WASHINGTON—The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed a one-page bill that would allow all Americans to keep their existing health insurance under Obamacare through 2014.
The Keep Your Health Plan Act of 2013 passed on a 261-157 vote, one day after President Barack Obama offered a more narrow patch to the law that would allow only existing insurance customers keep the plans they have for one additional year. Republicans quickly panned Obama’s fix as a “political fig leaf” and approved a measure that would let insurers continue offering current plans, even if someone isn’t already enrolled in one.
“Obamacare is a prime example of well-intended legislation that actually seriously hurts our economy and families across our nation,” said Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla. “Americans should have more options for healthcare, not less.”
The bill came as millions of Americans are receiving health insurance cancellation notices—despite President Obama’s oft-repeated promise that “if you like your plan you can keep it”—because their plans don’t meet the requirements mandated in the Affordable Care Act. Members of both parties have been inundated with angry constituents, making Friday’s vote a politically sensitive one.
“I’ve heard from countless families back home who took the president at his word,” said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who authored the bill. “They’re upset—yes they are—and worried how they’re going to make ends meet.”
Only 39 Democrats broke ranks and voted with Republicans for the measure, far fewer than were expected before Obama proposed his own solution on Thursday. The president has vowed to veto the House bill if it reaches his desk, saying it would discourage people from using the exchanges.
“[P]olicies that reverse the progress made to extend quality, affordable coverage to millions of uninsured, hardworking, middle-class families are not the solution,” Obama said in a statement late Thursday. “Rather than refighting old political battles to sabotage the healthcare law, the Congress should work with the administration to improve the law and move forward.”
The problem is that many Americans don’t want the law to move forward, and Democrats, many of them vulnerable in next year’s mid-term elections, are looking for political cover. Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), and Mark Begich (D-Alaska)—all up for reelection next year in states Mitt Romney won in 2012—are pushing bills that would go further than the president’s proposal.
Even some Democrats who aren’t up for reelection next year have thrown support behind Landrieu’s bill, but it’s unclear whether Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will allow it to the floor.
Obama admitted fault for the problems in a contrite news conference Thursday, saying he felt “deeply responsible” for making it hard on fellow Democrats.
“There have been times where I thought we were kind of slapped around a bit unjustly,” he said. “This one’s deserved. It’s on us.”
Democrats hoping to appear moderate may find it difficult to out-flank their own voting records: In addition to those who voted for the Affordable Care Act in 2010, every Democrat in Congress opposed the Republicans’ Sept. 30 proposal to avoid the government shutdown by delaying Obamacare for one year. Democrats opted for the shutdown—and full Obamacare implementation. The current state of play, including possible election consequences, are the result of that decision.