The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In 2014, Congress gets Obamacare. Here’s how they’ll pay for it.

Placeholder while article actions load

Starting in 2014, members of Congress and their staffs will have to get their health insurance through Obamacare's insurance marketplaces. But according to a regulation that the Obama administration's Office of Personnel Management plans to announce on Friday and release next week, the federal government can continue to contribute toward the cost of their health plans.

The regulation comes after months of worry on Capitol Hill. The Affordable Care Act includes a provision, first proposed by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), forcing members of Congress and their staffs to buy insurance through Obamacare. But it didn't provide a clear mechanism for them to do so.

The insurance marketplaces are built for individuals, not employers, and there was concern that the federal government could not continue paying its traditional share of congressional health plans. That would mean the entire cost would fall to members of Congress and their staffs, many of whom would likely flee the institution.

The Obama administration's compromise is to permit the federal government to contribute toward employee insurance on the exchanges, but to render those employees ineligible for any tax credits or subsidies.

"Members of Congress and their staff must go into the exchange," said an administration official. "No ands, ifs, or buts. They will not be eligible in any way for subsidies or tax credits. But they don't lose their current employer contribution."

Congress is the only large employer that has to enter the exchanges -- or is even allowed to do so. Some on Capitol Hill have asked why the White House staff doesn't follow suit.

"We have no legal authority to do that," the official said. "But we would support legislation that would apply the same standard to the President and the White House staff and the cabinet members. We believe the insurance exchanges are a very good deal, a very good benefit, and we're happy to be in them."