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.
The vote was 259-154, with 33 Democrats breaking ranks and joining the GOP majority in supporting the legislation. 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 GOP 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 enrolment, 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 enrolment 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 cancelled 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.
Boehner said Republicans will hold their annual retreat in another week and a half, and health care is on the agenda.
“I think you’ll see Republicans come forward with a plan to replace ‘Obamacare,’ a plan that will actually reduce costs for the American people and make health insurance more accessible,” Boehner told reporters at a news conference.