Hoyer on O-Care fix: Sooner the better

The sooner the Obama administration comes up with tweaks to its signature healthcare law the better, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday.

Under pressure from Republicans after millions of Americans have received cancellation letters from their insurance companies, President Obama vowed last week to take administrative steps to mitigate the disruption.

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Hoyer, the Democratic whip, said he hasn't been briefed on those unilateral plans. But the quicker the White House unveils them, he said, the better the outcome.

"I don't know whether we'll press them, but they say they're coming up with it [a change], so sooner rather than later as to what their thinking is would be better," Hoyer said during a press briefing in the Capitol.

House Republicans have different plans, pushing legislation to allow everyone to remain in their current health insurance plans. They note that among Obama's central messages leading up to passage of the 2010 law was the promise that those people who like their insurance plans would get to keep them.

Sponsored by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the proposal is scheduled for a vote Friday.

Hoyer said Tuesday that he's leaning against the measure, but he emphasized that he hasn't seen the final version.

"As I understand it, it's being changed and modified, so I'm going to reserve any judgment until I see his bill," Hoyer said. 

"I'm inclined not to be for the Upton bill at this point in time," he added later. "But I haven't seen the Upton bill, so I don't want to make that definitive at this point in time."

Republicans and other critics of the healthcare law were emboldened Tuesday when former President Bill Clinton promoted the idea that everyone should have the option of keeping his or her current plan.

“I personally believe, even if it takes a change in the law, that the president should honor the commitment the federal government made to those people and let them keep what they’ve got,” Clinton said in an interview with news website OZY.

Hoyer acknowledged Clinton's remarks but suggested the law has been clear about dropped plans all along, even if the Democrats' messaging was less so. He noted that the cancellation letters apply only to those who bought new or altered plans since the law was passed in March of 2010. Older plans, he said, are not affected.

"I agree that people [who] purchased their policies prior to the enactment of the bill, which is when the representation was made, ought to be able to keep their policies," Hoyer said.

"When the minimum criteria [were] set, yes you could buy a policy and they kept selling policies, but there was no doubt — should not have been any doubt, certainly in the seller, or hopefully in the buyer's mind — that those policies did not meet the Jan. 2014 criteria," he added.

Hoyer also rejected the notion that the troubles plaguing the rollout of the individual insurance mandate would haunt Democrats at the polls in 2014. The technical problems dogging the website will be fixed by then, Hoyer argued, leaving millions of Americans to enjoy the underlying benefits of the new law.

"I think the substance of this bill is going to be embraced by the American people," Hoyer said. "The access glitches are subject to being fixed, can be fixed and I hope will be fixed. And the sooner they're fixed the better it will be."

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