OPM Clarifies ACA Provision That Congress, Staff Enroll On Exchanges

08 Aug

OPM Clarifies ACA Provision That Congress, Staff Enroll On Exchanges

Several outlets report that on Wednesday, the Obama Administration released regulations which, as expected, allow members of Congress and their staff to continue receiving Federal contributions for their health insurance despite an ACA provision requiring them to purchase coverage on the law’s exchanges. Many of the sources note that the decision came after much debate and remains controversial, with many calling the exemption unfair.

Reuters  (8/8, Lawder) reports the Office of Personnel Management has determined that members of Congress and their staffs will continue to receive a Federal contribution toward their purchase of healthcare insurance under exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act. The article explains the debate over the exemption, noting that many lawmakers feared a “brain drain” if their staffers lost the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program contribution that currently covers about 75% of costs. Despite some critics’ accusations, the article notes that Congress is still subject to the ACA provision which requires them to enter the law’s exchanges.

The New York Times  (8/8, Pear, Subscription Publication) sums up the “new official interpreation” of the ACA the OPM offered Wednesday: the Federal government will “continue contributing to the cost of health benefits for lawmakers and thousands of Congressional employees,” but they will “have to buy coverage as individuals through new state-based markets known as insurance exchanges.” According to the article, this means that “older members of Congress and those who smoke” might face “much higher health insurance premiums.”

The Washington Post  (8/8, Yoder) “Federal Eye” blog reports that OPM director of planning and policy Jon Foley said in a statement, “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.”

The AP  (8/8, Alonso-Zaldivar) reports that the regulations “resolv[e] one of the biggest unknowns” about Senator Chuck Grassley’s amendement to the Affordable Care Act: whether the Federal government would “continue to pay its standard share of premiums.” However, “questions remain,” including about “retiree coverage and definitions of residency.”

Roll Call  (8/8, Dumain, Lesniewski, Subscription Publication) reports Republicans have been relatively quiet, as they “are in a tough spot – few on Capitol Hill want to take health benefits away from themselves or their staffs, but the Republican base is dead set against anything Obamacare related, as well as anything that smacks of a special carve out for lawmakers.”

The Washington Times  (8/8, Howell) notes that the rule states “individuals members and staff should buy coverage through the exchange in their state,” meaning that staff will likely be “enrolling through the District, Maryland or Virginia.”

To this point, CQ  (8/8, Reichard, Subscription Publication) reports that as Congressional staff prepare to enter the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges, the head of D.C.’s marketplace “says she’ll do her best to make them feel welcome.” Mila Kofman, the executive director of DC Health Link, said in an interview “that insurers participating in the new marketplace include such FEHB mainstays as Blue Cross-Blue Shield’s CareFirst plan, Kaiser Permanente and Aetna.” She added that “just as the insurers will be familiar, so too will be the network of providers.”

Also reporting on the regulations are Bloomberg News  (8/8, Rowley), the NPR  (8/8, Rovner) “Shots” blog, Politico  (8/8, Haberkorn, Millman), The Hill  (8/8, Hattem) “Regwatch” blog, Daily Caller  (8/8, Levinson), Alabama Live (8/8, Gore), and the Deseret (UT) News  (8/8, Hicken).

Opinion Pieces Criticize OPM Decision. Several opinion pieces weigh in on the regulations issued by OPM Wednesday, which allow the Federal government to continue paying most of the premiums of lawmakers and their staff. All are highly critical of the decision. First, in an editorial, the Wall Street Journal  (8/8, Subscription Publication) criticizes the regulations. The paper argues they create a special standard for those with political office and their taxpayer-funded employees.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal  (8/8) echoes this sentiment in an editorial, citing the news as another example of why the Affordable Care Act should be repealed.

Peter Roff criticizes the regulation in a post for the US News & World Report  (8/8) blog, writing that they “confirm the worst fears of many Americans; that the government, ultimately, is only out for itself.”

Finally, Sarah Hurtbise points out in a post for the Daily Caller  (8/8) that the Obama Administration was quick to offer the “flexibility” to Congress that it “denied cancer clinics under sequestration earlier this year.”

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