WASHINGTON, D.C. – As one large corporation after another finds a way to be exempted from Obamacare, federal lawmakers and their aides are looking to be exempted as well. Reflecting the uncertainty of those who elected them, scores of lawmakers along with many aides fear their health insurance premiums will skyrocket after 2013 and are considering retiring early.
In 2009, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) managed to sponsor and see an amendment passed that requires members of Congress and their staff to enroll in Obamacare’s health insurance exchanges. Seeing the bill was destined to pass, the idea was that everyone on the Hill should have to experience first-hand the effects of the act. Grassley’s original amendment was to require all members and staffers be covered under Medicaid rather than the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program. After fierce opposition, the amendment finally passed but applied only to Congress and congressional staff.
Now, it appears that Congress is quietly seeking to overturn Grassley’s amendment altogether. The reason for this change of mind is that Senate and House members say they fear that staffers who face higher insurance costs will leave Washington. This supposed fear of “brain-drain” has led to a surprisingly bipartisan movement to change the bill once again. According to Politico reporters, talks to change the provision involve both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). “Everyone has to hold hands on this and jump, or nothing is going to get done,” one source told the reporters.
The argument for exempting everyone that works for the Senate and Congress is that many large private sector employers have been exempted already. Since Congress is a large employer, proponents of the exemption say, it should be extended the same exemption of insurance exchanges now being set up to facilitate Obamacare.
Rep. John Larson (D-CT) said he thinks the problem will be resolved. “If not, I think we should begin an immediate amicus brief to say, ‘Listen this is simply not fair to these employees,’” Larson told POLITICO. “They are federal employees.”
Republicans, certainly not fans of Democrat health care reform, are more outspoken about the potential damaging effects of the provision. “It’s a reality,” said Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX). “This is the law. … It’s going to hinder our ability with retention of members; it’s going to hinder our ability for members to take care of their families.”
If anything, more, not less, federal employees should be required to enroll in the exchanges, especially those at the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services where they are producing thousands of pages of exchange regulations. It is vital that that those who design our laws experience them firsthand. The insular nature of Washington is a large part of the problem with this country’s leadership. Lawmakers and their aides who live within that bubble are increasingly disconnected from the effects of the laws they pass and enact. So much so that they are beginning to appear to be good candidates for characters in Stephen King’s Under the Dome.