House To Vote On GOP Solution To Canceled Insurance

After weeks of mounting calls to help Americans whose health plans were getting canceled, President Obama announced a fix on Thursday. People can retain their health coverage for a year, even if they've received cancellation notices. On Friday, members of the House are scheduled to vote on a bill that would allow people with individual plans to keep them for 2014.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. The first part of October was a political disaster for the Republican Party. After being blamed for the government shutdown, the GOP approval rating fell to historic lows.

MONTAGNE: The weeks since have become a political disaster for Democrats. Problems with the Affordable Care Act have knocked President Obama's poll ratings as low as they've ever been.

INSKEEP: And now the two parties are competing over how to change the implementation of Obamacare. The president announced a plan to let individuals keep their insurance plans another year. Many policies were canceled because they did not meet the health law's standards.

MONTAGNE: The House votes today on a Republican bill that offers a different version of that fix. NPR's Ailsa Chang reports.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Up until yesterday, a lot of House Democrats were in a pretty awkward spot. How can you support constituents who are angry about their cancelled health care plans and still vote no on a bill that lets people keep their plans? Many Democrats just weren't crazy about today's House bill. It lets anyone sign up for any existing plan, not just the people who are already on them. So President Obama provided a way out.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I feel deeply responsible for making it harder for them, rather than easier for them, to continue to promote the core values that I think led them to support this thing in the first place.

CHANG: But House Republicans are still daring their Democratic colleagues to vote no on the bill today. Republican Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania says an administrative fix just isn't good enough because the president could change his mind at any time. And Democrats need to go on the record.

REPRESENTATIVE JOE PITTS: In the final analysis, we get judged on how we vote, not on administrative actions.

CHANG: Pitts was especially referring to those Democrats facing hotly contested races in 2014. Like Nick Rahall of West Virginia, who's been targeted by tough ads about his support of the Affordable Care Act. Rahall says he isn't sure yet how he'll vote today - he really regrets reassuring voters that they'd be able to keep their health plans under the new healthcare law.

REPRESENTATIVE NICK RAHALL: Well, I'm concerned about my integrity with voters that have returned me here for 38 years. They know me enough to know that I wouldn't purposely mislead them.

CHANG: Last summer, 22 House Democrats - many of them from competitive districts - voted to delay the rule that everyone has to have insurance. One of them was Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who says she's going to defect again from her party.

REPRESENTATIVE KYRSTEN SINEMA: I am going to vote for the Upton bill tomorrow. I support any reasonable fix to allow Americans to keep their healthcare plans.

CHANG: But House Democratic leaders said the President's announcement had calmed nerves for most of their caucus. The same might not be said for Senate Democrats who are considering a couple bills of their own. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana introduced one of them.

SENATOR MARY LANDRIEU: You know, the House bill guts and undercuts and drives a Mack truck through the Affordable Care Act by allowing not only people that had policies to keep them, but allowing new people to sign on. Because their whole purpose is to undermine and throw the markets out of whack and make the Affordable Healthcare Act not work.

CHANG: Landrieu's bill would require insurers to continue plans only for people already on those plans and to do so indefinitely, unlike the president's policy. But to a lot of Senate Democrats, neither Landrieu's plan nor the president's addressed all their concerns. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut says there needs to be better oversight over substandard health plans.

SENATOR RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Combined with any continuation of the present policy, there needs to be vigorous and vigilant protection for consumers against some of the abuses, including excessive premiums.

CHANG: And then there were some Democrats who thought letting anyone keep a junk plan was totally antithetical to the principles of the Affordable Care Act. Like Tom Harkin of Iowa.

SENATOR TOM HARKIN: Again, it's prolonging an old system that we've got to get out of - that old system that says we don't cover you if you have a pre-existing condition. A lot of these policies are just that.

CHANG: Harkin said if he were president, he would never have made the concession Obama made. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol.

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