- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Senate this week warned lawmakers and their staff not to sign up for Obamacare’s health exchanges, saying that the administration hasn’t yet finalized the rules for how to keep paying for their premiums.

“Members and staff are advised that they should delay enrolling in health insurance plans until we are able to offer further guidance as to how they should enroll in these insurance plans for 2014,” the Senate disbursing office said in an email to staffers Monday. “Premature enrollment could adversely impact eligibility for the employer premium contribution.”

The health exchanges are slated to open next week, and mark a key milestone for the Affordable Care Act.

They were created as marketplaces where those who are now required to obtain insurance but who don’t get plans through their jobs can go to shop for coverage.

During the 2009 health care debate Congress approved language insisting that lawmakers and staffers in their personal offices will lose their federal health plans and must shop for plans on the exchanges — though last month’s ruling by the Office of Personnel Management said taxpayers will still continue to pay 72 percent of the premiums.

Republicans said that’s a benefit most Americans won’t get.

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“If Obamacare is going to force Americans all over this country to lose their employer-provided health insurance, be forced onto the exchange with no subsidies, then the men and women who serve in this body should feel that pain exactly the same,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, who on Tuesday staged a filibuster to block the chamber floor and draw attention to his fight to defund the health law.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, though, said if members of Congress lost their taxpayer subsidies for health insurance, would Mr. Cruz want all workers to be stripped of support from their companies.

“You better think twice about this. If you want to stop the employer contribution to health insurance, that is the headline for tomorrow,” Mr. Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the chamber, said.

The Democratic-controlled Senate is actually slower to warn its employees than the GOP-run House, where the chief administrative officer sent a letter two weeks ago warning that the exchange rules for members of Congress aren’t ready yet.

“Members and staff are advised that although state and federal healthcare exchanges created under the ACA will open for enrollment on October 1st, it will not be possible to confirm plan options, costs, benefits, or which House staff will be affected until OPM issues final regulations, which could very well be after the exchanges have already opened,” the House administrative office said.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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