WASHINGTON (AP) — The House passed a bill Thursday to ban new subsidies to help people buy health insurance until the Obama administration enacts a new verification system to ensure benefits go only to those who are eligible.
Democrats say the bill, which has no chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate, would unnecessarily delay subsidies slated to start next year. The White House has threatened a veto. Thursday's vote was the 41st by House Republicans to repeal, de-fund or change the health care law since it was passed in 2010 without a single Republican vote. A few changes have been enacted, but the effort has largely been unsuccessful.
The 235-191 vote was mostly along party lines, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed. This week, House Republican leaders delayed voting on a bill to fund the government beyond the end of the month after some GOP lawmakers complained the measure didn't adequately withhold funding for the health care law. If the impasse persists, it could result in a partial government shutdown at the end of the month.
"Delay, de-fund, repeal, replace. That is exactly what we want to do, because this law has become so amazingly unpopular with the American people," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. Under the law, many low- and middle-income families that don't get health insurance through work will be eligible for subsidies to help buy insurance through state-based exchanges. Eligibility is based on income.
Republicans say there aren't enough safeguards to prevent fraud. They say federal regulations issued over the summer would enable people to get subsidies without adequately verifying their income. The bill would delay the subsidies until the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services certifies that they will only go to people who are eligible.
"This bill would protect American taxpayers from the staggering amount of fraud and abuse in Obamacare exchanges," said Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn. the main sponsor of the bill. Under the law, people applying for subsidies will be asked to estimate their family incomes for 2014. Open enrollment starts next month.
Income estimates will be checked against tax and Social Security records, according to the Obama administration. If there are significant discrepancies, there will be additional checks using information from a credit rating agency. If taxpayers still get more subsidies than they are entitled to, they may have to repay part or all of them when they file their federal tax returns the following year.
Democrats note that the subsidies will be paid directly to insurance companies, making it even more difficult for people to profit from fraud. Taxpayers will receive benefits through reduced premiums.
"Your bill will do nothing but prevent millions of hard-working American families from gaining affordable health care coverage," said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J.
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