House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said Wednesday he is open to supporting Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu's proposal to allow Americans to keep their old health insurance plans under Obamacare.
Upton proposed a similar bill that is expected to clear the GOP-controlled House on Friday. He challenged the Louisiana Democrat to move her bill through a resistant Democratic Senate that has been fearful of approving changes to the Affordable Care Act that might undermine President Obama's health reforms.
Upton’s bill would allow Americans to keep their current health plans through the end of 2014. Landrieu would allow them to keep it indefinitely.
“Let’s challenge them to pass [Landrieu’s bill] in the Senate, and if so, I think that’s even a bigger and perhaps better step than what we have in the House,” Upton told the Washington Examiner. “Let’s see if she can pass that.”
Millions of Americans who purchase health insurance on the individual market have been receiving cancellation notices, as companies phase out existing plans and transition to new policies that comply with Obamacare’s more stringent regulations for minimum coverage. The mass cancelations sparked a backlash from Americans angry with Obama and Democrats for breaking their unqualified promises that people who liked their current health plans would be able to keep them.
Upton’s legislation would allow health insurance companies to continue offering existing health plans through 2014. But Landrieu, who faces a tough re-election fight in 2014, charged that the Republican's plan didn't go far enough and proposed allowing the grandfathered health plans to continue indefinitely.
Upton defended his more limited plan, saying he drafted the one-page proposal as a quick fix he hoped Democrats would support. But if Landrieu can get fellow Democrats to support her more far-reaching legislation, Upton said he is open to pursuing it. Noting that his bill has attracted Democratic co-sponsors, the Michigan Republican said his legislative strategy has paid off.
“We didn’t want to overreach," Upton said. "We wanted a bill that would certainly pass the House, but also, quite frankly, be bipartisan."
Meanwhile, Upton conceded that while his bill would allow insurance companies to continue offering pre-Obamacare plans, it could not compel them to do so. Upton also acknowledged that insurance companies have made complex changes to the kind of coverage they offer that might make it impossible to keep offering existing health plans, even if they want to.
There also appears to be little Congress can do now for the millions whose health plans have already been canceled, though Upton called his bill an important first step in responding to constituents who are turning to Washington for relief.
“That’s why we wanted to move our bill as fast as we could,” Upton said. “As these [cancelation] notices began to hit in October, by moving our bill as fast as we can, it sends a clear signal, in fact, that there may be an opportunity to have a pause in those cancellations and they may be able to rethink whether they’re in fact going to cancel those policies or not.”