Topics: House of Representatives

39 House Democrats defect to help pass GOP Obamacare fix

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House Republicans with support from a few dozen Democrats approved legislation Friday that would alter the new health care law so that millions of canceled insurance policies can be reinstated.

The "Keep Your Health Plan Act" passed 261 to 157 with 39 Democrats backing it in a vote viewed as a referendum on both the new law and the party's confidence in President Obama and his ability to repair it.

“The president broke his word, had a chance to fix the problem, and only did more damage to his credibility," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said after the bill passed. "Today, the House made a big, bipartisan statement about the need to make things right. "

The GOP bill, authored by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich, would allow existing insurance policies that don't meet Obamacare's stricter coverage standards to be reinstated by insurers who canceled them.

"We have a chance today to provide hope to millions of Americans who got that cancellation notice," Upton said during the pre-vote debate. "Hope that they can keep the insurance that they like and hope that they, not the federal government, can pick what their insurance plans actually look like."

Obama has threatened to veto the bill, which would undermine the new health care law by allowing insurers to offer the old plans to new customers. If the young and healthy are able to continue purchasing the older and cheaper policies, Democrats argue, they wouldn't sign up on the new health insurance exchanges, threatening the entire system's financial viability.

Republicans easily defeated two Democratic attempts to offer their own proposal, which would have limited the extension of the non-compliant plans to existing customers.

Up to 100 Democratic defections were predicted before Obama offered his own fix on Thursday, but having more than three dozen of his fellow Democrats vote against him Friday was widely seen as a weakening confident in both Obama's presidency and health care law.

Many of the Democrats who voted for the Upton measure are in competitive 2014 re-election races.

"With the inability of the American people right now to go to a website and find out what's available to them and what's in their best interest, lacking that availability, I believe they need more time to allow the system to get up and running in an effective way," said Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., who is considered one of the most vulnerable House Democrats facing re-election.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., voted against the Upton bill, but said Democrats are anxious about how quickly the glitches on healthcare.gov can be resolved.

"I think everybody is concerned," Cummings said. "The president made it clear that there were problems with the rollout. But, I mean, this is the United States of America. We should be a can-do nation. And, all these people running around acting as if we can't get this straightened out, to me, I just can't imagine it not getting straightened out."The House on Friday approved a legislative fix to the Obamacare rollout, passing legislation that would allow insurers to keep offering millions of policies that do not pass muster under the new health care law.

The "Keep Your Health Plan Act" passed 261 to 157, attracting 39 Democrats in a vote that has been talked about as a referendum on both the new law and the party's confidence in President Obama and his ability to repair it.

“The president broke his word, had a chance to fix the problem, and only did more damage to his credibility," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said after the bill passed. "Today, the House made a big, bipartisan statement about the need to make things right. "

The bill was authored by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich. It would change the new health care law so that existing insurance policies in the individual market would no longer be considered sub-standard, even if they lack the new law's essential benefit requirements, like maternity care and coverage for pediatric dentistry.

"We have a chance today to provide hope to millions of Americans who got that cancellation notice," Upton said during debate on the bill. "Hope that they can keep the insurance that they like and hope that they, not the federal government, can pick what their insurance plans actually look like."

President Obama has threatened to veto the bill, which would undermine the new health care law by allowing insurers to offer the old plans to new customers. If the young and healthy are able to continue purchasing the older and cheaper policies, Democrats argue, it would keep them from signing up for the new health insurance exchanges, threatening their survival.

Republicans easily defeated two Democratic attempts to offer their own proposal, which would have limited the extension of the non-compliant plans to existing customers.

Up to 100 Democratic defections were predicted before Obama offered his own fix on Thursday, but the more than three dozen who bucked the president on Friday served as a sign of weakening confidence in both his presidency and the new health care law.

Many of the Democrats who voted for the Upton measure are in competitive 2014 re-election races.

"With the inability of the American people right now to go to a website and find out what's available to them and what's in their best interest, lacking that availability, I believe they need more time to allow the system to get up and running in an effective way," said Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., who is considered one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for re-election next year.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., voted against the Upton bill, but said Democrats are anxious about how quickly the glitches on healthcare.gov can be resolved.

"I think everybody is concerned," Cummings said. "The president made it clear that there were problems with the rollout. But, I mean, this is the United States of America. We should be a can-do nation. And, all these people running around acting as if we can't get this straightened out, to me, I just can't imagine it not getting straightened out."

Congressional correspondent David M. Drucker contributed to this report.

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