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House Passes Plan to Allow Health Policies to Continue Through 2014

By Anne L. Kim, CQ Roll Call

November 15, 2013 -- A day after President Barack Obama announced an administrative fix to health insurance policies being canceled, the House advanced legislation that would let individuals keep their policies in 2014.

The chamber passed the GOP bill (HR 3350) by a vote of 261-157. The measure drew 39 Democrats to break from their party and vote in favor, and four Republicans broke from their party and voted in opposition. The Senate is unlikely to take up the bill.

The vote came during a time of scrutiny on the Obama administration’s rollout of the health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) and reports of individuals facing cancellations of policies by insurance companies because they don’t meet minimum requirements under the health care law.

The measure, sponsored by Fred Upton, R-Mich., would allow health insurance companies to continue selling in 2014 policies already existing on the individual market on Jan. 1, 2013, even though such plans might not meet the minimum requirements under the overhaul including emergency coverage, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care and mental health coverage.

Upton, whose top campaign contributor is insurer Blue Cross Blue Shield, said families receiving cancellation notices are confused and upset. “Today we stand with those families with the Keep Your Health Plan Act,” Upton said.

Republicans accused Obama of breaking a promise that people could keep their health plans if they liked them, and some said he knew that promise would not be met.

Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said people are “counting on us to ease some of the pain that his health care law has brought on them.”
Michael C. Burgess, R-Texas, called the measure an effort at triage to stop “hemorrhaging” that has resulted from what he called an “ill-conceived” government takeover of the health care industry.

“It is a lifeline that we’re extending to our constituents that have lost the coverage that they were told that they could keep,” Burgess said.
On Thursday, Obama announced a narrower administrative fix to the canceled plans. The president’s fix would permit insurers to continue to offer through the end of 2014 millions of individual policies for people currently enrolled that are set to be canceled as early as Jan. 1 because they do not meet the health care law’s standards of offering comprehensive benefits. Insurers would not be required to continue the plans, and insurance commissioners would not be required to force them to do so.

Insurers would have to give notice of benefits that consumers forgo by not signing up with plans that meet the essential-benefits standard of the overhaul.

Unlike the Upton proposal, it would not allow enrollment of those not currently covered.

Cantor said the administrative fix didn’t go far enough.

The bill “aims to help Americans keep their health insurance and give their neighbors a chance to buy the same plans rather than forcing them onto a faulty website to buy new coverage they may not like or cannot afford,” Cantor said.

Democrats blasted the measure as a political move and an effort to undermine the health care law.

Robert E. Andrews, D-N.J., said that the bill would cause a spike in premiums. By allowing plans that he called “cars without an airbag” to be sold to anyone, rather than the administration’s plan of allowing people to keep their existing plans, there would be insufficient participation in the marketplaces and resulting premium increases.

“Let’s not in the guise of solving one problem, magnify another one,” Andrews said.

Andrews said the bill could be called “the insurance companies’ bill of rights.”

Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., said the bill would allow insurance companies to continue discriminatory practices, like excluding people due to pre-existing conditions, that the health care overhaul was designed to eliminate.

“This legislation is just another attempt by the GOP to undermine the Affordable Care Act,” Pallone said. “In fact I’ll call this the 46th attempt at repeal.”

“This bill will take us backwards,” said Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif.

The House rejected 187-230 a Democratic motion to recommit that would amend the bill with a proposal similar to the Obama administration’s administrative fix.

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