No congressional Obamacare exemptions

Currently, members of Congress and their staff receive health care coverage through the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP). The FEHBP allows individuals to choose from a set of options to pick the health plan that is right for them. As with any employer-based health plan, the federal government (the employer) can contribute to the health care premium of the employee and the contributions are not included in taxes.

However, Section 1312 of Obamacare requires that all members of Congress and congressional staff must either get their health care coverage from a health plan created by Obamacare or through an Obamacare exchange. Obamacare exchanges do not allow tax-exempt employer contributions to health care premiums. The only subsidies available to individuals on Obamacare are the premium tax credits for individuals who are under 400 percent of the federal poverty line (about $46,000 per year). The idea was, if Congress is going to write a law that forces tens of thousands of Americans on Obamacare through the individual mandate, Congress should be prepared to share in that experience.

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But now the administration is defeating the purpose of that idea by allowing special treatment for members of Congress and their staff. Instead of going on Obamacare and abiding by the same laws and requirements as everyone else in it, members of Congress can now receive tax-exempt contributions from their employer (the federal government) to their health care premiums on the Obamacare exchange. This will create one set of rules for the American people and a different set of rules for Congress.

Democrats voted Obamacare into law, despite the unified opposition of Republicans and a majority of the American people. Democrats did so knowing that Section 1312 was in the bill. Yet now Democrats such as Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) complain that not allowing the tax-preferred employer contribution is “fundamentally unfair.” I submit that it is fundamentally unfair to force Americans onto Obamacare, a government-centered health care system that puts the Washington bureaucrat between the doctor and the patient.

It’s not only the current uninsured that will be forced into Obamacare exchanges, but many who are currently employed as well. A recent survey of 108 of the nation’s largest corporations found 41 percent of employers expect to drop at least some of those enrolled in their employer-based health plans and put them on the Obamacare exchanges. UPS has already announced that it will stop offering health care coverage to some of the spouses of 15,000 workers. Thousands of currently employed individuals will now be forced onto Obamacare just like Congress except their employers are barred from giving them any additional money for health care coverage. The only difference between the two groups is that Congress has the political influence to get an exemption from the Administration while the thousands of working folks do not.

The hope must be that when Congress experiences the burden of Obamacare, it will become more sympathetic to American families similarly burdened. 

Cassidy has represented Louisiana's 6th Congressional District since 2009. He sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee.