WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene on Friday bucked her party to support a Republican bill that would allow insurers to keep selling canceled health plans that fall short of new federal coverage standards.
DelBene’s vote came barely an hour after Democratic colleagues warned the legislation would gut President Obama’s signature health-care law, known as Obamacare.
The Medina freshman was among 39 Democrats, some facing tough re-election next year, who sided with the GOP majority to pass the measure. The five other House Democrats from Washington opposed the measure, and the delegation’s four Republicans voted yes.
The bill, which passed 261-157, would allow people who have coverage deemed too skimpy under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to keep it. It also would let insurers keep selling such policies to new customers next year.
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Republicans pushed for the exception, contending Obamacare is forcing some Americans to give up their individual policies for richer plans they don’t want and can’t afford.
President Obama has said he would veto the bill if it were to pass the Senate. On Thursday, he proposed his own fix, to allow only current customers to hang on to coverage that runs afoul of the law, and only for a year.
Obama had said previously that under the ACA, Americans who like their insurance plan could keep it — a promise that wasn’t possible for millions of consumers who buy individual policies.
Some nervous Senate Democrats, fearful of a backlash from people who have to forfeit their policies, have toyed with other options for reprieve.
Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who’s up for her fourth term next year, has proposed letting such policies stay in force indefinitely.
Other Democrats, however, are cool to such an idea. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, for instance, said she is concerned about such potential consequences as higher premiums and a loss of consumer protection embedded in ACA.
DelBene’s vote came after the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) targeted her in an email campaign for her support for Obamacare. The NRCC has not gone after the delegation’s two other House freshman Democrats, Reps. Denny Heck of Olympia and Derek Kilmer of Gig Harbor.
DelBene’s spokesman did not respond to a request for an interview.
In a statement, DelBene said her vote would help Americans who are being “penalized by the administration’s broken promise.”
“My vote today represents my desire to correct the rollout of the federal exchange and provide relief for Americans who are having difficulty participating in the federal exchange,” she said
DelBene, a millionaire former Microsoft executive, has a solid progressive record, including supporting immigration reform and increased oversight of government surveillance. She has opposed previous Republican attempts to dismantle Obamacare.
Her latest vote puts her at odds with Gov. Jay Inslee and state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler, who oppose even the president’s one-year reprieve as a threat to the stability of the risk pool.
Many Democrats made the same point Friday. Under ACA, most Americans will be required to carry health insurance and to have adequate coverage for maternity care, mental-health services and other mandated benefits.
Allowing people to pick and choose pared-down plans, Democrats argued, would leave them financially vulnerable when medical catastrophe strikes, as well as raise premiums for everyone else, undermining the concept for shared risks.
Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, said on the House floor that Inslee and Kreidler made the right call because the delay “is not good for the people of Washington.”
McDermott counseled patience in tinkering with a law that’s just six weeks from commencing coverage.
“I haven’t seen so much panic on this floor since 9/11,” he said.
Kyung Song: 202-383-6108 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @KyungMSong