Members of Congress Enroll in Obamacare
(CNN) — Republican members of Congress want you to know they are not happy about having to buy insurance under the new federal health law championed by President Barack Obama.
“I’ve been forced onto Obamacare. My deductibles are double or triple and my premiums are up,” said Rep. John Mica, a Florida Republican, at a hearing on Thursday.
Rep. Leonard Lance, a New Jersey Republican, voiced his annoyance during a hearing with Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday.
“I will be going into an exchange. That’s how I read the statute, even though I didn’t vote for it and hope that it’s replaced,” Lance said.
The Affordable Care Act, the landmark 2010 health law approved without Republican support, requires members of Congress and staff — unless they have another private arrangement — to buy health coverage through an exchange that offers policies backed by insurers.
Federal workers, including members of Congress and their staffs, are eligible for a federal contribution that offsets some of the premium expense.
Sebelius listened to similar complaints from several legislators during more than two hours of testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Rep. Morgan Griffith, a Virginia Republican, used his time to ask about a dramatic increase in his family’s costs.
“I was previously on the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan, and my family’s facing a 117% increase out of our pocket – that’s out of our pocket increase – to go onto the exchange here in D.C.,” Griffith told Sebelius.
“The new marketplace plans have some age rating that the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program did not,” the Secretary responded. “So you’re going to see younger employees paying a lot less and older employees paying more.”
A goal of the health law is to get younger, healthier people to sign up and pay premiums, thus offsetting costs of providing coverage for older enrollees who use the healthcare system more.
In order to qualify for an employer contribution from the federal government, members and staff must enroll in one of 112 “Gold” level plans available on the D.C. small business exchange.
Unlike plans once available to them under the federal employee benefit program, the new insurance charges a different rate, depending on age.
Griffith is 55, placing him in the upper end of the age rating scale, which ends when a customer becomes eligible for Medicare at age 65.
While Griffith’s costs may be going up, Sebelius is right that costs for many of his younger staff and colleagues are likely to go down.
Without knowing an individual’s personal situation, it’s difficult to know their exact insurance costs. But a comparison of the federal employee benefit rates with publicly available figures on the D.C. Small Business Health Options Program shows there are several Republican members of Congress whose monthly premiums will likely decrease in 2014.
According to its website, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Service Benefit Plan covers roughly 5.3 million of the nearly eight million federal employees, retirees and family members who receive insurance through the federal employee benefit program.
The 2013 monthly premium for a standard BCBS plan through the federal employee benefit program was $599.63 for an individual and $1,354.36 for a family. These monthly premiums remain the same for all members of Congress regardless of their age.
A look at seven BCBS plans offered on the DC SHOP exchange shows that a man Griffith’s age would likely pay more than $700 a month for insurance next year before the federal government’s contribution, roughly $100 more than he could have paid on the federal benefit program.
The monthly cost goes up for each additional person added to the plan, the exact amount of the increase depending on the individuals’ ages.
But someone fitting the profile of a much younger member of Congress, like 32-year old Rep. Aaron Schock, an Illinois Republican, for example, would likely pay much less in 2014 than he did on the FEHBP.
Schock’s 2013 premiums under the same BSBS plan would be identical to Griffiths, but he could get a plan for around $325 a month on the exchange, less than half of the 2014 premium for the federal employee BCBS plan.
On the exchange, the monthly costs go up as the member’s age increases.
Congresswoman Martha Roby, an Alabama Republican, is 37. On the D.C. SHOP exchange she could purchase a BCBS plan for around $360 a month, compared to $616 a month on the FEHBP in 2014.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the average age of a member of the current Congress is 57, so they are likely to see higher monthly premiums because most are at the higher end of the age range.
But younger legislators and their staffs could experience significant savings on the D.C. exchange.