Reid Denies Talks on Obamacare Exemption

Thursday, 25 Apr 2013 04:11 PM

By David Yonkman, Washington Correspondent

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A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid denied a Politico report Thursday that lawmakers were considering exempting members of Congress and their staffs from Obamacare health insurance exchanges.

Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson told The Hill that the Democratic leader said he has never considered exempting members and staff from the law’s insurance exchanges, and that “no legislative fix is necessary” to resolve the issue.

“There are not now, have never been, nor will there ever be any discussions about exempting members of Congress or congressional staff from Affordable Care Act provisions that apply to any employees of any other public or private employer offering health care,” Jentleson said.

The remarks by Reid’s aide, however, contradicted comments earlier in the day by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who confirmed reports that there were on-going talks on a possible Obamacare exclusion for congressional employees.

Pelosi told reporters at a briefing that she has been working with House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, who she said is participating in negotiations with leaders in the House and Senate concerning how lawmakers and congressional employees might be exempted from the healthcare program.

“Whatever the outcome is, people have to be treated the same,” Pelosi said.

Politico reported on Thursday that talks were prompted by concerns on Capitol Hill that staffers would have to pay 100 percent of their insurance premiums unless the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) rules the government can help subsidize their plans, just as it does now with their current coverage. The health law requires them to be covered by exchanges, like many other Americans, but it doesn’t address the federal subsidy issue.

Requiring lawmakers and their staffs to join the exchanges could cost them thousands of dollars in new healthcare costs, which some members of Congress say could force congressional employees to leave their government jobs in search of higher-paying employment, according to Politico.

Various proposals have reportedly been submitted to OPM, which will administer the benefits and decide whether and how lawmakers and their staffs will be covered. One proposal exempts lawmakers and their aides, while another exempts staff members, who currently receive a subsidy of up to 75 percent of their current premium costs, according to the Congressional Research Service.

House Republicans said the Democratic maneuvering over the issue indicates just how confusing the Obamacare law is for most Americans.

“The fact that Democratic leaders want to opt themselves out of the Obamacare exchanges shows that Sen. [Max] Baucus isn’t the only one who realizes the president’s healthcare law is a ‘train wreck,’” Michael Steel, House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman, told Newsmax Thursday.

He was referring to Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus of Montana, who took a prominent role among Democrats in writing and passing Obamacare in 2010. Baucus called the healthcare law a “train wreck” last week before announcing that he will not seek a seventh term in 2014.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina weighed in on the matter Thursday as well.

“Obamacare is a train wreck,” Graham said in a statement. “Congress shouldn’t be able to get out of Obamacare until everyone else does.”

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