The District’s Obamacare marketplace is psyched to insure Hill staff

August 8, 2013
(Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)
(Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

One big beneficiary of the decision to have some Congressional staff purchase health benefits on the new marketplaces may be the marketplace right here in the District.

In rules published Wednesday, the Office of Personnel Management outlined how Hill staff would continue to receive health insurance benefits that their employer (Congress) would finance. While there are still a few looming questions about the nuts and bolts of how this will work, it near certainly means an influx of young, healthy people in the District of Columbia's relatively tiny marketplace.

Washington will likely have one of the country's smallest health insurance marketplaces  (Either D.C. or Vermont will likely grab the title). The District has, according to the Urban Institute, 151,000 people who will qualify for tax subsidies through the exchange, fewer than any state in the country.

The Sunlight Foundation estimates, meanwhile, that about 7,000 to 8,000 people work for Congress, and their average age is 31. They won't all enroll in the District's marketplace; some live in Virginia, for example, or work back in district offices. But a significant chunk likely will, and these are the exact type of young people that marketplaces want to sign up because they're younger and tend to have lower health care costs.

In California's marketplace, where over 11 million people are expected to qualify for subsidized health care, 7,000 would be a drop in the bucket. But in a small marketplace, an influx of a few thousand young, healthy people could have an impact on premiums. And that likely has something to do with the DC Health Benefit Exchange being "thrilled" to take on the new enrollees.

"We are thrilled to have the opportunity to serve the health insurance needs of Members of Congress and their staff," executive director Mila Kofman said Wednesday in a statement. "The proposed regulations make clear that the federal government will continue to pay its share of the cost of coverage for these individuals and their families. From day one, we have been building an insurance marketplace that can serve the residents and small businesses of the District of Columbia including Congress, the Executive Branch, and the First Family. We have informed OPM that we are ready to work with them to ensure success."

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Ezra Klein | August 8, 2013