WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) - The U.S. House approved, in a 261-157 vote Friday, a GOP proposal to allow insurers to continue offering health care plans to new and existing customers through next year, even if the plans do not meet new federal requirements.
Thirty nine Democrats supported the measure despite Democratic leaders' opposition and a veto threat from President Obama.
"Once again this Republican majority is trying to put insurer's back in the drivers seat," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., "This majority has never been interested in fixing our broken (health care) system."
A Democratic alternative failed on a 187-230 vote to allow existing customers to maintain current plans through 2014. It would also require insurers to provide customers with their plan options and would allow the Health and Human Services Secretary and state insurance commissioners to take measures to protect consumers from discriminatory rates.
While the bill by Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., largely mirrors the president's Thursday announcement that insurers can continue to offer plans cancelled under the Affordable Care Act, Democrats oppose the GOP legislation because it would allow new customers to purchase those plans. Allowing new customers in would undermine the intent of the ACA, Democrats say.
Republicans countered that their legislative fix was a smarter way to address the health care policies that have been cancelled despite assurances by the president that people who liked their health care could keep it.
"We knew this is a promise he could not keep, and now we know that it is a promise he has broken," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, D-Va.
Insurance companies are warning that the reinstatement of cancelled policies by Jan. 1 will disrupt the marketplace and could result in higher prices, but Democrats are under increasing political pressure to allay the public's concerns about implementation of the new law.
The troubled healthcare law roll out has heightened congressional Democrats' anxiety about how it will affect the party in 2014 elections. Obama apologized Thursday for the toll it has taken on his party.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., has five cosponsors on her bill that would order insurers to continue offering cancelled plans and to inform customers in writing of other plans available to them. Senate Democratic leaders so far say that the administration's fix is enough, and that a vote in the Senate is unnecessary.
Senate Democrats are also wary of re-litigating the health care law on the Senate floor. Congressional Republicans unanimously oppose the law and the recent problems--including the glitch-plagued healthcare.gov that has resulted in anemic sign-up figures -- have reinvigorated GOP calls for a full repeal.
"The only way to fully protect the American people is to scrap this law once and for all. There is no way to fix this," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
The cancelled policies affect about 5% of Americans in the private market. Most Americans get their health care through their employers.