Congress, Staffers Make Up 98 Percent of DC's Health Link

Thursday, 20 Feb 2014 10:20 AM

By Lisa Barron

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More than 12,000 congressional representatives and staff members have bought healthcare insurance through the capital's new small-business exchange, even though they don't own or work for a small business.

So far, under new rules that require federal legislators and their employees to enroll in health plans through the small-business exchange on the city's DC Health Link marketplace, 12,359 representatives and staff members have purchased such plans, The Washington Post reports.

The small-business exchanges, which are expected to offer relatively low-cost plans, are ordinarily meant for companies with fewer than 50 employees this year and up to 100 employees over the next two years, according to the Post.

That has some lawmakers questioning the ability of elected officials and their staff members to enroll in the plans.

Sen. David Vitter called the rule a "special carve-out for Congress" during a hearing last year on the rollout of the small-business exchanges, the Post reported.

The Louisiana Republican has been an outspoken critic of lawmakers' ability to exempt staff members from the Obamacare exchanges altogether, since only those deemed "official" have to enroll in the state-based exchanges and forfeit their federal benefits.

Vitter's move to make legislators disclose how they label their staff members, and therefore which ones are exempt from the healthcare law, led to a heated debate in December with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who allegedly exempted some of his leadership staff from the exchanges, The Washington Times reported.

Meanwhile, the congressional enrollment represents 98 percent of all enrollments on D.C.'s small-business exchange and 70 percent of all private insurance plans purchased so far in the capital, according to the Post.

Mila Kofman, executive director of the DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority, told the newspaper that less than 300 actual small-business owners and employees have purchased plans through DC Health Link.

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