Vulnerable Senate Democrats Float Obamacare Changes

Thursday, 27 Mar 2014 02:29 PM

By Melissa Clyne

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A half-dozen Senate Democrats, most in hotly contested reelection battles, are proposing changes to Obamacare, a move viewed as a scramble to hold onto seats, Fox New reports.

In an op-ed published on Politico, Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Warner of Virginia, Angus King of Maine and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin suggest such things as adding a “copper plan” to the current offerings of platinum, gold and silver, having state insurance regulators create models to sell health insurance across state lines and allowing consumers to enroll directly through insurers, though the memo provides no details about how the proposed initiatives would be implemented.

Since July, respected statistician Nate Silver, founder of the number-crunching website fivethirtyeight.com, has gone from forecasting the midterm Senate elections as a tossup between the parties to this week giving an advantage to the GOP by six seats, recapturing control of the chamber. Silver’s figures are especially pessimistic about Dems’ chances in the red states of West Virginia, South Dakota and Montana, where longtime Democratic senators are retiring.

And in a special election for the 13th Congressional District in Florida last month, a stunning victory by Republican David Jolly, a Washington lobbyist, against the better financed, better known Alex Sink, a former gubernatorial candidate, has shaken Democrats confidence.

The decision came down to Obamacare, according to U.S. News & World Report’s Peter Roff, and Jolly campaigned heartily against it, while Sink took the tact of defending it, albeit with changes. It cost her the election.

“The White House refuses to realize that Obamacare is an anchor around the neck of Democrats running for office everywhere from Maine to California and from Alaska to Florida,” writes Roff. “Yet the president digs in his heels, refuses to compromise, and won’t agree to any changes that he cannot control.

The senators authoring the changes have now put their leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, in the position of choosing to risk putting the bills to a vote or stalling them until after the election, according to Fox News.

Even if the proposals went into effect, it may not benefit consumers, according to The Wall Street Journal, which reported on the higher deductible, lower premium copper plans in January, when Begich and Warner first proposed them.

The Journal cited an expert who said that at an average of just 50 percent coverage, copper plans may not “be reasonably defined as decent coverage.”

The senators suggest expanding voluntary coverage for employers with fewer than 100 employees, which comprise 98 percent of all businesses, to “enable small and mid-sized businesses to make their own choices for their businesses, and employees can shop for coverage on the individual marketplace.”

And expanding the current tax credits to include businesses with fewer than 50 employees, double the current 25-employee cap, for a longer period of time “would provide a real benefit to hundreds of thousands of small businesses and allow them to offer quality coverage to recruit and retain talented employees.”

Streamlining reporting requirements would mitigate regulatory and administrative burdens for businesses, for example allowing family members working for the same business to be counted as one full-time employee if they are on the same employer-sponsored health plan.

Startup funds should be restored for health insurance cooperatives, giving consumers more options while also sparking competition, resulting in lower premiums.

The group of six couch the proposals as “improvements” while acknowledging the president’s piece of signature legislation “is not perfect.” They promise “more steps to take” to make the law “work better,” but don’t name them. Instead, the senators encourage their colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get on board.

“Let’s stop trying to score political points by turning up the rhetoric and instead roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

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