You cannot make this stuff up. From Politico (hat tip MR):
Congressional leaders in both parties are engaged in high-level, confidential talks about exempting lawmakers and Capitol Hill aides from the insurance exchanges they are mandated to join as part of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, sources in both parties said.
The talks — which involve Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the Obama administration and other top lawmakers — are extraordinarily sensitive, with both sides acutely aware of the potential for political fallout from giving carve-outs from the hugely controversial law to 535 lawmakers and thousands of their aides. Discussions have stretched out for months, sources said….
And what’s the reason? Oh, the policies might cost too much! But that is because Congresscritters have enjoyed particularly generous coverage. From a 2009 Truthout article:
But many feel Congress is out of touch. How, they wonder, can lawmakers empathize with the underinsured or those lacking insurance when they receive a benefits package — heavily subsidized by taxpayers — that most Americans can only envy?
Among the advantages: a choice of 10 healthcare plans that provide access to a national network of doctors, as well as several HMOs that serve each member’s home state. By contrast, 85% of private companies offering health coverage provide their employees one type of plan. Take it or leave it.
Lawmakers also get special treatment at Washington’s federal medical facilities and, for a few hundred dollars a month, access to their own pharmacy and doctors, nurses and medical technicians standing by in an office conveniently located between the House and Senate chambers.
Now there actually is a bit of an issue for the various Congressional aides. Since the Republicans have been in charge in the House, they’ve forced cuts in pay on Congressional staffers and on expense budgets for individual Congressmen. I can see some readers arguing that’s laudatory. It isn’t. The effect is to make the House even more elitist and dependent on lobbyists. As one staffer remarked, “The only people who can afford to take these jobs now are people who intend to cash out and become lobbyists or come from rich families.” Staffers now can’t get trade journals or go to conferences, and the impediments to getting independent sources of information gives the industry hacks even more influence than they had before.
Politico explains the issue for the staffers:
The problem stems from whether members and aides set to enter the exchanges would have their health insurance premiums subsidized by their employer — in this case, the federal government. If not, aides and lawmakers in both parties fear that staffers — especially low-paid junior aides — could be hit with thousands of dollars in new health care costs, prompting them to seek jobs elsewhere. Older, more senior staffers could also retire or jump to the private sector rather than face a big financial penalty.
Plus, lawmakers — especially those with long careers in public service and smaller bank accounts — are also concerned about the hit to their own wallets….
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said if OPM decides that the federal government doesn’t pick up “the 75 percent that they have been, then put yourself in the position of a lot of entry-level staff people who make $25,000 a year, and all of a sudden, they have a $7,000 a year health care tab? That would be devastating.”
Burr added: “And that makes up probably about 30 percent of the folks that work on the Senate side. Probably a larger portion on the House side. It would drastically change whether kids would have the ability to come up here out of college.”
Aside: that $7000 appears to be rich, since a bronze plan for an individual is expected to cost between $4,500 and $5,800 a year in 2016. But the ouch is still there. From US News:
Eligibility for supports will be determined by the relationship of individual or family gross income levels to the national federal poverty level (FPL). In 2012, the FPL is $11,170 for a one-person household….
Up to 133 percent of FPL: Payments are 2 percent of income.
133 percent up to 150 percent of FPL: Payments begin at 3.0 and rise to 4.0 percent of income.
150 percent to 200 percent of FPL: Payments begin at 4.0 percent and rise to 6.3 percent of income.
200 percent to 250 percent of FPL: Payments begin at 6.3 percent and rise to 8.05 percent of income.
250 percent to 300 percent of FPL: Payments begin at 8.05 percent and rise to 9.5 percent if income.
300 percent to 400 percent of FPL: Payments are 9.5 percent of income.
So if we assume 2% annual inflation, the 2014 FPL would be roughly $11,620. $25,000 is 215% of the FPL. The staffer would pay 6.3% of his income, or $1,575, and get a tax credit for the rest.
If you read the article, Henry Waxman, one of the godfathers of Obamacare, contends this is all a misreading of the law and that the Federal government will take care of the costs to Congressmen and their staff. But Congress is apparently waiting for a decision by the Office of Personnel Management, and that bipartisan talks have been underway long enough for several proposals to have been sent to OPM suggests that the issue is real and a fix is in the making. The fact that so many Congresscritters are unsure of what the law means and how it might affect them and their employees is a telling reflection of the confusion and uncertainty in the public at large. Stay tuned.