May 4, 2013
The latest crack in Obamacare opened last week when Politico reported that leaders in Congress were negotiating how to exempt themselves and thousands of their staffers from a major provision of the new law.
Politico said leaders held "high-level, confidential talks" about releasing the folks on Capitol Hill from a requirement that they buy their federal health coverage next year from the insurance exchanges that millions of Americans will use ... and that Congress created.
The members and staffers enjoy highly subsidized health care through the federal job benefits program. When Obamacare fully kicks in on Jan. 1, though, they will have to buy their coverage through those new marketplaces known as exchanges. They will join millions of Americans who will likely buy health coverage through the state-based exchanges.
Trouble for them is, they may not keep the generous premium subsidies they now enjoy. Instead, they'll likely be eligible for the same income-based subsidy that everyone else will get in the exchanges. The lower your income, the higher your subsidy. Lawmakers and senior staffers who earn large salaries — more than $94,200 for a family of four — won't qualify for any subsidy. Some could have to pay thousands of dollars more than they do now.
Ah, the consequences of Obamacare hit home. All those congressmen who parroted the president and said "relax, you can keep your current health coverage" won't get to keep their current health coverage.
Unless they give themselves an out.
Like millions of Americans, they're suffering a bad case of Obamascare: Fear that they'll pay more and lose the high quality of health care they enjoy today.
Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, a key architect of the law, recently peppered Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius with questions about how the law will work come 2014.
"I just see a huge train wreck coming down," he said. "What can you do to help all these people around the country wondering, what in the world do I do?"
President Barack Obama on Tuesday sought to tamp down those fears, conceding "there will still be, you know, glitches and bumps."
Glitches or a train wreck? Bet on the wreck. We're hurtling toward this massive restructuring of the health care insurance market, and no one has confidence about what will happen. There will be massive consequences, intended and unintended.
Estimates of Obamacare's price tag keep rocketing. Insurance premiums are jumping across the country, as insurers prepare to cover millions more people, many of whom have complicated health problems.
That oft-repeated promise that you'll be able to keep your existing coverage? Sure, as long as your employer doesn't decide to dump that coverage and pay the federal penalties. Many businesses seem to be leaning toward doing just that. Some are holding down work hours so they won't have to provide health coverage. Others simply aren't hiring.
No wonder the members of Congress are trying to dodge the impact of Obamacare.
The government's Office of Personnel Management, which administers federal employee benefits, is expected to rule on whether lawmakers and their staff would be eligible for federal exchange subsidies or somehow can keep their current federal health benefits.
If they get such a break, Democrats will have to explain to outraged voters why the new health care system they billed as a godsend for Americans is ... not good enough for Congress.
We're all on the same train. Hold tight.
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