Republican Congressional Aides Are Flipping Out About Their Health Benefits

Washington Capitol building

Capitol Hill was abuzz Thursday over a Politico story that warned of a mass exodus among staffers and lawmakers because of fears their health insurance premiums will leap due to a sneaky provision of the Affordable Care Act. 

But in a parallel with the overall debate about Obamacare, opinion is divided along party lines. Republicans on Capitol Hill are afraid of the provision and its potential effects, while Democrats are pushing back and calling the freakout premature. 

Here are the details, from Politico:

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.

The fear: Government-subsidized premiums will disappear at the end of the year under a provision in the health care law that nudges aides and lawmakers onto the government health care exchanges, which could make their benefits exorbitantly expensive.

Democratic and Republican leaders are taking the issue seriously, but first they need more specifics from the Office of Personnel Management on how the new rule should take effect — a decision that Capitol Hill sources expect by fall, at the latest.

The “fears” stem from a Republican amendment to Obamacare introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), which The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein detailed in April. Grassley’s amendment was introduced as a way to “embarrass Democrats,” but they ended up accepting it into the final bill. 

The problem with the amendment is that it is not yet clear if the federal government can help staffers pay for plans they buy on the insurance exchanges, in the same way it pays for staffers’ health plans now. Because many Congressional staffers — especially those in the House, who tend to be younger and less wealthy — would not be able to pay all of their premiums, the fear is that the provision could cause a mass exodus. 

It’s something that’s “on the mind of a lot of staffers,” two Republican House aides said. 

But a huge point of context shows that the worrying is a bit premature, Democrats say. The Office of Personnel Management still has to rule on its interpretation of the rule and how it should take effect. That decision, which should come sometime in the fall, according to Politico, could exacerbate the problem or render it meaningless.

“Classic Politico move,” one senior Democratic aide said. “Their reporting only supports the *possibility* that ‘several’ or ‘dozens’ of employees (out of many thousands) *might* leave *if* [OPM] rules a certain way. But that’s not sexy enough so within a couple graphs they move to the unsupported hypothetical that ‘massive numbers’ of people could flee, despite having no evidence that that’s a real possibility.”

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