As I note here, implementing the new health care reform law will provide conservatives with plenty of opportunities to fear monger about health care reform, but this new scandal about Congressional staffers being exempt from enrolling in the exchanges certainly isn’t one of them. Currently, the health care law requires members and their staff to participate in the new health insurance exchanges, but Republicans are claiming that Democrats purposely excluded senior committee staffers from the mandate and will propose legislation to close the loophole:
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) announced Thursday in a “Dear Colleague” letter that he would be introducing bicameral legislation with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who tried to attach a similar amendment to the reform act and the reconciliation bill. The legislation would require all Congressional staffers — and top White House officials — to buy their health plans through state-run exchanges created in the act. Currently, the reform act could be interpreted to only require Members and the staffers in their personal offices to enter the exchange, according to a Congressional Research Service memo.
“Many of my colleagues and I believe that the expansion of government control over health care was the wrong approach to take,” Burgess, who is an obstetrician, writes in the letter. “Regardless, if Congress has decided it is the right thing for our constituents, then all Members and staff, as well as the President, Vice President, and political appointees, should be mandated to be covered by plans operating in an exchange.”
I (along with Dr. Mandy Mandy Krauthamer) once debated Burgess about health care reform and for the most part, we decided that he’s a fairly thoughtful individual. So this push to strengthen the requirement (see, Republicans do love mandates!) that staffers enroll in a state-based exchange is really beneath him. First of all, the offending language was drafted by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and incorporated into the bill during the HELP Committee’s mark up of reform legislation. Democrats accepted the amendment because they thought it would demonstrate how sincere they were about their efforts, but I remember thinking that the whole thing came over as a cheap political stunt. And I still do, particularly since Republicans are now exploiting their own legislative incompetency to manufacture another scandal.
This health care law is incremental and while it provides the insured with greater security, it’s not intended to separate employees from their employer-based coverage. Congressional staffers, like all federal employees, already participate in FEHBP, the exchange that inspired these exchanges and (were it not for this requirement) could enroll in the exchanges once they open to large employers. So this particular loophole scandal is something Republicans manufactured to hold them over until they find something else to sink their teeth into.