Senator Releases Hold on OPM Nominee

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. Susan Walsh/AP File Photo

A leading Senate Republican plans to release his hold on the nominee to lead the Office of Personnel Management.

Tom Coburn of Oklahoma will allow the Senate to vote on Katherine Archuleta now that the agency has issued a proposed rule on how the health care reform law will affect lawmakers and congressional staff. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved Archuleta’s nomination last week, but Coburn blocked it in an effort to force the Obama administration to provide more information on the 2010 Affordable Care Act and its impact on the legislative branch.

Lawmakers and congressional staff won’t have to foot the whole bill for their health care insurance under Obamacare, according to the draft rule announced Thursday. Like private sector employees, they will not lose their employer contributions for these health plans. The federal government will continue to contribute to legislative branch employees’ health insurance, and members of Congress and staff will be able to carry the coverage, with the government contribution, into retirement. “The amount of the employer contribution toward their exchange premiums is no more than would otherwise be made toward coverage under the [Federal Employees Health Benefits] Program,” said OPM in a statement. FEHBP pays up to 75 percent of the health care plan’s premium costs.

The proposed rule also stipulates that those affected employees and lawmakers will not qualify for premium tax credits under Obamacare.

The Affordable Care Act requires lawmakers and congressional aides to drop their FEHBP coverage and choose plans offered through Obamacare’s health insurance exchanges. They will no longer be eligible for FEHB coverage beginning Jan. 1, 2014, according to the draft guidance.

Federal employees in agencies do not have to switch health plans under the law, and can retain their FEHB coverage. In April, House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., introduced a bill that would require feds, the president and vice president to participate in health plans offered through the exchanges. The legislation is currently in committee.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, inserted the provision in the health care law affecting members of Congress and their aides. Capitol Hill has worried that the shift from the FEHBP to the health care insurance exchanges under Obamacare would be too expensive for many lawmakers and aides, making it difficult to retain employees. Since Obamacare became law, members of Congress and their staff have sought guidance from the administration on how to interpret the provision pertaining to their coverage.

The law defines congressional staffers as “full-time and part-time employees employed by the official office of a member of Congress, whether in Washington, D.C., or outside of Washington, D.C.” OPM is leaving it up to lawmakers to decide who that definition applies to “because there is not an existing statutory or regulatory definition,” said the OPM guidance. That means committee staff or leadership aides could be exempt from having to enroll in the exchanges.

The law does not affect members of Congress or staffers who have Medicare.

Under the Affordable Care Act, private health insurers that participate in the multi-state plan program on the exchanges will contract with OPM, the agency responsible for administering FEHBP. Providers must offer at least two multi-state plans on each of the exchanges in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The law allows companies to phase in their coverage in all states and D.C. over four years, though they must offer coverage in at least 31 states in the first year of participation.

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