It appears as if Republican members of Congress are attempting to exempt themselves from some of the more brutal aspects of Trumpcare. But this is a different kind of exemption than their previous "exemption."
A few years ago, you might've heard just about every Republican member of Congress, along with Fox News and AM talk radio, shrieking about how members of Congress are "exempted" from Obamacare. The point they were trying to make is that Obamacare is so awful and so ridiculous that the Obama administration offered Congress a Get-Out-Of-Obamacare-Free card.
Taking it one step further, they insisted that if Obamacare isn't good enough for Congress, why should the American people be forced to endure its awfulness? The people should be exempted, too. It's difficult to encapsulate in any language, living or dead, the sheer intellectual violence of this lie.
Rewind to the marathon healthcare reform debate in 2009.
In an effort to flim-flam the Democrats, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) proposed an amendment that forced members of Congress and congressional staffers to abandon the existing Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan and, instead, to sign up for Obamacare in the health insurance marketplaces just like ordinary Americans. Again, the point was to illustrate the shoddy and undesirable nature of Obamacare, and, subsequently, how the Democrats would balk at the notion, thus undermining their own pitch for how great the law will be.
But the Democrats called Grassley's bluff and accepted the amendment.
So now, if members of Congress and staffers want employer-based coverage, they're required to obtain health insurance through the newly established marketplaces. Here's the problem. Like most employers, public or private, the government has always paid around 75 percent of the cost of the monthly premiums for its employees as a fairly typical salary benefit.
But since members of Congress and their aides were being bumped over to the exchanges, they were surely going to lose that benefit, which would amount to a significant pay cut -- especially brutal for low-wage staffers.
However, about four years ago the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) corrected the problem by creating a rule that allowed the government to continue to cover 75 percent of the new Obamacare marketplace insurance premiums. As an employer, naturally it's the prerogative of the government to do this, just as it would be the prerogative of Trader Joe's or Walmart to offer the same benefit.
But the OPM's rule has been twisted and bastardized by Republicans into "an exemption from Obamacare" for Congress. Insane, especially knowing that none of this would've been a thing if a Republican senator, Chuck Grassley, hadn't been monkeying around with the healthcare reform law. In a strange way, it's a good thing he did so because now, in addition to giving congressional workers some options, it will ultimately reduce the cost of insurance for the federal government, considering how the Obamacare premiums will be lower, thus making the government's 75 percent contribution lower, too.
And now... the rest of the story.
Remember when John Boehner screamed on the House floor about the unfair congressional exemption from Obamacare? It turns out that Boehner worked extensively with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and other Democratic leaders to re-establish the government premium subsidy for Hill workers and members. In fact, according to Politico, Boehner and Reid collaborated to schedule a secret meeting at the White House to convince the president to re-establish the premium coverage. In the meantime, draft legislation was circulated to entirely repeal the marketplace requirement for Congress, but it was never shuffled beyond the planning stage.
Eventually, pressure from congressional Democrats convinced OPM to allow the rule -- the so-called "exemption" -- to be authorized.
The duplicity and dishonesty by the purveyors of this lie is astonishing, especially coming from the leader of the congressional Republicans. There is no congressional Obamacare "exemption." There never was. In fact, Congress has to buy insurance via Obamacare. By law. And the rule that Boehner tried to contort into an "exemption" was a rule that he himself lobbied for, in cooperation with his nemesis in the Senate.
Now, according to Sarah Kliff reporting for Vox, the GOP is trying to carve out special language in Trumpcare to avoid the more punitive cuts in the embattled Trumpcare bill. They tried it once in the House bill, only to be forced to close the loophole.
This exemption could have the effect of ensuring that members of Congress have coverage for a wider array of benefits than other Americans who purchase their own coverage.
A Senate Republican aide confirmed that the exemption existed but was unable to comment as to the specific effect it would have. The aide said it was included to ensure that the bill hewed to the chamber’s strict reconciliation rules that limit the policies this health bill can include.
It looks as though the possible elimination of essential health benefits in Trumpcare might not apply to coverage purchased by members of Congress and their staff who, as I detailed above, are required to buy insurance on the DC marketplace if they want employer-coverage and premium sharing.
The rest of us? Not so lucky.