CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sen. Joe Manchin will vote to reverse an earlier measure that would have defunded the Affordable Care Act, despite his opposition to a key piece of the health care law.
Manchin said while he opposes a section of the law requiring all U.S. citizens to have health insurance coverage, he would not support a government shutdown to see the mandate abolished or delayed.
Congress is currently in a budget standoff over the law.
Members have until Sept. 30 to pass a budget, or else almost all operations of the U.S. government will shut down. The Republican-led House of Representatives passed a funding bill last Friday that would keep the government open, but also would strike down the Affordable Care Act.
Leaders in the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate have made it clear they will not pass that bill.
In an emailed statement released Thursday afternoon, Manchin said Republican opposition to the Affordable Care Act should not be used to shut down the government.
"We need to work together as Americans to solve these problems so we can get our economy back on track and create American jobs," he said.
He said he still does not support the law's so-called "individual mandate" that will require all U.S. citizens have health insurance by Jan. 1, 2014 or face a fine.
"I have always opposed the individual mandate, and I continue to have concerns with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the cost and choices West Virginians will have in the health care exchanges," he said.
There are exemptions to the mandate.
Those who cannot afford coverage because the monthly premiums would exceed 8 percent of their annual income, and those who are experiencing hardships won't have to purchase coverage. Anyone who qualifies for Medicaid coverage under the new law but lives in state that refused to expand its Meidcaid program also is exempt.
Among the other exempt groups are Native Americans who are eligible for care under a separate program, illegal immigrants, prisoners and members of a health care sharing ministry. There is also a religious exemption.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates more than 20 million people will be exempt from the mandate by 2016.
Many see the individual mandate as the cornerstone of Obama's Affordable Care Act, which passed Congress in 2010. Without it, many health care experts fear the law's attempts to reduce the costs of care and insurance will be futile.
The mandate hinges on the idea that there are more healthy people in the world than sick people.
By requiring all of the healthy people to have health insurance, whether they need it right now or not, their premiums will help balance out all the unhealthy people who are racking up lots of hospital bills.
That, in theory, would keep health insurance premiums and healthcare costs low for everyone.
Many have claimed the mandate was unconstitutional, but the U.S. Supreme Court released an opinion last year upholding the provision.
Manchin's opposition to the individual mandate is not surprising.
While running for Senate in 2010, Manchin told the Wheeling Intelligencer newspaper he would support a repeal of the health care law "unless we can find common ground and common sense."
About two years ago he told ABC news he didn't like the individual mandate because it forced citizens to purchase health insurance.
"I've always had a concern and a problem with the mandate, that we were forcing it, basically saying by the law of the land you have to buy the product," he said at the time.
On Thursday morning, Manchin appeared ready to break ranks with his fellow Democrats and support a bill that would prevent a government shutdown while delaying the mandate.
"There's no way I could not vote for it," Manchin said, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. "It's very reasonable and sensible."
Manchin, speaking at a Bloomberg Government breakfast on Thursday, said President Barack Obama's administration already has given businesses until 2014 to provide health insurance for employees.
"Don't put the mandate on the American public right now," Manchin said, according to Bloomberg. "Give them at least a year. If you know you couldn't bring the corporate sector, you gave them a year, don't you think it'd be fair?"