House passes bill exempting some from ObamaCare mandate

The House on Tuesday passed a bill that would allow people enrolled in failed health insurance "co-ops" to skip this year's penalty for not having coverage.

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The Republican-backed bill passed on a mostly party-line vote of 258-165.

Sixteen Democrats broke with their party to support the measure. Two of the Democrats voting for the bill, Reps. Brad Ashford (Neb.) and Ami BeraAmerish (Ami) Babulal BeraDemocratic lawmakers support Bustos after DCCC resignations Overnight Defense: Shanahan exit shocks Washington | Pentagon left rudderless | Lawmakers want answers on Mideast troop deployment | Senate could vote on Saudi arms deal this week | Pompeo says Trump doesn't want war with Iran Cruz pitches Ocasio-Cortez on bill to make birth control available over the counter MORE (Calif.), are facing close reelection races. A third, Rep. Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), is running for Senate this year.

The GOP cast the bill as a way to protect people who lost their insurance because of the failure of three nonprofit networks known as co-ops.

“It’s just wrong, it’s wrong, to hold these working families financially responsible for a co-op’s failure because it went under due to factors beyond their control,” said Rep. Charles BoustanyCharles William BoustanyMarch tariff increase would cost 934K jobs, advocacy group says Bottom Line On The Money: US adds 155k jobs in November | Unemployment holds at 3.7 percent | Wage growth strengthening | Trump signs stopgap spending bill delaying shutdown MORE Jr. (R-La.). 

Democrats opposed the bill, arguing it is unnecessary. They pointed out that enrollees in co-op plans that fail in the middle of the year are provided a special sign-up period in order to find a new plan. 

Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) said the bill is “yet another attempt to undermine the Affordable Care Act, plain and simple.”

The White House threatened a veto on the bill, arguing that it would chip away at the individual mandate, a crucial component of the law that helps prevent people from waiting until they get sick to sign up for coverage. 

Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.), who is facing a tough reelection bid this year, took to the House floor to argue that the measure is not dismantling the individual mandate, but is a “narrow, tailored bill.”

Republicans have been putting an increased focus on exemptions to the individual mandate, which requires most citizens to have health insurance or pay a tax penalty — starting at $695 per adult this year.

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe Hill's Morning Report — Recession fears climb and markets dive — now what? Trump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire Graham promises ObamaCare repeal if Trump, Republicans win in 2020 MORE (R-Ariz.), who is also up for reelection, has introduced a separate bill to exempt people from the mandate if they live in a county with just one ObamaCare insurer, or none at all. 

Of the 23 original co-ops, just six remain, the rest failing due to financial problems. 

Republicans have seized on those failures to argue the healthcare law as a whole is failing. 

Rep. Jim McDermottJames (Jim) Adelbert McDermottBottom Line Promoting the voice of Korean Americans Lobbying World MORE (D-Wash.) accused Republicans of crying “crocodile tears” for enrollees hurt by the co-op failures. 

He pointed to Republican-backed moves cutting funding to the co-op program and limiting funds under a program called risk corridors, which was meant to cushion insurers from heavy losses in the early years of the law. 

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), meanwhile, said people whose insurer failed should not face a financial penalty. 

“You don’t solve problems by kicking people when they’re down,” he said.