Congress created their own health crisis

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Members of Congress created a big problem for themselves when they passed Obamacare. Section 1312(d) requires them to get their health insurance through the insurance "exchanges" established by the law.

Currently, lawmakers and Congressional staff get health insurance from the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program, which offers a wide variety of plans, and subsidizes up to 75 percent of their cost. This year that averages about $4,900 for individual plans, $11,000 for family plans.

They'll no longer be eligible to participate in the FEHBP when Obamacare goes into effect Oct. 1, Section 1312(d) implies. And nothing in it authorizes the government to subsidize insurance obtained through the Obamacare exchanges.

"I do not think members of Congress and their staff can get funds for coverage in the exchanges under existing law," David Ermer, a lawyer who represents insurers in the FEHBP, told the New York Times.

That means, in effect, a pay cut of $5,000, or $11,000, for lawmakers and their higher paid aides.

"The result was a full wig out on Capitol Hill," said the Wall Street Journal. "Democrats in particular begged the White House for help, claiming (the law's) language was merely an unintentional mistake."

"This was a stupid provision which never should have gotten into the law," a House Democrat told the New York Times.

Grandstanding by Senate Democrats may be why it did. The "stupid provision" was offered as an amendment by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, when the Senate version of Obamacare was being "marked up" by the Senate Finance Committee.

Why would the Democrat majority accept an amendment offered by an Obamacare opponent?

They could tell their constituents they'd be subjected to the same law they were imposing on everyone else, while planning quietly to strip the Grassley amendment when a House-Senate conference committee met to draft the final version of Obamacare.

If that were the plan, it was thwarted when a Republican won the special election for a Senate seat in Massachusetts. The GOP now had enough votes to filibuster a conference report. House Democrats had no choice but to accept the Senate bill as is.

Not to worry, President Barack Obama told Democrat senators in a closed door meeting last week. He'll order the Office of Personnel Management to issue regulations to permit the government to pay for most of their health care premiums.

OPM has no authority to pay for insurance plans that don't have FEHBP contracts, or to reimburse lawmakers and staff for out of pocket health care costs.

"Those things require appropriations bills passed by Congress and signed by the President," noted the Wall Street Journal.

To get around that, the administration is pretending Section 1312(d) doesn't conflict with the 1959 law that established the FEHBP. Lawmakers and staff may enroll concurrently in it and the Obamacare exchanges, OPM ruled Wednesday.

This conflicts with both "bedrock administrative law," and the notion health care subsidies should be for the poor.

"Millionaire Senators and the affluent professionals who are chiefs of staff, legislative directors and the like were supposed to go on the exchange and abide by its rules," the Wall Street Journal said.

"It would have been fairer and less corrosive to the rule of law had Congress simply passed a bill giving their workers a raise to make up for the lost compensation of dropping out of the FEHBP. But that would mean an ugly political fight that voters might notice."

"If John Q. Congressman voted to give himself an Obamacare waiver that his constituents don't get, he wouldn't be John Q. Congressman much longer," said Michael Cannon, health policy analyst for the CATO Institute.

And if an amendment were offered to "fix" Section 1312(d), Republicans might insist on other changes to protect ordinary Americans from the baneful effects of Obamacare. Desperate to get out of the hole they'd dug for themselves, and fearful of being too obviously hypocritical, Democrats might go along, the White House fretted.

So instead we have an illegal dispensation for the ruling class from the rules they've imposed on the hoi polloi. Obamacare will cut the income of millions of Americans. But only Congress gets relief.

Kevin Pace, an adjunct music professor at Northern Virginia Community College who's suffered an $8,000 pay cut told Mr. Cannon: "This isn't right on any level."

Jack Kelly writes for the Pittsburgh Press and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. zette.com; 412-263-1476.

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This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/


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