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Three NorCal House Dems vote for Upton bill

Reps. Jerry McNerney, John Garamendi and Ami Bera were among 39 House Democrats who joined with most Republicans to pass a controversial bill Friday that would let insurers keep selling policies which fall short of the new healthcare law’s standards and consumer protections.

H.R. 3350 by Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., would not only let people with insurance that doesn’t meet the new law’s standards keep it through 2014, but it would also let new customers buy such policies too. The House approved the bill 261-157, but the bill faces a tougher time in the Democrat-led Senate and President Obama has vowed to veto it.

Most Democrats say the Upton bill basically guts the new law, disrupting the risk pools that make individual insurance sold on the new health benefit exchanges affordable for most Americans.

A spokeswoman for McNerney, D-Stockton, didn’t reply to an e-mail and a phone call Friday.

Matthew Kravitz, a spokesman for Garamendi, D-Fairfield, said Obama and House members on both sides of the aisle “all agree that the fact that so many plans are being dropped is an issue of concern.”

“Congressman Garamendi has always said that every law, including the Affordable Care Act, can be improved,” Kravitz said. “Congressman Garamendi voted for the Democratic plan to fix this problem, and he also voted for the Republican plan. The Upton bill has flaws, but by bringing the issue to the Senate, Garamendi hopes the Senate will take up their own legislation and both chambers, in a bicameral bipartisan fashion, can hash out a compromise during a conference committee.”

Bera, D-Rancho Cordova, issued this statement:

“I voted for the Keep Your Plan Act today so that all Sacramento County families have the individual choice to keep their insurance if it is working for them.

“That being said, I encourage Californians to explore their options on California’s new health insurance marketplace, Covered California, where families are likely to find plans that offer better coverage, for less money. California’s website is working, and health plans in the marketplace offer more patient protections and assistance to help pay for insurance, which isn’t available under existing plans.

“The bipartisan passage of today’s bill, and the President’s new proposal to let Americans keep their current coverage through 2014, are important steps in the right direction. As a doctor and the former Chief Medical Officer of Sacramento County, I am committed to bringing down the cost of health care and will keep working to fix parts of the Affordable Care Act that aren’t working for the American people.”

All three Democrats hold what could be described as swing districts. The Cook Political Report, a renowned prognosticator of elections, rates McNerney’s 9th Congressional District and Garamendi’s 3rd Congressional District as “likely Democrat,” meaning they’re not considered competitive at this point but have the potential to become engaged. But Cook rates Bera’s 7th Congressional District as a toss-up in which either party has a good chance of winning.

Elizabeth Emken, one of three Republicans seeking to unseat Bera next year, issued a statement saying Bera is trying to mask his support of an unpopular law.

“Regardless of his vote today, Ami Bera has continually defended Obamacare and all the problems it has caused while voting to keep it the law of the land,” she said. “Bera’s votes have put over 1 million Californians in danger of losing their health care. He can claim he was ‘concerned’ all he wants, but his voting record tells the painful truth – Ami Bera approved of Obamacare, and now he is trying to distance himself from its disastrous effects.”

Health insurers are discontinuing individual-market policies that don’t meet the standards set forth in the nation’s new law. Those receiving such notices are being offered new policies by their insurers, but also can go to the Covered California website to shop around for the best deal and to determine whether they’re eligible for subsidies.

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California files health-care law amicus brief

California Attorney General Kamala Harris on Monday filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review whether for-profit businesses may claim religious exemptions from the national health-care law’s requirement that employee health plans cover birth control.

The brief urges the high court to hear Kathleen Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., and to overturn a lower court’s ruling that would allow two for-profit corporations to avoid full compliance with the law. The Obama Administration sought the court’s review last month.

“Access to contraceptive services is critical to the health of women and infants; women’s economic and social wellbeing; and women’s opportunities to participate fully in society,” the brief says. It also argues that a lower court’s determination that for-profit corporations may assert religious exemptions to certain laws could interfere with enforcement of other important regulations that protect public safety, civil rights, social welfare, housing, employment and public health.

“The freedom of individuals to exercise the religion of their choosing is one of the most important values in our society, as reflected by its enshrinement in the federal Constitution,” the brief says. “The federal government’s contraceptive coverage regulations under ACA respect that freedom through inclusion of appropriate exemptions, while also advancing the similarly compelling interests in public health and gender equality in access to health care. The court of appeals’ decision would upset that balance and threaten far-reaching impacts on the States beyond the issues presented by this action.”

Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington all joined in California’s brief, which addresses a ruling issued in June by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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Brown blames shutdown on ‘extreme radicals’

Gov. Jerry Brown today signed a package of bills to tweak and advance Obamacare’s implementation in California – and he took a shot at congressional Republicans in announcing it.

“While extreme radicals in Washington shut down our government, here in California we’re taking action to extend decent health care to millions of families,” Brown said in his news release.

See the complete list of bills Brown signed today, after the jump…
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Lee & Farr decry shutdown during House debate

A few Northern California House members were among those who took to the lectern moments ago during the latest floor debate on the impending federal government shutdown.

The House is debating the latest GOP plan: tying a one-year delay of Obamacare’s individual mandate to the continuing resolution that would keep the government funded and running past midnight tonight.

Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, called a shutdown “a huge mistake.” He said his party fought vehemently against the decision to go to war in Iraq, against welfare reform, and against lots of other things in recent decade, but with each, “we didn’t shut down the government after we lost that debate – instead, we tried to make it work.”

The shutdown, however, will hurt everyone from farmers trying to export food to mothers feeding their children with government aid, to students hungry for a school meal.

“It’s a mean, reckless, ill-conceived idea to shut down government,” Farr said.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, was a bit fierier still.

