January 16, 2014, 12:01 pm
House passes measure requiring O-Care updates; 33 Dems defect
By Pete Kasperowicz
The House voted Thursday to require weekly updates from the Obama administration about the implementation and operation of ObamaCare and its website, HealthCare.gov.
Members passed the Exchange Information Disclosure Act in a 259-154 vote. And while many Democrats criticized the bill as another GOP attack on ObamaCare, it won the support of 33 Democrats in the final vote.
It's the second House vote in as many weeks showing some level of Democratic support for more oversight of the healthcare law. Last week, 67 Democrats voted for another GOP bill that would require officials to tell people if their personal information has been stolen from the HealthCare.gov website.
The White House opposed both bills, saying they would impose unnecessary reporting burdens on the administration. But the White House did not go as far as saying it would veto the bills.
Republicans said weekly updates are needed because the updates the administration is providing about ObamaCare happen roughly once a month. Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said more frequent enrollment updates are critical because those numbers could help predict possible premium increases and other information.
"If they aren't meeting their stated goals and their projections in terms of the costs of this bill, it could mean that people's premiums skyrocket next year," he said. "It could mean that the physician that they're used to seeing ... may not be available to them under their insurance plan."
The bill would require a state-by-state breakdown of the number of weekly website visits, who has opened an account, how many pick a plan and how many enroll in a plan. It would also require updates on the operation of the website, which experienced numerous glitches and shutdowns in the first several weeks of operation.
One of the pieces of information Republicans want is the extent to which young, healthy people are signing up versus those more likely to need medical care. The bill doesn't require that information, but it does require weekly reports on enrollees by zip code, which could provide clues about the kind of people signing up for coverage.
Republicans have also demanded information about how many people have actually made their first monthly payment for an ObamaCare health plan. But the bill does not address this issue, and as payments are made directly to insurance companies, it's not expected that the government would have this information.
Still, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said President Obama's past commitment to transparency means the White House should be fine with the bill.
"Preventing access to reliable data about the exchanges is not exactly what you'd expect from the self-proclaimed most transparent administration in history," Upton said. "It should not take a vote in Congress to get basic information from the administration, but without voluntary transparency, we don't have any other choice."
Democrats argued the bill would create new reporting requirements that would only divert efforts by the administration to implement the law.
"It's an effort to slow down implementation of the new law by drowning the Department of Health and Human Services in red tape," said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on Upton's committee.
Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) rejected that argument by saying the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has been caught spending millions of dollars on questionable activities under its $15 billion preventive health fund. He said that undercuts Democratic arguments that the department has no time for weekly reports.
"HHS managed to find money in its budget for taxpayer funded grants bent on such things as bike lane signs, dog neutering campaigns, promoting a sport called pickle ball, and lobbying campaigns for soda taxes," he said. "Clearly, HHS does not suffer from a lack of resources."
Other Democrats cited the latest report from the administration, which showed that 2.2 million people have signed up for health insurance under ObamaCare. Ways and Means Committee ranking member Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) said the growing number of enrollees is scaring House Republicans.
"The more it's successful, the more desperate they become," Levin said.