When Democratic U.S. Rep. Scott Peters voted "yea" last week on the Keep Your Health Plan Act of 2013, he was either saying he genuinely, in his heart of hearts, supported the contents of the bill or he figured that doing so would help him in next year's election campaign against Republican challenger Carl DeMaio.
Either way, we have a problem with it. The bill—which was successful in the House of Representatives but won't be taken up in the U.S. Senate, effectively killing it—was the House Republicans' response to the kerfuffle over the fact that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would cause a small portion of insured Americans to lose their existing crappy health plans and be forced to switch to better ones.
Introduced by U.S. Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, it proposed to allow insurance companies to continue to sell individual-buyer plans that don't meet standards established by the ACA that are aimed at protecting consumers—not only to people who were already in those deficient plans but also to new customers. That second part goes far beyond simply letting a few folks retain their existing plans and reveals the true intent of the bill: to destroy the ACA and keep us mired in a healthcare system in which highly profitable insurance companies prey on people and tens of millions of Americans have no access to decent medical services.
Under the bill, writes Sarah Lueck of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "insurers offering existing individual-market plans outside of the [ACA-created] insurance marketplaces in 2014 could continue to reject people with health problems and charge sicker and older people far higher premiums than younger and healthier people must pay."
Younger, healthier people would have an incentive to buy cheap insurance that offers little in the way of actual benefits that they might need if something terrible happens to them. These are precisely the people who are needed to participate in the ACA for it to be economically viable. Without them, premiums are much higher than envisioned under the ACA and the whole point of health-insurance reform falls apart.
That's what Peters voted for.
Peters makes it immediately clear on his website what he's going for. His explanation comes under the headline, "Rep. Peters Votes with Republicans & Democrats to Allow Americans to Keep their Health Plans." The first thing he wants you to know is that he voted with Republicans, which is consistent with past statements he's made about bipartisanship and cooperation. To be sure, this was a Republican bill, not a Democratic bill. Republicans voted 222-4 in favor; Democrats voted 153-39 in opposition.
We're all for cooperation in some cases, but not this one. This is bad policy that supports predatory practices.
In his explanation, Peters praises President Obama for offering to fix, administratively, the problem of insurance companies cancelling a relatively small number of insurance policies—the big difference is that Obama won't allow insurers to sell substandard plans to new customers. For some reason, an administrative fix isn't good enough for Peters, but the only justification he gives is this: "The Upton bill was a constructive step in the right direction because it is the first time the Republican Majority has offered a fix to the law rather than an all-or-nothing repeal or destructive government shut down."
So, in other words, Peters seems to be saying, "Good for you, Mr. President, for fixing the problem, but I voted for this bill because I wanted to give the Republicans some Brownie points simply for not engaging in their typical scorched-earth politics"—even though they were actually trying to scorch the healthcare-reform earth.
DeMaio and the Koch brothers have been keeping the pressure on Peters, a first-termer who has a light grip on his swing-district seat. Clearly, he's playing defense. But while his vote with the GOP might let him hang on to some independents who've turned against the ACA, it could also cause liberals who perceive no difference between him and DeMaio to sit out the election. The tradeoff might be negligible.
Even though Peters knew the Upton bill would never become law, he's done real damage by putting a "bipartisan" stamp on the Republican attack on what is potentially the first meaningful healthcare reform—flawed though its rollout may have been— to come around in several generations.
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