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ObamaCare Clusterfuck: Obama gets involved, gives special treatment on the Exchanges to ill-paid Congressional staffers, but not the rest of the working poor

[NOTE: I don't want to trash Congressional staffers, especially since the worse we pay them, the more likely it is that only rentier spawn will work there. I also know that Congressional staffers are not richly paid, and that free distribution of frozen Taco Bell "food" is an event on the Hill. That said, Obama did get personally involved, and special treatment is exactly what's going on. --lambert]

Here's the issue. Forbes:

Section 1312(d)(3)(D) of the Affordable Care Act states it clearly: “The only health plans that the Federal Government may make available to Members of Congress and their congressional staff with respect to their service as a Member of Congress or congressional staff shall be health plans that are created under this Act…or offered through an Exchange established under this Act.”

But as with so many other sections of the law, crucial details of how this is supposed to work were left out. First: Will staffers have to buy insurance on the exchanges for themselves with after-tax money, or will the government be able to contribute to these costs with a pre-tax contribution? Second: In the past, the government’s sponsorship of health benefits for members and staffers counted toward retiree benefits. If these individuals are placed on the exchange, will their pensions will be affected?

Because most Congressional staffers are poorly paid, but are paid enough to not have eligibility for the Obamacare subsidies that low-income Americans will receive, losing their current health insurance subsidies would be a big financial blow. Many members fear that their staffers would leave for better-paying jobs in response.

As this blog has repeatedly pointed out, there are millions of the working poor who are in an identical situation: "[P]oorly paid, but are paid enough to not have eligibility for the Obamacare subsidies." So, why don't Congressional staffers just pay the penalty in the first year, and hope things will get more sane, like the rest of us poor schlubs? And why did Obama get personally involved? Here's why:

Obama’s involvement in solving this impasse was unusual, to say the least. But it came after serious griping from both sides of the aisle about the potential of a “brain drain.” The fear, as told by sources in both parties, was that aides would head for more lucrative jobs [lucky them], spooked by the potential for spiking health premiums.

Well, that's great, isn't it? Everybody on the Hill is worried about a "brain drain" (cue the zombie jokes) while the rest of us are worried about hemorrhaging jobs, housing, everything. So, if you're in a tiny little subset of the political class, you get attention. If you're anywhere else, forget it.

Meanwhile, our famously free press is treating the story as some sort of accident, a glitch due to partisan infighting, but put right by our well-meaning overlords. The Times:

Wrinkle in Health Law Vexes Lawmakers’ Aides

No. It's not a fucking wrinkle. As this blog, again, has repeatedly pointed out:

It's the eligibility determination that's the fundamental architectural flaw. It cannot be fixed. Americans have to be thrown into different buckets in a complex and confusing system of eligibility determination, and inevitable get thrown in the wrong buckets, or there aren't even the right buckets for them. Adding to the mix is that buckets differ by state, both legally and in terms of insurance markets, and so what should be a simple, national system of Medicare for All instead creates second-class citizens all over the place, both within and between states. Obama chose to go that route.

The staffers got treated like the working poor because that's how ObamaCare works. That's the bucket they got thrown into. And Obama gave them special treatment that other people, who are also members of the working poor, do not get. Well done, Democrats.

NOTE Pelosi's comment is priceless:

Pelosi characterized Capitol Hill staff as "a tremendous intellectual resource."

"[They are] people who could, shall we say, be better compensated financially outside [of Congress]," she said, but "happily they enjoy the psychic rewards of public service, at least for awhile."

Too bad millions of working Americans not only miss out on those psychic rewards, but won't be having Obama personally intervene to get them a better deal on the exchanges, either. Welcome to America.

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katiebird's picture
Submitted by katiebird on

It seems like they could have easily fixed those poor families' with the situation where employee insurance is "affordable" but insurance for children & spouse is totally unaffordable. I still don't get why they can't let spouse & kids (or even the whole family!!) into the exchange AND give them subsidies if they "deserve" them.

If this Congressional thing is just a "glitch" (In spite of being explicit in a particular amendment) then shouldn't that family situation be even more a "glitch"

Also, again.... implementation..... do the programmers have to code around this (laughing..... no. They knew about this months/years ago, I'm sure)

Rainbow Girl's picture
Submitted by Rainbow Girl on

So do the Congress staffers still have to buy ObamaCare Products on the Exchanges? And if so, will they all be subsidized to the tune of being able to "afford" platinum plans?

Or, do the "tweaks" to this "wrinkle" eliminate the *mandate* for this special bucket of people and just allow them to keep FEHB?

beowulf's picture
Submitted by beowulf on

Yeah, this was a dumb way to handle it. It'd be a lot easier to make congressional employees whole by just increasing salaries, instead they will be the only people in insurance exchange (in DC where they work, Maryland or Virginia where they live or their home state, who knows?) getting an employer subsidy. The crazy crazy part is Members of Congress gave themselves the same bump. That's going to make for a killer campaign ad for primary and general election challengers next year.