In the mad dash to meet their strictly political deadline for passing Obamacare, lawmakers wound up victimizing many people. Including themselves.
Members of Congress and Congressional staff currently enjoy a wide variety of excellent health insurance options, courtesy of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP). One of the more commonplace campaign promises of federal lawmakers is that they will fight to give ordinary Americans the same kind of choice and competition among the wide variety of private health plans that they have.
Obamacare doesn’t begin to deliver on that promise. But in their rush to slap together a bill for the president, Congress just may have succeeded—unintentionally—in abolishing their own enrollment in the FEHBP.
The new law contains a provision that says members of Congress will have to get their coverage through the new health insurance exchange created as part of Obamacare. The problem is: laws typically take effect immediately upon signing, but the federal exchange won’t be up and running until 2014. Awkward!
Writing for the New York Times, Robert Pear rightly questions, “If they did not know exactly what they were doing to themselves, did lawmakers who wrote and passed the bill fully grasp the details of how it would influence the lives of other Americans?”
Robert Pear’s article highlights a recent 8,100-word report from the Congressional Research Service that concludes Obamacare requires members of Congress and their staff to give up participation in the FEHBP.
Congress may have some wiggle room here. The bill doesn’t specify a date certain when members and staff loose their FEHBP coverage. If they go by precedent, then they lost it on March 23 when the president signed the bill.
Perhaps they may legally keep what they- under contract- have until the next calendar year. But, after that, all bets are off… at least until the exchange gets off the ground in 2014.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the bill is also unclear as to which congressional staff are affected. Non-voting Congressional participants such as the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, the Delegates of Guam, the American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the District of Columbia, may be exempt—i.e., they can continue to purchase insurance through the FEHBP. The same may also be true for the Capitol Police, the guys in the print shop, the maintenance workers and the groundskeepers at the Capitol.
And the term “congressional staff” may also exclude committee staff and staff of the Congressional leadership. It looks like they can stay in the FEHBP. How convenient.!
All this means that, without a fix, lawmakers will get to experience – up front, close and personal- their own sloppy handiwork: passing a monstrous bill that pulls the private sector rug out from under one-sixth of the nation’s economy. Robert Pear asks the right question: If they couldn’t even get their own health care right, how could they be expected to do so for over 300 million Americans?
Watch them closely. Odds are lawmakers will try to enact a “fix” for their own predicament, even as they leave the rest of us stuck with a shoddily crafted and unpopular law. .
?Co-authored by Kathryn Nix.