PHARMA & HEALTHCARE | 6/13/2013
Democratic Congressman: 'Not Fair' To Subject Congress To Obamacare Just Like Everyone Else
Robert Book, Contributor
When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) was being debated, proponents were accused of saddling Americans with inferior and expensive health care while keeping generous coverage for themselves at taxpayer expense. To rebut that allegation and build confidence in the bill, a provision was added mandating that members of Congress – and their staff members – get there coverage through the new exchange system the bill set up.
Now that the time to sign up for exchange coverage is nearing, a Democratic member, Rep. John Larson (D., Conn.), is saying that “this is simply not fair” – as key staff members head for the exits to avoid Obamacare.
Politico reports that “many on Capitol Hill fear it could lead to a brain drain” and notes that “[t]he problem is far more acute in the House, where lawmakers and aides are generally younger and less wealthy.”
What? Obamacare disproportionally hurts those with lower incomes? It may come as a surprise, but it shouldn’t. We’ve known this since before the legislation even passed.
More to the point, why did Rep. Larson vote to impose on the country a health coverage system that “is simply not fair”?
Staffers grumble about being stuck on the exchanges
Ever since Obamacare became law, this has been a source of grumbling among the congressional staffers I talk to. One aspect of the Grassley amendment is that it originally appeared to exempt staffers who worked for congressional committees, and congressional leadership, because those staffers didn’t work for specific Members of Congress. (My understanding is that the Office of Personnel Management has since clarified the regulations to include all staff, including committee and leadership.)
A bipartisan deal to rescind the provision?
According to John Bresnahan and Jake Sherman of Politico, however, Congress is seeking to wipe out these provisions and put members and staffers back onto FEHBP. “Several proposals have been submitted to the Office of Personnel Management,” they write. “One proposal exempts lawmakers and aides; the other exempts aides alone.”
What’s surprising about the effort to revive the exemption is that it appears to be bipartisan. According to the Politico reporters, talks to change the provision involve both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio). “Everyone has to hold hands on this and jump, or nothing is going to get done,” one source told the reporters. Several of their sources worried about a “brain drain” that would drive talented staffers off the Hill.
One subtle point needs to be made: Large employers in the private sector are not required to put their employees onto the Obamacare exchanges. Given that Congress is a large employer, this isn’t, in the purest technical sense, about subjecting Congress to the same laws it imposes on other large employers. But it is about subjecting Congress to the laws it imposes on those who will have to buy insurance on the exchanges: individuals who don’t get coverage through their employers, and small businesses.
UPDATE 1: Sherman and Bresnahan report that House Speaker John Boehner says that this snafu is “Democrats’ problem to solve.”
“The fact that Democratic leaders want to opt themselves out of the Obamacare exchanges shows that Sen. Baucus isn’t the only one who realizes the president’s health care law is a ‘train wreck,’” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.
“The speaker would like to see resolution of this problem, along with the other nightmares created by Washington Democrats’ health law, which is why he supports full repeal,” Steel added. “In the meantime, it is Democrats’ problem to solve. He will not sneak any language into bills to solve it for them — and the Democratic leadership knows that.”
UPDATE 2: Harry Reid, in a carefully-worded statement, says there will be “no legislative fix” to exempt members and staffers. That leaves open the possibility for OPM to provide a back-door exemption:
Senator Reid is committed to ensuring that all members of Congress and Congressional staff experience the benefits of the Affordable Care Act in exactly the same way as every other American. He believes that this is the effect of the legislation as written, and that therefore no legislative fix is necessary. There are not now, have never been, nor will there ever be any discussions about exempting members of Congress or Congressional staff from Affordable Care Act provisions that apply to any employees of any other public or private employer offering health care.
UPDATE 3: Chris Jacobs of the Galen Institute offers historical context, and suggests that state legislators who vote to expand Medicaid should be required to enroll in the program:
The blatant hypocrisy is astounding.
many on Capitol Hill fear it could lead to a brain drain
These folks in DC think they are elite, therefore above the things they subject us to...