The U.S. House today passed a bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Lynn Jenkins of Kansas to delay the individual mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare.
The 250-160 vote fell largely along party lines and represented the 50th time the Republican-controlled House has voted to delay, defund or repeal all or part of President Barack Obama's signature health care law.
The bill is given little chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate, however. And even if it does, President Obama has already threatened to veto it.
Jenkins, who introduced the bill just last week, said it is a response to the Obama administration's actions to delay mandates that large- and medium-sized employers provide health coverage to their workers.
“Aside from the fact that it is fundamentally unfair to give businesses special treatment that is not extended to individuals, American families have also been forced to deal with the botched rollout of healthcare.gov, and a series of confusing administration delays of the law issued via blog posts,” Jenkins said during debate on the bill.
Twenty-seven Democrats crossed the aisle to vote in favor of the bill. Only one Republican voted no.
Under current law, starting this year, most individuals are required to have some form of health insurance. Those who don't face paying a penalty on their income taxes of $95, or 1 percent of their income, whichever is less. That penalty would increase to $325, or 2 percent of income, in 2015; and $695, or 2.5 percent of income, in 2016 and thereafter.
Jenkins' bill would push the penalty schedule back one year, meaning people who do not get coverage would face no penalty this year.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that would result in 4 million fewer people gaining health coverage over the next three years. But it would save the federal government about $10 billion over five years, mainly because the government would not have to pay for the subsidies of people who will decide not to get insurance.
The individual mandate is considered critical to the success of the overall program because enrolling young, healthy, low-risk individuals - those who are now the least likely to get coverage on their own - helps lower the cost of insuring the elderly, disabled and people with pre-existing conditions.
“Well, here they go again,” said Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., who called the bill a “House Republican goose egg for millions of Americans.”
Jenkins countered that the Affordable Care Act has already been hampered by the troubled roll-out of healthcare.gov, the website of the federal health insurance exchange where people are supposed to be able to enroll in subsidized health coverage.
"In my state, Kansas, the latest consensus information estimates that 356,000 folks are uninsured," Jenkins said. "At the last count, only 22,000 of those individuals have enrolled on healthcare.gov."
Many of those uninsured were supposed to gain coverage through an expansion of Medicaid. But Kansas so far has chosen not to offer expanded Medicaid coverage because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that states cannot be compelled to take part in that portion of the health care law.