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POLITICS: PennAve

Democrats joining GOP efforts to alter troubled Obamacare

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Health Care,PennAve,Technology

For the second time in two weeks, House Democrats joined with Republicans to pass legislation that would require the Obama administration to report regularly to Congress on progress made implementing the new health care law.

In a 259-154 vote, the House passed the Exchange Information Disclosure Act, which would require the Health and Human Services Department to provide weekly reports to Congress on the sign-up data for the troubled healthcare.gov website.

While Democrats have generally dismissed the Republican attacks on Obamacare as politically motivated, 33 Democratic lawmakers broke with the party and voted for the bill that would increase scrutiny of the new law.

Last week, 67 Democrats joined the GOP to pass the Health Exchange Security and Transparency Act, which would require HHS to tell healthcare.gov users about any security breach involving personal identity theft or unlawful access within two days of discovery.

Democrats have been voting in significant numbers for GOP Obamacare "fixes" since late last year, when problems with the health care launch undercut Democrats in the polls. In the Senate, Democrats who are vulnerable in this year's midterm elections pushed Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to take up legislation that would delay the individual mandate and allow people to keep their old health care plans, but Reid has not agreed to votes on those measures.

House Republicans are planning more votes related to the new law and they will likely continue attracting Democrats unless Obamacare starts to rise in popularity with the public.

The most recent Obamacare votes come after a series of oversight hearings concerning the implementation of health care exchanges, which began on Oct. 1 with a nearly inoperable website that administration officials acknowledged was launched without full security testing.

The administration's continued inability to document healthcare.gov enrollees was evident Thursday at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, where an official from the agency that oversees the website, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said it could not be sure which enrollees paid their insurance premiums and which didn't.

"So we don't know at this point how many people have paid for coverage," Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., asked of Gary Cohen, deputy administrator and director for the Center's Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight division.

"That's right," Cohen answered.

The lack of information has fueled the GOP push to pass transparency legislation. Lawmakers have questioned the overall healthcare.gov sign-up numbers provided by the Obama administration. For example, lawmakers have struggled to find out how many people who have signed up under the health care exchanges have been placed in the expanded Medicaid program for the poor.

The White House recently declared that 6 million people have signed up for coverage, though only about 2 million have done so under the new health care exchanges. Many others are covered by other parts of the law, like the young individuals allowed to remain on their parents' plans until age 26.

"What we’re talking about here today is basic transparency so we all have the data to assess what’s working and what’s not," Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., said Thursday. "This bill is a mechanism for accountability so we can get the answers that both Democrats and Republicans and state insurance commissioners and governors need to know in order to understand what’s working and what’s not.”

Democrats argued that the Republican bills will only heap onerous reporting burdens on the Department of Health and Human Services, which is already stretched trying to repair and health care website.

Democrats said the GOP has made dozens of attempts to gut the health care law since they took control of the House in 2010.

"Where does it end?" Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., asked Republicans during House floor debate on Thursday. "Why don't you spend your time trying to get people to enroll, trying to get people more information and doing more outreach so people are actually able to get health insurance?"

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