The LA Times’ Mike Memoli reports that Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) will file a lawsuit to prevent Congressional staffers and lawmakers from receiving subsidies when they purchase coverage in the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges, substantially increasing their health care costs.
Under current law, lawmakers and some of their aides will be required to drop their existing health care coverage in the tax-subsidized Federal Health Benefits Program (FEHB) and enroll in the insurance exchanges at the core of the health law beginning on Oct 1. Though Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) — the author of the amendment responsible for the shift — had initially stipulated that Congressional employees “use their existing employer contribution” to buy insurance, the final law did not specifically mention the role of the employer, leaving regulators concerned that the language could prohibit the government from contributing to the insurance costs of Congressional employees and leave poorly-paid aides responsible for the full cost of coverage.
In August, after the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) ruled that the Congress can apply their employer contributions towards their exchange plans, Republicans pledged to forfeit the contribution and fight to undo “special exemption.” Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) introduced legislation to require Congressional and executive branch employees to sign up for Obamacare without the employer contribution and Republicans considered including the provision in legislation to re-open the federal government.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and the Democrats (and Congressional staffers), strongly opposed the change and it was eventually dropped. “Okay. Go after members of Congress. But even doing that. Now, I can handle if I have to buy insurance without employer contribution. But some of my senators can’t,” Reid told the Huffington Post shortly after the shutdown ended. “Forget about that. Forget about senators. They can do okay. But staff — we have staff people of [Sen.] Susan Collins. She has people who work in Maine and make $25,000 a year. One of the reasons you can get somebody like that is that you give them health care. … How in good conscience could you do something like that?”
While the federal government will be the only big employer to subsidize coverage in the exchanges for several years, other large businesses could begin contributing to employee health care through the marketplaces in 2017. On average, the government pays approximately 75 percent of enrollees’ health care costs.