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Should Federal Employees Be Forced to Switch Health Plans?

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As the House prepared for the 40th time to vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Republicans and Democrats talked past each other Thursday at a contentious Ways and Means Committee oversight hearing on implementation of the law. Amid the fireworks over whether Obamacare should be “destroyed,” the two federal officials present as witnesses had to beg off on opining about political and policy conundrums that are literally above their pay grades.

But then Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, as part of a series of questions based on the premise that the health care law is forcing Americans to sign up for insurance exchanges against their will, asked acting Internal Revenue Service chief Danny Werfel why his employees who belong to the National Treasury Employees Union have declined to switch from their current federal insurance to the coming new marketplaces.

“I’m not speaking for NTEU, but will tell you how I feel,” Werfel replied. As federal employees, “we have affordable health coverage now. The Affordable Care Act was designed as an option for those who do not. So if you’re satisfied with your coverage, you’re in a position to stick with that coverage rather than make the change. But if others are unhappy, the exchanges offer an alternative. The NTEU prefers to stay.”

The person who does speak for the NTEU is its president, Colleen Kelley. Late last month, she offered a statement opposing H.R. 1780, introduced in April by Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich. The bill would provide that the only health plans that the federal government may make available to the president, vice president, members of Congress and federal employees are those created under the Affordable Care Act or offered through a health insurance exchange.

This bill “would single out federal employees by denying them the right to continue to be covered by their existing employer-provided health care plan,” Kelley said. “The main point of the Affordable Care Act is to encourage more employers to provide coverage to their employees. It makes no sense for Congress to mandate the end of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, a longstanding, successful employer plan. That would be a result diametrically opposed to the intent of ACA—which is to provide a marketplace for the sale and purchase of health insurance for those who do not have such coverage, not to take coverage away from employees who already receive it through their employers.”

Charlie Clark joined Government Executive in the fall of 2009. He has been on staff at The Washington Post, Congressional Quarterly, National Journal, Time-Life Books, Tax Analysts, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and the National Center on Education and the Economy. He has written or edited online news, daily news stories, long features, wire copy, magazines, books and organizational media strategies.

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