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Don’t fall for the widespread myth that Congress is trying to exempt itself from Obamacare

ExemptCongressObamacare

What is it about some people that makes them suckers for almost every bit of nonsense they hear from the right-wing noise machine (see image above)?

Even some of my Facebook friends — nice folks, mind you (else they wouldn’t be my friends) — are buying into false reports that Congress is entertaining legislation that would exempt its members and their staff and families from Obamacare.

HERE‘s what FactCheck.org says:

Several readers have asked us about Congress attempting to exempt itself from the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. A few said that a Facebook post claimed that President Barack Obama, Sen. Harry Reid and Democrats in Congress were trying to “get themselves exempted from Obamacare,” in the words of one reader.

But there is no bill in Congress calling for an exemption from the health care law. In fact, members of Congress and their staffs face additional requirements that most Americans don’t have to meet.

Under the health care law, their insurance coverage will have to switch from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, the group of private insurance plans that cover 8 million federal employees and retirees, to the exchanges created by the law. Those exchanges are meant for those who buy coverage on their own, the currently uninsured and small businesses. Members of Congress and their staffs would be the only employees of a large employer in the exchanges, which are set to begin offering insurance in January.

So, why is the false “exempt” claim making the Facebook rounds? There is reportedly concern on Capitol Hill that the Office of Personnel Management, which administers the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, won’t be able to smoothly transition members and their staffs into an exchange. The concern, as a Roll Call story explained, was that the government wouldn’t be able to make contributions toward the federal employees’ premiums, at least at the beginning of 2014. That would mean employees would pick up the whole tab for their insurance policies. Right now, the government pays 72 percent of premiums on average.

————

Ezra Klein of the Washington Post says THIS:

There’s a Politico story making the rounds that says that members of Congress are engaged in secret, sensitive negotiations to exempt themselves and their staffs from Obamacare.

Well, they were secret, anyway.

The story has blown up on Twitter. “Unbelievable,” tweetsTPM’s Brian Beutler. “Flat out incredible,” says Politico’s Ben White. “Obamacare for thee, but not for me,” snarks Ben Domenech. “Two thumbs way, way down,” says Richard Roeper. (Okay, I made the last one up).

If this sounds unbelievable, it’s because it is. There’s no effort to “exempt” Congress from Obamacare. No matter how this shakes out, Congress will have to follow the law, just like everyone else does.

Based on conversations I’ve had with a number of the staffs involved in these talks, the actual issue here is far less interesting, and far less explosive, than an exemption. Rather, a Republican amendment meant to embarrass Democrats and a too-clever-by-half Democratic response has possibly created a problem in which the federal government can’t make its normal contribution to the insurance premiums of congressional staffers.

Maybe.

See? This is getting boring already.

Here’s how it happened: Back during the Affordable Care Act negotiations, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) proposed an amendment forcing all members of Congress and all of their staffs to enter the exchanges. The purpose of the amendment was to embarrass the Democrats. But in a bit of jujitsu of which they were inordinately proud, Democrats instead embraced the amendment and added it to the law. Here’s the relevant text:

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).

(Snip)

But no one is discussing “exempting” congressional staffers from Obamacare. They’re discussing creating some method through which the federal government can keep making its current contribution to the health insurance of congressional staffers.

“Even if OPM rules against us,” one staffer said, “it’s inaccurate to imply that any talks are aimed at exempting federal employees from routine mandates of ACA since any talks are about resolving the unique bind that the Grassley amendment puts federal employees in.”

This isn’t, in other words, an effort to flee Obamacare. It’s an effort to fix a drafting error that prevents the federal government from paying into insurance exchanges on behalf of congressional staffers who got caught up in a political controversy.

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16 Comments

  1. Robert

    When you have a story line out there like this and its on liberal blog like The Huffington Post, it’s understandable there is concern about this program and the lack of clarity that even our leaders seem to have on its implementation. Especially when the lead in is how the word “trainwreck” is used.

    http://live.huffingtonpost.com/r/archive/segment/harry-reid-talks-obamacare-on-radio-show/5182f4c22b8c2a15290002fd

    By the way, I heard back from the journalist I emailed about how will uninsured people, who still don’t sign up for an insurance product through the exchanges, get their healthcare paid for when they show up at an emergency room? He let me know he doesn’t have an answer to that scenario yet, but will be seeking an answer. Apparently the person he goes to for answers didn’t know either. In the past, he’s been very prompt with an answer. I thought the whole point of Obamacare was to overcome the problem of all these uninsured people showing up for services, that were ultimately being passed onto to the premiums of people with medical insurance.

