WASHINGTON — The House approved bipartisan legislation Tuesday to exempt U.S. health plans sold to expatriate workers from having to comply with requirements under the Affordable Care Act.
The measure, which passed 268-150, is aimed at helping U.S. insurance companies like Cigna and MetLife that are at a competitive disadvantage with foreign firms that do not have to comply with ACA requirements such as free preventive care and a ban on lifetime coverage limits. Sixty Democrats joined most Republicans in voting "yes," while 17 Republicans opposed the legislation.
There is widespread agreement on the need for a fix under the health law for U.S.-written expatriate plans that can be sold to Americans working overseas and foreigners working here or elsewhere. But senior Democrats and the White House opposed the bill that was advanced Tuesday, saying it contained deal-killing loopholes, including opening the possibility that legal permanent U.S. residents could be sold expatriate plans that don't meet the basic requirements of the health law.
"We do need to fix the expat issue, but not by unfixing health care reform," Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., said.
Supporters of the bill said that after working on the issue for years it was time to bring it to a vote, and further changes could be made as it moved through the Senate. They said the measure was needed to protect thousands of U.S. jobs that would disappear if U.S. companies that issue expatriate health insurance can't compete with foreign firms.
"This bill represents a very narrow change to the law that saves jobs," Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., said. "This bill simply mends the law. It doesn't end the law."
The GOP-controlled House has passed more than 50 bills to repeal, cancel out or otherwise uproot President Barack Obama's health law, and it remains a potent political issue heading into the November midterms. Yet Republicans increasingly appear to be acknowledging that the law is here to stay, especially since the first open enrollment period ended with larger-than-expected sign-up numbers.
Most in the small group of Republicans voting "no" Tuesday were staunch conservatives who contend the health law is not fixable. But for the most part Tuesday's debate was notable in its focus on the issues raised by the expatriate bill, not the larger politics that have dogged "Obamacare" for years.
"The ACA is a political weapon in a longer political war on both sides of the aisle," said Rep. John Carney, D-Del., a sponsor of the bill. "Let's call a temporary truce in that battle today to protect those jobs."