The Corner

Congress Passes Obamacare, Hilarity Ensues

Following up on my earlier post, it strikes me that I haven’t been entirely fair to President Obama. It seems clear now that it has always been the president’s sincere wish for every Americans to have access to quality health insurance equal to that enjoyed by members of Congress. I just didn’t realize that by this he meant he wanted to restrict the ability of both Congress and taxpayers to pick the coverage that works best for them.

Ben Domenech at The New Ledger points to the provision in Obamacare that made this delicious irony possible:

(i) REQUIREMENT- Notwithstanding any other provision of law, after the effective date of this subtitle, the only health plans that the Federal Government may make available to Members of Congress and congressional staff with respect to their service as a Member of Congress or congressional staff shall be health plans that are

(I) created under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act); or

(II) offered through an Exchange established under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act).

This “good for the gander” clause is a stripped-down version of the amendment Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) pushed for time and again throughout the health-care reform debate, from committee markup to the reconciliation battle. But Grassley’s proposal would have made Obamacare the law of the land for all federal employees — not just Congress, but the full 8 million federal workers and family members currently covered by the generous FEHBP system. But in paring back the amendment to include only members of Congress and their personal staffs (carving-out even those staffers who work for committees as opposed to members), the Democrats goofed things up, and good.

Most crucially, unlike other sections of Obamacare triggered in 2014 or later, the Grassley-lite amendment doesn’t contain an effective date, a “drafting error” which by well-established precedent of statutory interpretation means that it goes into effect with the president’s signature. Thus, members of Congress and their staffs are dumped into the insurance exchanges four years before the exchanges are even established!

Nor does the provision provide for an administrative body with the authority to interpret the provision or guide the transition from the FEHBP coverage to the new system. I have no doubt that Congress will act quickly (and quietly) to fix this goof, but for the time being this leaves Capitol Hill with the same uncertainty and confusion about this bill as the rest of America.


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