  2. Robert

    Here’s the link to the Politico article that some of this thread is based on. I hope to benefit from Obamacare, but it does disturb me there is so much not known about the implementation. I’m self insured so I keep up on this kind of info, Even the state and the insurance company I’ve spoken to don’t know much at this point. October 1 will be here soon. I hope the lower priced plans aren’t just for pain management with discounts for OTC pain relievers, stays in dormitory type infirmary’s, and a pre-paid burial plan (just kidding but who knows).

    http://www.politico.com/story/2013/04/obamacare-exemption-lawmakers-aides-90610.html

  3. expdoc

    Just returned from a presentation by the executive director of the Wisconsin Hospital Association. The overriding consensus is that the implemenation of the health care exchange is going to be a “train wreck”.

    For everybody.

    The uninsured have no incentive to pay for insurance until they need it and have an actual medical need.

  4. Robert

    expdoc, Did they discuss how people who go into an emergency room uninsured are going to be charged? Isn’t the whole goal of Obamacare to get the uninsured insured? For instance, let’s say it’s Jan 15, 2014. I never elected to join an exchange, I’m basically as uninsured on this day, as I was before the new mandate kicked in Jan 1, 2014. That day I go to the emergency room for some situation that requires they open me up and I’m there for 7 days. Plus need lots of follow up care. Who will the hospital bill for that service and who will the follow up doctors and clinic’s bill and how much will I the uninsured be accountable for? I can’t imagine that a person could file for health insurance after the fact and get coverage pre-dated back to the date of first service for an incident. I would think this scenario would be very easy to explain as its at the heart of the problem. Fining somebody doesn’t create coverage does it? Is that fine payable after the fact? If yes and its a puny amount, then where’s the incentive for signing up. If so, what on earth were they thinking? I have to think this situation is or should be the most defined of all, as the current insured pre- ja.1, 2014, already have a path in place for covered services.

  5. Ted Biondo

    Certainly there’s no bill in Congress to exempt themselves. They are lining up support for this exemption. What about all the unions and supporters which have obtained waivers from Obamacare already? And my heart bleeds for the poor government babies that have to switch their insurance – what do think is happening to most of the private and corporate insurances – they are or will be switched.

    Finally, the government isn’t paying for the government workers insurance premiums, the taxpayers are. The government isn’t some separate entity. The taxpayers pay for everything – the government “jobs” program is to get everybody in the country servicing everybody else, because the government sure doesn’t do much else except take our money and give it to others. Round and round we go!

  6. Give it up, Ted. You’re just digging a deeper hole.

    You bought into false media reports that Congress is trying to exempt itself from Obamacare, and now you’re trying to finesse your mistake.

    Congress is not “lining up support” (as you put it) for an exemption from Obamacare. And, As Ezra Klein, notes: “[N]o one is discussing ‘exempting’ congressional staffers from Obamacare.”

  7. Brian Opsahl

    That’s all our Government doe’s is take our money and give it to others…really Ted,

    So the U S Government didn’t help provide a job for you when you where working at the circle S for all those years Ted..? all those military jobs that got your company millions of dollars that now support your pension..really Ted what about that ..!! or are you attempting to blow some smoke up or rectums…?

    You now live off those very programs that you worked on, and how quickly you forget what now feeds your family and where those checks come from.

    You still say that’s all your Government doe’s Ted..? or would you want to re-think that one

  8. Craig Knauss

    Brian,

    Ted’s got “Hanforditis”. We have people like that where I live now. The federal government has been funding thousands of jobs here every year since WWII. (I think it’s still close to 10,000.) Even with production shut down, Hanford still gets over $2 billion per year in federal funding. Add to that the Dept of Ag subsidies, DOT budgets, defense spending, Bureau of Reclamation funding, FAA, EPA, and what-have-you and this area gets billions each year. So how do our locals respond? By bitching about government spending! It’s unbelievable!

