Senate GOP requires staffers to use ObamaCare -- and challenges Democrats to do the same

The incoming Republican majority in the Senate passed a new rule that requires them to live by the law that Democrats championed — and pointed out that Democrats have yet to do so. Until now, a loophole in federal law allowed both caucuses to designate their staffs as “unofficial,” meaning that they were not required to get their health insurance through ObamaCare. The Hill reports that Republicans have thrown down the gauntlet to their Democratic counterparts (via Instapundit):


A loophole used in both chambers allows lawmakers to designate staff as “unofficial” or “official staff,” which permits them to keep their insurance coverage under the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program.

“Republican senators made a strong, principled statement today in passing my resolution,” Vitter said in a statement.

“Washington should have to live under ObamaCare just like everybody else until we repeal it. And we won’t be complicit in Obama’s illegal rule designed to protect Washington insiders.”

We’ve written about this loophole before. The need for it arose when members of Congress realized that applying ObamaCare to their own offices would make the job less attractive for staffers, who might be tempted to go into the private sector instead. Rather than live by their own law — which Democrats championed as equitable and effective, mind you — Democrats and the White House worked up a dodge that allowed staffers to stay within the existing federal employee system rather than get forced into ObamaCare and its requirement to be applied to lawmakers.

Will Democrats follow suit and practice what they preach? That’s what Republicans want to know:

The GOP Conference challenged Senate Democrats to adopt a similar policy and not allow their aides to remain on the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program.

The Republican policy applies to all staff regardless of whether they work in a personal, committee or leadership office. Cloakroom and other aides are also included.


They’d better do so, because Republicans will spend the next two years reminding voters of it if they don’t. They’re already having an ObamaCare hangover these days, as A. B. Stoddard points out:

Four years after the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed by only Democrats, the law has contributed to giving Republicans their strongest hold on Congress in more than half a century.

What’s even more frightening than the law’s unpopularity is the prospect of ObamaCare being dismantled by a coming Supreme Court review. Should the court rule that a suggestion by Gruber — an economics professor and healthcare expert credited with building not only the ACA but also the Massachusetts program said to have inspired the ACA— is true, the law will implode. Gruber has said in secretly videotaped comments that the intent was always to provide subsidies only to states operating their own exchanges, as an incentive for participation. That would make the subsidies now provided in 37 states with federal exchanges illegal.

The cumulative damage the Democratic Party has suffered, as well as the casualty rate — half of the 60 senators who supported the bill are since deceased, defeated or retired — has brought its leaders to an unhappy inflection and reflection point. Two years ago, President Obama was reelected to the surprise and delight of Democrats who believed that, not only would his unique coalition provide them with dominance in presidential cycles for the foreseeable future, but that perhaps the ACA backlash had passed. After losing their Senate majority and watching the GOP cement gains across federal offices, statehouses and regions Democrats might have lost for generations, however, buyer’s remorse on healthcare reform has led to angry division inside the party.


Meanwhile, the Washington Post features another ObamaCare buyers-remorse confessional, but give Catherine Keefe high marks for honesty. The free-lance writer and adjunct instructor at Chapman University in California admits that she cheered the election of Barack Obama, especially for his pledge to reform the health-insurance industry to make health care affordable and accessible. Her husband, who underwent heart surgery as Obama won his 2008 election, warned her that a government takeover of the marketplace would blow up the federal deficit, but Keefe insisted that making health care accessible was worth the risk.

Fast forward six years, and Keefe now feels a lot differently. Subsidized premiums for one-size-fits-all coverage doesn’t actually do anything to make health care either more affordable or accessible, Keefe discovered to her chagrin:

When I told him about Obama’s victory, he grumbled, “I guess I can’t blame Obama for breaking my heart.” But, he worried that he would eventually be able to blame the president “for keeping me from getting better.”

The transition to Obamacare – at least for a 59-year-old man and a 56-year-old woman in south Orange County – wouldn’t be quite that bad. But it would be, in three big ways, far rougher and more frustrating than I’d ever dreamed.

Keefe breaks her disillusionment down into three main points, the first of which was that she believed Obama’s “you can keep your plan” lie. Her husband’s employer canceled group coverage because it cost too much to add pediatric dentistry and maternity coverage for all employees — neither of which the pair in their mid-50s needed or wanted. Not only could Keefe’s husband not keep his plan, the choices presented to him in Covered California all cost more — even the bronze plans, the average premium for which was 13% more than what he’d been paying. Keefe lost her own Blue Cross plan and had to choose a plan on the exchange that added $5,000 to her annual risk.


But that was just the beginning of the problems for Keefe and her husband. Attempting to navigate Covered California’s exchange turned out to be a nightmare, forcing them to change plans twice when the doctors they already had disappeared from their coverage networks. They finally found physicians who they liked, but for how long? Keefe’s not sure, either, and the new open-enrollment period isn’t making her any more confident for 2015:

We had thought that our work and businesses had paid us enough to live on in these older years — but we’re discovering we didn’t account for such dramatic increases in health care costs. Medical expenses already gobble up 20 percent of our income. In 2015, if we keep the same plans, our premiums will rise $95 a month. We have no choice to opt out of the required pediatric dentistry or maternity coverage we’ll never use, so we’ll eventually have to settle for less generous policies, with higher deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums. My husband isn’t required by law to insure his one employee, though he feels it’s the right thing to do. As costs continue to rise, we may have to direct him to buy his own health insurance at his own cost.

We’ve already started the dance of enrollment all over again and are having a hard time finding partners. As I write this, the “Find a Provider” link on the Covered California website offers 2014 health providers, but not 2015, even though we’re shopping for 2015 insurance policies. Ditto Blue Shield. Administrators at our medical group won’t say yet if they’ll remain with Blue Shield. At least this year, we think we know the steps to the dance. Let the music begin.


There’ll be a lot of dancing going on over the next two years over these issues. They won’t get any better, and as doctors get fed up with chintzy reimbursement rates and consumers frustrated over long wait times, voters will more and more blame the Democrats who brung ’em to the dance.

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