WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives voted 261-157 to allow insurance companies to sell, for one year, less-expensive health-care plans that had been canceled because they did not meet Obamacare’s requirements to carry various benefits.
The “Keep Your Health Plan Act of 2013″ would also let Americans keep, or sign up for, health plans that do not meet Obamacare’s requirements, for one year.
Thirty-nine Democrats defied President Obama on Friday and voted with Republicans to pass the bill sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich.
Only four Republicans voted no, but not because they support Obamacare. Reps. Paul Broun, R-Ga., Ralph Hall, R-Texas, Thomas Massie, R-Ky. and Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla. all said the Upton bill did not go far enough in stopping the health-care law.
The vote is the closest the GOP has come yet to making a major change to Obamacare.
The legislation now goes to the Senate, but the White House has already announced it would veto the bill, because, the administration maintains, it is designed to “sabotage” Obamacare.
The White House objected to letting anyone buy the less-expensive plans, not just those who had lost their plans — which some critics consider ironic, considering the law is named the Affordable Care Act.
Still, the pressure on the Democrats to make some change to Obamacare has become enormous, after an estimated five-million Americans lost their health-insurance plans in recent weeks because of the law.
The nearly 40 House Democrats defected despite strong opposition to the bill by both party leaders and the president.
Democratic leaders are worried the public pressure is so intense on Democratic lawmakers, especially those up for re-election, that they may abandon their support for Obamacare.
That fact was colorfully illustrated by a comment made Friday by Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., who said, “I haven’t seen this much panic on the (House) floor since 9/11″ after watching his colleagues respond to the Upton bill.
‘Biggest presidential lie’
The pressure on the president is also enormous because he repeatedly told Americans they could keep their health plans under Obamacare if they liked them, which not only wasn’t true, the administration had known it was not true for years.
When that became known to the public, Obama tried to explain that what he meant was, “If you have or had one of these plans before the Affordable Care Act came into law, and you really like that plan, what we said was, ‘You could keep it if it hasn’t changed since the law’s passed.’”
Obama critic Rush Limbaugh called that, “The biggest presidential lie in my lifetime.”
Even former President Bill Clinton said Obama should keep his word.
(“This bill is an effort to help the president keep his word,” quipped Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, about the Upton legislation, “and Lord knows he needs a lot of help.”)
Additionally, the Washington Times reported, “In a closed-door meeting at the Capitol, House Democrats blasted administration officials over their handling of the Obamacare rollout, and the White House’s failure to address Mr. Obama’s broken promise to Americans that they could keep their health insurance plans.”
The president’s “fix”
Under intense pressure from both Republicans and his own party, the president proposed his own “fix” at a White House press conference Thursday. He would let people keep their health-care plans that don’t meet Obamacare requirements, for one year. He also said people could re-enroll in plans they had lost that did not have Obamacare’s mandated benefits.
Upton’s bill does essentially the same thing as the fix Obama proposed, with one key difference. Obama would not change the law, he just would not enforce the provision that prevented people from keeping plans that did not meet the law’s requirements. The bill, however, would actually change the president’s health-care law.
As WND reported Thursday, Fox News analyst Charles Krauthammer believes the president only offered the fix because he knows it has so many inherent obstacles, few people really will be able to keep their old plans.
The real goal of the fix, he said, was to dissuade Democrats in the House, and then the Senate, from joining Republicans in passing a bill that would allow people to keep their health-care plans, because that would make such a dramatic change to Obamacare, it would put the fate of the president’s signature law into serious jeopardy.
Democratic leaders in the Senate said they don’t plan to bring the Upton bill to the floor for a vote, so it will likely go nowhere.
However, as WND reported, insurance-industry leaders still have a significant problem with the president’s “fix”: They do not understand how the president’s plan is supposed to work.
Soon after the president’s announcement, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners weighed in with major concerns:
“It is unclear how, as a practical matter, the changes proposed today by the president can be put into effect. In many states, cancellation notices have already gone out to policyholders and rates and plans have already been approved for 2014. Changing the rules through administrative action at this late date creates uncertainty and may not address the underlying issues.”
Obama isn’t just making insurance companies redo all the paperwork and make all the bureaucratic changes involved in suddenly resurrecting millions of canceled polices. He is also ordering insurance companies to inform customers about what provisions will be required once this year-long grace period has expired, in effect, trying to sell consumers on plans they do not want.
The Department of Health and Human Services will notify state insurance commissioners they have permission to let people who have those “substandard” policies keep them through 2014, but that essentially gives those commissioners veto power.
Follow Garth Kant on Twitter @DCgarth