In Split With White House, New Hampshire Democrats Back GOP Health Care Bill

By Shelby Carignan
BU Washington News Service

WASHINGTON – Splitting from the Obama White House, New Hampshire Democratic Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Ann McLane Kuster Friday afternoon voted to back a Republican-sponsored measure that would delay for a year the cancellation of health insurance policies that do not comply with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act – so-called Obamacare.

Shea-Porter and Kuster were among 39 Democrats who joined with 222 Republicans to support the measure, which cleared the House Friday afternoon by a 261-157 vote.

Of 19 New England House members – all Democrats — voting on the bill, 16 of them voted against it, including Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine. Besides Shea-Porter and Kuster, Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., was the only New Englander to vote for the measure.

Shea-Porter, Kuster and Esty all were narrowly elected in competitive House districts last year, and are facing tough re-election battles in 2014: A recent article in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call characterized Shea-Porter as one of the 10 most vulnerable House members nationwide in next November’s election.

Shea-Porter announced her tentative support for the bill earlier this week. “My goal of helping Granite Staters receive quality, affordable health care continues, and I do not see that as a Republican or Democratic issue,” she said in a statement released after the vote.

The Republican legislation was a response to widespread criticism that has been aimed at the White House in recent weeks, as millions of Americans have received letters cancelling their current health policies – notwithstanding earlier statements by President Obama that the new law would not force Americans to give up existing policies that they wanted to keep.

Trying to contain a political firestorm, Obama Thursday also proposed a one-year delay in the cancellation of policies that do not comply with the law for current policy holders. But Obama’s plan applies only to current policy holders: The Republican bill – sponsored by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton of Michigan  – goes a step further by allowing insurance companies to sell such policies to new customers.

The White House has charged this would undermine the new law by allowing insurance companies to sell policies that do not contain such protections as coverage of pre-existing conditions or benefits for maternity care. Obama has vowed to veto the House-passed  bill, which faces an uncertain future in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

“While I wish that Republicans had allowed a Democratic motion to improve the bill with greater consumer protections, at this moment, the most important thing is to make sure that people are insured in January,” Shea-Porter said after the vote.

Kuster, in a statement following the vote, declared: ““As I have said before, I support good-faith efforts to ensure that people who like their current plans are able to stay on them for another year.”

She added, “I will continue to work with the president and members of Congress to get this right. My priority is to ensure that Granite Staters have access to the quality, affordable coverage they deserve.”

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