The Corner

Lawmakers’ Aides Not Terribly Happy to Sign Up for Obamacare

Apparently Obamacare and its exchanges are good enough for the American people, but not for members of Congress and their staff (though adding to irritation is the fact that congressmen and staff aren’t eligible for the premium subsidies to afford the comprehensive coverage they are used to). The New York Times has the story:

Under a wrinkle that dates back to enactment of the law, members of Congress and thousands of their aides are required to get their coverage through new state-based markets known as insurance exchanges.

But the law does not provide any obvious way for the federal government to continue paying its share of the premiums for the comprehensive coverage.

If the government cannot do so, it could mean an additional expense of $5,000 a year for individuals and $11,000 for families under some of the most popular plans.

Not surprisingly, that idea is unpopular on Capitol Hill. . . .

“It’s a very serious concern,” said Representative Billy Long, a Missouri Republican who said staff members were “freaked out” at the prospect of paying the full cost of insurance out of their own pockets. . . .

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service pinpointed the problem 10 days after President Obama signed the health care law in March 2010. Since then neither Congress nor the administration has addressed it.

With the exchanges scheduled to open in just nine weeks, the Obama administration is struggling to come up with a creative interpretation of the health care law that would allow the federal government to kick in for insurance as private employers do, but so far an answer has proved elusive.

“Perhaps,” he said, “they could buy coverage on an exchange, pay for it on their own and be reimbursed later by the government. You would need a law to appropriate money for that.”

At a Congressional hearing in April, House members pressed the administration to say what would happen to their health insurance if they went into exchanges.

Last week Avik Roy reported that unions, too, are not too happy about their members’ being dumped into the exchanges. He writes:

In the private sector, many workers are concerned about losing their employer-sponsored health insurance coverage, and being dumped into Obamacare’s subsidized insurance exchanges. Two weeks ago, representatives of three large labor unions fired off a harsh letter to Democratic leaders in Congress, complaining that Obamacare would “shatter…our hard-earned health benefits” and create “nightmare scenarios” for their members. Today, we learn that the National Treasury Employees Union—the union that includes employees of the Internal Revenue Service—is asking its members to write letters to their Congressmen, stating that they are “very concerned” about legislative efforts requiring IRS and Treasury employees to enroll in the Obamacare exchanges.

“I am a federal employee and one of your constituents,” the letter begins. “I am very concerned about legislation that has been introduced by Congressman Dave Camp to push federal employees out of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) and into the insurance exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).”

That’s pretty telling, I think.

While I have sympathy for the staffers suddenly being faced with a large increase in health-insurance premiums (especially for low-level staffers making very little money), it’s worth remembering that many Americans will be subjected to such hikes, too, because of Obamacare. One also wonders whether this would have happened if the law hadn’t be written so quickly.

We are now nine weeks away from the official debut of the law’s exchanges, but the U.S. Office of Personnel Management has not clarified whether or not the government will be allowed to provide subsidies for congressional employees though the exchanges. Michael Cannon has the following predictions about how this whole thing may unfold:

That creates the potential for a sneaky, backdoor way that ObamaCare supporters — say, the Senate Democrats who set budgets for congressional offices — could shield their staff from ObamaCare: shift staff from personal to committee and leadership offices.

Or, the White House could just decide to make the same contribution to their Exchange coverage, statute be damned. It wouldn’t be the first time this White House tried to protect ObamaCare by spending money that Congress never authorized.

Congressional watchdogs, be on the lookout. 

Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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