January 16

House passes bill to track health care sign-up numbers

The measure, which would require weekly updates on the numbers of website visits, applications and enrollees, stands no chance of passage in the Democratic-led Senate.

By Donna Cassata
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The House on Thursday backed a bill that would require the Obama administration to report weekly on how many Americans have signed up for health care coverage, as Republicans maintain an election-year spotlight on the troubled law.

click image to enlarge

A field organizer with Enroll America holds a clipboard with pamphlets encouraging people to sign up for health care offered by the Affordable Care Act. The House on Thursday passed a bill requiring the administration to report weekly, rather than monthly, on sign-up numbers.

2013 Associated Press File Photo

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The vote was 259-154, with 33 Democrats breaking ranks and joining the Republican majority in supporting the legislation. Voting in favor was Maine Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democrat. Rep. Chellie Pingree, also a Maine Democrat, voted against the bill.

It marked the second time in a week – and certainly not the last – that the House has targeted President Barack Obama’s law, with Republicans confident that Americans’ unease with the overhaul will produce major Republican wins in the November elections.

Some of the most vulnerable Democrats facing re-election this fall from Arizona, Georgia, New York and Florida voted for the bill. Last week, 67 Democrats bucked the administration and backed a bill to bolt new security requirements on the law.

The bill would require the administration to report weekly on the number of visits to the government health care website, the number of Americans who applied and the number of enrollees by ZIP code, as well as other statistics. It stands no chance in the Democratic-led Senate.

The administration has reported monthly on enrollment, announcing last week that 2.2 million signed up through the end of December and nearly 4 million had been deemed eligible for Medicaid.

Those reports are insufficient, Republicans argued.

“We know the president’s health care law is driving up costs for middle-class families, making it harder for small businesses to hire, and hurting the economy - but there’s still a lot we don’t know,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, contending that the administration “hasn’t provided a clear picture of where enrollment stands.”

Democrats countered that the Republicans were adding onerous requests and disrupting administration efforts to sign up millions of Americans for health care coverage.

“This is just an attempt to pile on so many requirements on the administration,” said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., who pointed to recent administration reports. He said the data disclosed is consistent with what the government releases monthly on Medicare.

Obama has said his administration is the most transparent in history, and Republicans tossed those words back at him.

“This bill is fundamentally about transparency,” said Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., who insisted that the American people have a right to an accurate assessment of the law’s data.

The administration opposes the measure, saying it has been providing information on enrollments and the added requirements would force it to hire new staff as government expense.

Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., said the measure was “really designed to harass the Health and Human Services” Department.

The goal of the Affordable Care Act is to expand coverage to tens of millions of Americans who lack insurance, to lower health care costs, to increase access to preventive services and to eliminate some of the pre-existing condition requirements that insurance companies have used to deny coverage. The health care website got off to a calamitous start on Oct. 1, followed quickly by widespread reports of canceled policies and higher premiums.

Republicans who steadfastly opposed the law have led the charge in the House, which voted more than 40 times last year to repeal, replace or undo parts of the law. The GOP campaigned last year on a promise to repeal and replace the law, but the party hasn’t offered an alternative.

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