Elitist Washington: Congress Gets Pass from ObamaCare

If there’s one piece of evidence that ObamaCare is wonderful, it’s the fact that lawmakers and congressional staffers are eager to have it for themselves, right? 

Oops! It turns out the folks who wrote this controversial law—which tells us we have to buy-in or face the consequences—have been granted an exemption from it. And the reports suggest folks on Capitol Hill are heaving a massive sigh of relief. 

What? Eager to be out from under their own health care scheme?  Why wouldn’t they be first in line to enjoy the benefits of government-run health care? Could it be because it’s a train headed for the cliff and they want off?

Last week, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced it will be issuing a ruling soon that will give U.S. Senators, Representatives, and their aides an exemption from ObamaCare. These federal employees will still have to buy health insurance through state-run exchanges, as the statute requires, but OPM will allow the government to make generous employer contributions (aka taxpayer money) towards the health benefits of lawmakers and congressional staff. That’s a privilege denied to all other Americans under the health care law.

Prior to this surprise announcement by OPM, folks on the Hill were facing significantly higher costs for health care, thanks to ObamaCare: around $5,000 more for an individual plan and $11,000 more for a family plan.  Currently, the federal government subsidizes 75 percent of the cost of congressional health care benefits.  OPM’s decision spares them from those higher costs and lets them keep that gold-plated subsidy.

Why did OPM do it? Politico reports that the agency was “under heavy pressure from Capitol Hill” to give a special exemption to the Hill, and that “President Barack Obama … was personally involved in finding a solution.”  The Washington Examiner calls it a “backdoor effort.”    

The provision of ObamaCare that requires Congress to get its health insurance through the exchanges was offered by a Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa. Congress approved the Grassley amendment easily, fearful that a “no” vote on it might suggest Beltway hypocrisy (“ObamaCare for thee, but not for we!”). However, to OPM, the language of the Grassley provision did not prohibit the government from continuing to subsidize the health plans of congressional members and staff. The actual legality of the OPM’s actions is questionable at best. The Heritage Foundation thinks “the Administration lacks statutory authority to pay those subsidies …”, and David Ermer, who has given legal representation to insurers in the federal employee program for the past 30 years, says, “I do not think members of Congress and their staff can get funds for coverage in the exchanges under existing law… You would need a law to appropriate money for that.”    

OPM has yet to actually issue or publicly defend the change—so far, we only know about it via second-hand news reports. But at the end of the day, we know the result: to bypass of the intent of Sen. Grassley’s amendment and grant clear preferential treatment to lawmakers and their staff. 

The reason that some in Congress claimed to want this exemption was to prevent a “brain drain,” in which the most talented staffers would flee the higher insurance costs for more profitable work in the private sector. This is a very sure possibility, since the Hill is notorious for underpaying staff, and the most qualified staffers often migrate to private sector work where wages are higher.  But it is symptomatic of Congress’s insulation from reality that they think the problem is their staffers having to pay the same for insurance as everyone else.  ObamaCare is going to cause costs to rise for millions of Americans, so if Congress is not okay with that then they should by all means exempt themselves—but they should exempt the rest of us too!

Congress should have to live under the same laws it makes for the rest of us. If Congress can legislate upon the American people and be free of the consequences, they become an “elitist class” out of touch with reality and their constituents. 

As a citizen, I’m glad our representatives recognize that ObamaCare is going to hurt them. Now if they could just feel their constituents’ pain as well. 

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