GOP lawmaker: Trump should cancel health insurance subsidies for Congress

GOP lawmaker: Trump should cancel health insurance subsidies for Congress
© Greg Nash

One House Republican thinks President Trump should follow through on his threat to cancel some of lawmakers’ health benefits if Congress doesn’t send a healthcare bill to his desk.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) said Tuesday that eliminating what amounts to an employer contribution to pay for health insurance used by lawmakers and their staff would help serve as a motivation to fulfill the GOP’s campaign pledge to repeal the 2010 law.

“President Trump is right: the subsidies must be eliminated to incentivize Members of Congress to keep their promise and repeal Obamacare. Only then, will the American people — and their Representatives — see a return to affordable health care premiums,” Biggs said in a statement.

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Under a Republican amendment to the Affordable Care Act, members of Congress must obtain insurance through the law’s exchanges. Lawmakers previously received health insurance through the federal government and had an employer contribution to pay for most of their premiums, similar to other Americans who get insurance through their jobs.

But lawmakers' salaries are too high to qualify for premium subsidies on the District of Columbia health exchange that people with lower incomes would receive.

The Obama administration developed a rule allowing lawmakers and staff to receive a government subsidy to buy insurance on the D.C. exchange, in an effort to resemble a typical employer contribution.

Trump over the weekend threatened to eliminate the subsidies, as well as payments to insurance companies that help pay for low-income individuals' premiums.

“If a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!” Trump tweeted Saturday.

Some Republicans have similarly sought to characterize the subsidies for lawmaker and staff insurance as a special entitlement that should be eliminated.

If Trump were to follow through on his threat, at least one lawmaker wouldn’t be affected: Biggs, a freshman and member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, says he does not accept the subsidy to pay for his health insurance.

Biggs asked the House payroll administrator in late March to turn down the government’s contribution to his premium and instead return it to the national treasury.

“I would like to request that the government’s automatic contribution to my healthcare be returned to the Treasury in the amount of the government contribution. Please take the appropriate amount from my paycheck each month,” Biggs wrote in the letter, a copy of which was provided to The Hill.

The Arizona Republican says he refuses the employer contribution to set an example, even if that means paying for all of his healthcare costs.

“I previously promised my constituents that I would fight to close these loopholes to ensure that Congress abides by the laws that we pass for our constituents," he said. "I also refuse the standard government subsidy for my health care premium, paying 100% of my health care out of my own pocket. Though I have never wanted Obamacare, nor does a day go by when I do not fight against Obamacare, I will not take a subsidy that is not afforded to my constituents."

Biggs was the only Freedom Caucus member to vote against the House GOP healthcare proposal in May because it didn’t fully repeal ObamaCare.

The GOP's seven-year effort to repeal the law has stalled after a pared-down measure targeting the law narrowly failed in the Senate last week.