Is Congress exempt from Obamacare? The issue of congressional staffers being exempted under the Affordable Care act has become highly politicized, becoming both an Obamacare fact and myth at the same time.
As previously reported by The Inquisitr, there really are many Obamacare exemptions to the Affordable Care Act for the average American.
The rumor of a congressional exemption from Obamacare has been around for several years now. But the usage of the word “exemption” has become highly politicized, similar to how people fight over whether the Obamacare penalty is a fine or a tax.
As defined by the dictionary, exemption means “the process of freeing or state of being free from an obligation or liability imposed on others.” So, first of all, no, Senator Ted Cruz and many others are wrong to say Congress is trying to be exempt from the Affordable Care Act in its entirety. But the issue of whether the Congressional exemption is a myth or fact is actually complicated, because there’s three separate issues being conflated.
Obamacare, Congress Exemption History
The idea of Congress exempting itself from Obamacare originally started in a series of chain mail letters and were completely untrue. Those claims were repeatedly shot down by Snopes, PolitiFact, and others, since no one was talking about any potential Obamacare Congressional exemption at the time.
But then, the Obamacare myth became a partial fact in 2013.
The whole issue began in earnest when Republican Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) inserted this paragraph into the original Affordable Care Act:
“Notwithstanding any other provision of 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).”
This modification to Obamacare had the unintended consequence of taking away federal worker’s benefits in the form of health insurance subsidies. Under the old federal benefits package, taxpayers paid around 75 percent of premium payments. Congress wanted Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to restore these subsidies as a type of Obamacare waiver, since they feared people would quit their government jobs to find better-paying options in the private sector.
The original reporting of the “Obamacare Congress exemption” controversy specifically used the word exemption. Those original sources backed away from the usage of that term very quickly, but then Affordable Care Act critics picked it up and it’s been stuck ever since.
Grassley’s ACA insert was pure political theater at the time, but even fellow Republicans like Tom Coburn desired an Obamacare exemption for Congress.
“I don’t care what the answer is. Give us an answer so that if we want to do a legislative fix to take care of the people who actually work for us. 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.”
So, is Congress exempt from Obamacare at all now? President Obama supposedly negotiated the terms which allowed “the government [to] continue to make a contribution to the health care premiums of members of Congress and their aides.” This is what the final OPM decision stated in regards to complying with the ACA:
“The following employees are not eligible to purchase a health benefit plan for which OPM contracts or which OPM approves under this subsection, but may purchase health benefit plans, as defined in 5 U.S.C. 8901(6), that are offered by an Exchange, pursuant to §1312(d)(3)(D) of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Public Law 111-148, as amended by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, Public Law 111-152 (the Affordable Care Act or the Act).”
This ruling forces Congressional staffers to enroll in an Obamacare exchange, yet at the same time, retain their employer paid benefits and contributions. So, technically, this is a type of exemption, or a special dispensation, since most Americans only are supposed to apply to the Obamacare exchanges if their employer has less than 50 employees or if several other conditions are met.
But, a better term than exemption would be an Obamacare waiver, subsidy, or a guaranteed benefit. However you phrase it, the Obamacare exchange was intended to bridge the gap between employer benefits and the Medicaid expansion. If you think about it, Congress doesn’t even really belong on there, since they make more than enough with their $172,000 salary to afford purchasing their own private health insurance. On the other hand, the Congressional staffers make around $30,000, and live in an expensive area, so this benefit is almost necessary in order to get by.
Still, some critics point out these Congressional staffers will “purchase the most expensive policy available on the exchange and you and I will pick up most of the tab.” Some reports claim the Congressional staffer health insurance subsidy is $15,000, which seems pretty expensive, considering that is half their normal salaries.
Obamacare’s Congress Exemption Debate Meets The IRS And HR 1780
There’s a newer wrinkle to the entire story. Recently, Senator Ted Cruz said the “IRS employees union has asked to be exempted from Obamacare.” Essentially, they want the same deal as the Congressional staffers, which would seem fair. Although, technically, Grassley’s wording only mentions the “members of Congress and congressional staff,” so you would assume that, as an employer separate from Congress, the IRS should be able to provide any healthcare benefits and plans it wants.
The IRS unions also oppose HR 1780 from Representative Dave Camp (R-MI), which originated on April 26, 2013. Camp’s amendment to the Affordable Care Act would essentially expand upon Grassley’s law to include the President, Vice President, and all other federal employees including the IRS.
But HR 1780 is highly unlikely to pass at this point and all the bickering over whether Congress is exempt from Obamacare is just intended to make the other side look bad in the eyes of the public.
To put the 2013 government shutdown fight over Obamacare in perspective, overall the budget estimates for Obamacare have ballooned from the original $850 billion over 10 years to almost $2 trillion and growing. The head of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) originally testified before the House Budget committee that 800,000 American jobs would be lost due to Obamacare. But third party estimates claim the Obamacare job loss will affect 940,000 workers, although both estimates do not take into account how some businesses are choosing to reduce hours to lower than full-time.
In the end, arguments over Obamacare’s Congress exemption are meaningless if the Affordable Care Act brings the American economy and the Federal government to its knees. The real question is, can Congress get the ACA spending under control or will it become a disaster where the American people are the ultimate losers?