Congressman Peters’ yea vote on H.R. 3350 an overreaching attempt to appease conservative critics.
By Andy Cohen
In the midst of the mayoral special election, there have been a number of items of local importance that have gotten, if not lost, then overshadowed. Often, in the course of our sometimes convoluted local political scene, the actions of our members of Congress get largely ignored….which is a shame, particularly in the case of our local right wing extremist/verbal bomb thrower/attention whore Darrell Issa. He, in particular, will do most anything, say most anything just to get his mug on camera.
But typically, our members of Congress will try to do what’s right for their respective districts, and do so in a respectable manner becoming of the office they hold. And despite the inbox full of press releases sent out by our Congressional brigade, the local news media doesn’t often find it sexy enough to keep tabs on what they’re up to. Which is a shame, because they’re often doing some very good work on our behalf.
But then again, sometimes our representatives will do something—vote on a bill, for example—in the name of “bipartisanship” that should be given some extra scrutiny. Such is often the case with Freshman Democratic Rep. Scott Peters.
Peters isn’t exactly an ideological firebrand, which is okay. It’s probably a large part of the reason he got elected in the moderate, upper middle class 52nd District in the first place. And he often expresses a desire to “reach across the aisle” and find Republican partners to work with in the name of good governance. Again, admirable, but perhaps a bit of a fool’s errand given the lock-step intransigence of the Party of ‘No.’ It’s worth a shot, though, even if nothing is likely to come of it in the short term.
Besides, Congress needs more moderate, reasonable figures. If Peters had more moderate Republican counterparts, then maybe this latest iteration of the “Do Nothing Congress” might actually accomplish something of substance.
Unfortunately, this desperation for bipartisanship has led Congressman Peters and 32 of his Democratic colleagues to cast a vote that could potentially be one of the most damaging of his brief tenure, and do serious damage to the healthcare reform law he professes to support.
The particular vote in question, cast last month (November) on H.R. 3350, the “Keep Your Health Plan Act of 2013,” more commonly known as the Upton bill after its principle author, Fred Upton (R-MI). The bill reads in its entirety:
Notwithstanding any provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (including any amendment made by such Act or by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010), a health insurance issuer that has in effect health insurance coverage in the individual market as of January 1, 2013, may continue after such date to offer such coverage for sale during 2014 in such market outside of an Exchange established under section 1311 or 1321 of such Act ( 42 U.S.C. 18031 , 18041).
Treatment AS Grandfathered Health Plan in Satisfaction of Minimum Essential Coverage
Health insurance coverage described in subsection (a) shall be treated as a grandfathered health plan for purposes of the amendment made by section 1501(b) of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
It’s fairly innocuous seeming in its language. The premise is simple enough. Allow people to keep their sub-standard health plans for another year, outside of the healthcare exchanges. But things are rarely as simple as they seem, particularly when we’re talking about Congressional legislation. And as a lawyer by trade, Congressman Peters should have known this.
It is no secret that the Republican desire is to eliminate the Affordable Care Act altogether, and thus wipe out the single most significant accomplishment of the Obama presidency. If they could, they’d probably like to wipe out the Obama presidency itself, but they had that opportunity in 2012 and failed miserably.
According to this analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Upton bill is anything but innocuous. What it would accomplish is what Republicans have been gleefully hoping for all along: To undermine the law and prevent it from functioning as intended. What the CBPP study found was that if signed into law, the Upton bill would raise insurance premiums in the heathcare exchanges by keeping younger, healthier people out of them.
As of 2010, health plans must meet certain standards of coverage. If a plan was in existence prior to 2010, it was “grandfathered in,” and those enrolled in those plans could keep them until the ACA was fully enacted in January, 2014. Individuals purchasing a health plan after the ACA became law would be required to purchase an ACA compliant plan. The Upton bill would change that, allowing those same plans to continue to be sold to new customers through 2014, and thereby discouraging people from participating in the exchanges.
The Upton bill would also allow health insurers to continue to deny people coverage on the basis of a preexisting condition, forcing those people into the exchanges while enticing younger, healthier customers out of the exchanges. This would cause a surge in pricing for plans offered through the healthcare exchanges, since the pricing mechanism is dependent on enrolling a larger number of healthy people.
ACA compliant plans are required to cover preventative care at no additional cost to the consumer, pregnancy and maternity care, provide a minimum level of prescription drug coverage, mental health services, and treatment for substance abuse. Women could no longer be charged more for their healthcare plans simply because of their gender. Passage of the Upton bill would change that. Insurers would be allowed to offer policies that contain huge gaps in coverage; gaps that often lead to bankruptcy and which the ACA is designed to avoid.
In short, the Upton bill would accomplish the very thing Republicans are hoping for: Drive up the cost of healthcare and remove the cost containment measures that are so crucial to reforming our health care system.
This is not the first time that Congressman Peters has joined with Republicans to vote in favor of one of their many attempts to kill or delay “Obamacare.” Previously he and 28 other Democrats joined the Republicans in voting to delay the individual mandate by a year, a somewhat reasonable if still misguided vote in the wake of the Obama administration’s delay of the employer mandate.
To be sure, Congressman Peters has many times stood firmly alongside the working class and business class of San Diego. He has railed sharply against the sequester, going to pains to demonstrate the destructive effects it will have on the San Diego economy directly. He has hosted many workshops throughout the region aiming to assist businesses in adjusting to the new realities of the post “Obamacare” world. And while efforts at bipartisanship can at times be admirable and productive, in this case it was a foolish attempt to appease his conservative critics.
There are times when a Democratic member of Congress—even a moderate one—must stand on Democratic principles. This was one of them. Congressman Peters and his staff clearly did not do their homework when they decided to support this bill.
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