Lawmaker, Aides and Staff Are Worried about ObamaCare

June 18, 2013

Dozens of lawmakers and aides are so afraid that their health insurance premiums will skyrocket next year thanks to the Affordable Care Act ("ObamaCare") that they are thinking about retiring early or just quitting. The fear: Government-subsidized premiums will disappear at the end of the year under a provision in the health care law that nudges aides and lawmakers onto the government health care exchanges, which could make their benefits exorbitantly expensive, says Politico.

Democratic and Republican leaders are taking the issue seriously, but first they need more specifics from the Office of Personnel Management on how the new rule should take effect. Capitol Hill sources expect a decision by the fall, at the latest. The administration has clammed up in advance of a ruling.

  • If the issue isn't resolved and massive numbers of lawmakers and aides bolt, many on Capitol Hill fear it could lead to a brain drain just as Congress tackles a slew of weighty issues, such as fights over the tax code and immigration reform.
  • The problem is far more acute in the House, where lawmakers and aides are generally younger and less wealthy.
  • Several aides have already given lawmakers notice that they'll be leaving over concerns about ObamaCare. Republican and Democratic lawmakers said the chatter about retiring now, to remain on the current health care plan, is constant.

Republicans, never a fan of Democratic health care reform, are more vocal about the potential adverse effects of the provision.

  • Alabama Rep. Jo Bonner said the threat is already real, especially for veteran lawmakers and staff. If they leave this year, they think they can continue to be covered under the current health care plan.
  • ObamaCare contains a provision known as the Grassley Amendment, which says the government can only offer members of Congress and their staff plans that are "created" in the bill or "offered through an exchange." (Unless the bill is amended.)
  • Currently, aides and lawmakers receive their health care under the generous Federal Employee Health Benefits Program. The government subsidizes upward of 75 percent of the premiums for the health insurance plans.

It could be politically difficult to change this provision. The provision was put in the bill in the first place on the theory that if Congress was going to make the country live under the provisions of ObamaCare, members and staff should have to as well.

Source: Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman, "ObamaCare? We Were Just Leaving ...," Politico, June 13, 2013.

 

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