- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Announcing another change to the president’s signature law, the Obama administration said Wednesday that it will let people keep subpar insurance plans through 2016, carving out another exception to Obamacare in a move Republicans said offers further proof that the law is hurting Americans’ health and Democrats’ election chances this fall.

As if to underscore the political danger, more than two dozen House Democrats joined Republicans in ignoring a White House veto threat and passed a bill that would let Americans disregard for one year the law’s requirement to obtain health care coverage.

“Imposing this individual mandate tax on those without access to health insurance, while exempting businesses from this law is immoral, and this common-sense legislation should be swiftly moved through the Senate and put on President Obama’s desk,” said Rep. Diane Black, Tennessee Republican.

Twenty-seven Democrats joined Republicans to pass the bill on a 250-160 vote.

For months, the Obama administration and congressional Republican have been at loggerheads over how to amend the Affordable Care Act. Critics say the power lies with Congress, but Democrats said all of the Republican-led efforts are thinly veiled attempts to repeal the whole law.

Instead, Mr. Obama has made a series of moves to alter the law himself, chiefly by delaying deadlines until after the midterm elections.

Late last year, the administration said it would let states allow insurers to continue to offer bare-bones health care plans that are prohibited under the law. The administration said it was exercising prosecutorial discretion to grant a year’s reprieve.

On Wednesday, the administration said states can approve those minimal plans for two more years, through Oct. 1, 2016.

Senior administration officials justified the change by saying they want to give people more time to determine what kind of coverage is best for them.

“These policies implement the health care law in a common-sense way by continuing to smooth the transition for consumers and stakeholders and fixing problems wherever the law provides flexibility,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

The administration estimates the extension will affect 500,000 people on the individual market, a number that jumps to 1.5 million when policyholders in the small-business market are included.

Republicans said the moves were about pushing consumers’ pain past the November elections.

“Make no mistake, this is yet another cherry-picked delay motivated not out of concern for the millions of Americans who have lost the health care plan they had and liked, but out of a desire to help the president’s political friends escape yet another embarrassing Obamacare blunder at the ballot box,” Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said in a statement.

HHS said it obtained input for the new guidance from Senate Democrats up for re-election this year, including Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark R. Warner of Virginia, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Mark Udall of Colorado.

Some of these lawmakers were involved in legislative plans last year to help people keep their plans instead of being forced to forfeit them under Obamacare.

Senior administration officials said vulnerable Democrats asked for assistance and Republican lawmakers tended not to work “constructively” to improve the health care law.

Separately, the administration twice has delayed a mandate that requires large employers to provide health care coverage to their workers or pay fines. Companies with 51 to 100 employees can wait until 2016 to comply, and those with more than 100 must phase in their obligations by 2015.

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