Democrats Downplay Lawmaker Defections Over Health-Care Law

Democratic lawmakers downplayed the support some members of their party gave to a Republican bill that would let insurers sell for another year health policies that don’t meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California, speaking yesterday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said the 39 House Democrats who supported the Nov. 15 measure were basically those who had already opposed an insurance mandate for individuals and businesses.

“Democrats stand tall in support of the Affordable Care Act,” Pelosi said. “The rollout of the website, that’s terrible. But the fact is that will be fixed.”

Almost a fifth of House Democrats joined Republicans to pass legislation revising the health-care law. The bill puts pressure on the Senate to advance proposals to fix technical flaws with the insurance exchange and cancellation notices sent to hundreds of thousands of policyholders. The White House has said President Barack Obama would veto the measure if it reached his desk.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, said the Democrats who voted for the Republican bill were “just responding to the worries of their constituents.”

Speaking yesterday on ABC’s “This Week,” Gillibrand said Obama should have been “more specific” about the impact of the law on existing insurance policies. “This is a fixable problem,” she said.

Website Errors

Since opening on Oct. 1, the federal online marketplace serving 36 states has been plagued by delays, error messages and hang-ups that have prevented customers from completing applications. Obama’s acceptance of responsibility for the law’s troubled rollout and his efforts to defuse the furor over policy cancellations by allowing states to reinstate canceled plans for one year have failed to quell criticism.

The Obama administration would consider the new market for health insurance a success if 80 percent of users can purchase plans online, White House press secretary Jay Carney said today.

About two people out of 10 won’t use the portal to purchase insurance because they have technical difficulties with the website, they aren’t familiar with making such an application online or they have a complex family or financial situation that requires help, he said.

“There is a universe of people who will go on the site but leave it without getting through it for several reasons,” he said, “only one of them having to do with technical issues.”

Most Users

Marilyn Tavenner, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, has said that the experience on the website “will be smooth for the vast majority of users” by the end of November. The agency also says the website should be faster, with fewer error messages and time-outs.

Fifteen insurance industry representatives -- including from Aetna Corp. (AET) and Blue Cross Blue Shield -- met on Nov. 15 with Obama at the White House. They expressed concern that a one-year reprieve he gave to people whose policies were canceled because of the law would make it harder to draw healthy enrollees, according to a person familiar with the meeting. They also discussed making progress on letting insurance companies make direct sales.

Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, said Obama’s proposal was “a false fix” that won’t address policy cancellations that have plagued the law’s rollout.

Policy Cancellations

“The president may call these junk policies or substandard policies, but they’re policies that work for those people,” Barrasso said yesterday on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. He cited the case of a Wyoming woman whose health insurance was canceled because it didn’t include pregnancy coverage required by the health-care law, even though the woman had had a hysterectomy.

Expenditures on health care accounted for about 17.6 percent of U.S. gross domestic product in 2010, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Senator Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, said the rollout of the health-care law “is a mess.”

Ayotte, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said “the president said he fumbled the rollout; now it’s time for a timeout.”

Representative Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that only about nine of the Democrats who voted for the Republican bill had “real serious concerns” about the law.

“The fact of the matter is this is a rollout problem,” Clyburn said. “This is not a values problem.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Joshua Gallu in Washington at jgallu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Maura Reynolds at mreynolds34@bloomberg.net

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