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House Passes Bill to Grandfather Group Health Plans

By Melanie Zanona, CQ Roll Call

September 11, 2014 -- Another Republican effort to undo a pillar of the 2010 health care law took center stage in the House last week as lawmakers passed a measure that would allow companies and workers to keep employer-sponsored group health plans not in compliance with the law's coverage requirements.

Lawmakers backed, 247-167, a bill (HR 3522) that would permit insurers to continue providing any group plans offered in 2013, regardless whether they meet criteria in the law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152). Insurers could offer those plans to existing or new enrollees through December 31, 2018, but could not offer the coverage through health insurance exchanges.

Republican Bill Cassidy of Louisiana drafted the legislation in response to plan cancellations after President Barack Obama promised people could keep their health insurance plans if they liked them. The administration did, however, delay some of the health care law's requirements and plan cancellations.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill would increase federal revenues by $1.25 billion from fiscal 2015 to fiscal 2024, $400 million of which would be off-budget.

The White House, in a Statement of Administration Policy, said it would veto the measure over its threat to the "health care security of hard working, middle class families" and "the progress made because of the Affordable Care Act."

The underlying measure would consider the plans grandfathered so that policy holders could not be penalized for failure to comply with the law's individual mandate, which requires most people to have health insurance or pay a penalty.

Similar legislation (HR 3350) to grandfather individual insurance plans was passed by the House in November but also was met by a veto threat and ignored by the Senate.

Republicans maintained that the health care law creates higher costs and fewer choices for the consumer and said that the bill would help millions of individuals who are slated to lose their non-compliant plans and face higher premiums.

But Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., argued "that is not losing your coverage, that is your coverage getting better."

Democrats said that rolling back vital components of the health care law would lead to higher premiums and less protections for women and people with pre-existing conditions. Pallone called the measure "nothing but another attack on the Affordable Care Act," which Democrats pointed out has been targeted by Republican legislation over 50 times.

Bill sponsor Cassidy, however, countered that "this is about keeping a promise to the American people. President Obama made unequivocal promises dozens of times that Americans could keep their plans if they wished." He said the bill would ultimately help keep that promise.

Cassidy, a physician, is running for the Senate seat held by Democrat Mary L. Landrieu.

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