Obama Seeks Insurers’ Health-Law Help as Democrats Waver
President Barack Obama pressed top U.S. insurers to help consumers cope with the rocky start of his health-care law as the Republican-led House passed a bill that would let Americans keep their current policies through 2014.
Fifteen insurance industry representatives met yesterday with Obama at the White House, where 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.
The meeting -- attended by executives from Aetna Corp. (AET) and Blue Cross Blue Shield -- and the House vote took place as the president and congressional Democrats face rising political pressure over the health law rollout, which has been marred by technical problems with its insurance exchange and cancellation notices sent to hundreds of thousands of policyholders.
“You do the right thing and the rest takes care of itself,” Representative Pete Gallego, a Texas Democrat who voted for the measure, said in an interview. “I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think it was the right thing to do.”
Almost a fifth of House Democrats voted yesterday for the Republican bill to revise the health law, Obama’s signature domestic achievement. Democratic support for the House measure - - which passed 261-157 -- puts pressure on the Senate to advance proposals to address Obamacare’s flaws.
While Obama sought to stem the loss of Democratic votes, his proposed solution to policy cancellations did little to stop the congressional push to revamp the law. Of the 39 Democrats voting for the House bill, 19 weren’t in office when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed in 2010. Of the 20 who were House members then, 16 voted for yesterday’s health measure and four were opposed.
The House bill was written by Michigan Republican Fred Upton and co-sponsored by three Democrats: Patrick Murphy of Florida, John Barrow of Georgia and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina. It had support from Democrats including Ron Barber and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Ami Bera of California, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Gallego.
“For the last six weeks, the White House stood idly by, ignoring the pleas of millions,” Upton said in a statement. “But as the administration’s allies in Congress panicked, the White House went from attacking our thoughtful bill to making an end run around Congress.”
Jay Carney, Obama’s press secretary, said yesterday that Obama would veto the measure if it reaches his desk, maintaining it would permit insurers to “sell substandard policies to new customers.” House Democratic leaders said the bill marked Republicans’ 46th attempt to curtail Obamacare.
Shortly after the House vote, Obama met in the Roosevelt Room of the White House with insurance-industry executives. The meeting took place a day after Obama’s decision to alter regulations to let insurers extend existing policies for a year, even if they don’t meet the 2010 law’s requirements.
During the discussion, industry officials said the move would complicate efforts to draw enough of the young and healthy enrollees whose participation in the program is considered essential to the law’s success, according to a person familiar with the event who asked not to be identified in talking about a private meeting.
Attendees talked about improving the flow of data from the online exchange to insurers, the person said. Technical flaws have hampered signups over the government-run website created under the law, leading to enrollment figures that fell short of forecasts for the program’s first month of operation.
Obama and the executives also discussed efforts to begin direct enrollment in subsidized plans through insurance company websites, the person said.
While the president didn’t refer to the House vote in remarks to reporters before the meeting, he said he wanted to make sure consumers understand their options under the law and that he’s committed to seeing through its implementation.
“We all share a similar value, which is we want to make sure that Americans have good, solid coverage that gives them the security they need,” Obama said.
Mark Bertolini, chief executive officer of Aetna, the third-biggest U.S. health insurer; Bruce Broussard, CEO of Humana Inc. (HUM); Patrick Geraghty, CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida; David Cordani, CEO of Cigna Corp. (CI); and Joseph Swedish, CEO of WellPoint Inc. (WLP), the second-biggest insurer; were among those at the meeting, according to a White House statement.
They were joined by Karen Ignagni, CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry group. Leaving the meeting, Ignagni called it a “very good discussion.” Geraghty characterized it as a “positive meeting.”
Also present were Jay Gellert, CEO of Health Net Inc.; Chet Burrell, CEO of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield; Patricia Hemingway Hall, CEO of Health Care Service Corp.; Daniel Hilferty, CEO of Independence Blue Cross; J. Mario Molina, CEO of Molina Healthcare Inc.; James Roosevelt Jr. co-chairman of Tufts Health Care Institute; Scott Serota, CEO of Blue Cross & Blue Shield Association; Bernard Tyson, CEO-elect of Kaiser Permanente; and J. Bradley Wilson, chairman of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation.
House Democrats used debate on yesterday’s bill to describe the successes of the law since individuals were able to sign up for coverage starting Oct. 1.
“I wish that my Republican colleagues could see how successful the Affordable Care Act is in California,” Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said. “I wish you could hear the stories of family after family after family being liberated and freed from the constraint of being job-locked because a family has a pre-existing condition.”
The House bill won’t advance in the Democratic-led Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, has to decide whether to allow a vote on an alternative proposal by Senator Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat facing re-election in 2014.
Landrieu’s measure would let individuals keep their policies as long as the payments are current. The bill would require insurance companies to continue offering indefinitely all existing plans with an explanation as to how their policy doesn’t meet the minimum coverage standards under the law.
The House measure by Upton would let insurers sell the plans that don’t meet the health law’s minimum standards to new enrollees through the end of 2014.
Senate votes on Landrieu’s Obamacare bill aren’t imminent. A top Democratic aide said scheduling them now would only guarantee public attention on flaws in the health law and intraparty feuding over whether and how to fix them.
House Democrats yesterday offered a more limited version of Landrieu’s proposal in a procedural move that failed. It would’ve allowed a one-year continuation of policies that don’t meet the law’s standards only for those who currently have them.
“If you repeal the ACA, we won’t be silenced,” Democratic Representative Rob Andrews of New Jersey said on the floor.
To contact the reporters on this story: Roxana Tiron in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org; Mike Dorning in Washington at email@example.com; Roger Runningen in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org