We’ll hear a lot in the coming hours and days about making sure that Congress “plays by the same rules” as the rest of us. After all, who could disagree with such a notion? Most people believe that Congress should not be “above the law.” So it sounds perfectly reasonable that Congress should have to buy their healthcare through the Exchanges “just like the rest of us.”
Except it isn’t. In fact, most of us will not be buying health insurance on the exchange because most people get their healthcare from an employer.
Therefore, this idea of “What’s good enough for us is good enough for Congress” is a FALSE EQUIVALENCY. Congress has no rational reason for going on the Exchange.
The Exchanges are ONLY for people who DON’T have employee provided healthcare. If you have employer-based healthcare, the exchanges don’t directly affect you in anyway. We, “us,” only go through Exchanges if we are on the “individual market,” i.e. self-employed or under-employed. If our job provides us insurance, we don’t go on the Exchange. Since Congresspeople have jobs with employer-provided Health insurance, they have no need to go on the Exchange.
Therefore, for Congress to join the DC exchanges is a political stunt dreamed up by Chuck Grassley (R, IA) in order to embarrass Democrats.
The DC Health exchange rates, while much better than currently available plans for those on the individual market, aren’t quite as cheap as those offered by the most robust employee plans. Furthermore, the Congress AND THEIR STAFFS would be banned from getting subsidies, so they will be paying full price. Full price for the most robust plans in DC will be like 440 bucks a month for zero deductible with 1,100 out of pocket for 40-63 year olds. Those prices are GREAT stuff for folks who are on the Individual market, particularly those with pre-existing conditions and who will get subsidies, but that’s a significant increase in cost for those on robust employee plans.
Therefore, most Congresspeople lobbied the President to remove this “Grassley Amendment” because they were worried that their staff will leave for cheaper Employer insurance on K Street, which will lead to “Brain Drain” on the Hill. Congresspeople from both parties, Boehner AND Reid for example, both agree on this issue. Obama resolved the issue because “the anger over the administration’s inability or unwillingness to resolve this issue [was] bipartisan and deep. The feared so-called brain drain of congressional staffers over rising health care costs has become a topic of constant conversation on Capitol Hill” (The Hill).
In short, this is one of those issues that sounds good, but really is not quite what it seems. You’ll have to ask yourself why the Republicans are so hell-bent on fighting for this rule that they themselves know will force their staff to quit after just having successfully lobbied Obama to change the rule. Can’t be a political stunt, can it?