Congress made a mad dash for Obamacare on Monday to meet their deadline for signing up for health insurance, and took to Twitter to vent about it. According to The Washington Post, which has a database of what members of Congress are deciding for themselves and their staffs, at least 55 Senators and all the major House leaders have signed up through the DC Healthlink. While some leaders had an easy time of it, most members of Congress faced glitches, confusion and frustration. In that sense, their experience is like millions of Americans, including the constituents they're attempting to please. In every other way, their attempt to prove how doomed the healthcare law is falls flat, since they're getting a VIP experience. That being the case, here's brief guide to the Obamacare rollout for the average American, as told by the tweets of people aren't at all average.
Premiums sometimes go up ... especially when you decline your employer subsidies
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham took to the interwebs to complain about his increased premium:
As a 58-year old male living in Oconee County, SC my health insurance costs are going up about $400/month, more than 200%, under Obamacare.— Lindsey Graham (@GrahamBlog) December 10, 2013
And, immediately afterwards, to publicize an appearance on Fox News about why he's declining federal subsidies.
Will be speaking with Fox News @seanhannity tonight at 10 pm about declining special Obamacare subsidy available to Members of Congress.— Lindsey Graham (@GrahamBlog) December 10, 2013
Obamacare's Grassley amendment took members of Congress off the federal employees health care plan and required them to sign up for insurance on an exchange. The amendment does not take away the employer contribution to their insurance, which most Americans get from their jobs. According to The New York Times, members of Congress are eligible to have up to 75 percent of their premiums paid, as are most federal employees under the Federal Employee Health Benefits program. Graham is paying more because he wants to be able to talk about it on Fox News.
The enrollment process isn't the smoothest, even when you have a VIP experience
Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski (pictured above) looked worn out from days of navigating the system, and she's not even sure if she's enrolled:
After 3 days, on and off, of browser glitches & frustration, I believe I'm enrolled in the DC healthcare exchange pic.twitter.com/dkGkYZ3VPV— Sen. Lisa Murkowski (@lisamurkowski) December 10, 2013
Luckily, according to The Washington Times, all she has to do is call the Senate Disbursement Office and ask them if she's enrolled. There's also a special help line for members of Congress, and special face-to-face help available. Plus, they have a special gold plan menu. All that should make the enrollment process easier, but that didn't stop several members of Congress from lamenting their turbulent enrollment experience.
The site isn't perfect... even when it does that it's meant to do
As Republican Rep. Cynthia Lummis tweeted, she had an #obamacarefail because she... enrolled in health insurance.
Though Lummis doesn't explain why specifically her information isn't safe, she's alluding to the phishing stories circling the website. Like this potential bug in October that was fixed. Or the fake Obamacare sites in California, not to be confused with the fake Obamacare site set up and promoted by California Republicans. Because the system requires personal tax information, it is a target for fraud and crime. But so are all websites that contain personal information. If Lummis wasn't satisfied by the progress the site has made towards fixing security holes, she didn't have to sign up for Obamacare. Contrary to her tweet, no one "forced" her to do anything.
You don't have to have insurance, but most people prefer to have it
Not all of Congress is signing up on the DC Exchange. Some, like Sen. Ted Cruz, are on a spouse's plan. Others are using their home district's state-run exchange, or the federal exchange, some are on Medicaid and others still, like Rep. Louie Gohmert, are opting out and going uninsured. "Too many people in my district have lost their insurance because of Obamacare," Gohmert told Politico. "And because of Obamacare, the remaining insurance is just too expensive. So I’m not going to have insurance, it looks like.” He'll be fined $1,470, which will be subtracted from his next tax return.
Gohmert is one of the few members of the GOP to put his opt-out money where his mouth is. As New York's Jonathan Chait argues, fear of going uninsured is the reason Obamacare will survive. "The great hope of the conservative movement has been to foster a massive boycott of the exchanges – burn your (imaginary) Obamacare card, pay the tax instead," Chait writes.
A recent Gallup poll found that 45 percent of Republicans would rather pay the individual mandate than buy Obamacare insurance. But the truth is, most people would rather have insurance, regardless of political affiliation. As Amanda Carpenter, speechwriter for Cruz, tweeted, "I don't want to be uninsured.":
@brianbeutler And how am I not required to enroll? This is my only option for employer care and I don't want to be uninsured.— Amanda Carpenter (@amandacarpenter) November 29, 2013
As a congressional staffer, she doesn't have to be uninsured. As someone eligible to sign up for Obamacare, she doesn't have to be uninsured. If she lived in a state that didn't expand Medicaid, like Ted Cruz's home state of Texas, and she was too well-off for Medicaid but too poor for subsidies, then, most likely, she would have to go uninsured. But that's an experience average Americans are going through, not people on Capitol Hill.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.