By Tom Howell Jr.

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The Washington Times

Nearly 40 House Democrats defied President Obama and helped the Republican majority pass a bill Friday that lets Americans keep, for one year, health plans that do not comply with Obamacare.

The defections from 39 members of Mr. Obama’s party highlighted the pressure on Congress to help people who lost coverage because of the president’s signature law, as balky websites keep a veil over alternative plans and pressure mounts on the Democrat-led Senate to forge a remedy.


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“Let’s face it, millions of people right now have a cancelled policy,” Rep. Ron Barber, Arizona Democrat, said before voting for the Keep Your Health Plan Act.

The House passed the bill, 261 to 157, despite a veto threat from Mr. Obama and objections from Democrats who said the legislation was an insidious attempt to rot the Affordable Care Act from the inside out.

Four Republicans voted against the bill, perhaps because it could be viewed as an attempt to smooth over Mr. Obama’s controversial reforms.

Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican, offered the bill at the height of furor over Mr. Obama’s oft-repeated promise that people who liked their health plans could keep them. Millions of Americans received cancellation notices because their plans did not meet the health care law’s coverage requirements, forcing the president to apologize as vulnerable Democrats scrambled to find a legislative solution.

Rampant glitches on the HealthCare.gov website — a federal portal that connects 36 states with plans under Obamcare — have intensified the problem, because people losing their policies cannot explore their options.

Mr. Barber said some Arizonans are “beside themselves.”

“Because by December 31 they don’t have health coverage, and they can’t get on the exchange to find out what’s available,” he told reporters.

Mr. Obama announced an administrative remedy on Thursday that permits insurers to offer a one-year renewal to people who hold noncompliant plans, and Senate Democrats are pushing legislation that would let existing enrollees hold onto their plans indefinitely.

The Republican-led bill goes further, allowing new enrollees to gain current health plans that do not comply with Obamacare.

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House passes Republican health bill with 39 Democratic votes

WASHINGTON Sat Nov 16, 2013 2:15am EST

U.S. President Barack Obama meets with health insurance chief executives at the White House in Washington November 15, 2013. REUTERS-Kevin Lamarque

1 of 5. U.S. President Barack Obama meets with health insurance chief executives at the White House in Washington November 15, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

(Reuters) – In the most significant legislative rebuke to President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul, 39 members of his Democratic Party voted for a Republican bill in the House of Representatives on Friday aimed at undermining his signature domestic policy.

The measure, which would allow insurance companies to renew and sell inexpensive, limited-coverage policies that have been canceled because they don’t meet the standards of the new healthcare law that took effect on October 1, passed 261-157.

The 39 Democrats who supported the bill – nearly one-fifth of the party’s caucus – reflected the alarm that spread within Obama’s party this week over the political damage from the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Republicans have vowed to make Democratic support for the troubled law the top issue in the 2014 elections. Twenty-nine of the 39 Democrats who voted for the Republican bill are running for re-election in competitive races, according to rankings by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

Obama’s approval ratings have plunged during the past six weeks, as the rollout of the healthcare program that is his top domestic achievement has been beset by technical glitches with the federal online insurance website designed to allow consumers to shop for policies.

In recent days, HealthCare.gov’s problems have been overshadowed by reports that insurance companies were canceling the policies of millions of Americans whose policies did not meet the new law’s requirements that policies cover emergency treatment, hospital stays and prescription drugs, among other things.

For years, Obama had promised that Americans would be able to keep their policies if they liked them.

But the wave of cancellations has fueled the biggest political crisis of Obama’s presidency and led to an extraordinary scene at the White House on Thursday, as a contrite Obama took the blame for the healthcare program’s dismal start.

He said he believed that he had to win back the confidence of the American people, and offered an administrative “fix” that would allow some people to retain their non-conforming insurance policies for at least a year.

Obama’s plan dismayed some of his supporters who say that the cheap, limited-coverage plans that the new law aims to phase out often give consumers a false sense of having meaningful health coverage.

It also created concern in the insurance industry – which for years had planned the health insurance exchanges created by Obamacare – and among state insurance commissioners.

Industry advocates warned that Obama effectively was tinkering with the delicate and complex funding behind the healthcare law, and that premiums could begin soaring in 2015 if millions of consumers who were projected to be in Obamacare’s health exchanges continued to hold limited-coverage policies instead.

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