Grassley: End health contributions for Hill staff

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Lawmakers disagree over whether the federal government should be able to help cover the cost of healthcare plans for lawmakers and their staffs, as most large employers do, once they move into ObamaCare's exchanges.

Grassley said he never intended to take away the government's employer contribution. But the letter of the law seems to require it, he said.

"I have to support that, because that's the way it was written. It wasn't written the way I intended, but that's the way it was written, so I have to support the law," Grassley said.

Grassley proposed an amendment during the Senate Finance Committee's healthcare markup requiring lawmakers and aides to buy coverage through the law's exchanges. But the Finance Committee doesn't deal in legislative text, and Grassley said his idea was changed when it was formalized.

"The paragraph that I gave as a concept didn't imply any change in the program, it just implied that we had to go to the exchange," Grassley said. 

Requiring lawmakers and staffers to cover their entire healthcare costs is "contrary to what I had planned, but it's probably within the law, because my concept was taken and screwed up in the black hole of Reid's office when they were rewriting the legislation and putting it in legal language. It wasn't clear."

Grassley said he wouldn't support amending the Affordable Care Act to make the provision more clearly align with the intent of his amendment.

"I think I have to support the law the way it is," he said.

The healthcare law does not say whether the federal government can continue to contribute to all of its employees' healthcare plans, and Democrats — as well as some Republicans — reject the claim that it prohibits employer subsidies.

The federal government's personnel office recently ruled that lawmakers and staff must buy coverage through the Washington, D.C., exchange, and can continue to receive a contribution from their employer -- the federal government.

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) has pushed to overturn that ruling, and some House Republicans want to include his proposal in a deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling.