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Just wrong: Congress quietly takes ObamaCare waiver

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Campaign ads critical of ObamaCare dominated the mid-term elections. With millions dropped from the insurance they liked and millions more paying far higher prices for coverage they would not voluntarily purchase there remains a deep base of unhappiness with the law. The result was a huge electoral shift toward Republicans. Voters now fairly expect the new majority to answer their concerns.  

Most in Congress now agree, however, that big changes to ObamaCare will come either by order of the Supreme Court, which is deliberating the legality of IRS rules that go beyond the scope of the Affordable Care Act or, later, with the help of a more sympathetic president. But smaller changes are currently being sought by businesses affected by ObamaCare taxes and some Democrats are signaling their willingness to provide relief.  

Republican senators have responded by giving special budget attention, for example, to medical device makers who will pay some $29 billion in ACA taxes over the next decade. Even health insurers, the most prominent business interest supporting the law, are now pressing for relief from the taxes they are required to pay.  

But what about average Americans who do not employ well-connected lobbyists?  

They may have good reason to wonder if the politicians they elected are “feeling their pain”. That’s because the House and Senate have quietly taken a “Congressional waiver” from the administration that puts them above the law that was specifically amended to include Congress. The law says, “the only health plans that the Federal Government may make available to Members of Congress and congressional staff … shall be health plans that are – (I) created under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act); or (II) offered through an Exchange established under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act).” 

Further, according to Section 1512 of the law, legislators and staff “lose the employer contribution” that covers most of the cost of coverage. The amendment passed by Congress specifically requires that Members and their staff give up their generous Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan (FEHB) health benefits and, instead, purchase their health insurance through ObamaCare exchanges. In essence, Congress was required by law to be treated like any other citizen who lost the individual market insurance they liked.  

Many who were critical of this law felt the reality of ObamaCare would prove so painful for Congress–as it is for many citizens–that the law would quickly be re-opened, heavily amended or even repealed with Democrat’s help. But that calculation must have also occurred at the White House. The Administration quickly came forward with an illegal sweetheart waiver for Congress alone.  

Congressional leaders from both parties quietly and gratefully accepted the special deal from the administration’s Office of Personnel Management. It gives legislators and staff “Gold Level” ObamaCare coverage with a 75 percent subsidy paid by taxpayers or even the option of opting out and retaining their previous heavily subsidized plan. The income of members and staff is simply not counted.  

This is in direct violation of the specific language of the law Congress enacted. The White House broke its own law to provide Congress ObamaCare gold and then fraudulently administered it through the District of Columbia’s Small Business Healthcare Exchange. In order to get their waiver, representatives of the House and Senate signed documents, under penalty of perjury, that each body employed no more than 50 people. To date more than 13,000 members and staff have signed up with the help of another gift–a dedicated team assigned only to Congress. 

Presidential candidates who hold Senate jobs are now scouring the nation for financial help for their ambitions. But small and large donors should use their own “power of the purse” to deny them such funds until Congress stops acting as if it were above the very law that it enacted. This White House “gift” was a bribe, pure and simple, designed to quell dissatisfaction with ObamaCare in Congress that would fairly reflect exactly what millions of constituents are feeling.  

Many have complained of the “disconnect” between Washington and hometown America. Here is a prime example. Governing wisely should not mean ruling from an aristocrat’s perch. It is time for Congress to end this fraud and experience the law legislators required every other citizen to obey.

Hoagland is an author and grassroots advocate who raised and delivered 2.2 million petitions to repeal the Affordable Care Act.


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