WASHINGTON — Three of Minnesota’s five U.S. House Democrats broke from their party to back a Republican bill to reinstate health care plans that have been cancelled because they did not provide the level of benefits required under the Affordable Care Act.
They were among 39 Democrats, most facing potentially tough re-election fights, who helped pass the bill 261-157 Friday afternoon.
First District Rep. Tim Walz, 7th District Rep. Collin Peterson and 8th District Rep. Rick Nolan all represent largely rural districts that are either Republican-leaning or highly competitive. Fourth District Rep. Betty McCollum and 5th District Rep. Keith Ellison, both of whom represent liberal Twin Cities districts, voted no while all three Republicans in the delegation voted in favor.
The vote comes a day after President Barack Obama announced his administration would allow state insurance regulators and insurers to reinstate the old plans after protests from Republicans and some whose were sent cancellation notices.
Those notices had splintered Democrats. Many in the party were concerned that the poor roll out of the federal government’s health insurance website, healthcare.gov, coupled with tales of middle-class Americans fretting about lost insurance coverage could dramatically hurt Democrats’ electoral fortunes in midterm elections next year.
“While many folks may find higher quality, better value coverage on the marketplace, if you’re insured currently and you like your plan, you should be able to keep it,” said Walz in a statement issued by his office after the vote. Walz voted for the original Affordable Care Act.
Peterson is one of the most conservative Democrats in the House and voted against the ACA when it originally passed though he has voted often to sustain the law against Republican repeal attempts in the years since.
Nolan sought to cast a positive light on Friday’s vote.
“I’m glad to see that for the first time some of our colleagues are willing to work on fixing and improving the Affordable Care Act rather than fruitless efforts to repeal it,” said Nolan.
But Republicans did not see their votes as a step towards improving the long-controversial health care law and argued the roll out problems are just starting.
“As we go into the new year, I think it’s going to be much worse,” said 3rd District Rep. Erik Paulsen. “If anything, it’s going to become more challenging for the administration and supporters of the law to defend it going forward.”
Obama has vowed to veto the House bill should it land on his desk. It’s unclear if similar bills pending in the Democratic-controlled Senate will be given a vote.