The latest challenge to Office of Personnel Management rules on congressional health benefits comes from President Barack Obama’s own party.
Democratic Reps. Dan Maffei of New York, John Barrow of Georgia and Ron Barber of Arizona, are targeting the employer contributions members of Congress receive for coverage in the D.C. health care exchange. Unlike the contentious amendment offered by Louisiana GOP Sen. David Vitter, their bill would not eliminate contributions for staffers.
Barrow, who voted in 2010 against the creation of the health care law, said staff aren't responsible for the “perverse incentives in Obamacare” that prompted some employers to kick people off their coverage. "I don't feel a similar compulsion to set an example at their expense," he told CQ Roll Call. His full staff was designated as having to enter the exchange.
Under the “Members Play By the Same Rules Act of 2014,” members of the House and Senate who served on or after March 23, 2010, the day Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, would no longer be eligible to get government contributions towards their premiums through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Those members of Congress would still be subject to the law’s minimum coverage requirements, but they could only enroll in coverage through the federal or state exchanges in their home districts.
Republicans have criticized Barrow, a leader in the Blue Dog Coalition of centrist Democrats, for opposing their multiple votes to repeal the entire health care law. Barrow has co-sponsored legislation to repeal the employer mandate and introduced a bill to repeal the individual mandate. He says he wants to preserve parts of Obamacare, such as a ban on insurance companies denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions, and a provision allowing children under 26 to stay on their parents' health insurance plans, but thinks Congress must improve the law.
"Current members of Congress are responsible, it's not just the members that passed this thing that are culpable," Barrow said.
The congressman is among the nearly 13,000 members of Congress and staff enrolled in gold-level Small Business Health Option Program plans on the D.C. exchange, but he claims he has been paying the full cost of his family’s health coverage from his own pocket.
Maffei is enrolled in a co-op plan offered through the New York State of Health exchange. The congressman also says he pays his premium out of pocket every month.
Barber and his wife, Nancy, donate the $984.14 they receive each month for federal employee health insurance contributions to Southern Arizona charities.
For the GOP, federal court has become the forum for challenging the federal contributions to congressional health care. Last week, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., filed his intent to appeal a recent judge's ruling that he had no standing to sue the Obama administration over congressional health benefits. Johnson vowed to "exhaust every legal resource" in his effort to dismantle the OPM rule.
Barrow dismissed the legal battle, saying the effects of the healthcare law ought to be a guide for how Congress should act. "We shouldn't be arguing about what was done," he said.
All three Democratic lawmakers represent districts that Republicans would love to win this fall. Barber is on Roll Call's list of the most vulnerable House members and Barrow earns an honorable mention. Maffei's re-election bid is the least competitive, according to race ratings by The Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.
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