Obamacare Exemptions for Congress - True or Not True?



Obamacare Exemptions for Congress - True or Not True?

  Remember Nancy Pelosi's comment about The Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act ( Obamacare)? The then Speaker of the House declared something to the effect that we'd have to enact the law so we could find out what's in its 2700 pages of rules and regulations and taxes.

  Well, the politicians in Washington, are just now reading it and they don't like it when it applies to them. If I recall, all the Democrats voted for it; none of the Republicans did. However, according to a story in the on-line magazine, Politico, Congress is seeking a bipartisan agreement to exempt them and their aides from having to participate in the health care exchanges. The law now requires Congressional participation.

  Stop right there. Since that story came out, some clarifications are coming out. The Washington Post wrote a clarifying story, labeled up front as a bit boring because it was, that wipes out the secret meeting issue, but doesn't eliminate the problems of applying the Act to congress. We'll get to that.

  In the interim, it was reported that congress and staffers are worrying that the law is going to cost them a lot of money. Right now, the government pays between 72 and 75 per cent of their health care premiums. Under the Affordable Care, the government will still subsidize the premiums based upon income. The worry is that the subsidies won't come up to what is being paid now. An aide, making $25,000 a year, one remarked, might have to pay $7,000 out of pocket. It would be a hardship also, according to the story, for congressmen who don't have big bank accounts. Congressmen earn $174,000 a year plus expenses and other perks.

  What the Politico story doesn't mention is that congress and its aides are now offered a wide variety of health care plans and many options. Health care exchanges will offer only four or five options described with labels such as platinum, silver, etc. The old plan offers over 15 options. Congress, by the way, participates in the same plan as offered to all federal employes. 

  Henry Waxman, (Rep. D-Calif) an architect of the bill doesn't agree. He doesn't think the law will impact congress and its staff members that much because of the subsidies. Of course, giving exemptions is nothing new. From the beginning, the Obama administration was passing out exemptions from the law for favored unions and political friends.

  Now, back to the Washington Post clarification story. The writer points out that Republicans, in the debate about the Affordable Care Act, proposed that the law apply to Congress and staff members. Democrats, in a cute move to co-op the GOP agreed. The argument now goes  that Congress will have to comply, but it doesn't really mean what it seems to mean since the federal government is simply a big employer like any other employer and can continue to provide the coverage it always has.

  But there's a problem there. Large employers can't get into the exchange until 2017. In the meantime, there is no procedure permitting the government to makes its regular contributions to a health plan. The Office of Personnel Management has not made a ruling interpreting the law. Here is what the law says, according to the Washington Post:

  "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)."

  That's pretty clear to me that Congress will have to be on the exchanges - four to five selections rather that 12 to 15. Or, they can amend the act. However, congressional insiders say no one is trying to exempt Congress from the Act, but looking for a way around it so the government can continue to contribute what it has. The Post referred to this as a "unique bind" that the amendment ( known as the Grassley amendment) put Congress in. Didn't Congress vote for it? Maybe they didn't read it.

  Anyway, you'll have to take their word that no one is trying to exempt anyone from anything. It's a glitch, I guess, in what promises to be a flood of glitches. Or maybe it isn't a glitch if the Office of Personnel Management rules like they are supposed to. Please don't be confused, either. The Act has 2700 pages; the regulations implementing the Act so far have 13,000 pages. It is not simple and exchanges for small businesses haven't been set up yet, though they are supposed to be. West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller (D) said things were a mess and getting messier.

  Whatever. Just don't accuse Congress of trying to get an exemption. They have a different interpretation.