Feds release rule to fix ObamaCare glitch for lawmakers, staffers

Federal officials are formally fixing a glitch in ObamaCare that lawmakers worried would effectively cut salaries for congressional staffers.

Under a proposed new rule released on Wednesday, the federal government will be able to contribute to 11,000 lawmakers’ and staffers’ healthcare plans.

That would close a loophole in the healthcare law that lawmakers worried could lead to a “brain drain” of talent and skill from Capitol Hill to private positions offering better salaries and more generous benefits packages.

The amount of money the government can contribute to congressional staffers’ healthcare is no more than they would have received under their current benefits plan. By law, the maximum federal contribution is 75 percent of a worker’s premium.

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The proposal creating a mechanism for the government to contribute to lawmaker and staffer healthcare plans does not require congressional approval, but will have to go through a regulatory process that could take months before it is enacted. 

“These proposed regulations implement the administrative aspects of switching members of Congress and congressional staff to their new insurance plans — the same plans available to millions of Americans through the new Exchanges,” said Jon Foley, OPM’s planning and policy director, in a statement.

Under the Affordable Care Act, legislators and their staff are required to purchase health insurance through new insurance marketplaces, called exchanges, that are scheduled to start operating on Oct. 1. Staff and lawmakers have until the end of the year to sign up for the exchanges.

The provision was meant to ensure that members of Congress have to deal with the same health insurance system as their constituents.

A legal oversight, however, did not make it clear how the federal government would contribute to those premiums the way a private company would for its own workers. Staff are also not eligible for tax credits for the exchanges.

Lawmakers feared that would result in staffers paying thousands of dollars out of pocket for health insurance — an effective pay cut that legislators feared could send them looking for a new line of work.

Some conservatives have criticized the effort to fix the glitch as a hypocritical attempt to exempt Congress from some parts of the law.

“Here we go again – President Obama and Congress are sticking it to the American taxpayer,” Brent Bozell, chairman of ForAmerica, said in a statement on Friday when the move was announced. “Exempting themselves and their staffs from ObamaCare insurance increases while letting the rest of us shoulder the cost is repulsive. Those responsible for this backroom deal must be held accountable.”

Along with the proposal, the OPM also issued additional guidance to administrative offices in the House and Senate to help them work out the kinks.

-- This story was updated at 10:42 a.m.

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