What is Congress doing this week about Obamacare?

November 12, 2013

Concerns with the troubled implementation of the Affordable Care Act continue to dominate the attention of many lawmakers.

Congress returns to Washington later Tuesday after the Veterans Day weekend and House Republicans plan to spend most of the week focused on ways to either fix or roll back the law. Over in the Senate, Democrats aren't planning any official action to address the law's problems, but the White House remains sensitive to how its troubles could upset the reelection chances of several moderate Democrats next year. President Obama, in an interview with NBC News last week, didn't rule out making at least some fixes through executive action to address concerns -- but is ruling out new legislation.

Here's a quick review of what Congress has on tap regarding the health-care law this week:

HEARINGS:

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee: The panel is holding a hearing Wednesday to review the launch of HealthCare.gov and has invited five witnesses to testify, including Frank Baitman, the assistant secretary for information technology at the Department of Health and Human Services; Henry Chao, the deputy chief information officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; and Todd Park, the White House chief technology officer.

The committee subpoenaed Park last Friday to attend the hearing, a move that prompted his supporters to launch a Web site, LetToddWork.org, that is calling on the committee to dis-invite Park so he can continue working to fix the health-care Web site.

House Energy and Commerce Committee: This panel has already heard from top administration officials about the troubled rollout of HealthCare.gov, so the panel is meeting Thursday to hear testimony from outside experts, who plan to share their concerns and stories of dealing with implementation of the new law. Witnesses include Michael Astrue, a former commissioner of the Social Security Administration.

LEGISLATION:

Keep Your Health Plan Act: This measure was drafted in response to those Americans slated to lose their current health plans because they don't meet new standards established by the new health-care law. The proposal would permit plans currently available on the individual market to continue next year and would ensure that people who keep those plans would not face financial penalties for not switching to new plans as required by the new law.

The House is expected to pass this measure on Friday morning. The proposal's lead sponsor is Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and it has dozens of co-sponsors.

Keeping the Affordable Care Act Promise Act: This proposal is similar to the Upton bill and is sponsored by Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), one of several moderate Democratic senators facing tough reelection battles next year. Landrieu's proposal would allow people to keep their current health-care plans, but also would require insurance companies to provide information about which parts of their current plans don't meet the minimum requirements established by the new health-care law.

"A promise was made and this legislation will ensure that this promise is kept," Landrieu said when she unveiled the proposal last week. "For many consumers, plans in the Marketplaces may offer superior coverage at a good value that saves them money. But people should be able to keep their plans if they want to."

Her proposal has virtually no hope of ever being considered in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

The Manchin-Kirk Bill: This bipartisan measure would delay the individual mandate established by the Affordable Care Act by one year, until January 2015. The proposal also would waive the $95 penalty that individuals will need to pay if they don't enroll in a new health-care plan. The individual mandate would instead begin in January 2015 and the law's penalties would resume at a higher rate that month.

"This commonsense proposal simply allows Americans to take more time to browse and explore their options, making 2014 a true transition year," Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) agrees: "If a delay is good enough for businesses, it should be good enough for all Americans."

This proposal infuriates the Obama administration because it strikes at the central premise of the new law. But just like the Landrieu proposal, it isn't expected to get a vote in the Senate.

OTHER ACTIONS:

-- Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) on Tuesday called on HHS to halt the use of navigators, or the roughly 50,000 people expected to provide in-person assistance to people seeking to enroll in new health-care plans. Cornyn's calls came amid reports that some navigators might have encouraged people to lie on application forms.

-- Short of legislation, a group of moderate Democratic senators is still calling on the Department of Health and Human Services to extend the open enrollment period in order to give people more time to wait out technical glitches associated with HealthCare.gov. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) -- who also faces reelection next year -- led a push that began in late October and she's been joined by Landrieu and Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.), among others.

 

Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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