Congress exempts itself from Obamacare, can keep subsidized plans

Members of Congress and their staffs won’t face potentially massive hikes in their health care premiums next year as many had feared because of a clause in President Obama’s health care overhaul — causing at least one Republican senator to ask, literally, “What the flip?”

The federal government plans to issue a ruling saying the government can keep contributing to health care premiums of Congressmen and their staffers, Politico reported.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, put a provision into the original law saying that Congressmen and their aides have to be covered by plans “created” by the law or “offered through an exchange.”

Under the old system, the federal government contributed to about 75 percent of premiums; members and staffers are covered through the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, but it was unclear if the program could subsidize premiums of plans on the exchanges.

Enrollment in the exchanges — marketplaces where consumers can shop for and buy for insurance — is scheduled to begin Oct. 1, and both Democrats and Republicans are planning significant public relations campaigns over the law during Congress’s August recess.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said Friday that members of Congress and their staffs must enroll in the exchanges, as required by the law.

“It was important for us to get this information before we left for August because October 1 is right around the corner,” she said.

Mrs. Pelosi said staff did tell her it would be a problem.

“But I think the main target of that piece of the legislation was the members of Congress, and the collateral damage was to staff. Now that doubt has been removed,” she said. “Members of Congress, of course, would always been in the exchanges. And now there was a differentiation on staff, if you were leadership staff or if you were personal staff, and that’s what we’re waiting to see, the actual final language, because we haven’t seen that, but that’s what we’re working on now.

Meanwhile, Republicans attacked the announcement, with Sen. David Vitter blasting it as a “behind-closed-doors deal, announced right after Congress is safely away from the crime scene.”

“This is exactly why America rightly hates Washington,” said Mr. Vitter, Louisiana Republican. “Obamacare’s a train wreck, even for Congress. So it gets fixed … FOR CONGRESS ONLY. What the flip about fixing it for America?”

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