The House passed legislation on Friday that allows insurance companies to offer health plans that were cancelled for not meeting new requirements under ObamaCare.
Thirty-nine Democrats broke with their party's leaders and backed the bill despite a veto threat by the White House, highlighting the political problem the issue has come for President Obama’s party. Only four Republicans opposed it.
Obama on Thursday announced he would take executive action that would allow insurance companies to offer the old plans for an additional year.
That likely prevented a larger wave of Democratic votes in favor of the bill sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.).
The vote is a further blow to Obama, who was forced on Thursday to admit that new standards under the healthcare law are forcing millions of people into new and often more expensive health insurance plans. Obama repeatedly said that under ObamaCare people could keep their plans if they liked them.
Most of the Democrats who defected from their party face tough reelection campaigns next year. Republicans have promised the 2014 midterm elections will be all about the healthcare law, which polls show is unpopular.
The House vote also puts immediate pressure on Senate Democratic leaders to take action. Seven Senate Democrats have backed a bill that would require insurers to offer the cancelled plans.
During debate on the House bill, Upton accused Obama of knowing that his signature law would force millions of people out of plans they liked. He said Obama's promise that “if you like your healthcare plan, you can keep it” would go down in history as a line people forever associate with Obama.
“For last three years, the president repeated this promise in selling his signature law, and he did so with the knowledge it would not be met,” Upton said.
Upton and other Republicans also accused Obama of once again using administrative procedures to fix ObamaCare, when he should be working with Congress.
“For the last six weeks, the White House stood idly by, ignore the pleas of millions,” he said. “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 with a universal fix."”
Others noted that Obama continues to refuse legislative fixes to the law, even as he makes administrative fixes. Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) said Congress has no reason to trust that Obama will put the change into effect.
“Can we really trust the administration that wrote this disastrous missive in the first place, and so mishandled the implementation, do we trust them to now fix it?” he asked. “Do we trust them not to change their minds in two or three weeks time, when perhaps winds are blowing from a different direction?”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) agreed that Obama’s promise is now “a promise he has broken,” and said Obama's plan raises too many questions.
“The White House doesn't even know how they're going to implement the plan they announced yesterday,” Cantor said. “This proposal that we're talking about here… aims to help Americans keep their health insurance and give their neighbors a chance to buy the same plans, rather than forcing them onto a faulty website to buy new coverage they may not like or cannot afford.”
Obama's proposal was to allow state insurance commissioners to allow soon-to-be canceled health plans to be sold for another year, or possibly longer. Upton's bill would allow people to have permanent access to these plans.
That prompted Democrats to argue that Upton's bill would drastically undermine ObamaCare, since it would let people keep what they say are substandard plans, and let them avoid buying new plans under the ObamaCare exchanges.
“This one on the floor today really takes the cake, because it [would], essentially, pull the plug on the Affordable Care Act,” said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) explained the problem by equating the canceled plans to old cars without modern safety features, and said allowing these plans to exist would make ObamaCare unworkable.
“If anyone who wants to can buy one of these cars without an air bag, or cars without seat belts — and that's what these plans are — then you will find that the new marketplaces don't have enough people in them,” he said. “And when they don't have enough people in them, the rates will rise.”
House Energy & Commerce Committee ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said this would allow a “shadow market” of old plans to undermine ObamaCare plans.
But Republicans said that “shadow market” is just another term for the market that sells more affordable plans that people want.
“It's forcing people to choose healthcare they do not want, cannot afford, and isn't right for themselves and their families,” said House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
Just before the final vote, Democrats tried to substitute Upton's bill with a Democratic alternative that would extend canceled plans for just a year, similar to Obama's time-limited administrative fix. But the GOP-led House was able to kill that proposal by raising a point of order against it, which argued the Democratic alternative was not germane.
That was upheld in a 229-191 vote to turn away the Democratic appeal of that ruling.
With their first attempt ruled out of order, Democrats tried again with an amended proposal, but this was also turned away in a 187-230 vote.