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Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., says Americans are rejecting Obamacare because they'd rather select health insurance they like from the free market rather than being forced to choose from high-cost plans, low-quality plans from the exchanges.
The House of Representatives passed legislation Friday that would allow Americans to keep their current health insurance policies for another year, even if they fail to comply with the the mandates of the Affordable Care Act.
Sponsored by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, the "Keep Your Health Plan Act" would allow all Americans to keep their existing health plans for another year, whether they comply with the new law or not. The bill passed 261-157. Thirty-nine Democrats voted for the bill while four Republicans opposed it.
The vote comes one day after President Obama unilaterally announced he was allowing a similar one-year extension on plans that fail to meet the new standards. Congressional Republicans say the change needs to come from Congress. Pittenger told WND he has great reservations about the authority Obama is trying to wield through this move and others related to changes in the health law.
"I think it's very questionable," he said. "The bill has been enacted. It was passed in both houses. Of course, it was a partisan vote, but nonetheless it has been codified and it's the law of the land. I think it's very questionable that he has the power to go back in and change it arbitrarily. He has used his executive authority to extremes. This would have to go to court and that's why we went ahead and passed this in the House by a bipartisan vote."
The night before the vote, the White House announced that Obama would veto the Upton bill, saying it was not a fix but rather a poison bill designed to gut the overall law. The main concern is that the legislation would not only allow insurance companies to resurrect canceled plans for those who just lost their coverage but also offer those old plans to anyone who prefers them to coverage available through the federal and state exchanges.
Pittenger said the lackluster interest in the exchanges proves more people should have the chance to purchase coverage they actually like.
"It isn't fair because look what's being sold. Premiums through Obamacare are going to be much higher and with coverage that's not as good. They don't want what's being offered. It's much more expensive. They'd rather go out into the open market like these other individuals who had plans they had already purchased. I think it's a matter of fairness to the American people," Pittenger said.
He added, "The only people who are motivated to buy into Obamacare are those who have a pre-existing condition. Those who do not have that and those who are younger really aren't motivated. So the numbers aren't working. Cigna, Aetna, Blue Cross Blue Shield made it very clear to the administration already that they're deeply concerned about who is signing up and the capacity for these policies to be adequately funded."
Pittenger said Republicans only went with a one-year extension of allowing Americans to keep their existing policies in an effort to be "reasonable."
Senate Democratic leaders have already announced the Upton bill will not get a vote in the upper chamber. However, a handful of Democratic senators are trying to get a vote on their own bill. That coalition includes North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan, who is up for re-election this year.
"They're running scared. Welcome to the party, Kay. You could have voiced your concern. She said the entire Obamacare bill needs to be totally evaluated. That's nice of her to say now," said Pittenger, referring to Hagan's unqualified support for Obamacare during the original debate over the legislation.
"They're running for cover," he said of red state Democrats. "These folks are running for re-election and they're going to say and do whatever needs to be done to try to cover themselves."
One of the major points of skepticism following Obama's proposed delay in canceling millions of policies is how the insurance industry could possibly shift away from compliance with Obamacare, re-create illegal policies and re-enroll millions of people within just a few weeks. The same questions persist as House Republicans try to pass their own extension. Pittenger admits the task would be daunting.
"It's a tremendous challenge and the president has done everything he can to deflect any kind of blame and out blame on the insurance companies. He's pretty proficient in throwing blame to other people," said Pittenger, who says companies will have a tough job determining which policies can be brought back and which ones cannot.
"We ought to give the free market the chance to prevail. Those folks who had those policies, they bought them because they wanted them," Pittenger said. "The American people have the right to buy what they need."
Despite the bipartisan approach to Friday's vote, the margin is not enough to override a presidential veto even if the Senate were to pass the bill. So what comes next in the GOP strategy? Pittenger doesn't have a detailed agenda but he said the mindset of the party remains the same.
"We're going to fight for the American people. We're going to fight to rid ourselves of Obamacare. It's wrong. The policy's wrong and each day that passes there's more evidence of the disaster that it is," said Pittenger.