POLITICS: PennAve

Ruling allows Capitol Hill staff, lawmakers to keep their government insurance subsidies under Obamacare

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Congressional staff and lawmakers who must sign up for the health care law’s new insurance exchanges will continue to have most of their premiums covered by the federal government.

The Office of Personnel Management, which oversees federal employees, will issue a ruling this month stipulating that the government can continue to provide its nearly 75 percent subsidy to elected members and their employees. The White House confirmed the news late Thursday and said the official guidelines will be issued next week.

The federal contribution to health care premium coverage is about equal to the those who work in large, private sector companies.

The Kaiser Family Foundation in a 2012 survey found that on average, large companies pay about 75 percent of employee heath care premiums. In smaller firms with fewer than 200 employees, the contribution drops to about 66 percent.

The OPM’s decision comes days after President Obama, in a visit to Senate Democrats on Capitol Hill, pledged to personally get involved with resolving the issue.

For months, staff have been threatening to flee Capitol Hill if the glitch wasn't resolved and they lost their health care subsidies.

Under current law, lawmakers and staff are enrolled in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, with 75 percent of the cost of premiums covered by the government.

As of Oct. 1, lawmakers and staff are supposed to enroll in the new insurance exchanges that are to be created under the Affordable Care Act. The provision in the law was inserted at the insistence of Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, during the heated debate on the bill back in 2010.

The provision, however, says nothing about government subsidies for the premiums, which would have left congressional workers on the hook for annual costs of $5,000 to $11,000, depending on what level of care they sign up for.

Lawmakers feared a “brain drain” on the Hill. Staffers threatened to flee to the private sector or other federal jobs, where employees will not be required to sign up for the exchanges.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Friday praised the move, noting that the federal government’s contribution to staff health insurance plans are “part of their compensation here,” but she added that the decision does not exempt lawmakers and staff from having to enroll in the exchanges.

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