Democratic Legislator Says It's Not Fair That Hill Staffers Might Have to Buy Insurance Through Obamacare's Exchanges


credit: VinothChandar / Foter.com / CC BY

Politico reports that "Dozens of lawmakers and aides are so afraid that their health insurance premiums will skyrocket next year thanks to Obamacare that they are thinking about retiring early or just quitting." This is obviously not the same as actually quitting, but the piece does suggest the headaches that the health law could cause for congressional staff.

The reason that folks on Capitol Hill are considering leaving is that the law requires legislators and their staffs to buy Obamacare exchange plans. There's some question about how this requirement will actually be interpreted, and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has yet to rule. But OPM could decide that the requirement means that congressional aides have to give up their current insurance plans, and thus the tax break that goes to employer-sponsored insurance, and buy plans through Obamacare's exchanges. If so, that would mean losing their current health plans and, thanks to the loss of the tax subsidy, losing the equivalent of several thousand dollars a year from their paychecks. According to Politico, "the uncertainty has created a growing furor on Capitol Hill with aides young and old worried about skyrocketing health care premiums cutting deeply into their already small paychecks."

The report indicates that Democrats want to alter the requirement, but know that it may not be easy politically. That's hardly surprising given that "the provision was put in the bill in the first place on the theory that if Congress was going to make the country live under the provisions of Obamacare, the members and staff should have to as well." Rep. John Larson, a Democrat from Connecticut, however, thinks that requirement is unreasonable. If the problems many Hill staffers have with the requirement are not resolved, he told Politico, "I think we should begin an immediate amicus brief to say, 'Listen this is simply not fair to these employees.' They are federal employees." So it's unfair to require federal employees to participate in one of the central features of a law they passed?

I am actually somewhat sympathetic to the concerns Hill staffers have with the health law. Just as the law is likely to prove burdensome, in a variety of ways, to many workers, managers, and business owners across the country, it is also likely to provde frustrating to members of Congress and their aides. But perhaps the Democrats who, like Larson, both voted to pass the law and now want to alter it in order to avoid the problems they expect it to cause for themselves and their colleagues should have considered that before voting for the law in the first place. Their particular problems with the health law do not now deserve special attention simply because they are lawmakers.