Democratic frustrations not fully mollified by Obamacare administrative fix

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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WASHINGTON — The White House’s administrative fix for people having their health insurance plans canceled as a result of Obamacare has not entirely mollified Democrats who remain frustrated by the cancellations.

On Thursday, President Barack Obama announced that insurance companies could continue providing plans that did not meet the required standards of the new health-care law for the next year, without any repercussions.

The announcement came after a week in which a growing number of Democrats had expressed frustration that they could not make good on the oft-repeated promise that, “if you like your health-care plan, you can keep it.”

On the Senate side, Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu had proposed a bill to let Americans stay on their insurance plans indefinitely if they had enrolled in those plans on or before Dec. 31 of this year, regardless of whether those plans complied with the health law.

Another bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, would do the same, but set a two-year limit on keeping such plans. A number of House Democrats suggested they might defect and vote for a bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Fred Upton that provides for a similar fix.

After Obama made the announcement, White House officials held private meetings with Senate Democrats and then later with House Democrats to discuss the move. Democrats received the White House’s announcement positively, but a number of Senate Democrats suggested it was not a complete fix, and that more needs to be done.

Landrieu described the administrative move as a “great first step,” but said she would continue to work on her legislative bill, and others that have been filed, to provide a legislative fix to the problem.

“It’s moving in the right direction,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, who added, “we’d like more of a permanent fix.”

Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, who has signed onto the Udall bill, said he was still working toward that goal of getting insurance companies to maintain those plans for two years.

Manchin, Landrieu and Begich all represent red states. Landrieu and Begich are up for re-election next year, and they are vulnerable on the subject of the flawed rollout of the health-care law.

On the House side, the move led to a more positive tone in the caucus than earlier this week, when some members openly expressed frustration to White House officials attending the meeting. Still, several Democrats said Thursday they had not yet ruled out voting in favor of the Upton bill on Friday.

“I’m going to be looking at that,” said New York Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney.

“We’re still having the discussion” about how to vote on the Upton bill, said Texas Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro.

Texas Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego told reporters he was waiting to see the final version of the bill. “I think there’s some merit to the idea, but, you know, the devil is always in the details, and so I wait until the details are done,” he said.

Other Democrats were more convinced, saying an administrative fix was perhaps the only solution in light of the gridlock in Congress.

“This is good news. … I don’t want this to get tied up over a long legislative process if the president has the ability to do this administratively,” said Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy.

“The only way we’re actually going to get things fixed, it seems to me, as long as the House is intent on undoing Obamacare one way or another, is the administration doing things on their own,” said New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer. “So I think what the president did is exactly the right thing.”

Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings called the president’s move a “good thing,” saying “I think it’s going to get the overwhelming support of our caucus.

Rep. Rob Andrews, a Democrat from New Jersey, told reporters that the Democratic vote “is solidifying against the Upton bill.”

Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, at a press conference with leadership after the meeting, was noncommittal when asked if he was whipping against the Upton bill. Still, he said, he was confident that “a large part [of the Democratic caucus] are going to be against the Upton bill.”

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