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House OKs grandfathering expansion bill

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican-controlled House has passed a bill that would let health insurers continue to sell any individual policy that was available on Jan. 1, 2013, in 2014, even if the policy fails to meet Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) standards.

The vote on the bill, H.R. 3350, was 261-157.

The Republicans managed to get 39 Democrats to vote for the bill.

Four Republicans crossed party lines to vote against the bill.

GOP lawmakers said the grandfathering expansion bill would ease the plight of millions of consumers reeling from cancellation notices.

The White House said President Obama would veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

The vote came Friday as Obama was preparing to meet in the White House with insurance company chief executive officers.

Obama announced Thursday that his administration would try to ease the plight of individuals affected by policy cancellations by refraining from any efforts to impose the new PPACA coverage requirements on insurers that let individual or small-group policies that were in force on Oct. 1, 2013, stay in force in 2014.

H.R. 3350 is broader, because it would give insurers the ability to sell non-compliant plans to new customers as well as to keep them in place for existing customers.

“For the last six weeks the White House stood idly by ignoring the pleas of millions,” said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and lead sponsor of the legislation.  

“Our straightforward, one-page bill says, if you like your current coverage, you should be able to keep it. The president should heed his own advice and work with us, the Congress, as the founders intended, not around the legislative process.”  

Democrats said H.R. 3350 is just another in a long line of attacks on PPACA from Republicans who have already voted repeatedly to repeal it.

“It would take away the core protections of that law,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. “It creates an entire submarket of substandard health care plans.” 

Democratic opposition to the House measure was based in part on a fear that opening cheaper substandard plans to all comers could wind up driving premiums higher for the rest of the population.

The concern they express is that younger, healthier Americans would be attracted to the cheaper coverage, rather than seek out a plan that conforms with the Obamacare requirements.

Younger, healthier individuals are generally less expensive to cover for an insurer, and the more they shun the government-run insurance exchanges set up under the law, the higher the premiums could be for the relatively older, sicker customers who shop there.

Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Julie Pace and Alan Fram in Washington and David Eggert in Detroit contributed to this report. Allison Bell also contributed to this report.

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