Politics

Trump Threatens Congressional Health Insurance Benefits

Tweet may be prelude to rescinding employer contribution for members

President Donald Trump is suggesting his administration may act to slash health benefits for members of Congress. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump is considering stripping the employer contribution for health insurance away from members of Congress.

While the Trump White House has previously declined numerous requests from Roll Call to weigh in on the possibility, the president took to his favorite social media platform Saturday to make the threat himself.

“If a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly,” Trump tweeted. “BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!”

The first portion of that message, regarding the cost sharing reduction payments to insurance companies to help subsidize expenses for lower-income policyholders, might get the most attention nationally.

But on Capitol Hill, the question of lawmaker “bailouts” coming to an end could be the focus.

As part of the 2010 health care law, members of Congress and many staffers were shifted out of the usual Federal Employee Health Benefits structure and into the new insurance exchanges set up by the law.

The Office of Personnel Management under President Barack Obamadetermined that the employer contribution portion of the premiums could flow through the District of Columbia’s health insurance exchange.

In recent days, calls from outside conservative groups to rescind the OPM regulation for members of Congress — either through legislative action or an executive directive — have grown.

Jenny Beth Martin of the Tea Party Patriots suggested in a statement Friday, after the Senate failed to move forward on the so-called “skinny” repeal legislation, that the entire policy should be upended, including for staff.

“To unite congressional Republicans, President Donald Trump should take action to end the congressional exemption from ObamaCare. It is apparent that since Members of Congress, their families and staff do not have to live under the law they passed for every other American, they lack the incentive to take the action they were elected to take,” Martin said. “Ending Congress’s special exemption from ObamaCare will motivate Republicans to finally keep their promise — if not for principle, at least to improve their own insurance predicament.”

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., had filed an amendment during the health care debate on the Senate floor that would have ended the payments for members of Congress. Similar proposals were long championed by former Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, whose repeated unsuccessful efforts seemed like they would never go away.

The author of one version of the original requirement that members of Congress get their health insurance through the exchanges was Sen. Charles E. Grassley. But the Iowa Republican has said that in the process of the Democrats advancing the original law, there was a drafting error.

“You understand that when we adopt an amendment in [the] Finance [Committee], unlike other committees, it’s not legal language,” Grassley told Roll Call back in 2013. “We described it. But then it went to [then-Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid’s office and when they put it in statutory language, they screwed that up.”

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