39 Democrats defect on healthcare vote, Obama meets insurance execs

Nov. 15, 2013 at 7:46 PM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 15 (UPI) -- President Obama Friday met with insurance company executives to discuss his plan to allow some policyholders to keep their current healthcare plans for a year.

The meeting began at the White House after the U.S. House passed a Republican bill that would allow health insurance companies to keep selling policies that don't comply with Affordable Care Act standards.

The 261-157 vote on the Keep Your Health Plan Act sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., included 39 Democrats.

The plan would allow companies to sell non-compliant policies to current and new customers, and wouldn't require the providers to alert consumers about the required ACA benefits that are not included. Insurance companies have indicated such a plan would undermine the financial rational of the healthcare reforms and could lead to higher premiums.

Obama and the insurance executives were joined at the table by Marilyn Tavenner, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.

The White House in a statement called the meeting "productive."

"I want to welcome the executives who are here from a lot of the insurance companies that are participating in the marketplace," the president said. "We all share a similar value, which is we want to make sure that Americans have good, solid coverage that gives them the security they need for themselves and their family members if and when they get sick."

Upton said his measure would fulfill a promise Obama had made to the American people and then broke, The New York Times said.

"In the last three years," Upton said during floor debate, "the president personally promised that if people liked their current healthcare plan, they could keep it 'no matter what.' But cancellation notices are now arriving in millions of mailboxes across the country. It's cancellation today, sticker shock tomorrow."

President Obama said he would veto Upton's bill if it reaches his desk.

The proposal goes beyond the fix announced by Obama Thursday, which would only allow insurers and state insurance commissioners to extend those policies through most of 2014 to current policyholders and requires companies to alert customers of what ACA benefits aren't included and tell policyholders of the possibility of getting better coverage and pricing by using the health insurance marketplaces.

The administration has been slammed for the faulty Oct. 1 launch of healthcare.gov, the federal health insurance exchange, as well as news that policyholders across the country were receiving cancellation notices from their insurance carriers because policies didn't comply with the Affordable Care Act and contradicted Obama's oft-repeated "if you like your policy, you can keep it" refrain.

A number of Democrats -- some facing tough re-election contests and anxious to be seen as proactively trying to remedy the cancellation problem -- also pushed for action that would ensure Obama's promise was kept in some way.

"This bill is not a bill to let people keep their health insurance plans. The president took care of that issue yesterday," Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said during floor debate Friday. "What this bill is, is another vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act."

"We knew this was a promise [Obama] could not keep, and now it is a promise he has broken," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said.

The legislation's outlook is unclear in the Senate, where Democrats also up for re-election next year are looking for a way to help consumers who face not having insurance because their policies don't meet requirements of the 2010 law, the Times said.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., offered her own plan, which would allow people to keep their current plans indefinitely. However, after the president's announcement Thursday, many Senate Democrats said they would wait to see if additional legislation was necessary.

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