Republicans in the House of Representatives have voted by a healthy bipartisan majority to weaken a core component of US President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul, sensing an opportunity to gain political advantage on the issue.
The House measure that would allow insurance companies to continue offering plans to current and new customers, even though the coverage had been deemed unacceptable could ultimately undermine the law and the administration’s top legislative achievement.
While the measure is unlikely to reach a vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate and faces an Obama veto threat, 39 Democrats broke ranks and supported the legislation on Friday, a total that underscored the growing importance of the issue in the weeks since millions of cancelation notices went out to consumers covered by plans that did not meet new government standards.
A day earlier, Obama had moved to calm widespread anger over the cancelations triggered by his Affordable Care Act, widely known as “Obamacare.”
Those cancelations — just one of several problems to emerge in the launch of the ambitious health care law — were issued despite Obama’s repeated assurances that Americans could keep their insurance coverage if they were satisfied.
“Our straightforward, one-page bill says, if you like your current coverage, you should be able to keep it,” said US House Representative Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and lead sponsor of the legislation.
However, Democrats said the measure was just another in a long line of attacks on the health care bill from Republicans who have voted repeatedly to repeal it.
“It would take away the core protections of that law. It creates an entire shadow market of substandard health care plans,” Representative Henry Waxman said.
The vote came shortly before Obama welcomed insurance company chief executives to a White House meeting, and one day after he announced a shift toward making good on his oft-repeated promise that anyone liking his pre-”Obamacare” coverage would be able to keep it.
The events capped a remarkable series of politically inspired maneuvers in recent days. The president and lawmakers in both parties have sought to position themselves as allies of consumers who are receiving cancelation notices — yet have made no move to cooperate on legislation that could require those consumers’ coverage to be renewed if they wanted to keep it.
As problems have grown since the Oct. 1 launch of the Web site at the center of the program, the president has faced increasing pressure from fellow Democrats worried about next year’s elections — and from Republicans who never wanted the law at all.
Obama, who tells of watching his now-deceased mother battle with her insurance company as she was treated for ovarian cancer, came to office determined to fix the American health care system.
Republicans saw that as excessive intrusion into the private lives of citizens. With their current majority in the House, virtually all of Obama’s legislative proposals have been blocked in the lower chamber, and attacks on the health care law have escalated.