The Washington Post

Survey: Strong concern about health coverage among congressional staffers

The vast majority of congressional staff directors think their employees are worried about their health benefits after a GOP amendment to the Affordable Care Act forced them off their normal federal-worker plans, according to a survey released Monday.

(J. Scott Applewhite/AP) (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Ninety percent of chiefs of staff and local directors in a Congressional Management Foundation survey said their employees are concerned about the benefit changes, while 86 percent said their workers are worried about cost.

Congressional staffers previously qualified for coverage under the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan, but an amendment by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) to the health law now prohibits lawmakers and their staffers from taking part in the program.

Those individuals must now seek coverage through their spouses, parents, or the federal exchange established under the health law. Otherwise, they have to pay a penalty for not having insurance.

Grassley pitched the amendment in 2009 as a way to prevent lawmakers from exempting themselves and their staffers from the effects of the law, which he correctly anticipated would cause many Americans to lose their existing coverage.

One thing to keep in mind: The Affordable Care Act expressly prohibits congressional employees from using their previous insurance plans, but that same rule does not apply to other Americans. Instead, the law simply sets a minimum standard of coverage that some old plans did not meet, thereby forcing certain individuals to find more robust plans.

It’s also important to note that the federal-employee health insurance plan meets the standards of the health law. So, without the Grassley amendment, lawmakers and their staffs could have continued their existing coverage, just like millions of other Americans whose plans meet the requirements.

Fifteen percent of congressional chiefs of staff and local directors responded to the survey, which took place between Nov. 18 and Dec. 6, before the benefits changes took effect on Jan. 1.

The survey also found that 38 percent of chiefs of staff and local directors feel their employees are likely to look for a job outside their current congressional office within the next 12 months, representing an 8-percent increase compared to 2011.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks@washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics for more federal news. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.

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