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House GOP moves to deregulate health insurance sales

Following up on their largely symbolic vote to repeal the new health care law, House Republicans moved ahead Thursday with more targeted efforts to advance their own health care initiatives, including deregulating health insurance sales.

More than 60 House Republicans signed on to a new bill to permit interstate sales of health insurance. The goal would be to lower premium costs by avoiding requirements in many states that insurers cover certain services, such as maternity care, cancer screenings and mastectomies.

At the same time, GOP lawmakers introduced legislation to place more restrictions on federal funding for abortion services, including a new ban that would make insurance plans that cover abortions ineligible for standard tax exemptions.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, called the abortion bill -- which is co-sponsored by a Democrat, Illinois Rep. Daniel Lipinski -- "one of our highest legislative priorities."

Also Thursday, a group of conservative House Republicans unveiled a fiscal plan that would prohibit any spending this year to implement the new health care law.

The proposal would also bar the Department of Justice from defending the law against court challenges and halt federal aid to states to help them prop up their Medicaid health insurance program for the poor.

House Republicans have pledged to not only repeal the health care overhaul that President Barack Obama signed in March, but also develop a set of alternatives.

The House passed a measure Thursday instructing GOP committee chairs to write legislation that meets 12 criteria, including lowering premium costs, assuring access to coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and increasing the number of insured Americans, all without raising taxes.

Most Democrats have dismissed the legislation. Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., called it "a largely empty resolution."

It passed, 253-175, with 14 Democrats joining a united GOP in support. That's 11 more Democrats than backed the repeal Wednesday.

While House Republicans were outlining their attacks on the law Thursday, the Obama administration announced a new set of federal grants to help states establish insurance exchanges starting in 2014.

These state-based exchanges, which are envisioned as insurance equivalents of travel sites like Expedia, are to become the central, Internet-based marketplace for consumers who do not get health benefits at work.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats don't plan to join the House in voting to repeal the massive new health care law, but they do want to eliminate a small portion of the law that is unrelated to health care.

Three Senate Democrats wrote Boehner on Thursday, asking him to pass a bill repealing a new tax filing requirement for businesses. Starting in 2012, nearly 40 million U.S. businesses would have to file tax forms for every vendor that sells them more than $600 in goods.