House GOP leaders rebuffed calls for anti-ObamaCare vote from right

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House GOP leaders rebuffed pleas from conservatives to hold a vote heading into the midterm elections on an anti-ObamaCare bill.

Supporters of the bill wanted to kill off what they say is a taxpayer-funded “bailout” for insurance companies.

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ObamaCare includes a “risk corridors” program that gives federal payments to insurance companies that have higher than expected costs from offering plans on the federal healthcare marketplace.

“We think it would've been a great message to take back to voters,” said Heritage Action spokesman Dan Holler, adding that some conservative advocates thought the vote would come in September. “If you want to go after ObamaCare, this is a good way to do it.”

Instead, the House never voted on the insurance funds, but took up Rep. Bill Cassidy's (R-La.) bill that would allow people to keep their health plans, even if they don’t meet the requirements for plans offered under the healthcare law.

The House easily passed the measure in a vote meant to help Cassidy, who is running for the Senate in a competitive race against Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). It’s now one of more than 50 bills the House has approved since 2011 to repeal or modify the healthcare law.

According to a source familiar with the planning, the House simply ran out of time for the measure.

The House was in session for only eight days in September, and it needed to approve a bill to keep the government funded. It also took time for a debate on legislation giving the administration authority to train and arm Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Bill Kristol, the editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, argued that passing the insurance bailout bill was a “no-brainer” in an op-ed he wrote with Jeffrey Anderson in July. It urged Republicans to hold the vote before the midterms.

“Repealing the risk corridors is a way of putting the issues of Obamacare, cronyism, and the rule of law front and center this fall. The House, which now seems ready to move, should do so expeditiously,” they wrote. 

Several GOP lawmakers, including Reps. Leonard Lance (N.J.), Tim Griffin (Ark.) and Mike Coffman (Colo.), have introduced bills to address the issue.

Lance's most recent legislation, introduced in July, would repeal the risk corridor program. A spokesman for Lance said they hoped the measure could still get a vote after the November elections.

“There still is momentum, and we hope to work with the House Energy and Commerce Committee on moving the bill forward, either in lame duck or the 114th Congress,” said Lance spokesman John Byers.

Still, a vote after the elections would not serve the purpose of campaign messaging.

Two House committees held hearings on the issue over the summer.

A House Oversight subcommittee convened a June hearing, which featured testimony from Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). And in July, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee held a hearing on the risk corridors program.

The health insurance industry is strongly opposed to repealing the risk corridors program and argues it would greatly increase premium prices if it is eliminated.

In July, the House Oversight Committee released a report showing emails between White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett and a health insurance company chief executive who warned that premiums would increase unless the risk corridor program was expanded. The report also found that 12 of the 15 insurance committees it surveyed expected payments from the risk corridors program. 

Another reason GOP leaders might have wanted to avoid the vote is that the risk corridors program already exists as part of the Medicare Part D prescription drug program, which a Republican-run House approved during the George W. Bush administration. 

Bill Pierce, a senior director at APCO Worldwide and former George W. Bush administration official at the Department of Health and Human Services, said repealing the program has obvious appeal for conservatives.

“For the base certainly, that's catnip. It's irresistible for them to say, ‘We don't want to bail out the health insurance companies,’ ” Pierce said.

But he argued doing so would be bad public policy because without the payments from the risk corridors program to cushion unexpected costs, consumers' premiums could rise.

“The point is ultimately these are designed to protect the consumer,” Pierce said of the risk corridors program.