In the most significant legislative rebuke to President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul, 39 members of his Democratic Party voted for a Republican bill in the House of Representatives on Friday aimed at undermining his signature domestic policy.
The measure from Republican Representative Fred Upton of Michigan passed 261-157. Thirty-nine Democrats, nearly a fifth of the party's caucus, supported the measure, which was seen as a test of loyalty.
Many Democrats fear the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act would hurt their re-election prospects in 2014.
The bill was unlikely to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate. Obama would veto the legislation if it reached his desk, the White House said, warning it would undermine progress by allowing insurers to sell new substandard plans that do not provide basic services and offer little financial help for catastrophic health events.
House Democrats said Upton's bill was designed to sabotage the larger law.
“They [Republicans] are perfectly satisfied with 40 million Americans having no health insurance at all,” said Representative James McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat. “If you want to go back to a system where the insurance companies can turn people away because they are sick, by all means vote for this bill.”
Obama, scrambling to rescue what was meant to be his biggest domestic policy achievement, on Thursday proposed a plan to allow insurers to extend by at least one year policies due to be canceled because they do not comply with new minimum requirements under the 2010 law, widely known as Obamacare.
With several million people facing the prospect of having their existing policies canceled, Obama is trying to stem the damage to his credibility over his repeated promise that if people liked their policies they could keep them.
The October 1 rollout of the program has been beset by technical glitches with the federal online insurance website that allows consumers to shop for policies. In recent days, HealthCare.gov's problems have been overshadowed by the controversy over the policy cancelations.
U.S. Rep Ron Barber, a Democrat from Arizona, explained his vote for the bill.
“I am frustrated and angered by the continuing problems with the health care website and I know Southern Arizonans are frustrated and angry, too.
“Today I voted to give people the option to keep their current plan until these and other issues are resolved. That's only fair.”
In an attempt to diminish that threat, House Democrats plan to offer their own plan that is similar to a bill from Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat from Louisiana, that would allow insurers to renew policies slated to be canceled, a Democratic leadership aide said.
It would also give the Department of Health and Human Services and state insurance commissioners the authority to go after insurers for excessive, unjustified, or discriminatory rates.
Obama was due to meet health insurance chief executives on Friday, a day after insurers expressed concerns about his plan to help Americans who are losing their current coverage because of his healthcare overhaul.
Insurers complained Obama's fix could create new problems and lead to higher premiums. State insurance commissioners, who regulate the market, said they were also concerned.
Insurers who said they would attend Friday's meeting include Aetna Chief Executive Officer Mark Bertolini; Patrick Geraghty, chief executive of Florida Blue; Humana CEO Bruce Brussard and Patricia Hemingway, chief executive of Health Care Service Corp. Scott Serota, president and chief executive officer of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, will also attend.