by Napp Nazworth
Newscast Media WASHINGTON—Some congressional leaders are looking at changing a part of the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” that requires members of Congress and their staff to get their health insurance from the new health care exchanges. Leaders from both parties have been in talks about making the change. Aware that they could be considered hypocrites for making the change, those meetings were in private. With the revelation of those secret meetings by Politico’s John Bresnahan and Jake Sherman, those congressional leaders now appear to be backing away from the idea.
The requirement that all members of Congress and their staff get their health coverage through the exchanges was an odd quirk in the law from the beginning. The ACA requires most Americans to obtain health insurance (the individual mandate).
It expands the availability of coverage by expanding Medicaid eligibility and requiring large employers to provide coverage to their employees. The state-level health care exchanges were set up for those who are not eligible for Medicaid or Medicare and do not get their coverage from their employer, either because the employer is small and not required to provide coverage, or the employer is large and decided to pay the fine (or tax) rather than provide coverage.
As The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein explains it, requiring federal employees to get coverage through the exchanges was intended to be a “gotcha” moment by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) during debates over the law’s passage. Grassley’s proposal was more of a message, essentially saying – if Democrats think this law is such a good idea, then let them have the same coverage. Rather than be embarrassed by the ploy, Democrats decided to go along with the idea and the proposal was added to the bill. Grassley originally wanted all federal employees to go on the exchanges. That was narrowed to members of Congress and their staff.
One concern of House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who first raised the issue, and other members of Congress who want the requirement changed, is that the coverage will be too costly for low-level staffers, some of whom make as little as $25,000 per year.
This may not be an issue, though. The Congressional Research Service has said that the government can contribute to the premium costs of Hill staffers. The final ruling on that, though, will have to be made by the Office of Personnel Management. If the OPM agrees with the CRS, a legislative fix will not be necessary. In a Thursday statement, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office said a legislative fix is not necessary.
“Senator Reid is committed to ensuring that all members of Congress and Congressional staff experience the benefits of the Affordable Care Act in exactly the same way as every other American. He believes that this is the effect of the legislation as written, and that therefore no legislative fix is necessary.
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,” the statement said.
by Napp Nazworth
Newscast Media WASHINGTON D.C.—A federal appeals court on Tuesday sided with Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey College in a decision related to the ongoing court challenges to the Obama administration’s birth control mandate. The court said it would hold the Obama administration to its promise to never implement the current birth control mandate and to create a new rule by August, as part of the court decision.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordered Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to give it updates every 60 days, beginning in February, until a new rule is issued in August. The lawsuits will be held in abeyance until that time.
“There will, the government said, be a different rule for entities like the appellants,” the court wrote, “and we take that as a binding commitment. The government further represented that it would publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the new rule in the first quarter of 2013 and would issue a new Final Rule before August 2013. We take the government at its word and will hold it to it.”
Sebelius first issued the rule in January. As part of the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” she ruled that employers must cover contraception, sterilization and some abortifacient drugs in their health care insurance for employees. There is a religious exemption, but the exemption is so narrow that most religious employers, including religious schools, are not exempt. There have been about 40 lawsuits related to the mandate.
Barack Obama has promised to make an accommodation for religious employers, but the only accommodation, thus far, has been a grace period for some religious employers before they will be bound by the mandate.
“The D.C. Circuit has now made it clear that government promises and press conferences are not enough to protect religious freedom,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who argued the case. “The court is not going to let the government slide by on non-binding promises to fix the problem down the road.”
Duncan believes the decision is a major victory for opponents of the mandate because HHS is now bound by the court to never implement the mandate in its current form.
“This is a win not just for Belmont Abbey and Wheaton, but for all religious nonprofits challenging the mandate,” added Duncan. “The government has now been forced to promise that it will never enforce the current mandate against religious employers like Wheaton and Belmont Abbey and a federal appellate court will hold the government to its word.”