  9. Brian Opsahl

    These spoiled brats that have already gotten there pensions and have completly forgot how and where it all came from in the first place…NOW they want the rest of us to tighten our belts while they continue to live very well off those forgottin Government needed jobs…Ted

    Millions of Americans in every State in the Union are living off those same Government jobs and puuting kids through College,paying off homes,and many more things that have raised our standard of living to what it was before Reagan.

    Paul Ryan was living off his social security,but thats ok…huh

  10. expdoc

    Show me where Paul Ryan wanted to cut Social Security for children whose father has died prematurely.

  11. Now what say you? Seems like the truth is coming out and Congress may get an exemption!

  12. Brad: You’re wrong. Congress will NOT get an exemption.

    Here’s what’s likely to happen, according to the Wall Street Journal:

    “The White House has approved a deal that will create a regulatory fix for members of Congress and their staff related to some of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, according to media reports. Under the law, popularly referred to as Obamacare, lawmakers and their aides were required to source health insurance “created” by the law or offered through one of its exchanges; and without the subsidies they currently have, the members of Congress would have faced thousands of dollars in additional premium payments each year, the reports said. However, the Office of Personnel Management now plans to rule that the government can continue to make a contribution to the health-care premiums of the lawmakers and their staff, according to unnamed congressional sources and a White House official.”

    Members of Congress and their staffs will still be covered by Obamacare. This situation is consistent with the last two sentences of my post above: “This isn’t, in other words, an effort to flee Obamacare. It’s an effort to fix a drafting error that prevents the federal government from paying into insurance exchanges on behalf of congressional staffers who got caught up in a political controversy.”

    So there.

  13. Ted Biondo

    Hey Pat, where’s the American taxpayer’s “regulatory fixes” huh? These Congressional employees, etc. would have had to pay thousands of dollars more, right? Tough! Many Americans are not only going to be paying thousands more, some are already had their hours and pay reduced, will have no insurance under Obamacare then – that’s another tax from this “Harvard graduate.” So much for Obama’s lies about decreasing medical costs. You are crazy if you think this government program will be any different than any other expensive, highly inefficient, etc., government program. I bet they will not have to pay the Cadillac Tax either in 2015, which anyone else that gets more than $20,000 insurance equivalent will have to pay. What do you want to bet? Also, the Unions are getting waivers – I guess you have to be a true believer in this European Socialist president to opt out of his program. Big Brother I love you mentality. Even the jerks at the IRS are trying to get out of Obamacare and they are supposed to implement it. To say these tax increasers aren’t getting out of Obamacare is pure BS on your part!!!

  14. Ted: Several things:

    1. I love how you put question marks around your reference to Obama as a “Harvard graduate,” as if that somehow isn’t true.

    2. PolitiFact.com has given a Pants-On Fire rating to your claim that “the Unions are getting waivers,” as we see here: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2011/may/23/crossroads-gps/unions-dont-have-comply-obamacare-says-crossroads-/

    3. Here’s my post from earlier today about the re-emergence of the phony claim that Congress is exempting itself from Obamacare: http://blogs.e-rockford.com/applesauce/2013/08/03/right-wing-noise-machine-resurrects-falsehood-that-congress-is-exempting-itself-from-obamacare/

  15. Ted Biondo

    Read this Pat. I can find more, but if you think the unions and congress aren’t getting any favors from Obamacare, you need to think again.

    http://blog.heritage.org/2013/08/02/is-congress-too-good-for-obamacare/?utm_source=heritagefoundation&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=&utm_content=

  16. Ted: I find it laughably ironic that you’ve linked to a piece from the Heritage Foundation, the same think thank that once promoted the “individual mandate,” which is the core provision of Obamacare.

    But then, that was before Heritage was taken over by kooks.

    What’s more, the Heritage piece to which you’ve linked completely ignores the fact that a Republican senator proposed that the ACA require federal employees to be included in the plan. Nor will unions, as I noted earlier in this thread with a link to PolitiFact.com.

    As noted in my post, the Republican senator thought his proposal would embarrass the Democrats. Instead, the Democrats jumped at the chance to approve the proposal.

    The fact remains, Ted, that federal employees will not be exempted from routine mandates of Obamacare.

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