Saturday, August 10, 2013

Congress Exempting itself from Obamacare?

No, not quite. Here's the actual story.

During the original wrangling over the health care law Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa came up with what he thought was a great idea to embarrass Democrats. He proposed an amendment that would obligate all members of the House and Senate, along with their staffs, to purchase their own health care policies on the exchanges just as they were going to obligate other Americans to do.

Grassley reasoned that there was no way in hell the Democrats would accept this amendment and then the Republicans could claim they were unwilling to accept the same insurance they were offering to everyone else.

To Grassley surprise the Democrats thought this was a neat idea and accepted the amendment. Thus the following was added to the health care law.

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).

With me so far?

Now, you will notice this says nothing about whether the Federal Government can pay for the majority portion of the insurance as most large companies do. Companies with more than 100 employees aren't eligible to purchase insurance from the exchanges until 2017.

Right now the Federal Government pays about 75% of the insurance cost for Congress and staff. So the question became can it still pay that cost after the health care law goes into effect?

The question went to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) which concluded that it was not the original intent of the law to strip congressional staff of its health benefits and ruled that the government can still pay 75% of the cost but lawmakers and their staff must purchase the actual insurance plans on the exchanges.

So it wasn't a question of different coverage, but a question of who pays for it.

This is symptomatic of the major problem with the Affordable Health Care law. There wasn't enough time and analysis put into it. At least two to three years should have been spent by a non-partisan panel of health care experts studying the issue and producing recommendations.

Instead we got a camel put together by a gaggle of politicians that's going to need a lot of patching and jury-rigging before it becomes effective. It was the right idea, but the wrong approach.

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