Shea-Porter, Kuster vote to delay ACA individual mandate; GOP charges 'flip-flop'
Democratic U.S. Reps. Ann Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter voted Wednesday to delay until Jan. 1, 2015 the individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act, prompting Republicans to accuse them of flip-flopping.
Kuster and Shea-Porter were among 27 Democrats who joined 223 Republicans in passing the "Suspending the Individual Mandate Penalty Law Equals Fairness Act."
The individual mandate under the ACA currently requires most Americans to be enrolled in health coverage by March 31 or pay a tax penalty, phased in over three years.
The penalty is set to rise from the greater of $95 per adult or 1 percent of family income for 2014 to $695 per adult or 2.5 percent of family income for 2016. The 2014 penalty is due, along with individual income tax returns, by April 15, 2015.
The House legislation delays the phase-in so that it would not begin until Jan. 1, 2015.
The bill passed the House by a vote of 250-160.
Last July, Shea-Porter and Kuster voted against delaying the individual mandate as contained in the "Fairness for American Families Act." They also opposed an individual mandate delay in September that would have tied government funding to delaying the individual mandate and denying government contributions for members of Congress and their staffs.
Announcing her vote Wednesday, Kuster said, "While I am committed to ensuring that the heart of this law remains intact so that every Granite Stater has access to affordable, quality health insurance, the rollout of the Healthcare.gov website last fall was a disaster."
She said that while progress has been made toward fixing the web site, she noted that "many New Hampshire residents were initially denied access because of the faulty website rollout, and no individual should be penalized for website glitches that were beyond their control."
Kuster also reiterated her support for the ACA.
Shea-Porter said in a statement, "I supported this bill because it is about fairness. New Hampshire is one of just two states with only one insurer offering insurance plans on the state marketplace.
"Anthem has a monopoly this year in New Hampshire and it created a too-narrow network. That's not fair to my constituents, so I decided to vote to delay for one year the penalty for not purchasing health insurance."
Shea-Porter added, "I will support enforcing the individual mandate when New Hampshire consumers have choices like the citizens of 48 other states currently enjoy."
The National Republican Congressional Committee, however, said Shea-Porter and Kuster voted as they did on Wednesday for political reasons.
"Carol Shea-Porter and Annie Kuster spent 2013 defending Obamacare and voting to keep it fully in place at every possible opportunity," charged NRCC spokesman Ian Prior. "It's pathetic, obvious and should be insulting to Granite State voters that Shea-Porter and Kuster are now flip-flopping for political cover because Obamacare is falling apart at the worst possible time for their careers – during an election year."
Shea-Porter spokesman Ben Wakana responded that when Shea-Porter voted in support of the individual mandate in July 2013, it was before "the disastrous launch of HealthCare.gov, prior to Anthem announcing its too-narrow network in New Hampshire, and prior to Anthem announcing its rates in New Hampshire."
He said the September vote "was tied to 11th hour legislation to partially fund the government."
He noted that Shea-Porter said then, "I am willing to work with anyone to improve the Affordable Care Act, but changes to the health care law should be debated through an open legislative process, not through a hostage-taking stunt."
Wednesday night, Kuster spokesman Rosie Hilmer said in a statement:
"Congresswoman Kuster is committed to ensuring that the heart of this law remains intact so that every Granite Stater has access to affordable, quality health insurance. She has voted against measures that were political stunts aimed at undermining the law before it was even in effect.
"However, the Congresswoman believes the October rollout of the Healthcare.gov website was a disaster, and she has heard from many New Hampshire residents who had trouble signing up because of the faulty site. Furthermore, she's heard from constituents who were not satisfied with the limited options on the marketplace, and she believes all parties must work together to encourage more competition and choice for New Hampshire families.
"The Congresswoman believes that no individual should be penalized for website glitches that were beyond their control, and is committed to working with Democrats and Republicans to make this transition as smooth as possible for her constituents."