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The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

November 15, 2013 at 12:13 PM

DelBene bucks Dems in vote for continued sale of canceled policies

Updated at 1:35 p.m. with DelBene’s comments:

WASHINGTON — Washington state’s U.S. House delegation voted along party lines — with one exception — on a bill that would allow insurers to keep selling canceled health plans that ran afoul of coverage requirements under the Affordable Care Act.

The House voted 261-157 for the GOP-sponsored Keep Your Health Plan Act, which would allow insurers to maintain millions of policies that were canceled in advance of the Jan. 1 start of coverage under Obamacare.

All four Republicans from Washington voted in favor; five of six Democrats voted no. Rep. Suzan DelBene of Medina was the sole Democratic yes vote.

In all, four Republicans and 39 Democrats defected from their caucuses on the bill.

Republicans said the bill would prevent Americans from being forced to buy higher-priced policies that don’t fit their coverage needs. Democrats assailed it as the GOP’s latest attempt to derail President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, just six weeks before coverage is set to start Jan. 1.

Each year, millions of Americans with individual policies don’t renew their coverage, often because insurers raise premiums or decrease benefits. But Obamacare not only requires Americans to have health insurance, they’re required to have adequate coverage. Insurers can no longer sell skimpy policies or plans that do not cover maternity care, mental-health services and other mandated benefits.

On the House floor, Democrats repeatedly accused the GOP of a “mission of destruction” against Obamacare under the guise of protecting consumers. Allowing people to pick and choose among bare-bone plans, they argued, would expose them to financial ruin in case of a medical catastrophe as well as undermine the risk pool that helps keep premiums lower for everyone.

Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, said Gov. Jay Inslee and Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler were right to buck even President Obama’s decision Thursday to allow a one-year reprieve for the canceled policies.

Alluding to fretting over consumers’ anger by some Democrats facing tough re-elections, McDermott said, “I haven’t seen so much panic on this floor since 9/11.”

DelBene said she went against the votes of many of her Democratic colleagues to protect consumers from the Obama administration’s “broken promises.”

“While imperfect,” she said, “the bill before the House today allows many Americans in the individual market to keep their current plans for an additional year. This is why I voted ‘YES.’

“I understand that it’s ultimately up to state insurance commissioners and private insurance companies to determine whether to allow the extension of existing health plans. I respect the decision made yesterday by Washington’s Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler not to allow plans that lack ACA benefits to be renewed.”

But Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, said through a spokeswoman that he co-sponsored the bill and voted for it because people are upset.

“Many of my constituents don’t think their current coverage is inadequate, it’s exactly the coverage they like and want to keep,” he said.

Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, said in a statement he took the opposite vote for the same reason as Reichert’s: to protect consumers. Extending the old policies, he said, would allow insurers to again impose annual caps on coverage, charge women higher premiums than for men and keep out people with preexisting conditions.

Comments | More in Congress, U.S. House of Representatives | Topics: canceled policies, Obamacare, Suzan DelBene


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