Underscoring that he can be both President Obama's best friend and one of his worst enemies, Bill Clinton said this week that the president should make good on his promise to let everyone in the individual market keep their health plan. Clinton didn't offer any ideas on how that might work, but his dissent emboldened fellow Democrats to speak out against the clunky Obamacare rollout. Now with House Democrats threatening to vote for a Republican plan that would gut the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration said Wednesday that it's willing to accept a Senate proposal that would merely hurt it.
On Friday, the House is set to vote on a bill drafted by Republican Representative Fred Upton that would allow insurance companies to reinstate plans canceled because they don't meet requirements set by the Affordable Care Act for another year. Insurers could choose which plans to revive, and even sell the ostensibly sub-par plans to new customers.
A senior House Democratic staffer told Politico that 20 to 100 Democrats may vote with Republicans to pass the bill, depending on whether the White House offers a better alternative. "I think the Upton bill is terrible, but we need something else to vote for in order to keep our word to the American people,” Democratic Representative Mike Doyle told the New York Times. “We told people in those plans that they were grandfathered in, and if they wanted to stay in them, they could, and we need to honor that."
While the White House has said it wants to find a way to help people whose insurance has been cancelled without passing new legislation, on Wednesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said a proposal by Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu "shares a similar goal to what the president has asked his team to explore," according to The Wall Street Journal. He added, "There may be ways to help some people with cancellation notices without legislation, but we are happy to work with her and any member of Congress who has ideas on how to make the Affordable Care Act better."
Landrieu said that unlike the Republican plan, her bill "is not meant to undermine the Affordable Care Act; it’s meant to strengthen it." However, the Washington Post's Ezra Klein says it would do the opposite:
The bill Landrieu is offering could really harm the law. It would mean millions of people who would've left the individual insurance market and gone to the exchanges will stay right where they are. Assuming those people skew younger, healthier, and richer -- and they do -- Obamacare's premiums will rise. Meanwhile, many people who could've gotten better insurance on the exchanges will stay in bad plans that will leave them bankrupt when they get sick.
Democrats might be less anxious to pass a legislative fix if the people who lost their plans could shop for better coverage online, but for some reason they're not confident that healthcare.gov will be fixed anytime soon.