House Ways and Means Committee chairman Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) has introduced a bill that would “push federal workers off their employer-sponsored health plan” and onto Obamacare’s insurance exchanges. Camp claims the bill is intended to show solidarity with the American people.
In fact, the legislation comes in the wake of a sensationalized — and inaccurate — media controversy claiming that Democrats are trying to “exempt” Congress from Obamacare. A Politico article from last week stoked speculation that skittish lawmakers were in negotiations to try and forgo the health care law. The ensuing outrage was more about manufacturing a political controversy than addressing any real flaws in Obamacare, and actually centers on a fairly mundane, technical question about how the government will finance congressional employees’ benefits under the law. The confusion stems from a poorly-worded, Republican-backed amendment to Obamacare that was meant to embarrass Democrats. Congressional negotiators have since dispelled the rumors about “exemptions,” assuring that “all members of Congress and Congressional staff [will] experience the benefits of the Affordable Care Act in exactly the same way as every other American.”
Camp seemingly prefers to keep the outrage going. “If the Obamacare exchanges are good enough for the hardworking Americans and small businesses the law claims to help, then they should be good enough for the president, vice president, Congress and federal employees,” said a Camp spokeswoman. But those comments — and the general GOP assertion that having lawmakers purchase insurance through the exchanges is just fair, since the rest of America will be subject to the health law — completely twists Obamacare’s intent. The exchanges were never meant to overhaul America’s system of employer-provided insurance by forcing everybody onto them. Rather, they are meant to be a resource for American individuals and small businesses who would otherwise not be able to access affordable health insurance.
In no small bit of irony, Camp’s bill would actually force the federal government, the nation’s largest employer, to unnecessarily drop health coverage for all of its employees — something that Obamacare critics such as Camp have consistently (and inaccurately) warned will be a consequence of the health care law. As National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen M. Kelley put it, “This legislation would put federal employees in a special class and prohibit them from receiving health insurance from their employer.”