Reid on Obamacare: ‘No legislative fix is necessary’

April 25, 2013

Sens. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) (left) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Alex Wong - GETTY IMAGES)

To close the loop on today's Congress and Obamacare kerfuffle, here's Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) statement on whether Congress is seeking to exempt itself from the exchanges. He says he believes there's no problem with the legislation as it's currently written, which means he believes the Office of Personnel Management will rule that the federal government can continue subsidizing employees on the exchanges:

Senator Reid is committed to ensuring that all members of Congress and Congressional staff experience the benefits of the Affordable Care Act in exactly the same way as every other American. He believes that this is the effect of the legislation as written, and that therefore no legislative fix is necessary. There are not now, have never been, nor will there ever be any discussions about exempting members of Congress or Congressional staff from Affordable Care Act provisions that apply to any employees of any other public or private employer offering health care.

This doesn't say much about what will happen if OPM doesn't rule as Reid hopes. So here's House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) proposed solution if that happens:

Leader Pelosi was suggesting that all Members and all staff (committee, leadership, and personal office) be required to choose exchange plans through the FEHBP -- she suggested this as a possible administrative fix to the Grassley language.

And Brian Beutler gets the original text of Sen. Chuck Grassley's (R-Iowa) amendment, which makes perfectly clear that he envisioned the federal government's premium contribution following Congress to the insurance exchange:

It turns out that the amendment, as originally conceived by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), already contemplated transferring that premium contribution into the exchanges. From a description of the amendment, which Grassley submitted to the Senate Finance Committee as its ranking member 2009: “This amendment would require that, notwithstanding any other provision of law, beginning in 2013, Members of Congress and Congressional staff must use their employer contribution (adjusted for age rating) to purchase coverage through a state-based exchange, rather than using the traditional selection of plans offered through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP).”

You can read it here on page 17.

Obviously that blurb is not legally binding. But it seems pretty clear that even Chuck Grassley — no fan of the ACA — didn’t simply want to dump junior staffers into the exchanges and let them slug it out on their own like typical uninsured individuals. He wanted their existing employer subsidies to follow them.

If OPM doesn't rule as Reid expects, I'll be surprised to see this get fixed, at least quickly. Republicans view any chaos around Obamacare as a win for them. As of today, they're telling me that that even extends to chaos caused by a Republican senator's amendment that mainly effects their health insurance. I don't think they'll hold out long on that if it turns out they actually have to shoulder the full cost of their premiums. But it will be tough to preemptively back down too.

Previously:

- No, Congress isn't exempting itself from Obamacare.

- Congress isn't giving itself special treatment on Obamacare. It's giving itself a special punishment.

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Neil Irwin · April 25, 2013