House passes expatriate O-Care patch

The House on Tuesday passed legislation to exempt expatriate health care plans from ObamaCare regulations.

Sixty Democrats voted in favor of the measure, more support than for any other of the 50-plus votes to repeal or modify the 2010 healthcare law.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. John Carney (D-Del.), would exempt Americans, such as business and foreign aid workers, who work abroad and receive coverage through expatriate insurance plans. Carney said his bill would prevent foreign insurance companies from gaining a competitive edge, since they also would not have to comply with ObamaCare tax or paperwork requirements.

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"If we don't pass this legislation today, people who have expatriate plans and the companies that offer them will continue to do so. The question is whether they'll do so here in the United States and keep those workers here, or whether they'll move their operations overseas," Carney said.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who was the chief GOP negotiator on the bill, said it would provide certainty for Americans who work abroad.

"American businesses can't complete based on the promise of limited and temporary relief," Nunes said.

Democrats had balked at considering the bill before the Easter recess because it was taken up with only a day's notice under suspension of the rules, which requires a two-thirds majority. Members voted 257-159 for the bill before the break, but it wasn't enough to pass under the expedited process. Fifty-two Democrats supported the measure on April 9.

Even on Tuesday, some Democrats said that the House should wait at least another week before voting on it again.

"In trying to allow the American insurance companies to sell policies to expats, we could craft a bill that's narrow. But we are not getting cooperation to get to that point," said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

Republicans dismissed the notion that there wasn't enough time to consider the bill. Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) said that the bill had been available for viewing for weeks.

"It seems to me there has been ample discussion," Burgess said.

Carney and Nunes had amended the bill since the original April 9 vote to address some Democratic concerns that loopholes remained for insurance companies. The most significant change made by an amendment automatically adopted by the House Rules Committee on Monday night would clarify the definition of an expatriate to someone who spends at least six months outside of the country. It would also clarify that the expatriate plans must comply with laws that existed before the Affordable Care Act became law.

Democrats also complained that the House Rules Committee reported out a rule on the bill as negotiations with the White House were ongoing. In a statement of administration policy on Tuesday, the White House said that it could not support the legislation in its current form "because it would reduce consumer protections and create even more loopholes in the tax code."

"The administration remains willing to work with the Congress to improve H.R. 4144 to address these issues and to maintain basic consumer protections for all workers," the White House said.