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Do Members of Congress Get Subsidies for Obamacare?

Why the Federal Contribution to Employee Health Care Plans Is an Issue


U.S. Capitol Dome

The dome of the U.S. Capitol.

Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images News

Members of Congress will get subsidies for Obamacare similar to the taxpayer-funded contributions they received from the federal government to pay for most of their health care premiums under the Federal Employee Health Benefits program.

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The decision to provide Obamacare subsidies to lawmakers and congressional staffers drew criticism from some members of Congress who believed taxpayers should not create a more favorable plan for themselves than employees in the private sector have under the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

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"Congress should not be exempted from the full impact of Obamacare. It’s not fair and I’m not going to be a part of it," Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger of North Carolina said on "The Mike Huckabee Show" in 2013.

History of the Subsidy

Under the Obamacare health reform law all 435 members of the House of Representatives and 100 members of the U.S. Senate and their thousands of Capitol Hill staffers will lose their traditional federal coverage in 2014 they had been receiving under the Federal Employee Health Benefits program.

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Instead they will be forced to purchase health coverage created by Obamacare or another that is offered through the exchanges set up by the states. The requirement was first proposed by Republican lawmakers who insisted that members of Congress receive the same kind of health care coverage being offered to ordinary Americans under Obamacare instead of the relatively generous programs in which they had participated.

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Under their traditional federal coverage, however, taxpayers contributed about 75 percent of the cost of premiums for members of Congress and their staffers. Those subsidies appeared to be in jeopardy until the Office of Personnel Management issued a proposed rule in August 2013 stating that the government would continue to fund the lawmaker and staffer plans.

Controversy Over the Subsidies

The continuation of subsidies for members of Congress and their staff to pay for health care from the federal plan to Obamacare or the exchanges drew criticism from Republican lawmakers, who said the payout was exorbitant.

"The rule says for members and any staff who do go to the exchange, they do get to take a big fat taxpayer-funded subsidy with them — a subsidy that's completely unavailable to any other American at that income level going into the exchange," Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana said on the Senate floor in 2013. Vitter had introduced a measure that would have required members of Congress to pay the full cost of their health care.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, however, said offering subsidies would ensure that key, loyal congressional staffers stay in Washington, D.C., instead of leaving the government for more lucrative positions in the private sector.

"They are a tremendous intellectual resource, people who could, shall we say, be better compensated financially outside," said Pelosi.

White House Position

The Obama administration has stood by its original claim that "members of Congress will not receive anything that is not available to the public. They are going to get insurance on the marketplace, just like individuals who are uninsured and small businesses."

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