Policy/Biz

Congress Members And Staff Promised Subsidies Under Obamacare To Stave Off Mass Exodus for Better Jobs

President Barack Obama
Under Obamacare, congressmen and staff will be required to enter into the insurance marketplaces, however, they will retain their government health care subsidies. Creative Commons

Members of Congress and Capitol Hill staff can rest easy now, after being assured that they will keep receiving the federal government’s medical insurance premium subsidy once they begin receiving health care through Obamacare’s insurance exchanges next year.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) decided on Wednesday that they would continue to receive government subsidies of as much as 75 percent of their health-care premiums in exchange for giving up “premium tax credits,” according to the Daily Caller.

“The amount of the employer contribution toward their Exchange premiums is no more than would otherwise be made toward coverage under the [Federal Employee Health Benefits] Program,” the OPM said in a statement.

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Members of Congress and their staff worried that they would lose the government subsidies since they are all required under the new law to enter into the insurance exchanges, all of which must be operational by Jan. 2014, and are intended for individuals, not employers. Many Congressional staffers are poorly paid, but paid well enough that they wouldn’t have received subsidies that low-income Americans are eligible for. Because of this, members of Congress speculated that many of them would leave for better jobs if they lost government subsidized health care, according to Forbes.

The issue arose from an amendment in the Affordable Care Act, inserted by Iowa Senator Charles Grassley. At the time, he was the top Republican of the Senate Finance Committee, which help draft the law. He believed that members of Congress — they are the only federal employees participating in Obamacare — should be required to live under the same laws that other Americans follow, Bloomberg reported. But the amendment was poorly thought out, and there was no clarification on the steps Congress would take to do so.

“These proposed regulations implement the administrative aspects of switching members of Congress and congressional staff to their new insurance plans — the same plans available to millions of Americans through the new exchanges,” Jon Foley, OPM’s planning and policy director, said in the statement.

Read More: For Obamacare Health Insurance Exchanges, Time Is Of The Essence

Congress members were so worried that President Obama even showed up on Capitol Hill to assure staff that he was working on it. After months of waiting for an answer from the OPM, Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma was ready to propose legislation ensuring that staff received subsidies.

“I mean, they’re going to be the only set of federal employees that actually get paid by the federal government that have to go into the exchange. [OPM knows] the answer — they just won’t share it. And I want time to legislate on it before we lose half our staff,” he said.

The proposed regulation will become final after a notice and comment period. 

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