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Sens. Pat Toomey (left), R-Lehigh County, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., discuss their compromise plan on Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, April 14, 2013.

WASHINGTON — President Obama's health care law could have a “meltdown” if ongoing problems with the program are not resolved, a Democratic senator said on Sunday.

Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has backed delaying a penalty for people who do not enroll for health insurance in 2014, told CNN that a transitional year is needed for the complex health care program, commonly known as Obamacare, to work.

“If it's so much more expensive than what we anticipated, and if the coverage is not as good as what we had, you've got a complete meltdown at that time,” Manchin said on the network's “State of the Union” program. “It falls of its own weight, if basically the cost becomes more than we can absorb.”

The White House has been scrambling for months to control the damage from the botched Oct. 1 rollout of the law, formally called the Affordable Care Act.

There have been complaints from consumers about higher premiums because of new standards under the law, as well as lingering problems with HealthCare.gov, the Web portal used to sign up for insurance.

Manchin said Senate Democrats who are up for re-election next year are “feeling the weight” of the program's woes, and the party could have trouble keeping its majority in the chamber.

Republicans have been highlighting the law's difficulties as they seek to gain the six seats they need to win control of the 100-member Senate.

“It needs to turn around,” Manchin said of Obamacare. “I'm not going to say that I think we will lose (the Senate). It's going to be extremely challenging. We have some very good people who are truly there, I believe, for the right reason. They're going to be challenged for the wrong reason.”

Obama acknowledged on Friday that the bungled start of the health care exchange was his biggest mistake of the year.

His public approval numbers have dropped to record lows as a result of the website's flawed debut.

The president said more than 1 million people have signed up so far for coverage under Obamacare through HealthCare.gov, which services 36 states, and 14 state-run marketplaces.

A day earlier, Obama's administration said people whose insurance plans were canceled because of the law can claim a “hardship exemption” to the requirement that all Americans have coverage by March 31 .

Manchin, a conservative Democrat whose state of West Virginia has been increasingly trending Republican, has made no secret of his frustration with the program's fits and starts.

Last month, he introduced legislation to delay by a year the $95 penalty for failing to sign up for health insurance, saying Americans should not be penalized while Obamacare is going through its “transition period.”

Manchin is not up for re-election next year, but some Democrats who are have urged changes to the program, such as extending the open enrollment period beyond the March 31 deadline.

One third of the Senate is re-elected every two years.

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