House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., authored a Republican fix to canceled health insurance policies. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Congress back in legislative faceoff – again – over Obamacare

A day after President Barack Obama took the blame for the choppy rollout of the new health care law, Republicans went forward with an assault on the law and their own plan for fixing it.

Republicans voted 261-157  in favor of a bill authored by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich Friday to stop the cancellation of health care policies. The bill, known as the “Keep Your Health Plan” bill, drew 39 votes in its favor from Democrats.

It would allow insurance companies to sell the policies to new customers, while Obama’s plan limits extension of those plans to only people who already have them. The White House has said Obama will veto it.

Obama’s attempts to shift the blame for the woes of the law’s debut from his fellow Democrats in Congress and his offered fix made it easier for Democrats to vote against the Republican bill, particularly those facing competitive re-election races in 2014.

In the end, the debate on the bill and vote in the House Friday, added up to Congress being once again locked in legislative maneuvering over the 3-year-old health care law many know as Obamacare.

The cancellations are occurring among about 5 percent of people in the country, Obama said Thursday. They are people who bought individual plans because they are self-employed or not covered by employers.

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act say allowing these people to continue to be covered on substandard plans will undermine the overall law, however.

“The old individual market was not working well and it’s important that we don’t pretend that’s a place worth going back to,” Obama said Thursday.

Latinos have a large stake in the future of the Affordable Care Act and are critical to its success. About a third lack health insurance, the largest rate of all racial and ethnic groups. In addition Latinos are younger than the national average so their presence helps offset the health care costs of older, less healthy Americans.

An estimated 10.2 million Latinos are considered eligible to shop for insurance on the health insurance marketplaces set up under the law.

In Friday’s debate, Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, called Obama’s plan, “an effort at triage.”

Upton questioned the sincerity of the president in his apologies given in an hourlong news conference Thursday, saying Obama didn’t offer his fix and apology for the canceled policies until it looked like the Republican bill was going to get 300 votes, including some from Democrats.

“Until then he was just going to sit on his hands and just watch us, watch millions of Americans watch their health care, watch their economic lives, just go over the cliff,” Upton said.

According to a survey by The Associated Press, insurers have mailed at least 4.2 million cancellation notices to customers. Insurance companies and state commissioners are warning, however, that premiums will rise if changes are made so close to the end of the year and if insurers can keep selling substandard policies, the AP reported.

Democrats warned that the bill would return health care coverage to previous practice of insurance companies that would refuse to cover people with pre-existing conditions, cancel policies of those just as they became ill and needed coverage and discriminate between men and women. All those have been prohibited by the 3-year-old law.

“This bill takes a meat cleaver approach, allowing insurance companies to market inadequate policies to new enrollees,” said Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y.

But beyond that, Democrats said the bill was yet another Republican attempt to gut the Affordable Care Act, what Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., said was a “mission of destruction.”

It was an allegation some Republicans readily admitted. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said Republicans with the bill were beginning the long process of amending and “hopefully improving” the law. “And if that’s not possible, one day repealing the Affordable Care Act.”

Democrats have a bill in the Senate sponsored by Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana to address the cancelled policies. With a veto threat issued on the House bill, its unlikely the Senate would take up the Upton bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., praised the president’s fix on Thursday, but also said, “if we need to do more we will.”

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