By Elise Viebeck - 12/09/13 08:25 PM EST
Congress raced Monday to meet the deadline for signing up for the District of Columbia’s ObamaCare exchange, where most lawmakers and staff will obtain healthcare coverage starting next year.
The cutoff date capped several weeks of speculation about how many members would shift their staff from the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program into the new marketplaces.
The rush to navigate the system occurred after several reported issues with the D.C. Health Link website over the last few weeks, complicating staffers’ efforts to enroll in health plans by Dec. 9.
While a handful of lawmakers indicated they would purchase their own insurance plans, most appeared poised to enter D.C.’s exchange with their staffers.
That marketplace will allow Capitol Hill workers to continue receiving a generous employer healthcare subsidy from the government.
A partial tally compiled by The Washington Post found that all congressional party leaders, at least 55 senators and three potential GOP presidential hopefuls — Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) — would sign up for D.C. Health Link.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), another possible presidential candidate, noted that he receives coverage through his spouse’s employer.
At least five senators will forgo their employer contributions within D.C.’s system, while an additional eight said they would enter other states’ ObamaCare exchanges without a subsidy.
One of these lawmakers is Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is fending off several primary opponents as he seeks reelection.
“I don’t think members of Congress should get a special deal,” Graham said Monday, echoing criticism of the employer contribution. “ObamaCare is being pushed on the American people and we should live under it just like everyone else.”
More House Republicans appear likely to eschew the exchanges altogether, according to the Post’s list.
At least seven representatives, all Republicans, are planning to obtain coverage through private carriers. Only one senator, Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), planned to do so as of Monday afternoon.
The mandate that Congress enter ObamaCare’s marketplaces was intended to ensure the lawmakers experience the new system firsthand.
The policy has triggered months of controversy on Capitol Hill, first by threatening a brain drain of staffers facing the loss of their employer healthcare contributions. Subsequent rules allowed Congress to keep their subsidies, to the chagrin of ObamaCare’s critics.
The next flashpoint came when administrative guidance allowed lawmakers to decide whether their workers would enter the exchanges or maintain their traditional federal employee plans.
Workers designated as “official staff” must obtain healthcare on the exchanges, while those designated as unofficial are allowed to keep their old coverage.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) caught backlash this month after it was reported that he would exempt some of his staff from the new system.
Reid’s office said his actions were consistent with the law and would not confirm the leader’s final plans as of Monday.
The transition has been rocky for other offices, too, while some reported smooth enrollments.
In emails obtained by The Hill, some Democratic chiefs of staff expressed support for a change of rules that would allow them to redesignate workers, sparing them from higher costs on the exchanges.
The new prices are not the only point of controversy.
Lawmakers and staff reported serious problems navigating D.C. Health Link’s website last week, leading House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Strodel to provide additional time for workers to contact his office and sign up.
Workers’ plans will officially end on Feb. 1, giving staffers up to eight more weeks to try to obtain their new coverage if they’ve struggled on the D.C site.
One of the leaders who complained about technical problems was Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who was initially unable to sign up for the marketplace.
“Despite multiple attempts, I was unable to get past that point and sign up for a health plan,” Boehner wrote on his official blog last month. “We’ve got a call into the help desk. Guess I’ll just have to keep trying.”
D.C. Health Link confirmed his enrollment later that day.