Politico’s story today on members of Congress desperately trying to exempt themselves and staff from Obamacare is great. But if you missed the earlier piece on the topic, you might think it too focused on the delicate process as members and staff attempt to extract themselves from the suicide pact that is Obamacare. It’s equally important to understand the reasons they’re trying to get out of it.
In brief, this story demonstrates why Obamacare’s insurance exchanges are a lousy deal for most Americans — particularly those who had insurance through an employer before the law passed.
Back when Obamacare was still just someone’s bad idea, employers were providing better insurance at lower prices than what Obamacare is going to provide. Now that Obamacare is out there and (in theory anyway) prepared next year to catch the debris that falls out of the employer insurance market, thousands of companies are just going to start dumping people’s health insurance. This is where the whole “if you like your health plan you can keep it” business falls apart. The average family plan costs employers something like $15,000 per year, whereas the penalty for a large company not providing insurance for employees is about $3,000 per worker. Do the math.
This isn’t just about greedy corporations, either — Washington State is considering doing this to its employees, and don’t be surprised if a lot of state and municipal governments follow suit.
Congress actually bound itself, by law, to dump its employees’ health plans and force them into the exchanges. It was something Republicans (I think rightly) insisted on as a condition of imposing Obamacare on the rest of America, and Democrats went along.
But it means that staffers on the Hill — many of them new hires within the last year or two, and making pretty low wages for D.C. — will be the first to feel the pain that their immediate predecessors decided to inflict on millions of others. Unfortunately, the people who actually inflicted the pain by drafting and passing Obamacare are former Democratic staffers and members who have since gone on to high six-figure jobs lobbying and (ahem) “consulting” for the drug, health care and insurance industries. (Why, someone has to help companies comply with the law they wrote!)
It’s hard to decide who gets the award for best quote in this Politico piece, but I think it’s Richard Burr::
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said if OPM decides that the federal government doesn’t pick up “the 75 percent that they have been, then put yourself in the position of a lot of entry-level staff people who make $25,000 a year, and all of a sudden, they have a $7,000 a year health care tab? That would be devastating…It would drastically change whether kids would have the ability to come up here out of college.”
Yet Burr, a vocal Obamacare opponent, is also flat-out opposed to exempting Congress from the exchange provision.
“I have no problems with Congress being under the same guidelines,” Burr said. “I think if this is going to be a disaster — which I think it’s going to be — we ought to enjoy it together with our constituents.”
Speaker Boehner has engaged Democrats in these talks about avoiding this disaster, probably out of concern for the kids who work for him. But he has to be smiling on the inside about the political result, because there’s no way for him to lose. If the talks fail, then all the sob stories about congressional staff and complaints about a “brain drain” on Capitol Hill become an automatic indictment of Obamacare. If the talks succeed, and Congress does exempt itself, the potential blowback for Democrats in 2014 is limitless.