House lawmakers and staff are having significant problems enrolling in Obamacare and may miss their sign-up deadline on Monday, according to a House official who asked the Obama administration to help deal with the problem.
House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Strodel notified lawmakers' offices late Thursday that he had asked the Office of Personnel Management to “take immediate steps” to ensure that lawmakers and staff are able to enroll in the DC Health Link plan. Congressional staff have been experiencing technical difficulties with the District's online health insurance marketplace. The website was actually down for maintenance for at least an hour midday Thursday.
Strodel told the staff that their government-provided health care would be extended another month, to Jan. 31, just in case they continue have problems enrolling.
“With the end of the open enrollment period drawing near, we have made the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and D.C. Health Link aware of the significant problems preventing Members and staff in Washington, D.C., and in district offices from enrolling in a healthcare plan via the D.C. Health Link website,” Strodel said in his email.
"We are urging OPM to take immediate steps to ensure that all Members and designated staff have the opportunity to enroll in a D.C. Health Link plan and receive confirmation of that enrollment upon completion of the process."
Earlier Thursday, OPM declined to answer a Washington Examiner inquiry regarding whether the agency would extend the enrollment period beyond Monday, and instead referred all questions back to House administration. Under the Affordable Care Act, members of Congress and designated staff must get their health insurance through Obamacare's D.C. exchange, if they choose to access employer health care benefits.
Some members of Congress and their staffs have reported significant problems signing up for coverage on DCHealthLink.com, the District's online health insurance marketplace. Problems reported have included confirmed enrollments not showing up in the system, rejected passwords when attempting to log into an account, notifications of ineligibility to purchase insurance on the D.C. exchange, and the same technical snafus reported with healthcare.gov, the much-maligned federal exchange.
“The biggest frustration has been the website and getting a response back from them,” a Republican House staffer told the Examiner.
“It’s becoming clearer by the hour that the D.C. Health Link website is failing as utterly as the nationwide Obamacare website,” added House Administration Committee Chairman Candice Miller, R-Mich. “At this point, the House is doing everything possible to assist our employees and their families from losing health care coverage because of this deeply flawed enrollment process.”
However, a spokesman for D.C. exchange said few problems have been reported. “We haven’t been hearing widespread concerns or complaints,” said Richard Sorian, director of communications, education and outreach for D.C. Health Link.
The Office of Personnel Management has long administered the health insurance benefits program for members of Congress and staff. Although Obamacare requires members and staff to purchase insurance through the D.C. exchange, OPM is maintaining its role as the agency that governs how that component of the law is carried out.
To that end, OPM determined that staff who work outside of D.C., in state or district offices, must purchase their health insurance through D.C. Health Link’s small business exchange. That means their insurance will cost more than their counterparts who live in metro Washington and purchase coverage on the individual exchange, while offering them access to fewer doctors.
This story was modified to clarify the type of relief the House is seeking from the Office of Personnel Management.