Congress Gets the Luxury Obamacare Experience

Obamacare for lawmakers looks a lot different than Obamacare for constituents. 

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In 2010, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley proposed an Obamacare amendment that would place members of Congress and their staffs on the exchanges, so that lawmakers have a personal stake in the efficacy of the law. It passed with bipartisan support. But the Grassley amendment doesn't make members of Congress like everybody else — Obamacare for lawmakers looks very different than Obamacare for constituents.

Though Rep. Michele Bachmann has complained about having to sign up through the D.C. health exchange, Congress actually has its own Blue Cross and Blue Shield website members can use, The New York Times reports. Members also get their own telephone support — a “dedicated congressional health insurance plan assistance line.” Oh, and if lawmakers still can't figure out how to sign up, the D.C. exchange and at least four major insurers have been holding in-person support sessions in the Capitol.

And that's just help on signing up — members of Congress also have better options when it comes to coverage. The New York Times reports, "lawmakers have a larger menu of 'gold plan' insurance choices than most of their constituents have back home." And the government will make employer contributions to these plans (despite Sen. David Vitter's campaign to remove employer contributions from Congressional and staff healthcare — another misguided attempt to make Obamacare "apply" to Congress.)

The problem is, the Grassley amendment was never going to make lawmakers like everybody else. The amendment singles out Congress as an employer and requires it strip employees of their insurance plans. The insurance exchanges are meant for people who couldn't get insurance through their jobs, and, until the employer mandate was delayed a year, employers with more than 50 full-time workers were required to offer employees insurance.

Grassley insisted in September, “My goal, regardless of how the amendment was worded … was that we [in Congress] need to go into the exchange so that we would have to go through the same red tape as every other citizen.”

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.