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Obamacare target of another House vote

WASHINGTON — The landmark health care reform law scheduled to reach a new milestone next month was the target of another vote in the House last week.

Lawmakers voted 235-191 for a Republican-written bill that would prohibit the government from providing subsidies for people who sign up for insurance through Affordable Care Act market exchanges until a verification system fully is in place to confirm their income.

The vote fell largely along party lines, with most Republicans voting for it and most Democrats voting against it. It became the 41st House vote called by GOP leaders trying to kill or weaken the law, and it is expected to be ignored by the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Sponsors said the bill would ensure benefits go only to those who qualify. Otherwise, said Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, “The only way the government will determine who gets federal subsidies is by who says they need them. This will open the exchanges to a staggering amount of potential fraud.”

Opponents said the bill would delay initial subsidies scheduled to be paid next year. When enrollment starts next month, people will be asked to estimate their 2014 income, which in turn will be checked against tax and Social Security records.

If enrollees collect more subsidies than they are entitled to, they might have to repay the difference the following year.

Democrats argued Republicans were overstating the potential for fraud in order to score political points. They said the law allows health care administrators to verify enrollee income through available government documents.

Also, they said, the subsidies don’t go directly to enrollees, making fraud all the more unlikely. Instead, their benefits come in the form of reduced premiums as the subsidy is paid to insurance companies.

Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei, both R-Nev., voted for the bill. Reps. Steven Horsford and Dina Titus, both D-Nev., voted against it.

The vote came as the House and Senate returned from a five-week summer recess and contemplated taking action against Syria for its use of chemical weapons.

The House voted on minor legislation, while the Senate hit an impasse over an energy efficiency bill.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.

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