When 2014 arrives, members of Congress and their staffs will have to get their health insurance via Obamacare’s insurance exchanges. However, the Office of Personnel Management announced on Friday that members of Congress and staff would be allowed to keep their insurance subsidies.
The controversy over whether members of Congress and their staff should be able to keep their access to insurance subsidies has been such a sticky subject that Obama became personally involved in the issue. Politco reported that “some lawmakers have privately threatened to push through a legislative fix—possibly attached to a must-pass spending bill—that would require the government to continue its contributions for health care premiums for Hill employees,” but the worry is that such a move could give Obamacare opponents ammo to tear apart other aspects of the Affordable Care Act.
Back in 2009, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) placed an amendment into Obamacare requiring members and staff to get their coverage on the new exchanges rather than the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program — FEHBP. Sub-paragraph D of paragraph 3 of subsection d of section 1312 within the Affordable Care Act says, “The only health plans that the Federal Government may make available to Members of Congress and their congressional staff with respect to their service as a Member of Congress or congressional staff shall be health plans that are created under this Act…or offered through an Exchange established under this Act.”
The issue for members of Congress is clarity. The questions revolved around whether insurance would be purchased with after-tax money or if the government would contribute to the costs pre-tax. It was also unclear whether pensions would be affected since, in the past, the FEHBP counted towards retiree benefits.
One of the fears of those who were opposed to the change is that Congressional staffers — who make relatively low salaries — would flee their jobs for better paying ones if they were to lose their current health insurance benefits. Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla) said, “I mean, they’re going to be the only set of federal employees that actually get paid by the federal government that have to go into the exchange.”
Furthermore, some Congress members have pointed out the fact that White House staff is not required to enter the exchanges as a talking point for their issue. However, White House officials continue to stand resolute.
“We have no legal authority to do that,” an official said. “But we would support legislation that would apply the same standard to the President and the White House staff and the cabinet members. We believe the insurance exchanges are a very good deal, a very good benefit, and we’re happy to be in them.”