WASHINGTON -- Thirty-nine Democrats -- including three from the suburbs -- joined a Republican-backed effort to weaken a core component of the federal health care law and permit the sale of individual policies that fall short of requirements.
The bill passed 261-157 with a healthy bipartisan majority Friday in the face of a threatened White House veto. Among those voting in support were the suburbs' two freshmen Democrats and one sophomore Democrat: U.S. Reps. Tammy Duckworth of Hoffman Estates, Brad Schneider of Deerfield and Bill Foster of Naperville.
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All three could face serious election challengers in 2014, when health care changes are likely to be the key issue.
"While I believe the president's decision to allow insurance companies to offer existing plans was a step in the right direction, I think we also need a legislative solution," Foster said. "I voted for this legislation because I believe that consumers should be able to keep the plans they currently have."
"My neighbors were promised that they could keep their health insurance," Duckworth wrote in an email. "I voted to make sure that happens even though it is a far from perfect bill. The Affordable Care Act does many good things, but I'm disappointed in the administration's implementation because it leaves my neighbors with a lot of uncertainty."
The measure faces an uncertain fate in the Senate, where Democrats seeking re-election in 2014 are leading a move for generally similar legislation.
"I've consistently said that while I support the Affordable Care Act, it's not perfect and there are aspects of the law that should be improved," Schneider said. "The rollout of the online exchanges has been frustrating and, frankly, is unacceptable."
Republicans needled Obama over his announcement Thursday to try to extend health care plans that will be dropped at the end of the year for millions of Americans.
"It appears the president has finally conceded he broke his promise that Americans could keep their health care, but we reject his 'fix-of-the-day' approach," U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, a Winfield Republican, said in a statement. "Only legislative solutions -- not limited, politically motivated fixes -- can reverse the damage of his broken promises."
Hultgren and U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, a Wheaton Republican, voted for the House plan.
But most Democrats said the measure was just another in a long line of attacks on the health care bill from Republicans who have voted repeatedly to repeal it.
"It would take away the core protections of that law. It creates an entire shadow market of substandard health care plans," said Rep. Henry Waxman of California.
Democratic U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky of Evanston and Mike Quigley of Chicago voted against the legislation.
The vote came shortly before President Barack Obama welcomed insurance company CEOs to a White House meeting, and one day after he announced a shift toward making good on his oft-repeated promise that anyone liking his pre-Obamacare coverage would be able to keep it.
In brief opening remarks, he did not refer to the House vote and showed no give in his commitment to the program known by his name. "Because of choice and competition, a whole lot of Americans who have always seen health insurance out of reach are going to be in a position to purchase it," he said.
The events capped a remarkable series of politically inspired maneuvers in recent days. The president and lawmakers in both parties have sought to position themselves as allies of consumers who are receiving cancellation notices -- yet have made no move to cooperate on legislation that could require those consumers' coverage to be renewed if they wanted to keep it.
Neither Obama's new policy nor the bill passed in the House would ensure that anyone whose policy is canceled will be able to keep it. Instead, both would permit insurance companies to sell coverage renewals if they wish -- subject to approval by state insurance commissioners.
The White House meeting came as the industry and state commissioners began adjusting to the president's one-day-old change in policy.
Under the shift, Obama said insurers should be permitted to continue to sell to existing customers individual coverage plans that would be deemed substandard under the health care law. Without the change, many existing plans would have been banned beginning next year, and the president's announcement was an attempt to quell a public and political furor triggered by millions of cancellation notices.
The House measure went one step further. It would give insurance firms the ability to sell individual plans to new as well as existing customers, even if the coverage falls short of the law's requirements.
In a veto threat Thursday night, the White House accused Republicans of seeking to "sabotage the health care law" and said their measure would allow "insurers to continue to sell new plans that deploy practices such as not offering coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, charging women more than men, and continuing yearly caps on the amount of care that enrollees receive."
A veto would come into play only if both houses approve legislation and send it to the White House for the president's signature.
• Daily Herald Political Editor Mike Riopell contributed to this report.