The newspaper Politico reports that dozens of members of Congress and their staffers are so worried about rising premium costs under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that they may quit or retire before the law fully goes into effect Jan. 1.
Currently, members of Congress and their staff are covered by the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, which provides generous benefits, including a 75 percent taxpayer subsidy of health care premiums.
But an amendment to the ACA or ”Obamacare,” sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, requires that, beginning Jan. 1, 2014, members of Congress and their staff must purchase their health insurance through a government exchange. It is not clear that they would continue to receive their current subsidies.
Members of Congress and their staff fear costs could skyrocket if their subsidies disappear. Congressional leaders fear a “brain drain” if their staffers leave.
Rep. Pete Session, R-Texas, warned, “It’s going to hinder our ability for members to take care of their families.” Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said, “A lot of the staff stays on largely because of the benefit levels and particularly if you’ve got people with families…it’s just not right.” Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., complained, “Listen, this is simply not fair to these employees. They are federal employees.”
We appreciate their concern for federal employees — but what about the rest of us?
Since Obamacare was signed into law in 2010, private employers have been warning that it would cause confusion, market disruption and rising prices.
Apparently, that reality is just now reaching the lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders are scrambling to find a “fix” to protect their staffers. Hopefully, in that process, they will fix it for the rest of us.
Most insurers are predicting big premium increases under Obamacare, a stark contrast to the president’s promise that the law would actually reduce health insurance costs. For example, the Ohio Department of Insurance recently predicted that premiums in that state will rise by 88 percent under Obamacare.
Another unknown is how many Americans will receive premium subsidies and how much those subsidies will cost taxpayers. As many as 26 million Americans may be eligible for subsidies next year. The law provides subsidies to individuals with annual incomes of $45,000 and up to $94,200 for a family of four.
But some families may lose their coverage entirely.
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, notes that the penalties in Obamacare for not providing employer-sponsored coverage are so small that, faced with skyrocketing premiums, employers will drop their existing employee health plans. It’s simply cheaper to pay the fine and move those employees into state health insurance exchanges.
Holtz-Eakin estimates that as many as 40 million workers could lose their employer-sponsored health coverage. Critics charge that these perverse incentives are designed to destabilize the private insurance market and forge a national single-payer government health care system. Regardless of intent, the impact will be severe.
Some of the same labor unions that enthusiastically supported Obamacare are now having second thoughts. They’re concerned that the incentives to push employees into state exchanges will undermine union contracts. Historically, high-quality health benefits have been one of the biggest enticements labor unions have to attract and retain members. If workers are shunted into the state exchanges, that benefit disappears.
In Washington, D. C., congressional leaders are waiting for the Office of Personnel Management to decide whether members of Congress and their staffers will continue to receive their taxpayer-funded subsidies after Jan. 1.
That decision, expected in the next few months, may “fix” things for the folks who work on Capitol Hill. But what about the rest of us?
About the Author
Don Brunell is the president of the Association of Washington Business. Formed in 1904, the Association of Washington Business is Washington’s oldest and largest statewide business association, and includes more than 8,000 members representing 700,000 employees. AWB serves as both the state’s chamber of commerce and the manufacturing and technology association. While its membership includes major employers like Boeing, Microsoft and Weyerhaeuser, 90 percent of AWB members employ fewer than 100 people. More than half of AWB’s members employ fewer than 10. For more about AWB, visit www.awb.org.