Congressional Staff Will Get Help Paying for Obamacare

Government will continue to contribute to congressional health care costs under proposed rule.

Lawmakers and congressional staff won’t have to foot the whole bill for their health care insurance under proposed rules coming out next week.

The federal government will continue to contribute to legislative branch employees’ health plans according to expected draft guidance, a White House official said on Friday. Capitol Hill has worried that the shift from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program to the health care insurance exchanges under Obamacare would be too expensive for many lawmakers and aides, making it difficult to retain employees.

FEHBP, which the Office of Personnel Management administers, covers 8.2 million federal employees, retirees and their dependents and pays up to 75 percent of the health care plan’s premium costs.

Affected lawmakers and congressional staff still have to enter the exchanges beginning Oct. 1 per the 2010 Affordable Care Act. But, like private sector employees, they will not lose their employer contributions for these health plans.

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

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, inserted a provision into the 2010 Affordable Care Act that requires lawmakers and congressional aides in personal offices to drop their FEHBP insurance coverage and enter the newly created exchange market. The Grassley amendment, as currently interpreted, does not affect members of Congress or staffers who have Medicare, committee aides or staffers in leadership offices. 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.”

Since Obamacare became law, members of Congress and their staff have sought guidance from the administration on how to interpret the Grassley amendment.

“These guidelines were issued at the request of members of both parties of Congress, in an effort to clarify existing law,” the White House official said. The Obama administration said it would support legislation requiring White House staff, including President Obama, and Cabinet officials to enroll in the insurance exchanges.

Some lawmakers are waiting to review the final regulations before weighing in. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., placed a hold earlier this week on the nomination of Katherine Archuleta to be OPM director in an effort to force the Obama administration to provide more information on how health care reform will affect congressional staffers.

Coburn’s office on Friday would not comment on whether the senator would lift the hold in light of the impending guidance. “We are still waiting to hear details,” said Aaron Fobes, a spokesman for Coburn, over email.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved Archuleta’s nomination on Wednesday, but the hold by Coburn prevents the full Senate from considering it. It’s unclear how long the hold will last.

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