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Politics & Government

House Approves 'Keep Your Health Plan' Bill


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

We begin this hour on Capitol Hill, where a vote in the House has capped a week of controversy over the Affordable Care Act. The president apologized. His party squirmed. And more than three dozen Democrats joined House Republicans today to pass a bill that would let insurers continue existing policies for a year. That's even if plans don't meet standards set by the health care law. NPR's Ailsa Chang reports.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: Here's the question House Republicans struggled to answer today. How was their solution so vastly superior to the one the president announced yesterday? Both plans would allow current health care policies to continue for a year, but neither plan would make insurance companies actually go along with that. Republican Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania said, still, the president's solution was a bad idea.

REPRESENTATIVE JOE PITTS: Well, because it is an administrative fix. It's not a legislative statute fix. In other words, the president could change his mind next week.

CHANG: It's kind of hard seeing President Obama changing his mind next week after he apologized to the whole country multiple times for promising that people could hang on to their health care coverage if they wanted to. Now, what was really going on, says Democrat Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, was something else.

REPRESENTATIVE MIKE DOYLE: Don't pretend that you care about the American people's health care here. You're just trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Democrats are not going to let you do that.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Gentleman's time expired.

CHANG: See, the one important difference between the House bill and the president's new proposal is that the House bill would let anyone sign up for any existing plan, not just the people who are already on those plans. Many Democrats, like Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, said that would mean more people lining up for lousy health care coverage.

REPRESENTATIVE JIM MCGOVERN: So if you want to go back to a system where insurance companies could turn people away because they're sick, by all means, vote for this bill. If you want to go back to a time when women were charged higher rates than men because being a female counted as a pre-existing condition, then vote for the Upton bill.

CHANG: In the end, 39 Democrats did vote for the bill, many of them facing extremely tight races in 2014, like Ron Barber of Arizona. Barber is a top target for Republicans next year, and he said he's been deluged with phone calls from constituents complaining about the shaky website and their inability to stay on their current health care plans. So, Barber said he wanted to make a strong statement to his constituents today by voting yes.

REPRESENTATIVE RON BARBER: For me, it's a matter of Congress being able to take a position that is clear and - the best way we can take a position that's clear is by voting on legislation.

CHANG: And as the Republican bill succeeded, a Democratic alternative - somewhat like Obama's plan - failed. The president has already declared he's going to veto the House bill that passed today. It's expected to die in the Senate anyway, where a couple other proposals are floating around. One of them lets people keep their plans indefinitely. It was introduced by Democrat Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who's facing her own tough re-election battle next year. But she says that battle is not why she's pushing her bill.

SENATOR MARY LANDRIEU: I'd say that's complete hogwash. I supported the Affordable Care Act. I would vote for it again. I said when I supported the bill, when I voted for it, there were things that needed to be fixed.

CHANG: Senate leaders haven't said whether they'll even allow a vote on her bill. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.