Frustrated Democrats pressure White House to fix Obamacare
President Obama’s handling of his signature health care law is triggering a rebellion by some House Democrats who could back a Republican measure to allow Americans to keep their insurance plans through next year.
House Democrats confronted David Simas, the deputy senior adviser to the president, and Mike Hash, the director of the Office of Health Reform at the Department of Health and Human Services, during a closed-door meeting yesterday, lawmakers said.
With thousands of individuals receiving notices that their current insurance policies would be canceled as noncompliant with the Affordable Care Act, some Democrats are pushing the administration to come up with remedies before Friday. That is when the House is scheduled to vote on the Republican bill.
“A lot of Democrats are very upset that this happened, No. 1, and urging for there to be an immediate fix for it,” Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Florida Democrat, told reporters after the meeting. The Obama aides said the administration is working “24/7” on a solution, Murphy said.
Obama’s health care rollout has been beset with malfunctions impeding consumers’ ability to sign up on websites, questions about the security of private information, and complaints by individuals who are losing their insurance plans and face premium increases for new policies.
The Obama administration indicated it was willing to consider amending the health care law to halt some of the hundreds of thousands of insurance policy cancellations that have raised alarms among voters and lawmakers.
About 106,000 people in the United States signed up for private health insurance through Obamacare last month, and 396,261 for Medicaid plans, according to data released yesterday. The government had an early target of about 800,000 sign-ups in private plans for the first two months.
House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said the numbers were a “symbol of failure” for the law.
“These numbers underscore the urgent need for President Obama to allow people to keep the plans they have and like,” Boehner said in a statement.
Senate Democrats will meet today with White House officials, including Denis McDonough, Obama’s chief of staff, according to a Senate Democratic aide who requested anonymity because details haven’t been announced.
“I’ve been frustrated from the beginning, from issues with the website to misunderstand how to move this issue forward,” said Sen. Mark Begich, an Alaska Democrat seeking re-election next year.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said he sees a “stampede” of Democrats moving away from Obamacare.
Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, told reporters he had a “long conversation” with Obama on Tuesday and was “very comfortable” that the website troubles “will be fixed.”
Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Demcorat, said changes he and fellow Democrats were suggesting were to fix the law, not repeal it.
“I don’t think you want to go back to where people are one illness away from being bankrupt,” Manchin told reporters yesterday. “But on the other hand, I don’t think anyone expected someone to take their insurance away from them. “
Rep. John Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat, said the White House is expected to propose fixes to party leaders by tomorrow, the day before a planned vote on a measure written by Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican. Absent any fixes, Yarmuth said he would vote for Upton’s measure.
“I agree with those who stood up and said that it’s going to be difficult for a lot of Democrats to vote against it unless there is a viable option from the administration,” Yarmuth said in an interview.
The Obama administration opposes Upton’s measure because it would let insurers “sell new policies that were substandard” and undermine the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters yesterday. Obama is discussing with lawmakers ways to improve the measure and will have an announcement “sooner rather than later,” Carney said.
A more limited proposal, from Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, “shares a similar goal with what the president is exploring,” and the administration isn’t ruling out a legislative remedy, Carney said.
Landrieu, who is seeking a fourth term in 2014 in a state Obama lost last year by 17 percentage points, introduced a measure requiring that individuals be allowed to keep their health plans as long as they stay up-to-date on payments.
Five Democratic senators are co-sponsoring the measure.
Carney said “efforts largely undertaken by Republicans” to modify the health care law would preserve “the status quo” – a broken system.
Asked about Democrats’ concerns about a slide in support ahead of next year’s midterm elections, Carney said it’s “policy first, then politics.”
“Politics follows policy here,” Carney said. “I know the situation is turbulent.”
Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, called Upton’s measure a “trap” and said many Democrats would have a hard time opposing it.
At yesterday’s meeting, Democrats also criticized the Obama administration for drawing another “line in the sand,” such as the Nov. 30 deadline to fix the federal health-care website, Yarmuth said.
Democratic leaders are trying to keep their members together by making the point that the Republican effort is “a Trojan horse” that is “undermining the Affordable Care Act,” Murphy said.