Some Senate Democrats not letting up on legislative fix to insurance promise

Posted at 1:27 PM, Nov 14, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-14 15:27:48-05

By Dana Bash and Ted Barrett


WASHINGTON (CNN) — Senate Democrats pushing legislation to make sure people can keep health plans being cancelled under Obamacare are not letting up, despite President Barack Obama’s proposals to fix the problem.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat up for re-election in a competitive race next year, is the lead sponsor of a Democratic plan that would prevent people from being dropped by insurers under new health reform regulations.

With many Americans holding a certain type of individual insurance now receiving cancellation notices, Obama said Thursday his administration wants insurers to extend existing coverage for a year.

In selling the Affordable Care Act to the public, Obama said previously that people who liked their plans could keep them under new rules. That turned out to be inaccurate and Obama has apologized.

But cancellations have energized Republicans, who did not support the law and hold up the issue as a primary reason why the country should reject the sweeping health care overall. They see it as a potent campaign issue ahead of next year’s midterms.

Landrieu told reporters on Capitol Hill she appreciated the President’s move to address the matter administratively, but she still be working “to find a way to fix this and to keep the promise” that if people like their health care plans, they can keep them.

“The president’s guidance was welcomed and well received. We still may have to fashion some legislation and we are going to continue to work in that regard,” she said.

Sen. Kay Hagan, D-North Carolina, and Sen. Jeanne Sheehan, D-New Hampshire – two other Democrats up for re-election in swing states next year – also said they would like to continue to pursue a legislative fix to the problem.

Obama said on Thursday there is “no doubt” that the fumbled rollout of the Affordable Care Act has put a “burden on Democrats” whether they are running for reelection or not.

Senior Democratic sources admit to CNN that a big part of what is driving the desire for a vote is that congressional Democrats don’t want to sit on the sidelines as the President makes changes to the law. Instead, they want to be able to tell voters at home they are part of the solution.

Congressional Democratic sources privately admit another factor is that Americans have lost faith and trust in Obama, so Democrats worried about their fate want to stand on their own.

Beyond the politics, some Democrats say they don’t think the substance of what he announced goes far enough in allowing people to keep health plans.

First, Obama’s proposal would allow consumers to only keep cancelled plans for a year. But Landrieu and Hagan want people to have the ability to keep them indefinitely.

Second, Obama is calling on insurance companies to reinstate cancelled policies but not forcing them to do so. Landrieu’s legislation would make it mandatory.

It is unclear if Senate Democratic leaders will allow a vote on Landrieu’s bill, or a similar proposal from Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colorado.

Although Democratic leaders understand the politics of the situation, there is concern that forcing insurance companies to allow people to permanently keep cancelled plans would undermine the entire health care law, because it would discourage young and healthy people with flimsy plans from going into the system.

Those younger, healthier people are needed to offset higher cost consumers, like the sick and elderly.

Separately, the House is set to vote Friday on a Republican plan that would also allow Americans to keep their insurance plans. House Democrats also are planning to unveil their own proposal.

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