Democrats to Offer Fixes for Health Law

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from The Wall Street Journal,

The Move Stirs a Party Debate About Wisdom of Keeping Spotlight on the Measure’s Flaws.

Several centrist Senate Democrats, including some up for re-election this fall, are planning to push for changes to the Affordable Care Act—a move that has stirred debate within the party about whether making these fixes would keep the spotlight trained on the health law’s flaws.

Democrats in Congress have vowed to keep—and improve—President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul, but their recent efforts have been overshadowed by controversial White House tweaks and delays. The last significant change to the law was the 2011 repeal of a tax-reporting requirement affecting small-business owners.

Hoping to change that, Democratic Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia, Mark Begich of Alaska, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, as well as Sen. Angus King (I., Maine), plan to introduce as soon as Thursday a set of principles and legislation aimed at strengthening the health law, according to lawmakers and Senate Democratic aides.

“I’ve always been a believer that the law was not perfect, but you should continue to work to improve it,” Mr. Begich said in an interview Wednesday. “People are seeing that as it’s implemented, there are tweaks you need to do and there’s just nothing wrong with that.”

Among the proposals likely to be included is one backed by Messrs. Begich and Warner offering a new kind of insurance plan, a “copper” plan featuring lower premiums and higher out-of-pocket costs than the “bronze,” “silver” and “gold” options on the government-run health-care exchanges.

Lawmakers also would like to make health care more affordable for small businesses by expanding certain tax credits and making them available for longer. And Mr. Warner said on Fox News earlier this week that he favors enabling the sale of health insurance across state lines, an idea that has garnered interest among House Republicans as well. Other bills are expected to be introduced, with an emphasis on changes that don’t undercut the law’s foundations, aides said.

It is unclear if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) would bring any of the bills to the floor. One worry is that devoting Senate debate to the health-care changes would return attention to the law’s glitches, rather than refocusing attention on Democrats’ core issues, Democratic aides said.

And even if any of the measures were brought to the floor,Republicans might balk at helping Democrats improve a law whose unpopularity is central to the GOP’s midterm strategy. Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) said Wednesday he would be in favor of making immediate fixes, but other Republicans expressed reservations. “These folks have voted for that bad piece of legislation [are] now having remorse,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R., Ga.), who said his vote would depend on the legislation. Democrats “want to try to do something political to a very unpopular piece of legislation,” he said.

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