Retirement an ObamaCare bailout for Beltway politicians?
posted at 9:21 am on March 3, 2014 by Ed Morrissey
For most Americans, there is no escape from ObamaCare. One subset of Americans, however, do have an escape hatch — and surprise, surprise, it’s the same subset of Americans who forced ObamaCare onto everyone else. Officeholders on Capitol Hill and their staffs can opt back into the previous Congressional health-care system by retiring:
This year, members of Congress and thousands of their staffers are finally signing up for health insurance provided by an ObamaCare exchange, fulfilling their commitment to live under the same system that millions of other Americans will use.
But unlike those millions of Americans, members and staff have a way to opt out of ObamaCare — retirement.
Under a rule issued by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) late last year, members and staff who retire will be able to revert back to health coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP). That’s the same coverage that thousands of other federal workers can use when they retire.ADVERTISEMENT
The FEHBP lets government retirees choose from a range of options, including health savings accounts, PPOs or HMOs. And none of it has anything to do with ObamaCare.
OPM had not included a retirement escape clause in its August draft of the rule on congressional coverage. But this flexibility was added in its October 2 final rule, after “numerous commenters” called on OPM to reconsider.
The kicker? OPM decided that forcing these retirees to stay in ObamaCare would give them more options than other retirees, and that just wouldn’t be fair. At the same time, though, OPM didn’t seem to take fairness into great consideration on their legal argument. While the law mandates that members of Congress and their staffers get treated like all other Americans, OPM reasoned, the law never stated that they had to get the same treatment once they retired from those positions.
Let’s also remember that OPM’s previous ruling allowed Capitol Hill to eat its cake and have it, too. They ruled that officials and staffers could continue receiving FEHBP subsidies even after they got shifted to ObamaCare. OPM made this change to its rules after members of Congress complained that their own law would result in a “brain drain” from federal government. (Fill in your joke here.) That gives Congress the best of all worlds — a nominal adherence to the law they forced on everyone else, plus a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
That’s not the only place where rules keep changing to benefit the people who pushed ObamaCare through over the objections of most Americans. HHS has made its own series of unilateral changes, and Jeryl Bier thinks another may be coming. The official HHS ObamaCare website notes that the deadline for coverage enrollment in terms of IRS enforcement of the individual mandate is March 31st, but the language is getting softer on how one can get around it:
An email inquiry to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on Wednesday, February 26, seeking clarification elicited the following response on Thursday, February 27, from the agency’s press office (emphasis added):
Marketplace plans will not be available until the following enrollment period, unless the person has a qualifying life event. For more information, visit: https://www.healthcare.gov/how-can-i-get-coverage-outside-of-open-enrollment/.
Some insurers off the Marketplace may choose to allow individuals to enroll in a plan at any time provided they comply with new regulations such as not discriminating based a pre-existing condition or current health status. The insurer must also make sure that the plan is available for anyone who may want to purchase it.
Following the email inquiry, the informational page at Healthcare.gov was updated on February 27, now reading (emphasis added): “Outside open enrollment, you can enroll in Marketplace insurance only if you have certain life events that give you a special enrollment period.” …
Obviously it would be in the government’s interest for the public to assume that no coverage, either inside or outside the Marketplace, may be purchased between April 1 and November 15 unless there is a qualifying “life event.” But as the recent clarification from CMS spells out, the private insurance market (as opposed to “Marketplace”) will remain an option for those who for one reason or another resist Obamacare’s deadline.
Maybe they can just retire from Congress.