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White House touts health-care benefits for Arizonans; state lawmakers bolt

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, was one of a number of Democrats to join the GOP majority and vote for delays in Obamacare so Congress can work out kinks in the law. (Cronkite News Service photo by Vaughn Hillyard)

WASHINGTON - More than 420,000 Arizonans will get health insurance rebates under Obamacare, the White House said Thursday, as President Barack Obama went on the offensive for his beleaguered health-care plan.

The announcement came one day after House Republicans and a handful of Democrats - including three from Arizona - voted to delay the law's mandates until 2015.

They were the latest of more than three dozen House votes against Obamacare since it became law. But the votes are largely symbolic, since they are expected to be rejected by the Senate and Obama has vowed vetoes if necessary.

Obama, speaking Thursday at the White House, said Republicans are using time that could be spent on other issues by trying to repeal the overhaul.

"We've got a lot of problems in this country, and there's a lot of work that Congress needs to do," said Obama, backed by dozens of people who have benefited from the law. "And yet, instead we're refighting these old battles."

The White House said that Arizona families should get a total of $18.7 million in rebates as a result of Obamacare, an average $71 per family. Nationally, the average is $98 per family.

The rebates come from a provision requiring that insurance companies spend 80 percent of premiums on health care. If an insurer spends less than that, it must give the difference back to customers as a rebate.

The administration estimates that more than 8.5 million nationwide are expected to receive rebates this summer.

But critics said any reimbursement will be offset by health-care costs rising elsewhere.

Those costs and "the frustrating lack of information from the federal government is hampering families' ability to plan," said Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, in a statement Wednesday.

Sinema was one of three Arizona Democrats - with Reps. Ron Barber of Tucson and Ann Kirkpatrick of Flagstaff - to join Republicans voting to delay major portions of the health law.

The two bills would delay until 2015 requirements that businesses and individuals get health care. They followed the White House's announcement earlier this month that it would delay the employer mandate until 2014.

That drew fresh attacks from Republicans, who said a delay on businesses alone is unfair to individuals. They cited the administration's announcement as proof that even the president knows the law is "unworkable."

"There's no fairness when big businesses in this country are getting an exemption from the Obamacare mandates but American families aren't," House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday. "That's why the House this week passed two bills extending those protections, some basic fairness to all Americans."

The House voted 264-161 for the business delay, with 35 Democrats and all but one Republican voting in favor. It voted 251-174 for the individual mandate delay, with 22 Democrats and all but one Republican.

Sinema said she voted for the delays to give Congress more time to make bipartisan changes to the law.

Barber agreed, saying in a statement that a delay would give "small businesses needed time and flexibility to make sure the health-care law works for them."

Arizona Republicans were more blunt.

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, said in a statement that he voted to delay implementation "with the intention that in the next year we will scrap the worst law Congress has passed since Prohibition."

"This law represents the single largest peace-time tax increase on an already over-taxed American public," Gosar said. "The impact of this law has cost workers their jobs, raised policy premiums and limited health options."

But Obama said Thursday that the law has already started to reduce health costs.

"Generally speaking, what we've seen is that health care costs have slowed drastically in a lot of areas since we've passed the Affordable Care Act," he said.

Christina Corieri, a health-care policy analyst at the Goldwater Institute, said that Obama and most Democrats worry that delaying the individual mandate could cause health-care costs to rise.

While Corieri doubts that either of the bills passed by the House will succeed, she still thinks it was the right thing to do.

"I doubt it will go anywhere in the Senate I hope I'm wrong on that," Corieri said of the delay. "I think it's only fair that if you give a delay to businesses you have to give the delay to the individuals."

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