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Don't forget to ask: Where will Congress get its health insurance if Graham-Cassidy bill is passed?

3 min read

While there is still time, I hope an enterprising reporter (or, God forbid, a Democratic leader) will ask Republicans where Congress will get its health insurance if Graham-Cassidy passes, and if the Republican Congress will bear any of the brunt of their unworkable scheme?

You see, under current law, there exists something known as the Congressional Mandate, which requires Congress to get its health insurance through the ACA.  This idea, originally proposed by Republicans as snark, ensures that Congress members must live with the effects of their own legislating on this subject.  

Under the Affordable Care Act, members of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate and their office staffs who want employer coverage generally have to buy it on the health insurance exchange.  Before the ACA passed in 2010, they were eligible to be covered under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. (People working for congressional committees who are not on a member's office staff may still be covered under FEHBP.)   The members of Congress and their staffs choose from among 57 gold plans from four insurers sold on the DC Health Link's small business marketplace this year.

The background to the Congressional Mandate:

Members of Congress are treated differently under Obamacare, but they're not exempt. In fact, by forcing them to purchase health insurance through publicly run exchanges, they're impacted more by that key provision than similar employees in private sector — or even in government.

. . . . Here's the history: During the 2010 debate over the Affordable Care Act, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, proposed an amendment requiring members of Congress and their staffs to purchase health insurance though state exchanges. Democrats, viewing the amendment as a political stunt, co-opted the idea as their own and inserted it into the bill.

“My goal, regardless of how the amendment was worded … was that we need to go into the exchange so that we would have to go through the same red tape as every other citizen,” Grassley told Roll Call at the time.

But the Graham-Cassidy bill not only would repeal the ACA, end the existing ACA marketplaces, and eliminate the individual mandate, it would also end the Congressional Mandate, presumably allowing the (Republican majority) Congress to return to its preferred Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.  So, when the states are left to scramble initially with inadequate, minimal funding, it will be no skin off Congress’s back.  And when all federal block grant funding expires in 2026, it will be no skin off Congress’s back.  No coverage for pre-existing conditions? Again, no skin off . . . . 

It is one thing when Congress legislates in an area where it is not subject to the ramifications of its own work.  It is another thing altogether when Congress changes the law to exempt itself from the adverse affects of its own bad law making.  

Steve Benen today rightfully asks:  “If the Graham-Cassidy plan were a good idea, why can’t its supporters simply tell the truth about it?”  I’d add, if Graham-Cassidy were such a good idea, why are its Republican proponents making sure it cannot apply to them?

Let’s make Republican Senators and House Members defend why they have exempted themselves from their own health insurance law.  Why have they repealed the Congressional Mandate and not replaced it?

At minimum, don't let Republicans get away with this quietly.

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