House extends current health plans for lawmakers, staffers, if needed

December 5, 2013

Acknowledging widespread issues with the process of enrolling for new health-care coverage, House officials reiterated Thursday that lawmakers and their staffs whose current health insurance is set to be terminated at the end of the year will automatically have that coverage extended until the end of January unless they have already enrolled in new coverage.

The reminder from House administrative officials is standard operating procedure for anyone set to lose coverage under the health-care program for federal employees. But the reminder also came as the congressional opening enrollment period is scheduled to end on Monday and amid reports of serious trouble with the Web site of the District's health-care exchange, D.C. Health Link.

Aides to House Republican leaders said Thursday evening that they would not seek to extend the open enrollment period beyond Monday.

In recent days House and Senate staffers have shared myriad concerns with the Web site and complained of waits lasting more than two hours in some cases to meet in person with a Health Link official during benefits fairs on Capitol Hill.

On Thursday evening, Dan Strodel, the chief administrative officer of the House of Representatives, reminded House employees in an e-mail that staffers may stay with the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP)  "until you are successfully enrolled in a plan under DC Health Link." Current coverage will continue, if needed, until Jan. 31, 2014, he said. But coverage will end on Feb. 1 as scheduled, he said.

Strodel said he has informed the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and Health Link about "significant problems" preventing lawmakers and staffs from enrolling via the Web site.

An OPM spokesman wasn't immediately available for comment. It was not immediately clear whether Senate leaders would take similar steps, but Senate aides generally have reported fewer concerns than House aides in recent days.

Currently, lawmakers and congressional staffers working on the Hill or across the country are members of FEHBP, the same insurance program used by millions of active and retired federal employees. Under the new law, lawmakers and most of their staffers must switch into D.C. Health Link in order to continue receiving their taxpayer-funded employer contribution.

House Republican leaders said Thursday evening that they support Strodel's decision. Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), who chairs the House Administration Committee, said the Health Link Web site "is failing as utterly as the nationwide Obamacare Web site."

"The House is doing everything possible to assist our employees and their families from losing health care coverage because of this deeply flawed enrollment process," Miller said in a statement.

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.
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