House Passes Bill to Let People Keep Health Plans in 2014

The Republican-led U.S. House passed legislation that lets insurers sell for another year health policies that don’t meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

Today’s 261-157 vote, with the backing of 39 Democrats, follows by a day President Barack Obama’s proposal of a one-year reprieve for Americans whose health policies have been canceled. Obama’s announcement sought to limit what could have been more Democratic votes for the Republican bill.

White House press secretary Jay Carney today said Obama would veto the measure from Michigan Republican Fred Upton, saying it would permit insurers to “sell substandard policies to new customers.” House Democratic leaders said the bill is the Republicans’ 46th attempt to curtail Obama’s signature law.

“Working families across America were counting on the president to keep his promise,” Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, said today on the House floor before the vote. “Now, they are counting on us to ease some of the pain that his health-care law has brought them.”

More Democrats than anticipated ignored their leaders and voted for the measure. Democratic Representative Steve Cohen of Tennessee yesterday predicted at most 20 to 25 colleagues would defect, after Obama proposed an administrative fix to let insurers sell health policies for an additional year.

39 Democrats

Of the 39 Democrats voting for the bill today, 19 weren’t members of the House when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act became law in 2010, according to House records.

Democrats voting for the measure included Representatives Ron Barber and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Ami Bera of California, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Patrick Murphy of Florida and Pete Gallego of Texas.

“My own view is that you do the right thing and the rest takes care of itself,” Gallego said in an interview. Republicans have targeted Gallego for defeat. “I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think it was the right thing to do,” he said.

The Republican bill won’t advance in the Democratic-led Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has to decide whether to allow a vote on a proposal by Senator Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat facing re-election in 2014.

Premiums Current

Landrieu’s measure would let individuals keep their policies as long as they’re current on premium payments. 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.

Upton’s measure 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 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.

Obama’s acceptance of responsibility for the law’s troubled rollout and his step to blunt policy cancellations fell short of quelling the political crisis engulfing him and his party tied to the increasingly unpopular law.

Some Democrats running for re-election in 2014, particularly those in the Senate, are continuing to push for changes in the law.

House Democrats today offered a more limited version of Landrieu’s proposal in a procedural move that didn’t succeed. It would have allowed a one-year continuation of policies that don’t meet the health law’s standards only for enrollees who currently have such plans.

“If you repeal the ACA, we won’t be silenced,” Representative Rob Andrews, a New Jersey Democrat, said on the floor.

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