Obamacare Authors Not Really on Board With This "Gut Obamacare" Idea

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 13 2013 2:04 PM

Obamacare Authors Not Really on Board With This "Gut Obamacare" Idea

Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu is not running from the Affordable Care Act. She has the most comprehensive bill to unwind the clock on individual plan cancellations—a bill that would mandate current insurers keep customers on the plans. This has started to vex conservatives, whose own version of the "fix," Fred Upton's House bill, has no such mandate. RedState's Erick Erickson was, I think, the first voice on the right to realize the problem.

The House, with the help of a good number of Democrats, will pass the Upton plan and send it to the Senate. Harry Reid will substitute the Landrieu plan and send it back to the House. The House will be forced to either vote for the Landrieu plan or be characterized as siding with insurance companies against people. In one fell swoop, the Democrats will have the GOP on record saving Mary Landrieu’s re-election in Louisiana by casting her as the one who saved Americans’ health care plans, and also getting on record as really being in favor of fixing Obamacare with the use of mandates.
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As she walked into the Senate's weekly party luncheon, Landrieu claimed that leadership was warming up to her bill. "Every day we pick up new sponsors," she said. When asked whether her bill would effectively gut the implementation of Obamacare, she shook her head.

"That's not true," said Landrieu. "What my bill would do is allow 5 percent of the American people who had individual coverage, that were ensured as of such-and-such a date, to keep their insurance. My bill says permanently—there might be other bills that say two years or three years. Throughout that time, many of the people who have those plans—this is my view—will see that they can get better plans at better value."

And it was important to pass her bill, not Upton's. "That bill does not fix the Affordable Care Act," said Landrieu. "It does not fix it. It guts it. I would not urge the Democrats in the House to support it, because it allows, through 2014, new people to sign up, which would undermine the Affordable Care Act."

Other red-state Democrats either moved quickly away from reporters or echoed Landrieu. Democrats who had been more closely involved in the passage and crafting of the law were aghast.

"I'm not one to change it," said West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller. "I'm as enthusiastic about that law as I was when it was signed. I don't want the administration to do a lot of changing."

Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin put the whole controversy in the larger context. Eventually, plans would need to change; eventually the country needed to evolve.

"You have to understand, we're changing a value system," said Harkin. "Not too many people understand this. There was an old value system in health care. What was that old value system? You didn't have to have health insurance. You could have junk policies that didn't do anything. Insurers could cut you off because of a pre-existing condition. You could go bankrupt because you had unpaid bills. New system? Everyone gets insurance coverage. You don't have to go to the emergency room if you get sick. You get affordable coverage, and the coverage can't be junk. To the extent that we start picking up on what Sen. Landrieu wants, and moving the date back, and back, and back, we never move to the new system."

Both Harkin and Rockefeller are retiring in 2014. Landrieu is running for a fourth term.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.