Feb. 12, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

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.

But the OPM hasn’t given its interpretation for how that will work. In addition, large businesses aren’t meant to offer insurance to their employees through the exchanges until 2017, so the exchange infrastructure might not be ready to accept the federal government’s contribution next year.

It’s also unclear who exactly will be covered under the requirement, as the OPM has some leeway in determining who qualifies. Grassley intended for all lawmakers and congressional staff members to get insurance through the exchanges, but a later modification exempted leadership office and committee staff members.

“I don’t know what the motivation was in writing that piece to treat members of Congress and some employees differently,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said at a news conference. “I think that whatever the outcome is, people have to be treated the same.”

Congressional employees who have to buy insurance through the exchanges would most likely purchase it through the District of Columbia’s insurance exchange, which the district will run on its own.

An aide for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said employers would buy insurance coverage on the exchange offered by the state in which they are located and then make it available to employees.

Pelosi said congressional leaders needed to continue to look at how the requirement would work, adding that she was in contact with House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., as he had discussions about it.

Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., wrote a letter to House Democratic and GOP leaders critical of any closed meetings on the issue.

“We may have differences of opinion about the validity of this policy, but we’ve all spent the last three years confirming the existence of this requirement to our constituents,” he wrote. “We strongly urge you to bring some transparency to this conversation and give us a chance to weigh in on any proposed revisions.”

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said members of Congress would continue to be required to buy insurance through the exchanges — but did not respond to a question about what would happen to staff members.

“Members of Congress will not receive anything that is not available to the public. The law doesn’t allow them to get insurance from FEHB, they are going to get insurance on the market place, just like individuals uninsured and small businesses,” he said in a statement.

Niels Lesniewski and Emma Dumain contributed to this report.

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