House advances bill with ObamaCare mandate exemption

House advances bill with ObamaCare mandate exemption
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The House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday advanced a bill to exempt people from ObamaCare’s requirement to have health coverage if their nonprofit insurer went out of business in the middle of the year. 

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The bill is aimed at helping enrollees of ObamaCare’s nonprofit insurers, known as co-ops. Just seven of the original 23 co-ops remain in business, with the rest having failed due to financial problems. 

Three co-ops failed in the middle of this year, forcing enrollees to switch plans. Republicans argued that people should not face financial penalties under the mandate if they chose not to enroll in a new plan.

They noted in particular that people often have to start over on paying deductibles in a new plan. 

The debate on the bill was more nuanced than is typical at many ObamaCare hearings. Democrats opposed the bill, but not with the same passion that they bring to opposing broader efforts to gut ObamaCare. 

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), for example, asked for more time to study the bill. 

But Democrats noted that people who lose their insurance mid-year are given a special sign-up period to enroll in alternative coverage, so the measure could be unnecessary. They said they wanted more data on how many people would actually have to pay the mandate penalty after they lost co-op coverage. 

“This bill isn’t going to hurt anything,” said Rep. Jim McDermottJim McDermottLobbying World Dem lawmaker: Israel's accusations start of 'war on the American government' Dem to Trump on House floor: ‘Stop tweeting’ MORE (D-Wash.). “We don’t know who it’s going to help, if it helps anybody. It’s a good campaign [issue]. I know this is the election season.”

Andy Slavitt, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, wrote in a letter to the committee that each enrollee in a closing co-op plan is contacted “at least 20 times” through the mail and phone calls to encourage them to enroll in a new plan through the special sign up period. 

Rep. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraOvernight Regulation: Trump temporarily lifts Jones Act for Puerto Rico | Bill would exempt some banks from Dodd-Frank | Senators unveil driverless car bill Calif. AG: Trump backs down on greenhouse gas rule Overnight Energy: California cities sue oil giants over climate change MORE (D-Calif.) said he would support measures to help people who had to start over paying their deductible, but that he worried this bill would weaken the individual mandate, which helps prevent taxpayers for footing medical bills for uninsured people. 

“My concern is that there are a lot of free-riders in America who want to get away with something that they think they can avoid doing while other Americans are doing the right thing, they’re playing by the rules,” Becerra said. 

Republicans have been putting a new focus on exemptions from the mandate. On Wednesday, Senate Republicans introduced a bill to waive the mandate in areas where there is only one insurer offering ObamaCare coverage. 

On the House bill, GOP lawmakers emphasized to Democrats that it was a narrow measure, not a broad repeal effort.

“What does the bill hurt? It doesn’t hurt anybody,” said Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio). “It just provides certainty for people who lose their insurance.”