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Health Insurance Anxiety on Capitol Hill

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Vitter introduced an amendment to an Internet sales tax bill that would require all members of Congress and their staffs, the president, vice president and political appointees to get insurance through the exchanges.

Lawmakers and congressional staff members are concerned about whether the federal government will continue to pay part of their premiums as they move to buying insurance through the exchanges next year.

The 2010 health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) requires lawmakers and their personal staff to buy insurance through the exchanges, a provision originally added by Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa.

But with the exchanges scheduled to start Jan. 1, many questions remain about how the Office of Personnel Management, which manages government employees’ benefits, will implement the provision. Congressional staff members worry that the federal government will not be able to contribute money toward their premiums at the beginning — leaving them to cover 100 percent of the cost of their health premiums.

Anxiety about the requirement increased Thursday following reports that congressional leaders of both parties were holding secret meetings to try to exempt lawmakers and their staff.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., insisted that such conversations were not taking place.

“There are not now, have never been, nor will there ever be any discussions about exempting members of Congress or Congressional staff from Affordable Care Act provisions that apply to any employees of any other public or private employer offering health care,” the spokesman said in a statement.

Other lawmakers also criticized the reported secret meetings, with Republicans saying that rather than making themselves exempt from the law’s provisions, leaders should repeal the entire law.

“Obamacare is a train wreck,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a statement. “Congress shouldn’t be able to get out of Obamacare until everyone else does.”

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., introduced an amendment to an Internet sales tax bill (S 743) that would require all members of Congress and their staffs, the president, vice president and political appointees to get insurance through the exchanges.

“It’s unfair and downright arrogant for the architects of Obamacare to say, we know how bad this will be for you, so we’re leaving ourselves out,” Vitter said in a statement.

Currently, congressional staff members receive health insurance through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, and the government covers about 75 percent of premium costs. But that may not be true once employees purchase insurance through plans offered on the exchanges.

After his provision was adopted, Grassley said employees would receive an age-adjusted contribution from the OPM to help them buy coverage in the exchanges.

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