A Rumor That Won't Die

by Jonathan Cohn | March 26, 2010

Just now on CNN, the hosts will reading recent viewer e-mails about health care reform. Among them was an e-mail attacking the new law. If health care reform is so good, the writer wanted to know, why are politicians exempting themselves from it?

I've heard critics of the bill, from Republican senators to random internet writers, say this many times. And it's frustrating, because it's not true.

As I've written previously, under the new law, members of Congress and their staffs must enroll in the new insurance exchanges. Those are the exact same exchanges through which millions of other individuals will be buying their coverage.

The law didn't originally read that way. In the first draft, lawmakers and their staffs got to keep their present employer-sponsored insurance, just like most Americans will. Republicans introduced amendments that would require the members and staff to enroll in the exchanges, presumably in an effort to make them look bad. They assumed that no representative or Senator would voluntarily relinquish the coverage they get from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan.

But the Democrats did just that.

The one exception is that, under an amendment introduced later, the requirement doesn't apply to committee staff. My understanding from one source is that this was done because the language was so broad that it would have included not just political staff but also many lower employees of the Capitol building. And they saw no reason to disrupt those peoples' coverage simply to prove a point.

But the members themselves and the people who work directly for them are all covered. And, far from pointing out the problems of reform, it demonstrates its virtues: The politicians believe in it enough to entrust their own lives, and those of their families, to the new system.

Again, don't take my word for it. Here's the actual legislative language:

(D) MEMBERS OF CONGRESS IN THE EXCHANGE
(i) REQUIREMENT- Notwithstanding any other provision of law, after the effective date of this subtitle, the only health plans that the Federal Government may make available to Members of Congress and congressional staff with respect to their service as a Member of Congress or congressional staff shall be health plans that are--
(I) created under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act); or
(II) offered through an Exchange established under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act)
(ii) DEFINITIONS- In this section:
(I) MEMBER OF CONGRESS- The term 'Member of Congress' means any member of the House of Representatives or the Senate.
(II) CONGRESSIONAL STAFF- The term 'congressional staff' means all full-time and part-time employees employed by the official office of a Member of Congress, whether in Washington, DC or outside of Washington, DC.

 

 

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