For the last several months, congressional staffers wondered if they’d be forced to buy into Obamacare’s insurance exchanges, as the law says they must, and if they’d take a hefty compensation cut as a result. Now we know: They’ll get their insurance from Obamacare’s insurance exchanges. But they won’t be required to pay full price—or even the full price minus whatever subsidies they might qualify for.
That’s because the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which handles benefits issues for Hill staffers, has decided to allow congressional staffers to put the same employer contribution they get toward their current plans toward the purchase of health plans bought on the exchanges, according to Politico.
Coverage of the issue up until now has tended to focus on the question of whether congressional staffers would be “exempt” from Obamacare. I never thought that was quite the right way to understand it: Staffers weren’t looking to be exempt from the whole law, but from one provision that specifically affected, and complicated, their own lives.
The health law’s defenders, in turn, argued that it wasn’t fair to create a special class of individuals who have to give up their employer coverage, and the tax-protected contribution toward that coverage’s cost, in order to buy from the exchanges. But OPM’s decision creates a different sort of special class: A tiny group of federal employees allowed to put their employer’s existing coverage contribution toward plans bought through Obamacare’s exchanges.
In other words, Hill staffers were irritated by a provision of the health law that would have cost them money. And they got a bureaucratic fix to make the problem go away. Most Americans frustrated by some specific provision in Obamacare, on the other hand, won’t be so lucky.