“Here we go again, Mr. Speaker – it’s really no secret that the Tea Party Republicans came here not really as public servants, but to destroy and decimate our government … This is, really, their dream vote,” Lee said. “It is shameful and it is downright wrong.”

“Make no mistake, the unnecessary GOP shutdown will have serious consequences for millions,” she said, and after more than 40 fruitless votes to cripple or repeal Obamacare, “this Tea Party obsession… to kill the government and to deny healthcare to millions of Americans, this must end… This hostage-taking must end.”

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was equally fiery in denouncing Obamacare. “It was passed in the middle of the night, 2,300 pages that nobody had ever read, and it’s having all kinds of consequences for our constituents, the American people,” Boehner said.

“Something has to be done, so my Republican colleagues and I thought we should defund the law for a year,” he said, noting the Senate disagreed.

But if the Obama administration has issued waivers and decided to delay enforcement of the employer mandate, why should ordinary Americans be stuck with a bill they can’t afford*, he asked. “It’s about fairness for the American people. Why don’t we make sure that every American is treated just like we are?”

(Click here to read more about who’s footing what bills.)

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NorCal House Dems knock Obamacare repeal vote

The House voted 229-195 today to repeal the “Obamacare” federal health care reforms enacted in 2010 – the 37th time that Republicans have tried to repeal or eliminate funding for the law.

The only two Democrats to vote for H.R. 45 were Jim Matheson of Utah and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, both of whom represent districts with heavy numbers of Republican voters yet are deemed “lean Democratic” – not “toss up” – by the Cook Political Report. No Republicans opposed the bill.

Like its predecessors, this effort is DOA in the Democrat-dominated U.S. Senate. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, spoke in defense of the vote:

“Today the House is voting to repeal the president’s health care law because it’s increasing the cost of health insurance, reducing access to care, and making it harder for small businesses to hire new workers. This is the third full repeal vote that we’ve had in the last three years, and some critics have suggested it’s a waste of time.

“Well, while our goal is to repeal all of ObamaCare, I would remind you that the president has signed into law seven different bills that repealed or defunded parts of that law. Is it enough? No. Full repeal is needed to keep this law from doing more damage to our economy and raising health care costs.

“But some progress has been made, and Republicans will continue to work to scrap the law in its entirety so we can focus on patient-centered reforms that lower costs and protect jobs. Because jobs is what this is all about.”

Northern California’s House Democrats were – shocker! – having none of it. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, smack-talked the vote at her weekly news conference:

“Here we are, 134 days into the 113th Congress, without one vote on a jobs bill. Fifty-four days after the Senate passed its budget, we still haven’t moved forward to the budget process with this do nothing agenda that does not reflect the priorities of the American people. It is an agenda that only the Republicans are interested in pursuing. So, you see a series of subterfuges, job evasions. Today’s job evasion is that the Republicans have decided to vote on the Patient’s Rights Repeal Act, their 37th attempt to repeal our country’s landmark reform bill. That’s 37 votes, 43 days, $52 million – $52.4 million – on an obvious evasion of our responsibility to work on the priorities of the American people.

“Not only is this a clear waste of time, and of taxpayer dollars, it is a deliberate vote to eliminate the affordable, quality health care benefits millions of Americans are already enjoying.”

Here’s Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton:

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, called it “a shameful waste of time and taxpayer dollars.”

“Instead of spending more than $50 million to repeal a law that is saving lives and money, we should be working to improve our healthcare system and expand on the benefits the law provides,” Thompson said. “It’s time to put these political games aside. By building on the reforms made in the Affordable Care Act, we can make sure every American can afford to go to the doctor. And that’s what matters.”

And Rep. Ami Bera, D-Rancho Cordova, said Americans “want Congress to focus on jobs, not waste time and taxpayer money voting 37 times to take away patient protections from middle class families.

“The Supreme Court has ruled, and ACA is now law. It’s not perfect, and it’s not the law I would have proposed because it doesn’t do enough to address the cost of care, but we don’t want to go back to a time when children faced discrimination due to pre-existing conditions, when students and young adults were kicked off their parents’ insurance, and when women had to pay more for insurance than men just because of their gender,” he said. “Now we need to move past partisan bickering and start working on ways we can drive healthcare costs down. For years, we’ve been paying more and more for healthcare, and getting less and less. As a doctor and former Chief Medical Officer for Sacramento County, I know there are many places we can find savings.”

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$122.3 mil in grants to California health centers

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services today announced almost $122.3 million in grants awarded to California community health centers – including about $24.9 million in the greater Bay Area – under the Affordable Care Act health care reform law.

Grantees estimate these awards will help them serve approximately 166,504 new patients. But it’s also a potent crowd-pleaser in a presidential campaign year.

“President Obama’s health care law is making community health centers in California stronger,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a news release. “For many Americans, community health centers are the major source of care that ranges from prevention to treatment of chronic diseases. This investment will expand our ability to provide high-quality care to millions of people while supporting good paying jobs in communities across the country.”

Funding totaling more than $728 million across the nation will support renovation and construction projects, boosting health centers’ patient capacity and creating jobs. The Affordable Care Act provides $9.5 billion to expand services over five years and $1.5 billion to support major construction and renovation projects at community health centers. A new report released today shows the law already has supported construction or renovation of 190 health center sites and creation of 67 new sites across the nation. Employment at community health centers nationwide has increased by 15 percent since the start of 2009, and such centers now serve almost three million more patients.

The grants announced today are from two capital programs: One will provide about $629 million to 171 existing health centers across the country for longer-term projects to expand their facilities, improve existing services, and serve more patients. The other will provide about $99.3 million to 227 existing health centers to address pressing facility and equipment needs.

For a list of the California recipients, read after the jump:
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