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