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Arizona delegation splits as House passes ‘Keep Your Health Plan' bill

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Flagstaff, said she is angered by problems with the rollout of Obamacare. But she opposed the Keep Your Health Plan Act because it would undermine health-care reform without improving reform in the long run. (Photo by Michelle Peirano/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON -- Arizona Reps. Kyrsten Sinema and Ron Barber joined 37 other Democrats who crossed the aisle Friday and voted for a GOP-backed bill to let people keep their current insurance policies under the health care reform act.

The 261-157 vote split mostly along party lines for the Keep Your Health Plan Act of 2013, which would let insurance companies keep selling health-care policies that were in danger of being discontinued because they do not meet new minimum standards under the Affordable Care Act.

The bill comes as the White House is under fire for the number of people who say they have lost their policies, despite President Barack Obama's repeated promises that people would be able to keep insurance coverage they liked.

Obama apologized Thursday to people whose health-care plans were canceled, and announced that the Department of Health and Human Services would "grandfather in" existing policies.

But Obama also vowed to veto the Keep Your Health Plan Act if it reaches his desk, saying it undermines the Affordable Care Act. The bill has yet to be heard in the Senate.

The bill would allow insurance companies to keep selling any plans that were in effect as of Jan. 1, 2013. They could continue to sell those plans throughout 2014.

Sinema, a Phoenix Democrat, called the bill a "commonsense" solution to the problem of canceled policies and said it would keep Obama's earlier promises.

"We promised that individuals who like their plans would be able to keep them and this bill keeps that promise," Sinema said in a statement Friday.

Barber said in a statement that allowing people to keep their plans was "only fair," especially considering the glitches that have made it hard for people to sign up on the Healthcare.gov marketplace since it opened Oct. 1.

"I am frustrated and angered by the continuing problems with the health-care website and I know southern Arizonans are frustrated and angry, too," Barber, a Tucson Democrat, said in the statement.

But Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Flagstaff, opposed the bill, saying it would undermine reform by letting insurers continue to offer plans that deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, charge more to women and have other provisions that violate the reform law.

The bill approved Friday would only create an exception to the Affordable Care Act, without improving it, Kirkpatrick said in a statement.

"Lost in all the partisan noise-making are the people who have been waiting years for quality, affordable health care," she said.

Only 739 people in Arizona had signed up for health insurance on the marketplace between Oct. 1 and Nov. 2, according to numbers released this week. The Obama administration had originally estimated more than 7,000 Arizonans would sign up in the first month, said Rep. David Schweikert, R-Scottsdale, in a statement Friday.

"Even when they manipulate the data, the results are still abysmal," Schweikert said.

While much of the discussion Friday centered on how to let people keep their existing plan, and on the continuing difficulties with the Healthcare.gov website, some Arizona lawmakers said these problems are only part of the bigger picture.

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, said in a speech on the House floor on Thursday that the Affordable Care Act "is fundamentally flawed in both concept and execution." That was echoed Friday by Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Mesa, who said in a statement that the law needs to be repealed entirely.

"While our bill today repeals parts of Obamacare and ensures more choices for Americans, the ultimate solution is still a full repeal of Obamacare,'" Salmon said.

In addition to Sinema and Barber, other Arizonans voting for the bill were Salmon, Gosar, Schweikert and Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale. Opponents included Kirkpatrick and fellow Democratic Reps. Ed Pastor of Phoenix and Raul Grijalva of Tucson.

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