Revisiting the Obamacare exemption for Congress

Obamacare exemption for Congress comes under fire – Health Exchange – MarketWatch.

I understand the issue now, this is the problem in a nutshell:

The story notes that members of Congress and their staffs have to participate in health exchanges, thanks to a little-noticed provision enacted when the bill, formally known as the Affordable Care Act, was passed in 2010. The provision was meant to embarrass Democrats who advocated the initiative commonly called Obamacare, but Democrats embraced the idea of having to take part in the exchanges.

Trouble is, big employers — like the U.S. government — aren’t allowed to participate in the exchanges until 2017 and so the concern is that it will leave Congressional staffers on their own for three years during which they’ll have to buy insurance themselves.

Wow, they have to buy insurance for themselves, just like I do, without a subsidy, just like I do. Boo hoo. Of course, it is like ice cold water being slapped on your face.

This issue has been referred to as a drafting error. Megan Mcardle over at the Daily Beast isn’t buying it:

First, this is, in fact, about exempting themselves from Obamacare. This is a provision of Obamacare. It is in the bill. You may think that it shouldn’t be in the bill, or that it shouldn’t be in the bill in the way that it’s written. But–assuming that these discussions are actually happening–Congress is considering exempting itself from the one provision of the bill that actually directly affects Congress. As far as they’re concerned, this is exempting themselves from Obamacare; the rest of the bill affects Hill staffers only indirectly.

Furthermore, this exemption is important. There are very good reasons to require Congress to “eat their own cooking”, especially on a big bill like this. At least one source in the Politico article says that they’re considering junking this provision entirely and moving Congress and staffers back to the federal employee benefits system. This would be good for them, but bad for the rest of us, and they should be ashamed to even consider it.

The second point I’d make is that there seems to be a growing consensus among Obamacare’s supporters that all problems with the law are due to either Republican opposition, or “drafting errors”. No tax subsidies in the bill for federal exchanges? Drafting error. Implementation running behind? Don’t blame HHS, blame Republicans. You would think that the PPACA had delegated responsibility for implementation to the Republican National Committee, rather than the Department of Health and Human Services.

Her rant continues and frankly it’s too good to leave any of it out…

Opponents have long been saying that the bill was basically one long drafting error, and now its supporters seem to be suggesting that they’re right. Have we now arrived at a point where the optimistic case for the bill that was an incredibly sloppy first draft that obviously required the active cooperation of the opposition to make it work? And if so, has this made anyone question the wisdom of passing it in the first place? If you want to get to the other side of a deep ravine, and the only way to do so is to ride a unicycle across a tightrope while juggling burning torches, maybe it’s time to rethink your goal. And if you decide to go ahead, you probably shouldn’t blame anyone else if you go down in flames.

Of course, this particular fooforaw may be a tempest in a teapot: OPM may rule that they can offer subsidies to staffers. But we shouldn’t forget this. If Congress wants to exempt itself from the Obamacare exchanges, it should go ahead and offer the same relief to everyone else. There are a lot of people out there at risk of losing their employer health insurance and being forced onto the exchanges. Surely they deserve the same consideration as Congress.

The visual metaphor of the unicycle is great. It captures the magnitude of the task and the complexity of the law. Obamacare and chaos are quicly becoming synonymns


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *