House vote pressures White House on health care

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans in the House of Representatives voted by a healthy bipartisan majority Friday to weaken a core component of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, sensing an opportunity to gain political advantage on the issue.

The House measure that would allow insurance companies to continue offering plans to current and new customers, even though the coverage had been deemed unacceptable could ultimately undermine the law and the administration’s top legislative achievement.

While the measure is unlikely to reach a vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate and faces an Obama veto threat, 39 Democrats broke ranks and supported the legislation, a total that underscored the growing importance of the issue in the weeks since millions of cancellation notices went out to consumers covered by plans that did not meet new government standards.

A day earlier, Obama had moved to calm widespread anger over the cancellations triggered by his Affordable Care Act, widely known as “Obamacare.” Those cancellations — just one of several problems to emerge in the launch of the ambitious health care law — were issued despite Obama’s repeated assurances that Americans could keep their insurance coverage if they were satisfied.

“Our straightforward, one-page bill says, if you like your current coverage, you should be able to keep it,” said Rep. Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and lead sponsor of the legislation.

But Democrats said the measure was just another in a long line of attacks on the health care bill from Republicans who have voted repeatedly to repeal it.

“It would take away the core protections of that law. It creates an entire shadow market of substandard health care plans,” said Rep. Henry Waxman of California.

The vote came shortly before President Barack Obama welcomed insurance company CEOs to a White House meeting, and one day after he announced a shift toward making good on his oft-repeated promise that anyone liking his pre-“Obamacare” coverage would be able to keep it.

The events capped a remarkable series of politically inspired maneuvers in recent days. The president and lawmakers in both parties have sought to position themselves as allies of consumers who are receiving cancellation notices — yet have made no move to cooperate on legislation that could require those consumers’ coverage to be renewed if they wanted to keep it.

As problems have grown since the Oct. 1 launch of the website at the center of the program, the president has faced increasing pressure from fellow Democrats worried about next year’s elections — and from Republicans who never wanted the law at all.

Before the House vote, Speaker John Boehner said it was time to scrap the law “once and for all.”

Obama, who tells of watching his now-deceased mother battle with her insurance company as she was treated for ovarian cancer, came to office determined to fix the American health care system.

Republicans saw that as excessive intrusion into the private lives of citizens. With their current majority in the House, virtually all of Obama’s legislative proposals have been blocked in the lower chamber, and attacks on the health care law have escalated.

Meanwhile, Obama’s approval ratings in polls have fallen to record lows.

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Associated Press Writers David Espo and Steven R. Hurst contributed to this report.

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